If the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% had any comparable predecessors I would certainly draw on them. However, in this case, the mold has been completely broken and redesigned from the ground up.
A brand new EVA compound, a carbon plate, and a perfectly fitting upper all had to be designed from scratch to try and accomplish the impossible, a sub-two hour marathon.
If you are new to the concept of “racing flats”, it really describes usually very lightweight and minimally cushioned racing shoes.
The most minimal of these shoes, usually designed for 5k-10k road races, were so thin as to absolutely batter the feet over the course of even a short race.
Additionally, these racing shoes would only last five to seven races prior to the thin foam and lack of support would compress and become a very sexy lawn mowing shoe.
The Vaporfly 4% is the first racing flat to really break this mold in a number of ways. It has a stack height (the amount of foam between your foot and the road) even greater than maximal road running shoes such as Hoka One Ones.
On paper, one would think this shoe was designed for maximal high mileage running at a slow pace. Once you try the shoe on though… the Vaporfly defies all expectations and conventions.
Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% General Info
The Vaporfly 4% was designed specifically for Nike’s Breaking2 project which featured Lelisa Desisa, Eliud Kipchoge, and Zersenay Tadese running a paced marathon on a Formula One racetrack in Monza, Italy with the sole purpose of pushing the limits of human speed and endurance.
The result was that Eliud Kipchoge ran 2:00:25 and shocked the world. If you haven’t witnessed this, both the documentary and race footage are fascinating, and Nike seemed to spare no expense in their quest to make this happen.
While Kipchoge’s time will never be ratified as a world record due to having groups of pacers, that goal was never the point.
I watched in awe as the three runners maintained 4:34 pace behind a pace car and a wall of ever changing pacers clad in all black Nike racing kits.
Of course, the shoes peaked my interest the most, but I never thought that Nike would bring them to market in their final state.
Often times, shoe companies will dumb down the finalized version that they made for their top sponsored runner so that it works well for the masses.
Well, in this case, everyone can try the real deal that took years of preparation and seven final months of tweaking while the three runners trained for the event.
Unboxing the Vaporfly 4% is completely different than any shoe I’d ever looked at or tried on. The cushioning appeared massive (for a racing flat) and the rear of the shoe tapered like a racing sailboat.
Every aspect of the shoe designed seemed very well thought out and complete. Walking around in the Vaporfly 4% had me exclaiming “this is a ton of cushion, but it feels like it could be sloppy”.
This impression was dispelled on my first run that quickly turned faster than I’d intended.
Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% Sole Unit
The Vaporfly 4% uses Nike’s ZoomX foam which is the most responsive and energy-returning EVA foam on the market.
I thought that Adidas’ Boost was impressive, however it pales in comparison the the ZoomX foam, which there is a ton of in this shoe.
For comparison’s sake, the Vaporfly 4% has a heel stack height of 39mm as compared to the Hoka One One Bondi 5 which has a 37mm in the heel.
But, the Vaporfly 4% never feels unstable or sloppy, and it weighs in at a scant 6.9 ounces (men’s size 9). In fact, I didn’t feel as if I was any higher up than any of my regular trainers.
All of this cushioning is supported and given forward propulsion by a full length carbon plate imbedded in the midsole.
When I first heard this I thought that the Vaporfly 4% would be much more firm, but in fact, when walking around in this shoe it feels soft and sloppy.
Its only when you begin to run, especially at faster paces, that you realize the genius of this engineering. The outsole of the Vaporfly 4% is comprised of high abrasion rubber in the heel and forefoot.
Nike also did extensive studying o the best lug patterns for traction and durability, and the minimalist pentagon shapes on the forefoot seem very tacky on pavement.
It is elegant in its simplicity, and the entire shoe feels very flexible yet efficient and it became very fun, and easy, to push the pace on my runs in the Vaporfly 4%.
I cannot accurately comment on the durability of this shoe as I only have a handful of runs in them. My initial impression is that this is a shoe that an efficient runner could also do a great deal of training in as well as racing.
Creases are showing in the ZoomX midsole foam, which in most shoes is not a good sign. However, I feel that this is just a property of this foam. Time will tell.
Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% Upper Info
The upper of the Zoom Vaporfly 4% is a one piece mesh that absolutely defines the overused notion of a customized fit.
This mesh is very breathable and you have to wonder if Nike decided on the light grey hue of the upper to minimize solar radiation and heat retention.
The mesh of the upper could be misconstrued to be sloppy through the mid foot and heel, but after lacing them up the internal dynamic arch band and heel counter provide more than enough structure and support for runners with good form and economy.
The tongue of the Vaporfly 4% is surprisingly thin yet the minimal laces didn’t cause any pressure points or hot spots.
I would also imagine that this shoe drains exceptionally well given the porousness of the mesh.
Out of the box I took the Vaporfly 4% on a seven mile steady state run with about a thousand feet of gain featuring some steep uphills and downhills. The heel stayed put and my foot didn’t slide forward on the downhills.
Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% Conclusions
I have no doubt that this will be my road racing shoe going forward, regardless of the distance. While most racing flats are merely lightly cushioned spikeless track spikes, the Vaporfly 4% has turned convention on it’s head.
One can balk a the price of $250 MSRP, but for a 4% improvement that is a small price to pay. But, think about this.
If you’re a 3:00 marathoner this shoe has the potential to help you take seven minutes off of your time without using any “new” shoe technology that hasn’t already been incorporated into other running shoes less cleverly.
With the Vaporfly 4% they didn’t completely reinvent the materials, but what Nike did was really study how to put them together in a way that makes them perform better than anything on the market.
Considering all of the garbage that runners buy that really have no effect on marathon performance, this seems like a small investment, and with the cost of marathons moving well over $200 per race, this to me seems like a smart investment to protect your feet.
My thought is that we will see a lot of copycat technology from other companies in the coming seasons without any of them actually putting in the time, energy, and research that Nike did for this shoe and this project.
Well done Nike, the Vaporfly 4% has completely destroyed the bar and my expectations.
We purchased the Nike Vaporfly 4% at retail with our own money. This did not influence the outcome of the review, written after running more than 50 miles in them.