Color: Volt/Photo blue-black
Intended use: Recovery runs, long distance. Use on all surfaces except trail.
Surfaces tested on: Road, 21° C/70° F
Upper: Synthetic overlays, welds.
Midsole: Single density Lunarlon foam
Outsole: Carbon rubber
Weight: 254 gms/8.95 Oz for a half pair of US11/UK 10/EUR 45
Widths available: D-standard (reviewed)
The lack of noise around the $100 Lunarlaunch is surprising. You see it here and there online, but it’s not even on Nike’s US website. Is an official press release lurking around the corner? Not quite sure. Either way, we said it is surprising because the LunarLaunch (also known as Lunarvia pre-release) is a brand new shoe from Nike in more ways than one. When was the last time you saw a 4 mm heel drop, neutral trainer from Nike which was not part of the Free line-up? It also features an unadulterated, full length Lunarlon midsole (look ma, no firm EVA casing! ) which again, makes the Lunarlaunch uncommon. Ok, the last part was not apparent before we wear-tested and cut a few slits on the midsole, but it nevertheless piqued our curiosity. So we asked Nike PR to send us a pair, and luckily we got one pronto as a media sample. We buy 99% of the shoes we review, but hey, from time to time we welcome free shoes too.
There are more than a few unexpected elements in the Lunarlaunch, but we’d like to dispel any pre-conceived notions you might have beforehand. Look at the picture, and what strikes you is the shoe’s uncanny resemblance to Lunarglide 6. So you might be thinking, ‘it looks like a lower heel drop version of Lunarglide 6’, or ‘it’s a Lunarglide 6 with a minimal upper.’ While it is true that there’s a strong hint of similarity with respect to upper materials and construction, the ride character and purpose of the Launch is completely different.
At first glance, the midsole appears to be made of multi-density foam like the LG6, with differently colored forefoot and rear suggesting a combination of soft and firm foam. That assumption would be incorrect, as Nike uses midsole paint to create that illusion. This is our second encounter (first being LG6) with a paint job skilfully done; almost as if Nike has cut a tasty deal with a midsole paint supplier, there’s so much of it going around. Also, as we are used to seeing the Lunarlon foam inside a firmer base, we thought that to be case for LunarLaunch too. But we couldn’t write this review unless were triply sure, could we? So we cut deep slits in three different areas of the midsole to check if there was anything else inside.
The first cut was on forefoot sidewall, and then using a flathead screwdriver, that area was prised open. As you can see, the surface is mere yellow paint and beneath that is Lunarlon. We also cut slits under the forefoot and heel to see if there was anything encased, and our little endeavor yielded nothing. We discovered that the consistency of midsole cross section was identical to the Lunarlon foam found inside the Lunarglide 6. This meant that the entire midsole is one piece, and made of Lunarlon foam. So what does that make the LunarLaunch, and how does its cushioning behave?
The Lunar Launch is a softly cushioned neutral runner, with no pronation control elements to speak of. The brand also specifies the heel to toe drop as 4 mm, which we believe is a first for the brand in context of the mainstream neutral running category (non-Free). But do keep in mind that 4 mm is the unloaded drop, and very different from a loaded drop, which happens when full body weight is applied on the shoe. Most of the brands try to sell the heel offset number to runners, but the true measure of a heel drop should be considered when the shoe is in motion, and not while sitting on the shelves. A 4 mm drop of a Kinvara is not the same thing as that of the LunarLaunch, because midsole densities are different, which in turn makes them behave accordingly.
In this case, the Lunarlon foam midsole results in a very soft ride, causing the heel to compress a lot in relation to the forefoot, possibly creating a zero or negative heel offset while in motion. 4 mm is much smaller than most people make it out to be; to give you a perspective, the tiny conical tip of a Bic ballpoint pen is 3 mm. Add 1 mm to that, and then picture 150-180 pounds of bodyweight crushing a 4 mm thickness of soft foam. During the Lunar Launch weartest, it felt absolutely certain that the effective heel offset was zero millimeters or lower. During rear-foot strikes, the foam tends to briefly bottom out, a result of material softness and lower heel stack height.
The cushioning is soft, but is it responsive? It feels springy, much better than regular EVA, but was found wanting for more. There is plenty of softness to go around which also feels very uniformly spread – much due to the use of singlular density, Nitrile rubber blended Lunarlon. But compared to compounds/systems like the Boost foam and Zoom Air bag(s), responsiveness levels are lower. There is some additional spring-back in the forefoot – because of the ‘pressure-map’ design, which have these concentric rings of rubber overlaid on Lunarlon. These rings are mounted independently on the foam, and create a mini-piston effect of sorts when weight is applied. In a way, this behavior is similar to what we experienced on the Flyknit Lunar 2 forefoot – but delivered much softer.
