Understanding Running Shoe Foams: Ultimate Guide

running shoe foams

In the world of running shoes, the variety of shoe foams has grown a lot. These new foams promise better performance, longer-lasting wear, and more comfort.

But, this has also made choosing the right foam confusing. Many brands say their foam is the best, making it hard to figure out what really works for you.

The confusion isn’t just about what the ads say. It’s also about the details of the foams.

Things like how much energy you get back from the midsole foam, how long it lasts, and how it fits with how you run make choosing complicated. What’s “best” can change a lot depending on what you need, what you like, and how you run.

We want to make things clearer. This guide will not just list the foams out there; it will help you understand why some midsole foams work better for certain runners. We’ll look at everything from soft maximum cushion foams that feel like running on clouds to firm foams that give you a bounce.

We’ll help you see which foams are good for fast running, which are durable for long runs, and which offer the most comfort for easy jogs. Our goal is to give you the information you need to pick the best foam for your running shoes. This way, you can choose shoes that don’t just meet your needs but are even better than you expected.

Premium Shoe Foams Explained

Premium foams are high-quality materials used in running shoe midsoles to improve how the shoe performs. These foams are designed to give a lot of energy back to the runner, make the shoe last longer, and increase comfort.

They are made from special materials that make them stand out from standard foams and are usually reserved as racing shoes.

One key feature of premium foams is their energy return, which is usually built in pairs with carbon fiber plates. This means when you run, the foam pushes back against your foot, helping you move forward more easily. On average, premium foams give back about 80% to 90% of the energy you put into them.

This high energy return is important because it can make running feel easier and help you run faster without using more energy.

Detailed Comparison of Top Premium Foams

Here is a list of the top premium running shoe foams, like the ones you find in the Nike Alphafly

Nike ZoomX

Nike ZoomX is recognized as a premium foam in the running shoe market, first introduced in 2017. This foam is made from PEBAX foam, produced by Arkema, known for its soft and bouncy qualities. The ZoomX foam offers exceptional energy return, making it highly efficient for running.

It is especially noted for its performance in the first versions of Nike’s Vaporfly, Alphafly, and Invincible models, where it provides a plush feel. However, in the second versions of these models, the foam is a bit firmer. For heavier runners using the Invincible model, there’s a chance of bottoming out due to the foam’s softness.

Nike also offers a recycled version of ZoomX in their Next Nature shoes, which, while not as responsive as the original, still outperforms other common foams like React or standard EVA. This foam doesn’t require a break-in period, making it ready for racing right out of the box, although some runners might prefer to break them in, especially in the 2021 and 2022 models.

Nike Zooom x running shoe foams

Asics FFTurbo

Asics FFTurbo is a premium foam that stands out in the running shoe industry but is not made from the PEBAX material used in Nike’s ZoomX. Instead, FFTurbo uses a generic form of PEBA (Polyether Block Amide), often referred to as a nylon-based elastomer, which offers a similar compound to ZoomX. This foam is known for being firmer than ZoomX but provides a stable and impressive energy return, making it highly valued among runners.

The FFTurbo doesn’t require any break-in period for many runners, offering immediate comfort and performance. Additionally, this foam has a unique characteristic: it tends to emit a glue-like smell more than others, which might be noticeable but does not affect its performance.

Asics FFTurbo running shoe foams

Adidas Lightstrike Pro

Adidas Lightstrike Pro is a premium foam used in Adidas running shoes, distinct from the often-mistaken PEBAX-based foams like Nike’s ZoomX. Instead, Lightstrike Pro is made from TPEE (Thermoplastic Polyester Elastomer), a compound that theoretically performs better in low temperatures and offers superior durability.

Although it may return slightly less energy compared to PEBA-based foams, Lightstrike Pro has been noted for its unique performance characteristics. Runners might not feel as fast initially due to the foam’s properties, but the actual pace can be surprisingly quick, a phenomenon attributed to its energy efficiency.

Importantly, Lightstrike Pro benefits from a break-in period, with optimal performance usually achieved after running 50-60km, unlike some foams that are at their best straight out of the box. It also tends to be softer in higher temperatures, adding to its versatility across different running conditions.

