2020 was a strange year for all of us, and that reflected on Nike’s assortment as well.
Not much changed during last year, and new models like the ZoomX Invincible Run, Vomero 15, and Structure 23 only appeared towards the end of the year.
The Alphafly Next % was the only true 2020 release, but it was akin to a Vaporfly Next% with a Zoom Air bag. The Alpha was underwhelming, to say the least, as evident in our in-depth review.
The Structure 23 took an interesting turn. It ceased to be the traditional stability running shoe with a firm ride and medial post. Instead, it’s now a supportive neutral trainer with plenty of ride comfort for high-mileage runs.
Another Nike shoe got redesigned from the ground up – the Vomero 15 with its new Zoom X and Zoom Air midsole. It was not at all what one expected it to be. Usually, a ZoomX midsole builds up the expectation of a soft and bouncy ride, but the new Vomero has a somewhat firm ride due to the liberal use of a firmer EVA frame and updated outsole geometry.
Only the ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit is truly unique and new for 2021. The high-volume midsole is made entirely of the ZoomX foam, thus making it the bounciest-soft running shoe we’ve had the pleasure of wear-testing so far.
Nike Free used to be a thing several years ago, but this sub-category has fallen out of favor. It’s not that people dislike flexible footwear; rather, it has a lot to do with Nike botching the Nike Free assortment. If a modernized version of a shoe like the 2015 Free RN Flyknit 4.0 was re-introduced, it’s going to fly off the shelves. Currently, only the Free RN 2018 is half-decent, so that’s why it features on this guide.
The Nike line is currently missing a couple of important silhouettes. The first is a traditional racing flat, a segment that was formerly addressed by the Zoom Streak 7 and LT 4. There currently exists a fully-fleshed lineup of cross-country and track spikes, so not having a track-worthy flat is a bit odd.
It would also be nice to have a low-profile and lightweight trainer. Not everyone wants a hyper-cushioned distance racer like the Vaporfly Next%. Besides, it’s a mega-expensive shoe. The Zoom Fly isn’t cheap either.
The Terra Kiger and Pegasus Trail get their annual updates, and so does the budget line-up of the Winflo, Revolution, and Renew Run. The Infinity React V2 has the same midsole and outsole as before, but receives a refreshed upper with a proper tongue instead of the sock-like heel of the previous model.
The recommended shoes are prefixed with their use cases; this is in no particular order.
1) Daily neutral trainer: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38
In our review of the Vomero 15, we said that it was more versatile than the Pegasus 38. So why not feature the Vomero instead?
There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Pegasus offers superior price-value value at $120 (the Vomero is $140). Two, the Vomero’s availability is spotty at best.
The Pegasus remains a very comfortable neutral running shoe, even though its softer ride makes it a less versatile running shoe than the Pegasus 35 or 36.
It’s best used for long-distance runs and daily training at easy paces. The heel is made entirely of React foam whereas the forefoot has a Zoom Air bag. This setup delivers plenty of ride comfort with some loss of versatility.
The upper is ok. The fully-sleeved upper makes it very smooth on the inside; the toe-box is a bit snug but secure. There’s not much change from the 37; the ride is the same. The padded tongue is a welcome change from the minimal design of the 37.
2) Daily neutral trainer: Nike React Miler 2
If the Pegasus 38’s firm forefoot and softer heel isn’t to your taste, consider the React Miler 2 instead. The midsole contains no Zoom bag; the entire stack is made of React foam. It’s like a toned-down Infinity React if you will.
On the road, the React Miler 2 is a well-behaved daily trainer with a comfortable ride. The React foam midsole delivers a consistent and smooth character without being mushy.
A hard heel stabilizing clip (reminiscent of the Epic React) cups the upper heel for stability. The said clip is connected to a molded heel counter to deliver a nice cupping action around the foot.
The Miler’s upper has a lot going on. The midfoot is very busy, replete with variable distance lacing and a pair of speed loops that are attached to an internal wrap.
This makes the midfoot snugger than it needs to be. It doesn’t help that the flat tongue runs a bit shorter and leaves no space if the heel-lock lacing is deployed. The forefoot is shallow due to the external and rather large toe bumper.
The upper has a secure fit, and is for the most part, comfortable.
3) Daily long-distance trainer: Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 2
Nike pitches the React Infinity Run as a running shoe to reduce injuries. We have no way to prove (or disprove) that claim, but what we can tell you is that the Infinity is a very comfortable shoe that makes long-distance runs less punishing.
Plenty of React foam is packed within the midsole. The wide base of the heel and forefoot contributes to the cushioning volume as well.
The outsole isn’t based on a solid one-piece layout; the grooves and exposed sections allow it to work seamlessly with the midsole.
It’s not the best shoe for tempo runs, or anything other than straight-line running. But if you’re looking for an easy-going and comfortable daily trainer for long-distance cruising, the React Infinity Run is a good use of your running shoe money.
The upper is standard Flyknit fare – reasonably secure with smooth interiors. For 2021, the Infinity ditches the slip-on entry and opts for a more conventional tongue and collar construction instead.
It’s worth mentioning that the heel clip over the midsole extends to the under-arch area. This section is felt under the foot during runs and can be slightly distracting.
The heel clip extension was a concern on the Infinity V1, and it’s the same for the V2 since both the models share the same midsole and outsole. Our full-length review covers this model in detail.
4) Ultra-cushioned cruiser: Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit
The ZoomX Invincible Run is an insanely cushioned and bouncy running shoe unlike any other. Making that possible is a high-volume midsole that’s made of nothing except the springy ZoomX foam.
There’s the obligatory plastic heel clip to stabilize the soft foam stack, but that doesn’t affect the cushioning. Only a medium-thickness insole separates the foot from the midsole; not even a lasting gets in the way.
The result is an uber-cushioned shoe that makes high-mileage runs extremely comfortable. Unlike many other Nike shoes, the Invincible’s upper has a plush interior, with a soft tongue and roomy forefoot making the fit comfortable.
However, this isn’t a shoe that does well under high-speed conditions. There’s just too much softness and bounciness packed inside the foot, so the transitions feel lazy and the stability deteriorates when pushed hard.
5) Cushioned trainer/racer: Nike Vaporfly Next% 2
The second edition of Nike’s signature Carbon-plated distance racer is now here. The Vaporfly Next % 2 remains fairly unchanged from the previous model, as the midsole and outsole are identical to the V1.
The Carbon plate inside the responsive ZoomX midsole produces the familiar snappy and cushioned ride that makes long runs comfortable yet speed-friendly. The rearfoot has a distinct springboard effect, whereas the stiff base of the forefoot promotes quick turnovers.
The upper retains the asymmetrical lacing that eases off the top-down pressure. The exteriors are made of a hyper lightweight mesh without any layering; a set of foam pockets (also on the Next % V1) helps with the heel grip.
Like most plated racers that combine a springboard effect with a soft midsole core (the Saucony Endorphin twins included), the rearfoot stability isn’t great. Thus, the Next% works better for forefoot strikers than runners who land heel first.
6) Cushioned trainer/racer: Nike Zoom Fly 3
The Zoom Fly 3 is the next best thing to the Vaporfly Next%. The less expensive Zoom Fly is a derivative of the Vaporfly and uses a similar Carbon-plated sole – except that the midsole is made of React foam and not ZoomX.
Though the firmer and heavier React midsole dilutes the springboard effect, it makes the heel more stable. Ride stability is somewhat of an issue with the lighter and softer Vaporfly and is observed on the Alphafly Next% as well.
The Zoom Fly 3’s supportive ride is safer and more predictable, so it appeals to a broader audience.
In short, the Zoom Fly 3 is the everyday version of Nike’s signature (Carbon-plated) running shoes. The 11 mm heel-to-toe offset is Achilles-friendly, and the high-volume React midsole makes distance runs comfortable.
The snug upper is very functional with a secure fit. The soft band wraps around the midfoot, and the ribbon laces are quick and easy to cinch through the speed loops.
7) Supportive neutral Trainer: Nike Air Zoom Structure 23
The Structure series has been around for over two decades, but this is the first time a firmer medial post is missing on the midsole. For most of its existence, the Nike Structure was a conventional motion control shoe that was distinguished by the firmer foam wedge.
The latest Structure 23 is still a supportive shoe, but a stability wedge is nowhere to be seen.
Our detailed wear-test left the impression that the Structure 23 is a supportive neutral running shoe with sufficient comfort for long-distance sessions. The forefoot Zoom Air makes the ride peppy and contributes to the overall versatility.
The upper is as supportive as the midsole. Just like the Pegasus and Vomero, the Structure 23 has a fully-sleeved interior that secures the foot without bumpy seams or hot spots.
8) Flexible daily trainer: Nike Free RN Flyknit 2018
Wait – this is a 2018 model, so what is it even doing on a 2021 buyer’s guide?
It’s no secret that the 2019 Free models – namely the strange-looking 5.0 and 3.0 – were nowhere as successful as Nike hoped them to be. They lacked the carefree yet functional flexibility that made the Free series originally successful.
So the Free RN 2018 exists in the shadows, and we’re glad Nike continues to sell this shoe. The Flywire-equipped upper and recognizable Free midsole creates a fit and ride experience that is pleasant and distraction-free. It has several traits that have made the Nike Free franchise successful.
The roomy Flyknit mesh upper feels light and breezy over the foot. In the rear, a collapsible heel prevents chafing without slippage.
Compared to the older generation Nike Frees (like the excellent 4.0 Flyknit), the 2018 RN has a softer ride. The hexagonal grooves make the midsole exceptionally flexible while providing plenty of ride comfort for daily runs or casual wear.
This shoe is the closest one gets to the fabulous Free 4.0 Flyknit, so that’s saying something.
Also see: The Nike Flex Experience Run 10.
9) Affordable daily trainer: Nike Air Zoom Winflo 8
The Winflo is Nike’s popular sub-$100 offering, and it’s back for the eighth time – with a few updates, of course.
The silhouette taps into visual inspiration from the Vaporfly, and there are signs of it on the upper and midsole. To be specific, it’s the exaggerated heel spring and outwardly curving Achilles lip.
The midsole and outsole carry forward from the Winflo 7. There are two Zoom bags inside the midsole, with a larger forefoot unit enhancing the cushioning responsiveness. The Winflo 8 is as much a forefoot striker’s running shoe as it is a heel-striking one.
The outsole doesn’t skimp on rubber. There’s a lot of it spread in a full-contact layout. Thanks to the deep groove, the heel crash pad functions independently from the rest of the outsole. A transition channel also runs down the length of the outsole to facilitate rearfoot landings and turnovers.
The snug-fitting upper is pretty basic. The thin mesh shell has a padded tongue and heel for rear comfort, while the aesthetic detailing on the lacing eyestay enhances the Winflo 8’s visual appeal.
So what’s new on the Winflo from a styling perspective, since the sole unit is the same as the V7? That would be the Flywire-equipped midfoot. Thin cords are sandwiched between the upper layer and loop through the lacing to make the midfoot fit secure.
10) Comfortable budget daily trainer: Nike Renew Run 2
At the height of its popularity, the Lunarlon cushioning was everywhere in Nike’s running line. Today, it’s all about ZoomX and React, so where does Lunarlon fit in? In shoes like the Renew Run V2, that’s where.
The Renew Run V2 is a sub-$100 Nike running shoe that uses a Lunarlon core under the rearfoot.
The rest of the midsole is made of soft EVA, and the densities of both the foams are very similar. This makes the dual-density cushioning smooth and consistent throughout the transition cycle.
Though this model is in its second year, the midsole and outsole do not see any change. The upper fit and feel is also similar to the V1.
The upper is pretty basic in its design, and yet the fused overlays and faux stitching makes the Renew Run 2 look like a more expensive shoe. The upper fits a bit snug in its standard width, but guess what – Nike sells an extra-wide in this shoe.
All in all, the Renew Run makes for a competent – and comfortable – running shoe for daily runs. You also get a proper outsole with decent traction and protection.
11) Affordable daily trainer: Nike Revolution 5
Of late, Nike has improved many of its budget offerings. Though the $90 Renew Run and Winflo 8 already exists on this guide, the Revolution retails at $65.
What the Revolution 5 offers for that price isn’t bad at all. The EVA midsole is cushioned, supportive, and smooth. The three large slabs of outsole rubber are separated by flex grooves, so the layout is traction-friendly while allowing the outsole to bend under the forefoot.
The no-frills upper is very basic. A basic mesh exterior is reinforced with fused layering; the fit is smooth and snug. The tongue and heel are padded for grip and comfort.
Nike also sells an extra-wide for wide-footed runners who find the regular fit narrow.
Also see: The Nike Downshifter 11.
12) Versatile trail-running shoe: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus Trail 2
Since the Pegasus 37 and 38 are much softer than the 36, naming the Trail version after it wouldn’t have been such a great idea. The last year’s Pegasus 36 trail had a lot in common with the road version. If Nike adopted an identical approach for this year’s Pegasus Trail, the outcome would have been disastrous. Nobody wants a trail shoe with mismatched midsole densities.
Except for the name, the Pegasus Trail 2 shares nothing in common (ok, maybe the React foam) with its road version.
So it was a sound decision to drop the numeric suffix from the second version of Pegasus Trail. This is a shoe that shares very little in common with the road-going 37 and 38. It’s also a very different shoe than the Pegasus 36 Trail.
The Pegasus 36 Trail was a winterized Pegasus 36 of sorts and behaved like a soft-roader – the kind of running shoe that’s intended for mild trails and regular paved roads. To sum up, it was a comfortable trail-road hybrid.
In contrast, the Pegasus Trail 2 is closer to a true trail running shoe. The outsole, for example, completely covers the midsole instead of leaving grooves and channels exposed. The lugs are also larger and better oriented for unpaved surfaces.
Also, take note that the midsole is all React and no Zoom Air. Loosely speaking, the Pegasus Trail 2 is like the React Miler. We say that because it rides like one – cushioned and consistent from the heel to toe.
The upper is very busy and cluttered; a mishmash if you will. The heel collar has a Wildhorse-type design that feels like the shoe equivalent of a turtleneck sweater. A loose fold of polyester wraps the ankles, whereas the actual collar padding is located a couple of centimeters below. The lacing is a mix of straps, Flywire-esque loops, and regular eyelets.
The midfoot strap extends towards the back and joins a heel strap, so that’s somewhat useful. There’re no flaws with the fit, though. The sleeve makes the insides smooth and comfortable. The sizing fits true, and we like how the outsole rides up the upper to form a functional and protective bumper.
While the Pegasus Trail 2 adds value to Nike’s trail running assortment by bridging the functional gap between the Wildhorse and Terra Kiger, we miss the simpler product that was the Pegasus 36 Trail. If you see the latter on sale, grab ‘em before they disappear forever.
13) Trail running – Wet and Dry: Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 7
We chose the Terra Kiger over the Wildhorse 7 because the latter has a much softer ride that dilutes proprioception. The Wildhorse may be a better pick for longer runs due to the higher level of ride comfort, but it’s not as versatile.
Also, we‘d rather take the Terra Kiger 6 over the 7, and that’s not just because of the $10 price increase.
That’s because the Kiger 7 no longer has a forefoot rock plate. Instead, there’s one in the rear. The Zoom Air bag trades places with the plate, so now it’s under the forefoot instead of being under the eel. Sure, having a Zoom Air bag under the forefoot adds protection, but it’s not the same thing as a rock plate.
To cut a long story short – if you can get a Kiger 6 for cheap, take it.
If that’s not feasible, the Terra Kiger 7 is (still) a comfortable trail running shoe with plenty of cushioning, courtesy of the React foam midsole and Zoom Air bag. The outsole grip is decent, the upper is smooth, and does a fair job of keeping the foot protected.