We already have a buyer’s guide that covers a similar topic. However, while that piece contained a comprehensive collection of running shoes, we felt that the major running brands deserve separate affordable shoe guides.
Being the $40 billion brand it is, every major release from Nike is backed with a mega-marketing budget and loud organic outreach. But that’s only true for their premium products featuring the latest and greatest.
Their affordable shoe options do not get much love. We don’t have the sell-thru numbers, but we suspect that Nike’s $70-90 offering contributes to a sizable chunk of their footwear business. A few years ago, there was a report that indicated that the Nike Roshe Run was the brand’s top-selling model of the year.
Nike’s basic shoe collection had always been backed by a couple of strong performers. If you turn the clock a decade back, models like the Dart and Downshifter had a great run and offered great value for money. If we recall correctly, those shoes were priced at $50 or so.
You won’t find $50 running shoes anymore – not within Nike’s playbook at least. But there are plenty of options within a retail price-band of $60-$90 – and that’s more true for 2020 than ever before. The Nike Downshifter still exists, but it now retails at $60.
Nike used to have a sparse affordable product line-up in the past, but that’s no longer the case. With competition heating up in the higher price segments, the so-called budget models are getting hand-me-down tech from their well-marketed cousins.
For example, the Nike Winflo 7 has not one, but two Zoom Air bags. The midsole geometry of the once-popular Nike Free line has trickled down to models such as the Flex Experience. Lunarlon gets a new lease of life on the Renew Run.
As a side note, we’ve noticed a strange quirk on the lower-priced Nike shoes; most of them have shallow and pointy toe-boxes. Don’t ask us why, though.
If we list all the shoes on this guide without context, it would be a jumbled mess. A better way of doing this is an approximate categorization of shoe models, so that’s exactly what we have done here.
Category 1: Regular neutral trainers
1) Nike Air Zoom Winflo 7
The Winflo makes frequent appearances on our guides, and it’s not hard to see why. For a retail price of $90, you get dual Zoom Air units inside a cushioned EVA midsole. The front Zoom Air bag is thicker to give forefoot strikers more pop during the gait cycle.
The outsole has a lot of rubber with functional lugs, so you get a shoe that not only grips well but also has sufficient cushioning for comfortable daily runs. The Winflo is one of Nike’s most well-rounded neutral trainers under $100.
The true-to-size upper uses soft-touch materials for a secure and irritation-free fit experience. We don’t know if it’s a deliberate design choice, but many sub-$100 Nike trainers have a shallow toe-box, the Winflo 7 included. Other than that, there’s no flaw worth mentioning. Ok, maybe the flimsy upper could be less so.
The Winflo 7 is available both in Men’s and Women’s colors.
2) Nike Downshifter 10
The Downshifter was a part of the original affordable shoe squad along with the Nike Dart, its then partner-in-crime. It’s still going strong because it is excellent value for $60.
You don’t get a fancy cushioning or upper tech at this price, but the shoe gets the basics down pat. A single-density EVA midsole over a segmented rubber outsole delivers above-average levels of ride comfort and transition.
The fit runs slightly narrow due to the last profile and non-stretch mesh used for the upper.
3) Nike Revolution 5
Design aesthetics from the Vaporfly and Epic React are trickling down to other parts of Nike’s assortment. The $65 Nike Revolution 5 is a completely redesigned budget running shoe that borrows visual cues from the React silhouette.
Instead of a React midsole, the Revolution features a similar-looking EVA midsole along with the familiar rippled outsole geometry. You get decent levels of cushioning and grip from this set-up. While the Revolution isn’t lightweight as the React, its 10.65-ounce weight passes muster for a budget trainer.
The mesh and fused overlay upper is pretty basic and at par for the price. It fits noticeably narrower than the Revolution 4, so bear that in mind if you’re switching models. The die-cut foam insole is non-removable to keep the costs down.
It is also available in a ‘FlyEase’ version that is easier to take on and off.
4) Nike Quest 3
With the upper and midsole redesigned from the ground up, the Quest 3 is a significant setp-up from the V2. We say that because the Quest 3 happens to be a better shoe than the V2.
Take, for example, the sleeker-looking upper that ditches the Flywire lacing cords for a smoother fit. Though there’s no difference in the retail prices (it’s still $75) between the two versions, the Q-3 looks, fits, and rides better.
