In this product guide:
- 1. Factors to consider
- 2. Our top pick: Nike ZoomX Invincible Run V2
- 3. Comfortable everyday trainer: Nike Pegasus 39
- 4. Comfortable marathon racer: Nike Vaporfly Next% V2
- 5. Comfortable tempo trainer: Nike ZoomX Streakfly
- 6. Comfortable flexible trainer: Nike Free Run 5.0
- 7. Comfortable entry level trainer: Nike Winflo 9
- 8. Comfortable road-trail hybrid trainer: Nike Pegasus Trail 4
- 9. Comfortable trail running shoe: Nike Wildhorse 7
To give credit where it’s due, Nike steered the then-nascent running industry into an entirely different direction when it launched the Nike Air Tailwind in 1979.
It was the first running shoe to feature a modern cushioning insert. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but the wedge foam midsole concealed a pressurized chamber of inert gas.
In retrospect, this Nike running shoe was the tailwind behind the cushioning technology revolution that came soon after.
The decades that followed were exciting times. Be it visible Nike Max Air, Reebok Hexalite, Puma Cell Trinomic, Mizuno Wave, Saucony Grid, or the Brooks Hydroflow – every brand had its skin in the cushioning tech game.
For a better part of Nike’s history, its Max Air cushioning tech was synonymous with running shoe comfort. And for a while, it was – a pressurized urethane chamber offered better responsiveness and cushioning than the prevailing midsole foams like EVA or PU.
At one point, Nike even sold a running shoe with a 100% Max Air midsole. It was aptly named the Air Max 360, but later versions evolved into a foam-Max Air hybrid.
The last decade was the age of the midsole super-foams.
Again, Nike took the lead with its Lunarlon foam – a material that was based on a synthetic rubber blend. It was used by countless Nike running shoes, many of which have been reviewed on this site.
Lunarlon went on to be replaced by React, and the latter got upstaged by the lightweight and responsive ZoomX. Today, visible Nike Air is considered a gimmicky tech that helps sell lifestyle sneakers like the Air Max 270 and VaporMax.
Zoom Air continues to be a part of the performance running catalog, but we think its days are numbered.
As far as the ride comfort in Nike running shoes go, the new-age foams have taken over. While it’s safe to assume that a cushioning material like React or ZoomX makes a Nike shoe comfortable, it’s also important not to apply blanket generalizations. For example:
The term ‘ride comfort’ isn’t the same across different categories
On an easygoing cruiser like the Invincible Run, more ZoomX is better.
However, this approach is counterproductive on the Vaporfly Next % or ZoomX Streakfly. The Streakfly’s racing flat character would be diluted with too much ZoomX, and the Vaporfly’s snappy responsiveness won’t be the same with a bulky midsole.
The Nike Zoom Alphafly Next% is a good example. Even though the forefoot has a large Zoom Air bag, the shoe doesn’t feel as springy as the Vaporfly.
We have also excluded the Pegasus Turbo Next Nature, but for reasons related to the upper design. Despite the comfortable midsole, the thick upper isn’t a good fit for the cushy ride.
Lightweight is usually better, but not always
There are cases where the low weight of a running shoe is the result of using superior midsole and upper materials. In Nike context, the Vaporfly Next% 2 is such a product.
However, at lower price bands, an ultra-lightweight running shoe is often sacrificing structural integrity. The New Balance Fuelcell Rebel V2 is a good example; it’s an extremely comfortable and lightweight running shoe with durability concerns.
A long time ago, Nike even sold a lightweight marathon racer that was aptly named the ‘Mayfly’. It was designed just to last a few training sessions plus a marathon, and then self-destruct.
It’s not just about a spacious upper, but rather how it fits
The interior comfort is a lot more than a spacious upper; it depends on how the upper interacts with the foot.
The upper of the Nike Free 5.0 and Vaporfly Next % have a snug feel, but the lack of overlays or pressure hot spots create a comfortable environment.
Solereview recommends: Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit V2
What happens when a midsole is made of nothing but Nike’s bouncy ZoomX foam? And it’s not just any midsole, but a high-volume kind with a wide base.
The result is an extremely comfortable running shoe, with a plush ride character that has very few rivals.
In our detailed review, we heaped praise on the soft and responsive midsole of the Invincible Run V2. Whether it’s easy-pace running or everyday athleisure use, the wide base delivers a generous amount of underfoot comfort.
From a cushioning standpoint, very little has changed between the Invincible Run 1 and 2; both the versions are based on an identical midsole and outsole.
While the Invincible Run V1’s upper was comfortable enough, small updates made to the second version bring slight improvements. The thicker tongue is better at absorbing the top-down lacing pressure, and the wider lacing makes the fit a bit (more) relaxed.
While optional widths are lacking, the standard fit will accommodate most foot profiles.
1) Comfortable everyday trainer: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39
Even though we think that Zoom Air is now redundant due to the availability of superior foam materials, that doesn’t take away the fact that the Pegasus 39 is a comfortable everyday trainer.
The React foam midsole is soft, but doesn’t overdo it – thus making the Pegasus 39 cushy enough for daily miles or long-distance runs, while making it versatile enough for the occasional tempo run. This shoe is surprisingly capable; our review explains why.