Saucony PWRRUN PB

Saucony PWRRUN PB is a premium foam crafted from PEBAX material by Arkema, renowned for its effective performance characteristics in running shoes. Although it shares the same base compound as Nike’s ZoomX, PWRRUN PB has a slightly different feel, being a bit mushier. Unlike the single block structure seen in foams like ZoomX or FFTurbo, Saucony’s approach involves using hundreds of tiny pellets to create the foam.

This design choice is reminiscent of Adidas’s Boost technology but aimed at combining the form factor of Boost with the functional benefits of ZoomX, offering a unique blend of softness and energy return. This makes PWRRUN PB stand out for those seeking a balance between plush comfort and responsive performance.

Puma Nitro Elite

Puma Nitro Elite features a blend of PEBA foam mixed with EVA, positioning it as a premium option within Puma’s running shoe lineup. This foam is appreciated for its balance between softness and energy return, although it is often viewed as slightly trailing behind the leading premium foams in terms of outright performance.

Despite this, many runners find the Nitro Elite to provide a satisfying running experience, thanks to its comfortable and responsive nature. However, since I haven’t extensively tested them myself, my insights on this foam are based on broader user feedback rather than personal experience. The general consensus suggests it’s a top-tier foam with potential for further refinement.

New Balance FuelCell

New Balance Fresh Foam FuelCell is another foam categorized under the premium segment, known for its nitrogen-infused TPU foam. It offers an exceptionally soft ride, which, while highly comfortable, may lack the rebound or energy return seen in other premium foams. This characteristic places it on the lower end of the energy return spectrum among its premium counterparts, with estimates suggesting it falls into the low 80% range. For runners with a pronation tendency or those who overpronate, FuelCell might not be the ideal choice due to its extreme softness and tendency to compress significantly under weight, leading to stability concerns.

Decathlon VFOAM

Decathlon VFOAM is another entry in the premium foam category, utilizing PEBAX material from Arkema, similar to Nike’s ZoomX and Saucony’s PWRRUN PB. However, it doesn’t quite match the performance levels of Nike’s offering. Positioned as a more budget-friendly option for runners interested in experiencing the benefits of PEBAX-based foams, VFOAM provides a decent balance between cost and performance.

While it may not deliver the same energy return or responsiveness as the leading premium foams, it performs better than many standard options, such as EVA-based foams. This makes Decathlon’s VFOAM a solid choice for runners seeking the advanced properties of PEBAX without the higher price tag associated with top-tier brands.

Standard Running Shoe Foams Demystified

Standard foams in running shoes are mostly made from midsole EVA foam (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate) and are common in many models due to their balance of comfort, durability, and cost-effectiveness.

These foams typically offer an energy return rate ranging from 60% to 75%, which is lower than the rates found in premium foams. Despite this, standard foams are highly valued for their reliable performance in everyday training shoes.

They provide sufficient cushioning and support for a wide range of activities, making them a versatile choice for runners who prioritize longevity and comfort over the maximum energy return offered by more advanced, premium materials.

Additionally, some brands have developed variations of EVA foam, such as Supercritical EVA foam, infused with CO2 or nitrogen to enhance the foam’s properties, offering a slight improvement in energy return and cushioning without reaching the premium category.

Standard Foams List

  • Nike React & Adidas Boost

  • Adidas Lightstrike & Hoka ProFly

  • Asics FFBlast & Puma Nitro

  • Miscellaneous Foams

Nike React & Adidas Boost

Nike React foam stands out for its blend of durability, comfort, and a relatively high energy return among standard foams. It’s designed for runners who need a foam that can withstand high mileage, offering over 1000km of durable performance. React foam is slightly softer and more responsive than traditional EVA, making it ideal for training across various distances and surfaces, especially on dirt roads. Adidas Boost shoes, on the other hand, revolutionized the running shoe market in 2013 with its TPU-based pellets that provide a unique combination of comfort, energy return, and temperature resilience. Though it’s considered by some to be slightly outdated compared to newer foams, Boost’s durability and comfort make it suitable for a wide range of activities, from running to casual wear.

Adidas Lightstrike & Hoka ProFly

Adidas Lightstrike is known for its firmness and responsiveness, offering a different kind of performance compared to the plush feel of Boost. It caters to runners seeking a lighter, more responsive ride, suitable for faster training sessions and races. However, some may find the firmness leads to quicker fatigue over long distances.