Even the midsole is more comfortable, which is the result of a volume increase from the midfoot to heel. Though there’s no Zoom Air inside, the full-length foam midsole delivers dependable ride comfort.
The Quest 3 is like a Winflo 7, but minus the Zoom Air bag. The upper still runs a mite pointy in the forefoot, though.
5) Nike Run All Day 2
This basic running shoe retails at $70, so it’s built to a cost. A single-density EVA foam midsole doesn’t exactly match up to pricier React or ZoomX alternatives.
At the same time, the Run All Day 2 doesn’t look or feel cheap. This is a fully functional running shoe that has sufficient cushioning for daily runs and also happens to be decent price value as well. Nike hasn’t skimped on the outsole either; the underside is completely covered with waffle-shaped lugs for durability. The grip could be better, though.
The frugal design approach is applied to the upper, resulting in a basic set-up that consists of a simple mesh shell under stitched layers. The upper is fully functional too; the speed loops are easy to cinch and the insides fit snugly without any pressure spots.
Category 2: Flexible, Nike Free-inspired running shoes
1) Nike Flex Experience RN 9
The original Nike Free(s) aren’t around anymore, so the $65 Flex Experience 9 is the next best thing.
The all-foam unisole (there’s no outsole here) has deep flex grooves in a side-to-side configuration for elevated levels of flexibility. Here, both the heel and forefoot get the flex groove treatment, so the transitions are smooth and gradual.
And you know what’s the best part? The upper fit and feel matches the flexible character of the midsole. The heel counter is collapsible, and except for the logo, there aren’t any stiff overlays.
This design makes the Flex Experience 9 fit very soft over the foot while being secure. If we had to nitpick, we’d call out the shallow toe-box.
Category 3: Affordable trail running shoe
1) Nike Juniper Trail
We haven’t seen a sub-$100 Nike trail running shoe in a while, so any new shoe is good news. Which brings us to the Juniper Trail – a recently released trail running shoe that sells for $70-80 (the all-black model is cheaper).
For the price, the Juniper trail offers functional value that’s comparable to the Saucony Excursion TR. At the same time, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Juniper isn’t a hardcore trail running shoe.
While the dual-density midsole is cushioned and supportive, the lack of protective features like a sticky rubber outsole or a rock-plate limits the usage to non-technical terrain. When used on mild trails, the Juniper delivers adequate ride comfort and stability.
The upper isn’t waterproof, but the closed mesh upper keeps the debris out. The fit is also very snug and secure, thanks to the internal midfoot straps that are connected to the laces.
Category 4: Low-impact athletic activity
1) Nike Renew Run
Lunarlon is back in the form of the Renew midsole; this soft foam is encased within an EVA outer midsole. We see the Renew Run as a lifestyle-performance crossover shoe that is comfortable enough for casual use and the occasional short run. Nike hasn’t skimped on the outsole, so there’s plenty of carbon rubber coverage for durability and traction.
The snug and shorter-fitting upper is breathable and looks visually appealing. This shoe’s price is just $10 shy of a triple-digit price, so you get extras like the soft Achilles heel lining and dual-mesh tongue.
2) Nike Roshe One
It’s been a few years since the Roshe Run set the sale charts on fire. The Roshe One is one of the variants based on the simple mesh-and-foam concept of the founding shoe.
This shoe is as basics as it gets, and oddly enough, that’s what drives most of the Roshe One’s appeal. The single block of foam without any outsole rubber makes the Roshe’s design look uncluttered while being comfortable enough for everyday use.
An all-mesh upper with supportive midfoot panels makes the fit functional and the exteriors aesthetically pleasing.
3) Nike Tanjun
Do you want to go even more basic than the Roshe One in your shoe choices? The hyper-clean template of the Nike Tanjun is an embodiment of the ‘keep-it-simple’ ideal. A breathable mesh upper and comfortable lining materials do most of the work, and there’s even a fully functional lacing system.
An EVA foam unisole adds to the clutter-free charm of the Tanjun while providing functional yet lightweight cushioning. Its $65 price-tag makes it a great buy if you’re ok with limiting its usage to low-impact activities.