We already have a buyer’s guide which covers a similar topic. However, while that piece covered a large number of running shoes, we felt that the major running brands deserve separate affordable shoe guides.
And what better way to kick this series off than to take a closer look at Nike’s sub-$100 assortment?
Being the $40 Billion the 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 which 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 2019 than ever before.
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 new Nike Winflo gets not one, but two Zoom Air bags. Flywire cord based lacing is now standard fare on the Quest 2 and the Run Swift. The midsole geometry of the once-popular Nike Free line has trickled down to models such as the Flex RN.
If we list all the shoes on this guide without context, it would be a jumbled mess. A better way of doing is an approximate categorization of shoe models, so that’s exactly what we have done here. The following list isn’t arranged in any order of preference.
Category 1: Regular neutral trainers
1) Nike Air Zoom Winflo 6
The Winflo makes frequent appearances on our guides, and it isn’t hard to see why. For a retail price of $90, you get dual Zoom Air units inside a cushioned EVA midsole. The outsole has a lot of rubber with functional lugs, so you get a shoe which not only grips well but also has sufficient cushioning for comfortable daily runs.
The true-to-size upper uses soft-touch materials for a secure and irritation-free fit experience. Available both in Men’s and Women’s colors.
2) Nike Downshifter 9
The Downshifter was a part of the original affordable shoe squad along with the 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 right. A single-density EVA midsole over a segmented rubber outsole delivers above-average levels of ride comfort and transition.
There’s also a SE variant with a gum rubber outsole and non-standard upper materials for a touch of style.
3) Nike Revolution 4
Giving the Downshifter company at the same retail price is the Revolution 4. In a way, it’s a different flavor of the Downshifter which is based on the same functional premise but offers a different aesthetic than the latter.
The EVA midsole and the LunarEpic-inspired pod outsole meets the basic cushioning needs. Clever use of thin, filmic overlays over a standard mesh delivers the right balance between upper comfort and support.
It is also available in a ‘FlyEase’ version which is easier to take on and off.
4) Nike Quest 2
If you’re looking for a sub-$100 Nike running shoe with a conforming upper fit and a cushioned ride, we recommend the Quest 2.
The laces are connected to a Flywire cord system which is anchored to the base of the upper. This results in a more secure midfoot fit. Comfort isn’t compromised due to the usage of soft materials like the Tricot Nylex heel lining and the padded tongue.
Opting for the SE version of the Quest 2 buys you color pops on the upper and midsole.
5) Nike Run Swift
For a price which is $5 lower than the Quest, the Run Swift is another Nike shoe with a Flywire lacing system. The midfoot is slightly more supportive than the Quest due to the fused layering complementing the Flywire columns.
The lower part of the shoe is the same as the Quest due to shared midsole and outsole parts. It’s no surprise then, that both the models have the same ride experience too.
Category 2: Speed trainer
1) Nike Zoom Rival Fly
If you’ve been shedding tears for the discontinued Zoom Elite, take solace in the fact that the Zoom Rival Fly is a replacement of sorts. Not all is the same though – the Zoom Rival Fly’s ride is softer than the super-firm Elite.
That’s not a bad thing, because you get the same Forefoot Zoom Air responsiveness but with added comfort. The midsole and outsole take geometry cues from the Next% but uses EVA foam as the primary cushioning agent.
The sleeved upper has a race tongue and speed lacing loops for a dialed-in fit.
Category 3: Flexible, Nike Free-inspired running shoes
1) Nike Flex RN 2019
The Flex RN offers the flexible ride experience of the Nike Free series at an affordable price. The midsole is generously siped length-wise for a high degree of flexibility while packing enough foam for day-to-day cushioning.
The flexible midsole comes with an upper to match. Except for the lacing anchors and the heel clasping system, the bootie upper is pretty easy-going – it even has a collapsible heel.
We must point out that the new Flex RN is a vastly different model than the 2018 model, and it’s a challenge for wider feet to get inside the shoe.
2) Nike Flex Contact 3
If you find the Flex 2019 RN hard to get into, the $10 cheaper Flex Contact 3 is a better choice. Deep, side-to-side grooves make the midsole extremely flexible while providing adequate levels of cushioning for daily training needs.
The slip-on upper is built more traditionally than the Flex 2019 RN. The forefoot mesh design is an homage to the original 2005 Nike Free; in the rear is a collapsible heel which is supported by a synthetic clasping system.
Like the Flex RN, the fit isn’t perfect though. There are only three lacing rows over a minimally padded tongue so the top-down pressure becomes noticeable if laced tight.
3) Nike Flex Experience RN 8
Within the flexible running shoe construct, the Nike Flex Experience RN 8 offers the most value. And we’re not talking just about the shoe’s $65 retail price – which, incidentally, is the lowest among the three-shoe collection with this category.
The Flex Experience’s design appeals to most runners. The rearfoot midsole is devoid of grooving for stability while the forefoot has the 2014 Nike Free Inspired design with multi-directional flex grooves.
The uncomplicated upper design has a smooth and comfortable interior without any of the quirks of the Flex 2019 RN and the Flex Contact 3.
Category 4: Low-impact athletic activity
1) Nike Renew Arena
If you plan on running serious miles, then skip this shoe and the other two that follow. But if all that you want is an athleisure sneaker capable of daily wear as well as mild athletic activity, then the Renew Arena (or the SE version) is a fashionable pick at $75.
The lightweight React-inspired (but EVA) midsole is comfortable enough for daily use. A mesh upper intersects with a midfoot strapping system for a smooth and secure interior fit.
2) Nike Roshe One
It’s been a few years since the Roshe Run set the sale chart 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 providing comfort.
An all-mesh upper in a two-piece Derby 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. It’s a great buy at a retail price $65 if you’re ok with limiting its usage to low-impact activities.
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