Hoka ProFly, meanwhile, provides a balance between softness and propulsion, making it a versatile choice for runners looking for a foam that can handle both long runs and speed work. ProFly’s blend of soft cushioning and responsive bounce is designed to cater to a wide range of runners, from those tackling their first 5K to seasoned marathoners.

Asics FFBlast & Puma Nitro

Asics FFBlast offers a mix of softness and bounce, with an energy return that bridges the gap between standard EVA and the more advanced PEBA-based foams. This makes it an excellent choice for runners looking for an upgrade in performance without moving to a significantly more expensive shoe.

Puma Nitro, utilizing a supercritical TPE blend, provides a notable improvement in energy return over traditional EVA foams. This foam is designed for those who prioritize efficiency and a responsive ride, making it suitable for a range of activities from daily training to competitive racing.

Miscellaneous Foams

Among other noteworthy standard foams, Skechers Hyper Burst stands out for its supercritical EVA process, offering an exceptionally light and responsive feel that challenges the perceptions of standard foam performance.

Brooks DNA, with its variations like DNA Loft, Flash, and AMP, provides personalized cushioning that adapts to the runner’s stride, weight, and speed, offering a customized experience. These foams exemplify the diversity and innovation within the standard foam category, ensuring that there’s a suitable option for nearly every type of runner, regardless of their preferences or performance needs.

Important Considerations with Midsole Running Shoe Foams

understanding running shoe foams

Temperature Sensitivity

The way foams react to temperature changes is an important factor to consider when choosing running shoes. Some foams become firmer in cold weather and softer in warm conditions, which can significantly affect performance and comfort.

For example, Adidas’s TPEE-based Lightstrike Pro is designed to perform better in lower temperatures, maintaining its responsiveness when other foams might stiffen.

Understanding the temperature sensitivity of a foam can help runners choose shoes that will perform consistently across the seasons, ensuring a comfortable and efficient run regardless of the weather.

Myths Debunked

There are several misconceptions surrounding running shoe foams, particularly regarding softness, energy return, and durability.

A common myth is that softer foams always provide a better energy return, but this isn’t necessarily true. In fact, some firmer foams, like Adidas Lightstrike, offer competitive energy return rates without the plushness associated with softness.

Additionally, the durability of a foam isn’t solely dependent on its firmness or softness; factors such as the foam’s composition and the runner’s style play significant roles. Debunking these myths helps runners make more informed decisions based on their individual needs rather than generalized assumptions.

Durability and Investment

Choosing durable shoes is crucial for high-mileage runners to avoid frequent replacements and ensure consistent performance. When selecting a foam, consider not only the energy return but also how the material holds up over hundreds of kilometers.

Premium foams often offer a good balance between energy return and durability, but they come at a higher cost. Viewing these shoes as an investment, especially for serious runners, can be helpful. Durable shoes with high-quality foam can ultimately save money and improve running experiences in the long run.

What’s the Best Running Sshoe Foam?

Understanding the different types of running shoe foams is crucial for making informed decisions that can enhance your running experience.

By considering factors like energy return, durability, and how a foam reacts to temperature changes, you can select a shoe that meets your specific needs, whether you’re training for a marathon or enjoying casual jogs.

We encourage runners to share their own experiences and tips for choosing the right foam. Your insights can help others navigate the wide array of options available and find the perfect match for their running style and marathon goals.

The landscape of running shoe technology is constantly evolving, with new materials and designs offering improved performance and comfort.

This innovation ensures that runners of all levels can find shoes that help them achieve their best, whether they’re aiming for personal bests or simply seeking to enjoy their runs more. By staying informed and open to trying new technologies, you can make the most of these advancements and find shoes that truly elevate your running experience.

Diego Alcubierre, a passionate runner and coach, started his journey at 26 with a 10k time of 1:06:23 and has since slashed 30 minutes off his personal record. With five running and coaching certifications, Diego is committed to sharing his expertise and proven strategies to help runners of all levels enhance their performance, stay motivated, and enjoy the journey of running. At Bannister, he simplifies complex training concepts, empowering you to achieve your running goals.