Home Guides Best Nike Running Shoes 2020

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We purchase all the shoes we review at retail with our own money, then we run in them for at least 50 miles. We don't receive free samples from companies and provide only expert, unbiased opinions.

Nike is one of the most innovative running shoe brands out there. While they do stick to some popular models for years (ie the more than 30 years history of the Nike Pegasus), they constantly introduce new technologies and with them, new names and classification.

This article will help you make sense of all those model names, technical jargon and finally understand which of Nike's running shoes is meant for which runner.

Nike Zoom Running Shoes

The first and most popular category is the "Zoom" family of running shoes. Built around the hyper-popular Pegasus, it includes shoes that are meant for both daily training, spadework training and even race day.

Zoom Air is Nike's lowest profile Air unit, characterised by a fast and responsive ride that still proves quite cushioned.

The Pegasus 37 is a reliable daily trainer that can do it all. The switch React foam has quite possibly created the best version yet. Read full review »

Pros

  • Versatile consistent cushion for long runs, tempos and intervals.
  • Durable midsole and outsole capable of withstanding many miles.
  • Comfortable lightweight upper.

Cons

  • Heel counter lacks support causing heel slippage.
  • Forefoot fit is a bit narrow.
Similar to the Pegasus but with a smaller Zoom unit, the Winflo is a entry level neutral running shoe that is perfect for beginners while they build up their mileage. Read full review »

Pros

  • Upgraded upper previous model
  • Sleeker outsole
  • Heat formed overlays

Cons

  • Budget materials wear out quickly
  • Premium look doesn't fit the feel
The Pegasus Turbo is a lighter weight version of the normal Pegasus that is meant for faster training and track workouts. The midsole is made of ZoomX, the same foam used in the Vaporfly Elite and Vaporfly 4% running shoes. Read full review »

Pros

  • Efficient ZoomX foam
  • Redesigned thin and light upper
  • Highly breathable upper

Cons

  • 50% more expensive than the regular Pegasus model
  • Limited upper durability
The Vomero is a maximal cushion running shoe for daily training and long mileage running. Read full review »

Pros

  • The looks ... wow that's a beautiful shoe
  • Flywire locks your feet in
  • Plush under-heel cushion for heel strikers
  • Very responsive for picking up the pace

Cons

  • Lacking forefoot cushion for forefoot strikers
  • Toe box could be a little restricting for wider feet
The Structure is the only traditional support shoe that is left in the Nike lineup. It is the stability counterpart of the Pegasus. Read full review »

Pros

  • Color Options
  • Updated Upper

Cons

  • Loose Heel
  • Takes a couple of miles to feel comfortable on a run
  • Unresponsive Sole

Nike React Running Shoes

React is the name of one of the new Nike's foam materials for shoe midsoles.

Originally introduced in their basketball shoe line, it has made its way (successfully) in the running shoe line.

The main characteristics of the React foam are a unique combination of cushioning (soft while it compresses on ground impact) and responsiveness (the ability of quickly going back to its original shape).

Although many brands make similar claims about their latest foams, we tested the Nike React running shoes and we agree that this material is a game changer.

The Nike React Infinity Run provides the best cushioning platform on the market with a natural feeling stability due its wider shape.

Nike uses more React foam than ever to create a soft and springy ride that seems to rejuvenate the feet and legs on easy days and long runs. This is a great high mileage shoe to wear in between faster paced workouts. Read full review »

Pros

  • Incredible cushion to weight ratio.
  • Soft stability without a medial post or overly firm midsole foam.
  • Rocker design provides a very efficient feeling ride.
  • Wider forefoot fit than most Nike shoes.
  • Tons of Nike React cushioning (30mm) that isn't compressing after 100+ miles.

