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 tech.
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, several news reports 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. Even a decade ago, models like the Dart and Downshifter had a great run by offering excellent value for money. If we recall correctly, those shoes were priced at $50 or so.
You won’t find $50 running shoes anymore at MSRP – not within Nike’s playbook at least. But there are plenty of options within a retail price-band of $60-$90. The Nike Downshifter also exists, but it now retails at $60.
Nike used to have a scarcity of affordable products in the past, but that’s no longer the case. With competition heating up in the higher price segments, the budget models are getting hand-me-down tech from their higher-end versions.
For example, the Nike Winflo 8 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, now in its second year.
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.
Category 1: Regular neutral trainers
1) Nike Air Zoom Winflo 8
The Winflo makes frequent appearances on our guides, and it’s easy to see why. For a retail price of $90, the Winflo offers dual Zoom Air units inside a cushioned EVA foam midsole.
The outsole is generously rubber-clad with functional lugs, so here’s a shoe that not only grips well but also has sufficient cushioning and responsiveness for comfortable daily runs. The Winflo 8 is one of Nike’s most well-rounded neutral trainers under $100.
The true-to-size upper is now updated with Flywire (cords sandwiched between mesh layers) midfoot panels that result in 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 8 included. Other than that, there are no flaws worth mentioning.
The Winflo 8 is available both in men’s and women’s colors.
2) Nike Downshifter 11
13 years ago, 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.
And what’s the difference between the Downshifter 10 and 11? Except for minor tweaks made to the upper, not a lot. The Downshifter 11 has a thicker Swoosh logo over the midfoot, and a slightly repositioned lacing system that moves the first row closer to the front.
The forefoot also acquires a seamless overlay, so fit runs slightly narrow – a little more so than the previous model.
3) Nike Revolution 5
Design aesthetics from Nike’s premium products usually trickles down to the entry-level shoes. The $65 Nike Revolution 5 is a 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 rippled outsole geometry. You get decent levels of cushioning and grip from this setup. 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 when 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 Zoom Span 3
A long time ago, the Nike Span was positioned as a lightweight stability shoe. It had a small medial post as the token ‘motion control’ feature, and it often appeared in tandem with the more supportive Nike Structure.
That’s ancient history. The Nike Structure 23 is a now neutral running shoe, and so is the Zoom Span 3.
Just like the Structure, the Span packs a pressurized Zoom Air bag inside the forefoot to deliver a responsive feel. The outsole is also ‘inspired’ by the higher-priced models; a waffle-shaped geometry works together with split lugs for smooth transitions and decent grip.
Like most Nike shoes that are priced below $100, the upper is very basic with fused overlays over a mesh shell. There are a couple of useful features like the sleeved tongue and Flywire lacing system that add value to the midfoot fit.
The Zoom Span 3 is decent value for its $80 MSRP. There’s enough cushioning and responsiveness to make it a versatile daily trainer, and the upper is comfortable as well.
Category 2: Flexible, Nike Free-inspired running shoes
1) Nike Flex Experience RN 10
The original Nike Free(s) no longer exist, so the Flex Experience 10 is the next best thing. Just like the Nike Free, this $65 model is a hyper-flexible running shoe.
The all-foam monosole (there’s no outsole here) has deep flex grooves in a side-to-side configuration for generous flexibility. Here, both the heel and forefoot get the flex groove treatment, so the transitions are smooth and gradual.
Though the outsole lacks rubber lugs, the traction is decent – except on slimy and dusty surfaces.
We love how 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. As a result, the soft upper has a near seamless and secure fit.
If we had to nitpick, we’d mention the shallow toe-box. But then that’s the case for most models on this guide.
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. This brings us to the Juniper Trail – a budget 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. That said, 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 isn’t found lacking in ride comfort and stability.
Though the upper isn’t waterproof, 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 2
Lunarlon is back in the form of the Renew midsole; this soft foam is encased within an EVA outer midsole. The overall styling hints at the source of Renew Run 2’s design inspiration; its aesthetics are clearly borrowed from the more expensive React Infinity Run 2.
We view the Renew Run 2 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 for durable traction.
The snug and shallow upper is breathable and looks visually appealing. This shoe’s price is just $10 shy of triple digits, so extras like the soft Achilles heel lining and dual-mesh tongue are included.
Except for the refreshed upper, the Renew Run V1 and V2 share the same sole and an identical ride.
2) Nike Wearallday
The Wearallday is a new shoe that sets itself apart from the rest of the models on this guide. It’s not a performance-oriented running shoe like the Winflo 8 or Zoom Span 3. Neither is it an all-out lifestyle sneaker like the Roshe One or Tanjun.
Its ride and fit character lies somewhere between the two segments. The comfort insole and smooth midsole deliver the cliched ‘all day’ wearability, and that’s matched by the seamless upper with foam-quilted padding.
This model’s fit and feel is superior to the last year’s Run All Day 2 – a basic shoe at the same price. The Wearallday’s mesh upper is softer, with the molded details adding aesthetic value.
This is a fully functional running shoe with sufficient cushioning for less-strenuous runs. Nike hasn’t skimped on the outsole; the underside is completely covered with waffle-shaped lugs for durability. The grip could be better though.
3) Nike Renew Ride 2
The Renew Ride 2 is $15 less expensive than the Renew Run, so it’s a toned-down version of the latter.
The snug upper, while comfortable, lacks the glossy trims of the more expensive Renew Run. Below, the midsole is single-density without the heel clip and softer foam core.
Nonetheless, the Renew Ride 2 targets the same consumer profile as the Renew Run. This $75 shoe occupies the sweet spot between performance running and casual athleisure.
As long as the runs aren’t hardcore, the foam midsole delivers adequate ride comfort. There’s a lot of outsole too – that helps increase the Renew Ride 2’s lifespan while providing satisfactory traction.
4) 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+foam concept of the founding shoe.
This shoe is as basic as it gets, and oddly enough, that’s what drives most of the Roshe One’s appeal. The single, rubber-free block of foam makes the Roshe’s design look uncluttered while resulting in enough comfort for everyday use.
An all-mesh upper with supportive midfoot panels makes the fit functional and the exteriors aesthetically pleasing.
5) Nike Tanjun
Do you want to go even more basic than the Roshe One? 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 and produces a functional yet lightweight cushioning character. Its $65 price tag makes it a great buy – provide its usage is limited to low-impact activities.