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The 11 Best Nike Running Shoes of 2021, According to Experts

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To say Nike shoes have shaped the sport of running would be a gross understatement. The two are as intertwined as peanut butter and jelly. Watch any race, and you’re most certainly going to find the notorious “Swoosh” logo littered on the feet of professional and amateur runners alike.

Nike History Rooted in Running

Nike’s strong presence in today’s running market is a direct result of its origin in the sport. It was a relationship between University of Oregon’s track coach Bill Bowerman and one of his athletes that kindled a spark that would eventually become Nike as we know it today.

Bowerman was known for altering his runners’ shoes in an effort to make them faster for competitions. One of his main subjects was a runner named Phil Knight. After graduating with an MBA from Stanford in 1962, Knight believed he could challenge the status quo by importing less expensive, yet equally high-quality running shoes from Japan. Knight’s former track coach agreed. The two joined forces in 1964 to form Blue Ribbon Sports, which officially became Nike, Inc. in 1971. With its unique business model, the company quickly became a formidable competitor to brands like Puma and Adidas who largely dominated the running shoe market at the time.

Nike Innovation Over the Years

Nike’s renown in running footwear is well-earned. Since the rather unconventional yet brilliant creation of the waffle spike shoe, where Bowerman famously used his waffle iron to mold melted urethane into rubber outsoles, Nike has continually pushed the boundaries of innovation in running shoes.

In 1978, Nike created the Lady Waffle Trainer, the first women’s-specific running shoe. The same year, at the Honolulu Marathon, the company introduced the Air Tailwind, which featured the ground-breaking concept of embedding “pressurized air inside a tough yet flexible bag” and placing it in the soles of shoes. Known as the Nike Air, these air bags lessened impact on the feet and body with every stride, while providing an energetic spring-like feel.

One innovation that would have a ripple effect on the entire footwear industry, including some of Nike’s best sneakers of all time was Nike’s ground breaking upper technology first introduced in the Flyknit Racer in 2012. The revolutionary new upper material was coined Flyknit, built to offer enhanced comfort,  breathability and be significantly lighter weight than traditional upper materials that were often used in running shoes at the time. This eventually led to the creation of the engineered mesh upper we see on most running shoes today.

Perhaps the brand’s biggest and most controversial innovation to date was its carbon fiber-plated running shoe, which was designed for Eliud Kipchoge’s attempt at the first ever sub-two hour marathon in 2017. Despite Kipchoge falling short, the shoe would go on to become one of the most sought-after racing shoes on the market. Nike claims the shoe (the Nike Vaporfly 4%) helps people run faster by boosting running economy by 4%. An independent study would later confirm this. You’ll now find the Nike Vaporfly 4% and its successors on the feet of all runners who wants to improve their race times.

How to Pick the Best Nike Running Shoe

Every running shoe is very different, even within the Nike brand. Unless you have a trained eye, deciphering which specs and technologies will work best for you can be a tricky task. David Salas, Doctor of Physical Therapy at Alta Orthopaedics and elite runner, says “the number one driver of what seems to work [for customers] is actually comfort.”

And yet, everyone’s definition of comfort is different. Some people may prefer more or less cushioning, depending on whether they desire extra support or enhanced ground-feel. Looking at the stack heights, a measurement of sole thickness, can give a good insight into how much cushioning the shoe has. Typically, the higher the stack height, the more cushioned the shoe.

Keep in mind, though, that how soft or hard a shoe feels underneath your foot will vary from model to model and is often dependent on a person’s weight.

Scott Tantino, owner of North Wales Running Company, also says it’s important to be open to trying new models each time you search for a running shoe, as your shoe needs and size may shift over time.

In case you’re not able to try on a pair in store, Nike offers a 60-day trial window to try and return, no questions asked, if they didn’t work out.

Settling on the perfect Nike running shoe can be daunting. To save you the headache, our team and a handful of experts tested every Nike running shoe to vet the best and showcase our favorites in each category.

Discover them ahead.

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38

Best Nike Running Shoes for Long Distances

Despite having launched nearly 38 years ago, this neutral trainer shows no signs of slowing down. As Nike’s all-time best-selling running shoe, the Pegasus 38 is one of the best running shoes for long distances ever made. Loyal fans will be pleased that modern iterations offer a near identical fit and feel. You’ll still find a full-length Nike React midsole with an embedded Zoom Air unit in the forefoot for soft landings and springy toe offs.

The two most notable yet welcome changes to the shoe include more padding along the tongue and heel counter and a wider forefoot that gives way for more natural toe splay. Priced at $120, the Pegasus 38 is hands-down one of the best-value running shoes you can buy. You really can’t go wrong with this classic.