Cons

  • Loose fitting heel collar which may frustrate some runners.
  • Lack of structure in the Flyknit loft upper may not provide enough lockdown for some runners.
  • $160 price tag. However, the durability of this shoe may justify the price tag.
The Nike React Miler is a completely new running shoe release designed to give a highly cushioned ride on your longer runs. If you're looking to go for miles on the road, this is an exciting shoe! Read full review »

Pros

  • Highly cushioned
  • Super comfortable
  • Great for longer runs
  • Reflective panels for dark runs

Cons

  • Lack of breathability
  • Not as good looking as other releases from Nike
Nike’s Epic React Flyknit 2 shoe brings a lot to the table and it all comes together to give runners of all levels a quality daily trainer. It’s a pricey daily trainer, but most will find it’s worth the extra cost. Read full review »

Pros

  • Smooth fitting upper
  • Energizing React Foam
  • Modern styling

Cons

  • Much more expensive than baseline Legend React
  • Lots of exposed foam reduces traction and durability
The Nike Odyssey React Flyknit 2 is a mouthful to say and is equally packed with potential, offering light stability by way of a med-high arch and med-supportive upper, with a touch of flexibility in the forefoot and a snug, low-volume fit.

When tied with heel-lock lacing, this $120 shoe holds the foot secure with no pinching or excess movement from the flexibly-soft fit; React midsole material does the rest to offer a soft yet light and springy ride. Read full review »

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Flyknit upper is moderately supportive, yet flexible
  • Soft, responsive cushion
  • Supportive ride in a med-high arch shoe

Cons

  • Laces can dig through thin tongue
  • Midsole a bit "squishy" for fast efforts, esp. in the heel
Nike’s Legend React shoe brings the new React foam into an affordable running shoe package while keeping a strong focus on a smooth ride and a smooth fitting upper. Read full review »

Pros

  • Peppy react foam
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Tongue material can reduce breathability
  • Odd feeling heel for forefoot strikers
  • Questionable upper durability

Nike Racing Running Shoes

There's no denying Nike's recent dominance in marathon racing. We like to think the runners had some credit too - but the sheer amount of victories show the commitment the Oregon brand has towards marathon racing.

One shoe is the clear hero of this dominance - the Vaporfly - but a few other deserve your attention.

Latest iteration of the line that started for the Breaking2 project, the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next % is the shoe that has dominated the marathon world in 2019 and does not seem intentioned to stop for 2020.
The Zoom Fly 3 is the “affordable” version of the Nike premium distance racing shoes. While this is the tier below the Vaporfly 4% and Next% shoes, the Zoom Fly 3 come with premium Nike running shoe features in a more accessible format. Read full review »

Pros

  • Carbon Fiber Plate Midsole is Responsive and Fast
  • Improved Outsole Durability and Traction from Zoom Fly Flyknit
  • VaporWeave Upper Material
  • Cheaper and More Durable than Higher-End Options

Cons

  • Internal Bootie on Upper Seems Unnecessary
  • Expensive for an Affordable Option
The Nike Zoom Streak 7 is a minor update to the previous version of the popular racing shoe. The updates are so minor that the seventh iteration of the Streak still provides a great responsive feeling with similar upper issues to previous versions. Read full review »

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Snappy Responsive Feeling
  • Just Enough Cushioning For a Racing Shoe

Cons

  • Upper Updates Still Fall Short
  • Durability

Nike Trail Running Shoes

Only two trail running shoes in Nike's offering - but they are very well rounded models that can take a lot of beating on different kinds of terrain.

The Nike Terra Kiger was created with speed on the trails in mind. From toe to heel, the shoes are designed to let the runner blaze down dirt trails, paved trails and roads. The more technical the terrain, the less effective the Kigers can be. Read full review »

Pros

  • Fast and quick
  • Comfortable
  • Solid protection
  • No detrimental changes from the Kiger 5

Cons

  • Not a good shoe for running in muddy conditions
  • Does not handle rocky terrain well
The WildHorse 6 is a well cushioned daily trail shoe that has a nice bouncy feel. The shoe is well suited for longer moderately paced runs. A lack of stability and increased weight makes this more of a draft horse versus a thoroughbred limiting it moderate rolling terrain versus more wilder unkept technical trails. Read full review »

Pros

  • React foam midsole gives the shoe a bouncier ride.
  • Integrated gaiter works well to keep out debris.
  • Comfortable well fitting upper.