The Pegasus 39 is marginally softer than the 38, and now comes with a heel Zoom Air bag. These changes have a positive impact on the overall ride comfort. A removable Ortholite footbed adds the obligatory layer of step-in comfort.
Besides its primary goal of providing traction, the full rubber outsole also makes the Pegasus durable and transition-friendly.
The new upper is also packed with improvements. The inner sleeve is made of spongy spacer mesh, and the upper fits true to size without distracting pressure spots. The padded heel and tongue create a secure yet comfortable environment.
The loop-based lacing (aka Flywire) allows the upper to be fastened quickly and efficiently.
Also see: The Nike Structure 24.
2) Comfortable marathon racer: Nike Vaporfly Next% 2
If you think that the Carbon-plated shoe hype has reached a saturation point, the Nike Vaporfly is to blame. It was the first running shoe to popularize the Carbon-plate-in-a-shoe form factor.
But the Nike Vaporfly’s hype was merited. The S-curved Carbon plate produces a snappy springboard effect that makes marathon-worthy speeds possible. The said plate is embedded inside a soft and responsive ZoomX midsole.
Thus, with the Vaporfly grew a new generation of racing shoes, where speed and ride comfort could co-exist. In our review, we explain what makes the Vaporfly Next% 2 great.
The thin upper weighs nearly nothing to the weight, and we all know that a lightweight shoe increases the overall comfort.
3) Comfortable speed trainer: Nike ZoomX Streakfly
Contrary to Nike’s claim, we did not find the ZoomX Streakfly to be the ideal racing shoe for 5K and 10K distances. It’s too soft and cushy for that.
However, there’s one thing that the Streakfly does very well. The full-length ZoomX midsole is great to keeping the feet fresh for the entire duration of a 10K race. The soft and lively foam creates a comfortable ride experience that punches above its weight in the speed trainer category.
The soft midsole isn’t the only part that enhances the ride comfort. The lightweight upper does an excellent job of keeping the feet ventilated while reducing the overall weight.
The 6.0-ounce trainer also disappears on the feet during runs, and that too, adds to the sensory comfort.
4) Comfortable flexible trainer: Nike Free Run 5.0
This shoe has neither ZoomX foam nor an Air bag, so why is it featured on this guide?
Far too often, ‘comfort’ is reduced to a fancy midsole foam or upper material. But there’s a lot more to comfort than those two factors, and the Nike Free 5.0 shows us how.
The ultra-flexible midsole enhances ride comfort by eliminating stiffness. The foot doesn’t have to exert effort to flex the midsole. So isn’t a lack of exertion another definition of comfort?
The minimally-constructed bootie-upper also lacks stiff parts like a heel counter, and uses soft meshes, linings, and padding for comfort.
5) Comfortable budget trainer: Nike Zoom Winflo 9
If you don’t want to spend Pegasus money for an everyday trainer, then the Winflo 9 is a worthy substitute. Like the Pegasus, the midsole has Nike Air, and the rubber outsole offers long-lasting traction.
However, the new Winflo 9 differs from the Pegasus 39 and Winflo 8 in an important way.
The midsole no longer has Zoom Air, but ‘dot-weld’ Air – a full-length layer with small chambers of low-pressure Air. This layer is closer to the foot than the Zoom Air bag of the Winflo 8, so the ride comfort is focused at a step-in level.
The Winflo doesn’t use React, but another Nike foam that was used on vintage Vomero models. It’s an EVA blend that Nike calls Cushlon – a midsole material that makes the ride comfortable. Cushlon is not mushy, so there’s adequate comfort for daily workouts as well as the versatility for higher-paced runs.
Though basic, the Winflo 9’s upper lacks for nothing. The midfoot uses speed loops to help achieve a better fit, and the smooth interiors fit securely without pressure spots. The heel and tongue flap are padded for a comfortable fit.
6) Comfortable road-trail hybrid: Nike Pegasus Trail 4
In our in-depth review, we described the Nike Pegasus Trail 4 as a ‘road-trail hybrid’.
The soft React foam (it stiffens in the cold, though) midsole is comfortable enough for both road and trail use. The Pegasus Trail 4 is even softer than the Pegasus Trail 3 because of the redesigned midsole and outsole.
The reinforced upper provides protection where necessary, but the rest of the exterior is soft and breathable. The outsole also forms the protective toe-bumper, and the lacing panel has a thick eye-stay for durability.
There are a couple of things you should know about the Pegasus Trail 4.
The soft ride means that the shoe lacks stability on serious trails, and the upper fits a half size short on the Gore-Tex version.
On the other hand, the standard (non-waterproof) model also has a more secure midfoot (due to the Flywire lacing) and true-to-size fit.
7) Comfortable trail runner: Nike Wildhorse 7
The soft Pegasus Trail 3 has nothing on the Wildhorse 7. Though both trail shoes use a React-based midsole, the Wildhorse has more of the soft foam. The heel, in particular, has a thicker stack that adds a lot of cushioning comfort.
There are other comfort-focused features. For example, the heel collar has a soft gaiter to keep the debris out. The grippy outsole is also reinforced with a segmented rock shield to filter discomfort from the rocks and roots.