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Nike is undoubtedly one of the most popular sportswear brands on the market, largely due to its history of innovative footwear designs that continue to stand the test of time.
The History of Nike Shoes
The Oregon-based company launched in 1964. As the famous origin story goes, University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman would alter his runners’ shoes, including one U of O athlete named Phil Knight.
After Knight got his MBA, he decided he wanted to import athletic shoes from Japan, which would give him a competitive pricing edge over other styles on the market. Knight partnered with Bowerman to create Blue Ribbon Sports. With their manufacturer, Bowerman and Knight adjusted their shoes to better meet runners’ and athletes’ needs.
In the 1970s, the company really hit its stride. After cutting ties with their manufacturer (which would go on to become Asics) in 1971, Bowerman and Knight renamed their company Nike. That same year Bowerman famously poured rubber into his waffle iron, creating the prototype for Nike’s famous waffle sole.
In 1978, Nike created a running shoe specifically for women, called the “Lady Waffle Trainer,” a first for women’s sports.
The company has provided decades upon decades of noteworthy sneakers, from the classic Air Force 1 and Cortez silhouettes to unique collaborations with luxury fashion labels, streetwear brands and big-time musicians.
Nike has stayed relevant in part through its partnerships with some of the world’s most renowned athletes, from Tiger Woods to Lebron James. None, however, have equaled the impact of Michael Jordan. The shoemaker and athlete launched the Air Jordan line, which continues to be a major Nike draw, spawning new style and iterations.
Today, people covet the latest versions of Nike’s iconic styles that evolve and update through the years.
Below, explore the 16 best Nike sneakers to add to your footwear arsenal. Whether you prefer a retro style or a modern, rare design, there is a Swoosh pair for every taste. Make sure to keep this list handy while shopping for the best gifts for men, women, and the sneakerheads in your life.
Nike Air Force 1 Shoes
Best All-White Nike Sneakers
Originally introduced in 1982 as a basketball sneaker, the Nike Air Force 1 remains a classic in the current era. It is recognizable as a streetwear icon, retaining its roots thanks to its leather upper with springy Air cushioning in the midsole. The pair spans generations of style, from its release date to the current Gen-Z and TikTok crowd. They’re arguably the best Nike sneakers under $100 to be found.
Nike React Miler 2 Shoes
Nike’s React technology featured in the Nike React Miler 2 equates to soft, responsive foam cushioning. Support at the midfoot and heel makes these these one of the best walking shoes for men and women to wear all day and feel completely comfortable, making them a must-have addition to anyone’s shopping list. The silhouette and colors show current fashion’s love of anything nostalgic, channeling a slight ‘80’s or ‘90s vibe.
Nike Air Max 90 Shoes
The Air Max 90 was designed by Tinker Hatfield and introduced in 1990. It stays true to its original running roots with a breathable low-cut upper complemented by the iconic Waffle outsole. The style includes an Air Max unit for cushioning and padded collar for all-around support. Though the model has been around for 20 years, the brand continues to stick to its trusted design with a durable leather and textile upper.
Nike Air Max 95 Shoes
Continuing the Air Max lineage is the Nike Air Max 95, designed to represent the human body. The mesh upper is made to represent skin; the panels, muscles; lace loops, the ribs; and the midsole the spine. The shoe was originally developed for performance running back in the ’90s but has become a staple street style. A foam midsole and flex grooves offer flexibility on top of style, while a unique lacing system creates a locked-in feel.
Nike Metcon 7 Training Shoes
Best Nike Shoes for the Gym
Nike has long been known for running and basketball shoes, but the Nike Metcons have quickly gained cult status as the best workout shoes the company has ever made. Weightlifters love the wide, flat heel that creates a stable surface for lifting, as well as the inner plate that helps evenly distribute weight across the entire foot. It has flexibility as well, so it can handle your cardio needs, too. They’re widely considered some of the best Crossfit shoes and best shoes for flat feet.
Nike Air Max 97 Shoes
Inspired by Japan’s high-speed bullet trains, the Nike Air Max 97 shook up the running world with its innovative full-length Nike Air unit featured on the midsole that takes comfort to a whole new level. The uppers combine mesh and synthetic materials in an inimitable layered design that gives off the look of constant motion. The design includes pull tabs for easy on-off and is offered in an endless mix of colors to fully suit your personal flair.
Nike Blazer Shoes
Best Nike Basketball Sneakers
The Nike Blazer is traditionally known for its basketball roots, but has since turned into an everyday shoe, thanks to its clean and simple design. Starting with an oversized Swoosh across both the lateral and medial sides, this high-top sneaker includes a state-of-the-art autoclave formation that fuses the outsole to the midsole for a fully streamlined appeal. Topped off with a vintage-style treatment on the midsole and exposed foam on the tongue, the style still looks straight out of the ’70s.
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 Shoes
The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 is one of the best running shoes for long distances ever made. 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, 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.
Nike Air Jordan 1 Low SE Shoes
Prior to becoming its own entity, the Air Jordan line began with the Jordan 1. And even 30 years after its debut, fans can generally expect new styles to sell out instantly. Available in low, mid and high-top silhouettes, the iconic basketball sneaker is regularly updated in fresh colorways and modern collaborations to keep it fresh. With its hidden Air-Sole unit and leather overlays, it’s no wonder this style has stuck around for decades.
Nike Cortez Shoes
A West Coast staple, the Nike Cortez started as a running silhouette but retained its popularity thanks to the classic pairing of a premium leather upper and rubber sole. Released in the ’70s, the minimalistic design is perfect for completing off-duty looks or adding a sporty edge to a tailored suit. Whether you prefer a classic black and white colorway or a patriotic red, white and blue take, the Cortez will quickly become a staple in your own sneaker closet, too.
Nike Air Huarache Shoes
Released in 1991, the Nike Air Huarache remains one of the most popular offerings from the brand. The shoe’s standout feature is the lining of the shoe, which is created to act as an exoskeleton for the wearer, molding to the shape of the foot and ankle. Designed by Tinker Hatfield, this sneaker took the running world by storm before it made its way to the basketball arena and street style rotation.
Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 7 Shoes
The best trail running shoes require excellent traction and toughness, but also a lightweight feel to keep runners nimble and quick. The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 7 does just that. The series originally was introduced in the ’90s as an alternative to the Air Max and has received tons of updates since to tweak athletic performance. This trail running pair, for instance, is all about the multidirectional traction lugs to deal with rough terrain.
Nike Free Run 5.0 Sneakers
Best Nike Shoes for Standing All Day
The first Nike Free shoe came out in 2005. It was inspired by athletes training barefoot. The series is designed to be lightweight and minimal, with a forgiving sock-like upper that’s been a major theme for the shoemaker in the 21st century. The Nike Free Run 5.0 Sneakers are lauded as some of the best shoes for foot pain and plantar fasciitis, with their ability to stretch and conform to ones foot, while also providing adequate structure.
Nike Space Hippie 04 Shoes
The Nike Space Hippie 04 represents the Nike of the future. Boasting a futuristic feel, each pair feature at least 25 percent of recycled material by weight. The lightweight upper of this pair includes about 75 percent recycled content from materials like plastic bottles, T-shirts, and yarn scraps. With their super cushioned soles, they’re called some of the most comfortable sneakers for women.
Tom Sachs x Nike Mars Yard Shoes
Back in 2012, Nike and artist Tom Sachs partnered to create the Nike Mars Yard shoe inspired by Sachs’ interactions with NASA scientists, which saw a re-release in 2017 with pairs only available to those that completed his unique “Space Camp” consumer experience. The shoe is currently priced at over $5,000 on resale sites. The uppers include innovative warp-knit tricot mesh and materials mostly utilized in their natural state, meaning they’re of dyes or artificial changes.
Nike Air Zoom Pulse Shoes
Best Nike Shoes for Nurses
When it comes to the most comfortable shoes for men and women, don’t count out sneakers. Nike’s Air Zoom Pulse sneakers were actually built for and tested by nurses. The outsole is equipped for extra traction for wet or dry surfaces. There’s also lots of cushioning for comfort. This slip-on style is just as easy to take on and off as classic clogs.