Cons

  • Increased weight
  • Segmented rock plate offers little protection.
  • Cushion ring heel creates stability issues.
The Nike Pegasus 36 Trail is a comfortable, cushioned trail shoe that can easily handle mild trails and roads, a great option for those who tackle both surfaces in their runs. Read full review »

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Can handle trails and roads
  • Soft and breathable upper
  • Slipper-like comfort

Cons

  • Almost non-existent toe bumper
  • Not great for technical terrain
  • Durability questions

Nike Free Running Shoes

Before minimalism was a thing and before barefoot runners started burning their shoes, Nike quietly introduced the Free range with a simple idea: a shoe to add to your training rotation, to stimulate your own foot muscles and balance. So while your daily training and racing shoes might protect you, once in a while you should introduce some extremely flexible shoe so that your feet can train naturally.

The Free RN 5.0 is a running shoe designed for short training runs, up to 5km, speedwork and drills. It can also be used for runners looking to work towards the sensation of barefoot running, with the protection of a shoe, and a little support.
The Free RN Flyknit 3.0 is a running shoe designed for short training runs, up to 5km, or for runners looking to create the sensation of barefoot running, with the protection of a shoe. Released at the same time as the Nike Free RB 5.0, the difference are mainly the upper and the heel drop.

An explanation of Nike running shoes technologies

Understanding the meaning and design principles behind the tech names will help you navigate through the catalog faster. Here’s an overview.

Upper technologies

Flyknit

Nike running shoes Flyknit Detail

Flyknit is a special woven fabric that makes the upper of a shoe feel like a sock, by placing yarns and knits strategically around the structure in order to support the foot of the runner when needed and leave it free everywhere else.

Flyknit running shoes are lightweight: a light yarn replaces multiple stitched or glued panels. Flyknit also allows for extremely precise upper fit, being able to seamlessly integrate tight-knit areas where support is needed and wide-knit areas to allow for flexibility.

Flyknit is environmentally friendly as it produces 60% less waste than traditionally constructed running shoe uppers.

This technology is Nike’s latest, so expect to pay a premium for Flyknit shoes.

Most notable examples of Flyknit shoes are the Flyknit Racer (as the name implies, a fast and light shoe for racing distances all the way to the marathon) and the Nike Free Flyknit (an extremely flexible and lightweight running shoe to strengthen and train the muscles in your feet).

FlyKnit Loft

FlyKnitLoft
FlyKnit Loft is a FlyKnit variation which is breathable and durable. It has 3 distinct layers which help keep the foot secure. It has a smooth, plastic-like feel and does not stretch.

FlyKnit Loft is used on the Infinity Run.

AtomKnit

AtomKnit

AtomKnit is a new, more advanced type of FlyKnit material. The difference between AtomKnit and FlyKnit is that AtomKnit is steamed and stretched. AtomKnit is extremely lightweight, very breathable and does not absorb water.

AtomKnit is only used on the flagship shoe, the AlphaFly Next%.

VaporWeave

VaporWeave

VaporWeave is an engineered, woven mesh with a smooth, plastic-like feel which is light and strong. Its main advantage is that it doesn’t absorb water so during a race, the shoe will not absorb sweat and weigh you down. VaporWeave is very breathable but doesn’t conform to the foot so creasing may occur.

VaporWeave is used on the VaporFly Next% and the Zoom Fly 3.

Engineered Mesh or Flymesh

Nike running shoes engineered mesh flymeshEngineered Mesh (sometimes called “Flymesh” by Nike) is a lightweight mesh construction that is – compared to traditional mesh fabrics – more breathable and is at the same time both more durable and flexible.

Engineered Mesh features more prominent perforations than traditional mesh. It is a completely different construction than the previously mentioned Flyknit and shoes with Engineered Mesh usually have a lower price-point.

Engineered mesh is used on the Pegasus 37, Miler, Vomero 14, Downshifter 10 and Winflo 6.

An overview of Nike running shoe sole and cushioning technologies

Midsoles of running shoes are made of foam. Each company has their own trademark foam mix that tries to achieve the following: be as lightweight as possible, be soft in order to absorb the impact with the ground, be elastic (in order to compress on impact and release propelling you forward), be durable (foam does deteriorate with use, so all foam materials need to be engineered to maintain its characteristics for a decent amount of time).

