The company that would become one of the biggest names in sports all began with a University of Oregon runner selling imported shoes from the back of his car. Phil Knight started Blue Ribbon Sports in 1962 to sell Onitsuka (later known as Asics) shoes in the U.S., and by 1964 his former coach Bill Bowerman had joined him. The pair began experimenting with new running shoe designs, and that itch to push the envelope has been a Nike hallmark ever since. Now a global behemoth, Nike maintains its strong commitment to creating shoes that help runners go faster and farther.
Building the House of Swoosh and Air
Early successes helped the company (which changed its name to Nike in 1978) establish itself among runners. In 1972, Knight and Bowerman released the Cortez, one of Nike’s most iconic running shoes. Designed to be lighter and more water-resistant than other sneakers, the Cortez gained a following for its full-length cushioned EVA midsole, a new feature that gave runners unprecedented comfort. Another notable Nike invention of this era was the Air Sole design, which featured an air-filled bag in the midsole to absorb shock. It debuted on the Air Tailwind shoe in 1978, but Nike continued to refine the design and released Zoom Air cushioning in 1995. This technology continues in the Air Zoom shoes of today.
Nike’s Advanced Upper Constructions
Many Nike running shoes utilize a Flyknit upper construction, where a lightweight yarn is woven tightly in some areas of the shoe and loosely in others. The loose weave allows the shoe to flex with your foot for greater comfort, and the tight weave provides support in key areas where you need it. More recently, Nike debuted the AtomKnit material on the Alphafly Next%. It’s made by stretching and steaming Flyknit fabric, resulting in an even lighter upper. There’s also Vaporweave, a blend of TPU and nylon that’s lighter than Flyknit and also doesn’t absorb moisture, so rain and sweat won’t weigh it down.
Taking a Side in the Foam Wars
Nike does its chemistry in-house, and its foams are the products of years of experimentation. One early success was Lunarlon, a blend of EVA and bouncy nitrile rubber that debuted in the Lunaracer in 2008 and won a following for its springy, responsive feel. Nike honed this formula in its newer React foam to maximize cushioning, energy return, and durability while maintaining a low weight. ZoomX, made from blown Pebax, is Nike’s most energetic foam and used in shoes like the Vaporfly, Alphafly, and Vomero 16. Currently the fastest running shoe in Nike’s lineup, the Alphafly can deliver as much as 85 percent energy return; Eliud Kipchoge wore a prototype of the shoe for his historic sub-two hour marathon in October 2019.
How We Evaluated
We’ve tested many of the shoes below, and the others we’re in the process of testing. That means getting feedback from our Runner’s World staff and team of over 350 wear testers, as well as analyzing the shoes in our lab. We’ve performed a battery of mechanical tests to assess the energy return of Nike’s carbon fiber plates, the softness of ZoomX midsoles, and the breathability of Flyknit versus Vaporweave upper materials. The options below incorporate Nike’s newest top-shelf innovations and include flagship models, shoes for trail runners, and picks that suit the needs of overpronators. Where possible, we’ve linked to full reviews for a more in-depth look at an individual shoe’s performance.
Best Nike Running Shoes
1. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38
- Wider forefoot than previous model
- Versatile and dependable
- Overpronators might need more support
- Weight: 11 oz (M), 9.1 oz (W)
- Drop: 10 mm (M), 9 mm (W)
The previous generation of the Pegasus saw major changes, but the Peg 38 is a relatively minor update in comparison. The React midsole returns; this foam keeps the weight down while offering a responsive feel and durable cushioning. It’s paired with a Zoom Air unit in the forefoot that’s positioned closer to the foot for even more responsiveness. The forefoot is also slightly wider for a more accommodating fit. On the upper, midfoot webbing creates a snug wrap around your foot, and generous rubber placements on the outsole ensure the shoe will hold up through your training schedule. The Peg is also available in a slightly tweaked trail version.
2. Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2
- Light and bouncy
- Plush cushioning
- Now available in women’s sizes
- Exposed foam can wear down quickly
- Weight: 7.4 oz (M), 5.8 oz (W)
- Drop: 8 mm
Slotted just below the top-tier Alphafly in Nike’s lineup, the Vaporfly is a capable performer for race days. Designed for 10Ks up to a marathon, it combines a ZoomX foam midsole with a full-length carbon fiber plate for a lightweight, exceptionally responsive ride that’s suited for speed. Nike swapped in a new upper with mesh panels for improved breathability, and the offset laces keep pressure off the top of your foot for a comfortable ride—even when you get into double-digit mileage. Our final kudos: The latest iteration of this speedster now comes in women’s-specific sizes.
3. Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% Flyknit
- Weight: 7.4 oz/210 g (Men’s size 8.5)
- Drop: 4mm
The latest in Nike’s quest to build the fastest shoes on earth, the Alphafly is the production version of what Eliud Kipchoge wore when he broke the two-hour marathon record in Vienna in 2019. With this shoe, Nike threw in everything but the kitchen sink: two Zoom Air units in the forefoot, even more ZoomX foam in the heel, a full-length carbon fiber plate that varies in thickness depending on shoe size, and a new ultralight upper material called AtomKnit. What does all that tech do? For Kipchoge, at least, it enables record-breaking speed.
In late 2021, Nike also released the Alphafly Next Nature, a new version that utilizes scrap materials, including leftover ZoomX foam, in the upper and sockliner. According to Nike, the shoe is made of at least 50 percent recycled content by weight. One downside: It’s heavier than the regular Alphafly.
4. Nike Zoom Fly 4 Premium
- Weight: 6.5 oz (M)
- Drop: 6 mm
The Zoom Fly is the bulk training counterpart to the speedier racing shoes like the Vaporfly and Alpha fly. Despite having a carbon plate which aids in speedy turnover and increases energy return, it is more cushioned than most racing shoes which allows it to hold up during training. It has a sock-like fit which allows it to easily slide on and off, and it has flex in the midfoot which allows for a natural foot movement.
5. Nike Air Zoom Winflo 8
- Weight: 10oz
- Drop: 10mm
If you’re looking to spend under $100 on a pair of running shoes, consider the Air Zoom Winflo 8. Our testers praised previous versions for offering the total package while sticking within a tight budget. The shoe sports the Peg-like pointed heel as well as soft Cushlon foam and responsive Zoom Air units in the midsole, and it offers a smooth ride despite not using Nike’s more premium, bouncy React or ZoomX midsole foams. Plus, a breathable mesh throughout the forefoot and Flywire cables in the lacing provide a more secure and snug fit for improved support.
6. Nike Air Zoom Vomero 16
- Responsive ZoomX cushioning
- Collar caused ankle irritation for some testers
- Weight: 11.1 oz (M), 9.1 oz (W)
- Drop: 10 mm
The Vomero is Nike’s max-cushioned offering, and the sixteenth version has been totally revamped by adding the responsive ZoomX foam cushioning. It still remains lightweight with a breathable upper. Plus, the midfoot band is adjustable and a stable clip at the heel ensures extra security.
7. Nike Wildhorse 7
- Sock-like ankle collar improves comfort
- Slightly heavier and less stable than the Terra Kiger 7
- Weight: 11.6 oz (M), 9.5 oz (W)
- Drop: 8 mm
The Wildhorse has proven itself a capable performer through all kinds of off-road conditions. In this version, Nike swapped in React foam for a more responsive ride, added a softer ring of cushioning beneath the heel, and totally redesigned the outsole. The forefoot and heel feature abrasion-resistant rubber for good durability, whereas the midfoot is covered in sticky rubber for solid grip in wet trails and mud. Beyond that, a mesh panel at the forefoot helps these shoes breathe well. Overall, the plusher cushioning and thicker midsole make the Wildhorse a reliable, comfy option for running long and easy.
8. Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 2
- Immediately soft, then firm, React foam provides bottomless cushioning
- Heel cup was too wide for some testers
- Weight: 10.7 oz (M), 8.6 oz (W)
- Drop: 9 mm (M), 8 mm (W)
The new trend in stability shoes is less interference, and the Infinity Run adheres to that principle by providing comfort, support, and a smooth ride without impeding your natural movement. Its generous React midsole has a soft step-in feel but firm response, and the rocker-shaped sole promotes a smooth stride. Guide rails along the heel and new Flywire cables at the eyelets combine for a secure, stable feel. Most testers loved it, and according to Nike, the Infinity Run 2 reduced the occurrence of injuries (compared to its longtime stability offering, the Structure 22).