We hoped that the transition would be superlative owing to uniform density. But, ironically, that very aspect works against that happening. Most of us land rear-foot first, and these foot-strikes makes the foot feel as if it’s momentarily pointing upwards before moving towards the forefoot. Kind of a mini-Achilles Tendon stretch, if you know what we mean. This nature of transition makes the LunarLaunch better suited for conditioning runs at a moderate pace, instead of something which you’ll choose for running fast in. If you want to go faster, a shoe which has a firmer midsole will perform better; the soft heel of LunarLaunch feels less economical during runs.
The outsole has rubber, lots of it. This is a shoe which has maximum rubber coverage for the new ‘pressure-mapped’ outsole, when compared to the Eclipse 4, Lunar Fly 2 and Lunarglide 6. Except for the grooves you see in the outsole picture, every part of the midsole is topped with rubber, creating an all-contact outsole. While durability should be good long term, there were signs of quick wear on outer heel even after the first 10 miler. The LunarLaunch’s heel area isn’t beveled, and the lug design isn’t flat (like the Pegasus) which seems to be the reason behind greater levels of wear. A lot of unbroken rubber rings also makes the forefoot quite stiff, plonking it in near-Kinvara territory.
Underneath, the grip is good and uniform, helped by the placement and design of outsole rubber. One good thing about the Lunar Launch midsole is that its waist (middle) is wide, and comes with a small flare under the arch area. The outcome of this is a noticeable level of under-arch support coming from the midsole. To put things in clearer terms, the midsole waist is wider than the more built-up Pegasus 31.
The uniform spread of upper fit is rather impressive. In most shoes, the upper usually feels relaxed in the forefoot, then building up snugness towards the midfoot. The LunarLaunch shows no such disparity, and the fit comes across as consistent throughout. While there are a couple of elements which help achieve that effect (we’ll cover that in a short bit), we think that the pièce-de-résistance in Lunar Launch is use of the Nike Free last. How do we know that?
The removable footbed holds a clue. It says ’neutral and soft’ on the top, nothing of much import there. But flip it over, and there’s a familiar marking. ‘Nike Free, QD-39’. If you been reading our reviews, then you would instantly recognize similar markings on the insoles of all variants of Nike Free Flyknit, and also this year’s Free 5.0. If all these shoes are using the same footbed with identical ‘QD-39’ markings, then it obviously underscores the fact that these models share identical fits. The only downside we see of that is this: if the same last is used across varying heel drops, then that should correspond to the increase or decrease in toe spring (space between tip of the sole and ground) upfront. Lunar Launch maintains a chunky forefoot while reducing the heel stack height, so that would mean the toe spring has increased. The big toe tends to poke through the mesh, almost as if proving our hypothesis right.
We loved the near-form fitting upper of the shoes we just mentioned, and that sentiment extends to the Lunar Launch too. The fit somewhat is reminiscent of a Free Flyknit, but minus the compression. The fit is supported by use of an inner sleeve, soft materials, a collapsible collar, and what Nike calls a ‘Burrito tongue’. The tongue is part of the medial upper, and no, not a traditional gusset. The collar continues to create the lip and lining of the tongue. It’s not the same fabric though, the tongue mesh looks the same as the one used on the collar, but it is actually softer. The other end folds over the lateral (outer) side of foot, and is comfortably padded. The laces are flat, and the cinching pressure is spread evenly without hot-spots.
As the case with most inner sleeved running shoes, the insides run a bit warmer compared to shoes with un-lined, open spacer mesh based uppers. But as we’re all heading into winter, that should be an issue (except for Australia, where it’s going to be summer soon. Ah, Melbourne. You are beautiful).
The upper mesh is identical to Lunarglide 6, with an open mesh laminated to a foam base. And then there are welded overlays which serve as the eyelet base and part of the heel window. The collar/heel area of the upper is collapsible; a design nod to the 2012 Nike Free Run 3 and the Free 3.0 V4. The collar goes snugly soft around the ankle, and if you want to dial up the fit, just use the last row of eyelets. There’s no reflectivity on the Lunar Launch; the fused Swoosh logos have a sheen like the LG6, but is not optimized for night time visibility.
Summing up our thoughts, we look at the Lunar Launch as a unique shoe. This is one of the few Nike shoes which combines low heel drop and traditional neutral running aspects. This shoe can be used as a daily trainer with good levels of comfort and durability, but not as a speed trainer.Note on ratings: Our numeric scoring of 8.6/10 is based on a total of weighted averages. The attributes namely transition, stability and fit contribute to 69% of total scoring weight, which we see as more important than material (7%), cushioning (7%), traction (12%) and weight (5%). Hence the scores will not add up when simple average calculation is used.