React Foam

ReactFoam

React is a styrene-based material which is a synthetic rubber. It is lightweight, durable and resistant to temperature changes. React doesn’t have sink-in softness but has a dense, rubbery feel with a noticeable spring.

React Foam is used in the Pegasus Turbo 2, Odyssey 2, Vomero 14, Zoom Fly 3, Infinity Run, Terra Kiger 6, Miler and Pegasus 37.

Nike ZoomX Foam

ZoomX

ZoomX delivers Nike Running’s greatest energy return. It is featherlight, cushioned, springy and great at preventing foot fatigue. ZoomX is quick to compress and snaps back instantly.

ZoomX is used in the VaporFly Next% and AlphaFly Next%.

Fly Plate

FlyPlate

FlyPlate is a light carbon-fibre plate which delivers a snappy sensation with every stride. It provides a propulsive feeling to increase your pace.

FlyPlates are used in the AlphaFly Next%, the VaporFly Next% and the Zoom Fly 3.

Cushlon

Cushlon is a mix of Phylon and rubber additives that makes it lightweight and responsive.

Nike Air

NIKE_Air
Everybody knows Nike Air. That’s how Nike got big in the 80s in the first place. But do you exactly know what Nike Air is ?

Nike running shoes in the “Air” category often use Cushlon foam in their soles. Soft and resilient, this foam has 2 limitations: it is quite heavy (as most foam is) and it is not as “bouncy” as many runners expect their shoes to be.

The solution? Cutting off areas of the Cushlon-foam-made midsole and filling them up with plastic bags filled with “Air” (Nike’s secret gas compound). What this achieves is to reduce weight (by replacing the heavy foam with a very lightweight “airbag”) and to increase cushioning (being these airbags softer and springier than the Cushlon foam).

Depending on the shoe, you can have Nike Air bags in the heel, the toe, or both.

Air bags come in 3 formats: Air, Air Max and Zoom Air.

  • Nike Air -> the most common, medium sized air bags that fit well especially under the heel.
  • Air Max -> very thick and highly cushioned bags of air. In our opinion too unstable for proper running, mostly used on lifestyle shoes.
  • Zoom Air -> the thinnest units, ideal to fit in low-profile shoes. They were initially developed for soccer shoes, where normal Air bags would not fit inside the ultra-thin sole

Nike Free

nike-free-alt-closure-run-sqdrnbl-hypbl-cybr-free-flex-1-610x406

Nike Free is a concept. Started around 2005, the idea was to create a shoe that is so flexible that leaves the foot completely free to move in the most natural way.

Some people object that the Frees are still very cushioned shoes, therefore preventing the runner to have a true feeling for the ground below them.

While this might be true, the extreme flexibility of the Free sole unit, combined with very open-mesh and unconstrained upper make for a treat.

What do the numbers next to a Free shoe mean?

Nike abandoned the use of numbers in the Nike Free line in 2016, when they completely revamped the category.

Originally Nike Frees came in different versions, depending on how flexible they were. Their flexibility was ranked on a scale that goes from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 means “bare feet” and 10.0 is a traditional running shoe.

In 2016, with the coming of the new auxetic construction, the Nike Free range is completely new and the numbers are gone. We’ll go through the line and the models in a minute. Keep reading!

Nike Free Auxetic Construction

Nike Free Auxetic Construction

The new principle behind the Nike FREE line of running shoes is called “auxetic design”.

When your foot hits the ground, it expands both in length and width. Picture bouncing a ball on the floor: it squeezes and deforms because of the impact, then the opposite happens while it bounces back.

Nike engineers were looking for a way to design a midsole so that it would expand in both directions during the foot strike. The issue is that most materials, when stretched in one direction, become smaller in the perpendicular direction. Again think of an elastic band. If you pull it to stretch it long, it will most likely become narrower in the middle.

The auxetic design, characterized by the triangular cuts you see in the picture, allows the sole to do that. A stretch in one direction will equate to a stretch in the other.


Did you find this overview useful? Then don’t forget to share it on your favorite social network. Took me FOREVER to write it and I would love it if as many people as possible could read it.

Don’t forget to have a look at the other brand guides we wrote this year:


Don’t forget to check out our selection of the best running shoes, constantly updated.


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