Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review: The best running shoe money can buy

The Nike Vaporfly is the shoe that changed running. Used by the best athletes the world over for the past couple of years, it was most famously worn by Eliud Kipchoge when he set the marathon world record in Berlin 2018.

That record was actually set in the previous version of the Vaporfly – the 4% – and Nike has since tweaked the design of the shoe to make it even better with the NEXT%. If you’re going after a PB in your next race, especially if it’s a half marathon or marathon, there is no better shoe out there – but you will have to pay through the nose for the privilege of wearing it.

Buy now from Nike


Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review: What you need to know

The NEXT% was launched in April 2019 as the first major update to the Vaporfly 4%. Since then the green and pink Vaporfly has been a ubiquitous sight at the front end of marathons and half marathons as records have tumbled. So transformative is the technology in these shoes – including the carbon plate in the midsole – that many have questioned whether they provide an unfair advantage.

However, in late January 2020 World Athletics cleared the shoe as legal for use in competition, though it did introduce a new 40mm cushioning stack height limit for running shoes. That hasn’t stopped Nike launching a new marathon racing shoe, however, with the Alphafly NEXT% being announced shortly after the new regulations were put in place.

Kipchoge wore a prototype of the Alphafly when he ran a sub-2 hour marathon at an unofficial event in 2019, but this shoe appeared to breach the 40mm limit, where the one that will go on general sale will meet the World Athletics regulations.

Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review: Price and competition

The NEXT% is very expensive at £240, and competition is thin on the ground. The closest you can get to the performance of the NEXT% is the Vaporfly 4%, which costs £210 and is sometimes available for less in sales. However, the 4% is being phased out and it’s increasingly tricky to find as a result.

When it does launch, the Alphafly will supersede the Vaporfly in Nike’s line-up as the top racing shoe available. The Alphafly will have a price of $300, and although how that will convert to pounds is not yet confirmed, it will almost certainly be even more expensive than the Vaporfly. The Alphafly is going to be used at the USA Olympic trials on 29th February, so it should be on general sale soon.

Competition from other brands is starting to emerge though. The Brooks Hyperion Elite, a lightweight, cushioned marathon racer with a carbon plate, is set to launch in spring 2020. The Hyperion Elite will cost £210 and while it’s not as soft as the Vaporfly, it should provide a similarly fast ride over 26.2 miles.

Other brands who are expected to launch marathon shoes with a carbon plate in 2020 include Adidas, Saucony, Asics and New Balance. Whether any other brand can match the Vaporfly’s performance is yet to be seen, but what’s for certain is that the competition is set to get a lot fiercer for Nike’s top shoes.

Of course, if you don’t want a carbon plate in your marathon shoe and would prefer a more traditional racing flat, there’s an abundance of great options including the Adidas Adizero Adios 5, Brooks Hyperion and Nike Zoom Streak 7, all of which cost considerably less than the Vaporfly.

Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review: Design

The magic in the Vaporfly comes primarily from its midsole, which is made from Nike’s “ZoomX” foam. This foam is very lightweight, so even with a large stack of it, the Vaporfly weighs less than 190g (although weight will naturally vary according to shoe size). It’s also very bouncy; the problem with ZoomX foam is that it’s very squishy and not very stable, which is one reason the shoe has a full length carbon plate, to stabilise the foam.

The curved plate also helps to return energy and propel you forward with each stride. Indeed, the combination of Nike’s ZoomX foam and this carbon plate results in you running more efficiently in general when using the Vaporfly, and this efficiency boost is what results in faster times. The shoe doesn’t make you quicker per se, but by running more efficiently you use less energy to maintain a given pace.

With the NEXT%, Nike tweaked the design of the shoe a little compared with the 4%. The heel-to-toe offset – that’s the difference in height from the heel to toe – was reduced from 11mm to 8mm, and an extra 15% of ZoomX foam was crammed into the midsole to bring the overall stack height to 36mm (that’s 5mm more than the 4%). Other changes include a little more rubber on the outsole to increase grip in wet conditions, and a new, lighter “Vaporweave” upper that doesn’t absorb water.

These changes have made the Vaporfly NEXT% bouncier and more stable than its predecessor. It’s not a night and day change, and if you’ve used the 4% then the soft, springy feel of the shoe will be familiar when you step into the NEXT%. However, on wet days and on courses where you round a lot of sharp turns, the extra stability of the NEXT% is undoubtedly a benefit and the higher stack puts a little more pep in your step as well.

READ NEXT: Best fitness trackers

Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review: Performance

All of the technology in the Vaporfly sounds amazing on paper, but that’s the case with most running shoes, which always seem to promise the world. However, it only takes one run in the Vaporfly to know that it backs up its claims. Not only that, but there are also scientific studies to support the notion it improves efficiency, along with plenty of real-world evidence where elite runners and amateurs alike have run PBs wearing the shoe.

The shoe feels almost bizarrely soft when you first step into it, and it’s not especially stable either. Once you get running, however, you feel how the plate and foam underfoot help to push you forward with each step. As with all running shoes, you stop noticing this sensation once you’ve been going for a little while, but you won’t stop noticing the results, because the Vaporfly does make pushing through a marathon or half marathon at race pace feel just that little bit easier.

I’ve used the Vaporfly 4% and NEXT% to set all my PBs over the past couple of years, with my best runs all taking place in the NEXT%. Of course, the shoe isn’t going to do it all for you – I’ve also had a coach in that period and the structured training plans he has provided have been far more important in setting PBs than any shoe could be. You can still have bad days in the Vaporfly, but it is undoubtedly the best long-distance racing shoe out there right now.

The benefits of it are not so clear over shorter distance races, however. In a 5K or 10K the efficiency benefits of the shoe certainly don’t hurt, but you’ll probably be just as well off with a standard racing flat. You don’t need to shell out £240 on the Vaporfly to beat your parkrun PB, in short.

It’s also important to be aware of the fact that the Vaporfly isn’t the most durable shoe out you can buy. I’ve used a pair of the 4% for over 500km and although they haven’t fallen apart, the shoe is only designed to be at its absolute best for racing for 200km or so. Most people won’t notice a significant drop-off in performance after that, but the soft ZoomX foam will degrade quicker than the foams used in other shoes. Crucially, you shouldn’t take your Vaporfly off-road or you run the risk of ripping it to shreds and even falling over, because the grip on its outsole is designed for the road alone.

Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review: Verdict

It’s a bit of a luxury, then, the Vaporfly. There are certainly smarter ways to spend your money as a runner looking to improve – like coaching, or a trip to the physio to check on your running form. However, runners have always spent plenty of time debating what the best shoe really is, and until now there was no clear answer.

For now, at least, the Vaporfly NEXT% takes that title. In fact, with new regulations and a pause on shoe development implemented by World Athletics, it might not be topped for some time yet. If you have the money and just want the best shoe on your foot, then the Vaporfly NEXT% is the obvious choice.

Buy now from Nike

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *