From a shoe reviewer’s perspective, two brands have done an excellent job of updating their products in 2018. The first company is Brooks and the other is Nike. We’ll soon have a separate write-up on Brooks, so let’s focus on Nike for the sake of brevity.
Until recently, Nike’s running shoes suffered from design fatigue. Models like the Pegasus/Vomero/Structure/Lunarglide didn’t offer anything new except for minor variations in styling and functional performance. That was until adidas shook up the athletic footwear market with the Boost platform.
The meteoric growth of adidas footwear was the shot in the arm, galvanizing a number of brands to infuse newness into their products. Be it Asics’s Dynaflyte, Brooks DNA AMP, or the Saucony Everun, the last couple of years have been anything but predictable.
The irony is that adidas is now the one with the design fatigue problem – most of their popular shoes (Ultra Boost) feel dated. The latest Solar assortment is good but far from great. The 2019 UltraBoost is due for release soon but we know not how good or bad the shoe is – yet.
Unlike smaller brands, Nike has considerable resources at its disposal. Not only does it have the luxury to develop its own cushioning tech, Nike’s sheer size also allows it to take design risks which would otherwise bankrupt a smaller organization.
Some of the said risks pay handsome dividends; others fail and are mere bumps on the road for Nike. They can be careless enough to release ankle-high running shoes with faulty inner seams or hype up terrible ‘running’ shoes such as the Vapormax.
At the same time, their bold approach has, more often than not, yielded success stories at a commercial scale. Think of Nike Air in the 80’s and 90’s. Or the Nike Free in the late 2000’s and the Flyknit construction from five years ago. History is the witness that proves the ends certainly justify the means.
For 2018, Nike leveraged Nike React and Zoom X cushioning along with a brand new silhouette; this design process has produced successful results. The Nike React Flyknit has a cushioning with a distinctly rubbery feel; the Zoom X foam is softer and more lively.
You won’t see the Vaporfly 4% on the list, nor the Vomero 13. The exclusion of the Vaporfly is due to its frustrating unavailability. The Vomero 13 is due for a major refresh with a React midsole and raised sidewalls. We’ll update this list with the Vomero 14 when it releases in early 2019.
The Zoom Fly is also missing on this buyer’s guide. The Zoom Fly is a great shoe for specific use-cases, but in our opinion, it doesn’t have a universal appeal due to its rigid forefoot and embedded plate midsole. Yes, we know that we included the Zoom Fly on the 2017 list, but there are better alternatives this time.
We have also left the Nike Free out. The Free assortment isn’t as great as it once used to be. Also, the whole minimal-flexible trend isn’t relevant anymore in the performance running shoe market. That said, flexible shoes make a lot of sense in a different context – we have a separate guide for that.
So what kind of Nike running shoes are on this list then? In fact, quite a few. The following buyer’s guide represents Nike’s popular staples in each category. All of these models are excellent performers in their class. They’re available in most countries, are not too expensive, and the upper is offered in multiple widths.
If you’re looking for travel and workout specific trainers, searching our list of guides might help.
1) Neutral cushioning: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35
The fact that the Pegasus is the oldest surviving running shoe series is a testament to its extremely versatile nature. It’s got a cushioned and responsive ride which works for most run types, and the sleeved upper has a comfortable interior. The outsole is durable so you get more value for the cash spent.
The price goes up by $10 over last year. In lieu, you get a full-length Zoom Air bag inside the midsole which has a significant (positive) effect on the ride quality. Read our very detailed review to know more about the shoe.
There are two other Pegasus variants. There’s a reflective and water resistant ‘shield’ version for damp and cold winter runs. The lace-less Pegasus FlyEase edition is designed for easy on and off.
2) Neutral cushioning: Nike Epic React Flyknit
The Epic React Flyknit features Nike’s namesake foam material made of a synthetic rubber blend. The result is a dense and deeply cushioned ride character which works great for longer training runs. The synthetic rubber composition also makes the Epic React suitable for heavy runners.
The Flyknit upper fits smooth inside. You need to watch out for the snug forefoot fit and the potentially irritating heel seam – if you decide to run sockless, that is.
Not a fan of the snug-fitting Flyknit upper? Perhaps the Odyssey React is the shoe for you.
3) Neutral cushioning: Nike Zoom Pegasus 35 Turbo
The Pegasus 35 Turbo is a lightweight but expensive neutral cushioned trainer. Though it’s an excellent running shoe (that’s why it’s on this list), we have mixed feelings about the Turbo.
On one hand, the ride feels great. The combination of Zoom X and React foam produce a ride quality which is comfortable for long distance runs without any of the slowness. The upper has a shallow toe-box and a snug feel but it isn’t uncomfortable.
There are a couple of things which we don’t like about the Turbo. The first is its price. There’s no inner plate like the Zoom Fly or the Vaporfly, nor is the midsole made entirely of the Zoom X foam. Which brings us to the second point.
There’s a thin line between misleading advertising and blatant lying, and the Pegasus Turbo treads the razor edge of the said line. The Turbo has an excellent ride quality regardless of the construction, so there wasn’t any need for Nike to label the React part of the midsole as Zoom X.
4) Firm and lightweight neutral trainer: Nike Air Zoom Elite 10
Need a firm shoe for your fast training runs without beating down your foot? The Zoom Elite 10’s midsole provides ample insulation from the road while delivering a responsive ride. Like one of our readers wrote, “think of the Elite 10 as a stripped-down Pegasus.”
The Zoom Elite works particularly well for forefoot strikers. There’s a large Zoom Air bag encapsulated inside the forefoot which produces a snappy ride. The Elite 10 has the same midsole as the 9 but there’s a price cut of $20. This makes the Zoom Elite excellent value for money.
5) Motion Control: Nike Air Zoom Structure 22
Motion-control or stability running shoes are dying breed. But for whatever it’s worth, the Structure 22 is Nike’s go-to shoe if you like a firm midsole with a supportive inner/medial side. The forefoot is responsive and snappy due to the Zoom Air bag inside.
In this case, a firmer medial side doesn’t mean a biased ride but a balanced foundation – which is good. The Structure 22 carries forward the 21’s midsole but has a brand new upper which features a Flywire cord based lacing and a longer tongue.
6) Lightweight racer: Nike Zoom Streak 6
At times, regular trainers don’t cut it for fast 5K or 10K races. For speed-focused runs, the Nike Zoom Streak 6 is an excellent option.
The midfoot shank and the heel Zoom Air produce a snappy and ride which is cushioned enough for distances of up to 10K. Sure, you can even run a marathon in these but it will depend on one’s footwear tolerance.
If you want a shoe which is lighter and ‘faster’, then the Zoom Streak LT4 is an alternative.
7) Trail running: Nike Zoom Wildhorse 4
It’s amazing how much value the Wildhorse 4 packs in for its $110 retail price. There’s a rock plate and a heel Zoom Air bag within a relatively cushioned midsole. The outsole’s multiple trail-oriented lugs grips well, and the semi-closed upper design keeps the debris out.
The Wildhorse is one product where the Flywire comes in very handy. The Flywire cords are partially laminated and stretch all the way to the forefoot. This helps keep the foot locked down during ascent or descent.
A lot of readers will want to know – why not the Terra Kiger? That’s because the Kiger has a 4 mm midsole gradient, no forefoot plate, and an upper which isn’t as debris-resistant as the Wildhorse. The Kiger has forefoot Zoom air but the Wildhorse’s rock plate has greater functionality.
Out of the two, the Wildhorse has greater versatility and is likely to appeal to a larger population of trail runners.