Specs:
Weight 10.2oz (men); 8.5oz women
Stack Height: 33mm/23mm
Drop: 10mm

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nike



Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% Flyknit

Best for Marathon Racing

If it feels like you need an advanced degree in shoes to decipher between Nike’s carbon fiber racing shoes, you’re not alone. First off, the brand currently offers four: the Nike Vaporfly 4%, NEXT% 2, the Tempo NEXT% and Alphafly NEXT%. For the record, the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% happens to be the shoe Eliud Kipchoge wore when he became the first person ever to run a sub-two-hour marathon. Was it all about the shoe? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t one special model.

Slightly heavier than the NEXT% 2, the Alphafly Next% is best suited for longer distance races — featuring a wider base and dual forefront air pods that promote a more stable and cushioned ride compared to the NEXT% 2. Yet just like the NEXT% 2, it’s hard not to run fast in these. As one happy runner noted, “These are like nothing I’ve ever worn! They add such a bounce to your step. For running marathons, these are a dream!”

Specs:
Weight 7.4oz (men); 6.5oz women
Stack Height: 40mm/36mm
Drop:4mm

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% Flyknit
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nike



Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2

Best for Short-Distance Races

No other running shoe has had a greater impact on racing than the Nike Vaporfly 4%. It was the original carbon fiber-plated shoe that Eliud Kipchoge wore during his first sub-two-hour marathon attempt in 2017. The most updated version of this super-shoe, the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% 2, remains the most time-tested racing shoe that’s ever existed.

Complete with a full-length carbon fiber plate and Nike’s lightest and most responsive foam, ZoomX is a force to be reckoned with on the race course. At race-pace, the bouncy midsole seems to do the work for you for a sensation that almost makes it feel as if you’re flying over the ground.

This shoe isn’t for everyone, though. The aggressive geometry and narrow rear give it a wobbly feeling that only disappears at faster paces. How fast? I recommend it for anyone running Boston Marathon-qualifying times and below. Check out the Alphafly Next% Flyknit if you want a more stable marathon racing shoe.

Specs:
Weight 6.9oz (men); 5.8oz women
Stack Height: 40mm/32mm
Drop: 8mm

Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nike



Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 2

Best for Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is a pain in the you know what – foot! One of the best ways to help deal with the debilitating pain is wearing a good stable shoe with plenty of arch support. No other Nike shoe checks those two boxes better than the React Infinity Run Flyknit 2.

My first reaction was “holy arch support!”. The ramped insole was noticeably more supportive than any other Nike. There’s no lack of durable cushioning either. The React Midsole with its slight rockered profile held consistent mile after mile, while the noticeably wide forefoot provided excellent stability. As a bonus for the frequently injured runner, Nike lab tests found the React Infinity Run Flyknit 2 to help reduce injuries more than any other Nike Shoe. So flat feet aside, if you struggle with running injuries, these are definitely worth it.

Specs:
Weight 10.65oz (men); 8.6oz women
Stack Height: 33mm/23mm
Drop: 10mm

Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 2
CREDIT: Courtesy of Dick's Sporting Goods



Nike Air Zoom Structure 24

Best Nike Running Shoes for Flat Feet

Whether caused by genetics or the process of aging, flat feet can lead to concerns like foot pain, premature foot fatigue, swollen ankles and even back pain. “Runners with flat feet usually have gait style marked with overpronation,” says Dr Brian Crispell, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery. For people with flat feet, he suggests shoes that have “more torsional and longitudinal rigidity” to help resist pronation. Enter: the Nike Air Zoom Structure 24.

How we think about stability in running shoes has recently changed. Brands used to add a post or medial support (typically a firm piece of foam or plastic) to create stability inside of a running shoe. Now, it’s all about creating a stable platform for the foot and heel during landing and take-off. The Air Zoom Structure 24 does just that through a stiff heel counter that stabilizes the rearfoot and reduces torsional and longitudinal movement. As with most stability shoes, I found the cushioning in this one to be on the firmer end of the spectrum — so if you’re looking for a softer feeling, I’d suggest the Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 2 instead.

Specs:
Weight 11.0oz (men); 9.0oz women
Stack Height: 27mm/19mm
Drop: 8mm

Nike Air Zoom Structure 24
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nike



Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit

Best Nike Running Shoes for Shin Splits

While I can’t say with certainty these shoes will fix your shin splits, they sure will make them hurt a little less. As Nike’s most cushioned trainer, the ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit offers the softest of landings. One reviewer on Nike’s website noted that the cushioning was so comfortable, “five miles a day never felt so good.”

With stack heights of 27.6mm/36.6mm of Nike’s softest ZoomX midsole underfoot, it’s no surprise these feel so plush and protective. The massiveness isn’t limited to the midsole. “A wide, exaggerated shape,” as Nike puts it, gives the ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit an almost clown shoe-like look. But don’t be deterred — once you get a taste of how comfortable and smooth these bad boys are, you’ll be all smiles.

Specs:
Weight 11.0oz (men); 8.9oz women
Stack Height: 36.6mm/27.7mm
Drop: 9mm

Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nike



Nike Revolution 5

Best Budget

This no-frills running shoe is perfect for entry-level runners. The EVA midsole provides a good amount of cushioning, while the lightweight knit keeps your feet cool and comfortable. Of course, the low-price tag doesn’t come without its drawbacks. The biggest downside comes in durability. These just won’t hold up against the test of miles like most of the other shoes featured on our list. But still, if you’re in the market for a good-looking Nike shoe to wear to the gym for the occasional short run, these are hands down the best value running shoe Nike makes.

Specs:
Weight 10.6oz (men); 8.5oz women
Stack Height: 24.5mm/14.5mm
Drop: 10mm

Nike Revolution 5
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nordstrom Rack



Nike Free Run 5.0

Best Minimal Feel

First introduced in 2005, the Nike Free Run has been the preferred model for those who enjoy a more minimalist running experience. The redesigned, heavily segmented midsole and outsole allow the shoe full flexibility to move with your foot. “I’ve had every Nike Free there’s been for around the last ten years, and these are the best yet —unbelievably light and comfortable,” noted one long-time Nike Free Run user.

For the environmentally- conscious runner, the shoe’s new knit upper is now made with 87% recycled material.

These won’t be the workhorse type of running shoe, like most featured above, but if you’re looking for a style for short runs, these certainly fit the bill.

Specs:
Weight: Unknown
Stack Height: Unknown
Drop: 6mm

Nike Free Run 5.0
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nike



 Nike Pegasus Trail 3

Best Cushioned Trail Runner

The Nike Pegasus Trail 3 takes everything I love about the Pegasus 38 road shoe — a cushioned yet responsive feel underfoot for smooth landings and energetic takes offs — and packs it into one heck of a trail shoe. These puppies are thick-soled and super comfortable. They’re perfect for logging long miles through the woods. Underfoot, you’ll find 36 mm of Nike’s cushioned React midsole in heel and 26 mm in the toe, making these shoes one of the most cushioned trail shoes you can buy.

The shoe also includes Nike’s proprietary rubber outsole, which grips well in dry conditions but no so much on wet rocks. Despite the lack of a rock plate, I found the shoes to offer great protection.

And if you’re interested in turning heads, I highly suggest the mystic teal colorway. It’s one of the sharpest looking shoes I’ve ever seen.

Specs:
Weight 11.3oz (men); 8.7oz women
Stack Height: 36mm/26mm
Drop: 10mm

 Nike Pegasus Trail 3
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nordstrom



Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 7

Best Up-Tempo Trail Runner

When trail performance is a top priority for up-paced runs and race day, the Terra Kiger 7 is your ticket. It features the ever-so-cushioned and responsive Nike React midsole just like the Nike Pegasus Trail 3. However, it sets itself apart performance-wise with its new forefoot feature: a Zoom Air unit. “The combo of foam and zoom air make for a great transition through the foot,” noted one tester.

Meanwhile, the low stack height keeps you close to the ground, which can help prevent you twisting an ankle when running fast. The only downside, as with all Nike trail shoes, is how slick the outsole is on wet rocky, terrain. Still, if you manage to stay dry, these things rip.

Specs:
Weight 10.9oz (men); 8.8oz women
Stack Height: 31mm/27mm
Drop: 4mm

Nike Terra Kiger 7
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nike



Nike Air Zoom Pegasus Wide-Extra Wide

Best Nike Running Shoes for Wide Feet

It can be difficult for runners with wide feet to find running shoes that actually fit well. Nike’s top-selling Pegasus 38 Extra Wide may just be the perfect solution, even for those who need extra underfoot support. “I have to use custom orthotics because of a sports injury, and the extra wide (4E) size fits my wide foot perfectly,” noted one reviewer on Nike.com.

Crowned our Best Long Distance running shoe, the Nike Pegasus 38 will help you tick away the miles in complete comfort with upgraded padding along the tongue and ankle collar. Plus, a the full-length React midsole with Zoom Air Unit delivers a smooth, responsive ride. Note that for women, the shoe comes in a wide, rather than extra wide, width.

Specs:
Weight 10.2oz (men); 8.5oz women
Stack Height: 33mm/23mm
Drop: 10mm

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus Wide-Extra Wide
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nike


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