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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 Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36s are a proven shoe from Nike that offer a durable, reliable, and well-tested set of features. With a fair price and smart looks, you’re sure to have a good run ahead if you grab a pair. Read full review »

Pros

  • Snug and modern fitting upper
  • Great rubber coverage on outsole
  • Simple upper reduces chances of chafing

Cons

  • Similar design and cost to the previous model
  • Fabric folds around the heel in an odd way
Nike Zoom Structure 22 - Lateral Side
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 Winflo 5 - Lateral Side
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

  • Great price to value.
  • Nicely cushioned with a sturdy grip that is suited for not only the road but mild to slightly moderate trails.
  • Nicely padded heel gives the shoe a decent transition making it suitable to longer runs.

Cons

  • Lacks the support of higher priced models.
  • Lockdown of the foot is lacking slightly making it not the best choice to faster paced running.
Nike Zoom Pegasus 35 Turbo - Pair
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

  • Lightweight
  • Soft Cushioned Feeling
  • Sleek fast looking shoe

Cons

  • Price
  • Design flaws hinder functionality of the shoe
Nike Zoom Vomero 14 - Lateral Side
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

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.

Nike Epic React Flyknit 2 - Pair
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
Nike Odyssey React 2 Flyknit - Lateral Side
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 Legend React - Pair
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 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.

Nike Free RN 2018 - Pair
The Nike Free Run is a lightweight minimalist shoe that performs well on runs of short distances (sprints to 10k's).

The shoe wrap allows the shoe to create a feeling of sereneness around the foot which in turn creates a great fit which results in a comfortable run. Read full review »

Pros

  • The shoe is lightweight and flexible.
  • The upper material is light and it breathes extremely well.
  • The shoe keeps the foot locked in place and secure in the heel

Cons

  • :ack of traction in slick conditions.
  • I cannot think of another "con" that I found while running in the shoe.
Nike Free RN Flyknit 2017 - Pair
Nike’s Free RN Flyknit 2017 is a lightweight daily trainer that wraps around your feet and flexes freely with your movements. It makes a few changes to the previous model, but keeps the soft outsole and flexible upper to give runners a pleasant and smooth ride. Read full review »

Pros

  • Flyknit that really fits and doesn’t flop around
  • Smooth and comfortable sole
  • Mild to wild color choices

Cons

  • Heel can feel tight to some, and top of heel fabric flaps back on itself
  • Hard to get a very snug fit with the elastic Flyknit upper
  • Outsole sometimes collects rocks

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 4% - but a few other deserve your attention.

Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% - Pair
Simply put, Nike has designed the greatest marathon racing shoe in history. The Vaporfly 4% is the culmination of a great deal of design research by Nike for the Breaking2 project.

If you're willing to pay almost $300 to get into a major marathon, as well as travel expenses, having the absolute best shoe on your foot for the distance shouldn't be an afterthought.

Although its pricey, this is a great investment in your next marathon PR for serious runners. Read full review »

Pros

  • Incredible cushioning to weight ratio with new ZoomX foam.
  • One piece mesh upper absolutely forms to the foot without hotspots.
  • I REALLY think this shoe makes you a bit faster. Like 4% faster and more efficient.
  • High stack height never felt unstable or slow.
  • This is the best racing flat ever designed.

Cons

  • None. You could complain about the $250 price tag, but every racing flat going forward will try and emulate this shoe.
Nike Zoom Fly 3 - Lateral Side
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
Nike Zoom Streak 7 - Lateral Side
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 Speed Rival 6 - Pair
The Nike Speed Rival 6 is a well cushioned and durable racing flat with an entry level price, but not entry level features. This is a great flat for runners wanting a bit more room in their racing shoes throughout the mid foot and toe box. Read full review »

Pros

  • A wider fit (Asian last) will accommodate runners that may normally have difficulty fitting into a racing flat.
  • Enough responsive cushioning to take on any road distance up to a marathon.
  • Incredible value at $80 for a durable racing flat that could last the whole year.
  • Hexagonal shank in the midsole does seem to help with faster paced running.
  • The wider footprint of the Speed Rival does add some stability over other racing flats.

Cons

  • Runners with narrow feet will not like the fit.
  • Initially the fit feels sloppy through the mid foot, but this doesn't effect faster paced running.

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.

Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 5 - Lateral Side
The Nike Terra Kiger 5 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, secure fit
  • More responsive than past models
  • Upgrades from previous model work well

Cons

  • Does not handle mud well
  • Rocky terrain can be a challenge
Nike Zoom Wildhorse 5 - Lateral Side
The Nike Wildhorse 5 is a decent trail shoe that is neither exceedingly fast nor exceedingly durable. It is pretty much middle of the road, which is not a bad thing.It's a good shoe for midweek training runs on the trails, provided the trails are moderate and not overly muddy or technical. Read full review »

Pros

  • Durable
  • Good foot protection from rock plate and EVA foam
  • Added toe bumper is improvement over previous editions
  • Solid price point $110

Cons

  • Not built for speed like the Nike Kiger
  • Struggles with damp, muddy or wet conditions

An overview of Nike running shoe upper technologies

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

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).

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.

You’ll find Engineered Mesh on many of the Nike’s most popular running shoes. Notable ones are the

In 2009, Nike introduced Lunarfoam, sometimes referred to as Lunarlon. Lunarlon is Nike’s softest, most cushioned and lightest foam compound.

Lunarlon is usually encapsuled in a container of harder Phylon foam in order to give structure and support to the foot where needed.

In short: choose Lunarfoam if you are looking for a soft, plush, cushioned ride.

Phylon

Phylon is Nike’s basic foam material. It is made of EVA Foam Pellets that are compressed then heat expanded & then finally cooled into a mold. It is easy to identify by the fine wrinkles the foam shows after usage.

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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