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Shoe Review: Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%

A runner models the pink Nike Vaporfly NEXT%

[This article was updated on October 14, 2019]


The fastest running shoe on the planet has a swoosh on it.

Nike’s ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% is the second installment in the speedy Vaporfly line. The first version dominated the world marathon circuit after it was released in 2017, and it propelled elite runner Eliud Kipchoge to both the official and unofficial world record marathon times.

So when Nike started designing the new Vaporfly NEXT%, they knew it had to live up to the reputation of the original Vaporfly 4%.

We think it’s even better than the first.

Nike again used an articulated carbon fiber plate in the midsole to make the shoe stiffer and give it lasting shape, and engineers created an entirely new fabric to make the upper lighter and less absorbent. By using the lighter upper material, Nike was able to add more of its bouncy ZoomX foam without changing the shoe’s overall weight.

And picking up where its predecessor left off, the Vaporfly NEXT% tallied its first major victory by Kipchoge at the 2019 London Marathon, and it helped Brigid Kosgei crush the women's world record marathon time at the 2019 Chicago Marathon.

Nike let us test out the shoe on the iconic track at their Portland headquarters where we put it through workouts to feel the difference between the old and new. We didn’t have a chance to test it on long runs or in a race, but we got a good feel for how it fit, how it performs and how it’s different from the original.

A runner sits on a track while wearing the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%

Nike Vaporfly NEXT% Materials and Fit

The process of making the new Vaporfly began with the upper.

Athletes who wore the Vaporfly 4% Flyknit during rainy races like the 2018 Boston Marathon wanted a material that wouldn’t absorb as much water as the Flyknit on other Nike running shoes, so engineers set out to find a solution. The new material, called Vaporweave, is a mix of two types of plastics: TPU and TPE.

Nike says Vaporweave absorbs 93 percent less water—whether that’s rain or sweat—than Flyknit, so it not only starts out lighter, but it finishes lighter, too.

The fabric is transparent (you’ll see the pattern on your socks through the shoe) and slightly stretchy, which lets it conform to the curves of your feet without getting baggy.

A runner wearing the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% running shoe in pink

In addition to soliciting feedback from their elite athletes, Nike tested the shoe on a much larger number of runners than the previous model. All that input from so many runners led to a few other noticeable changes from the Vaporfly 4%:

  • A wider toe box. Runners told designers they wanted more room in the forefoot, so Nike added width. We really felt the extra width, which made the shoe more comfortable.
  • Offset laces. Nike moved the laces toward the outside of the shoe to mitigate extra pressure and friction on the top of the foot when runners cinch the laces down.
  • Heel fit. Designers nailed the heel fit by adding a small cushion inside the shoe that wraps around the Achilles. The light and soft wrap dials in the fit and keeps your heel from slipping.

One of our testers ran an abbreviated track workout in the NEXT% at Nike HQ. She says the NEXT% fit her perfectly.

“My heel was cradled comfortably, the forefoot was extra roomy and the cushion was top-notch,” she says.

Another small feature we love is hidden under the shoe's tongue. Nike included two boxes to let you record the date and location of your milestone marathon or your 5K PR.

A hidden feature on the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% lets runners write their fastest time and date on the shoe's tongue

Nike Vaporfly NEXT% Ride and Performance

The NEXT% has an improved fit and aggressive look, but it’s the shoe’s speed that makes headlines.

Elite runners already proved NEXT% can fly: Kipchoge won the 2019 London Marathon in a time of 2:02:37—the second fastest official marathon time in history behind his own 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon—and the next two runners across the finish were also wearing the NEXT%.

Much of the shoe’s performance benefit comes from Nike’s ZoomX foam.

Nike designers say ZoomX is so good because of the amount of energy it returns to the runner. The company’s previous foams gave back somewhere around 60-65 percent of the energy runners put in; ZoomX returns up to 85 percent.

The original Vaporfly put the foam technology to the test, so Nike already knew it worked. This time, they just added more of it. Nike was able to pump about 15 percent more ZoomX into the midsole without increasing the shoe’s weight by pairing it with the lighter Vaporweave upper.

Designers used more ZoomX to make the forefoot wider and added 4mm of stack height there, too. There’s another 1 mm of foam packed into the heel, which changed the heel-to-toe drop from 11 mm in the Vaporfly 4% to 8 mm in the Vaporfly NEXT%.

A pair of the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% running shoes

One tester says she’s never felt a foam like ZoomX before.

“It’s so bouncy and soft,” she says. “I’ve never worn a shoe that’s this cushioned and this responsive.”

She ran several 400m repeats in the Nike NEXT% and then switched to a different shoe for another set of 400m. She says her splits in the NEXT% were seconds faster than her splits in other shoes.

“I’m usually a very consistent or negative-splitter when it comes to track workouts,” she says. “So the fact that my second half was slower—with the same effort—is proof that the shoe works. And I felt it.”

What's Next?

Nike athlete Eliud Kipchoge has been instrumental in the development of the NEXT%, and he etched his name the record books again in October.

More than two years after his near-limit-shattering two-hour marathon attempt in Italy (2:00:25), Nike says Kipchoge wore a future edition of the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% to finally cross the threshold.

On October 12, 2019, Kipchoge laced up his NEXT% in Vienna, Austria, and became the first human to run a marathon in less than two hours—his final time was 1:59:40.

Conclusion

The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% meets all of our expectations.

It’s faster than before, but it’s also more cushioned and more accommodating thanks to input from a much larger group of test runners. Even with limited testing time, Fleet Feet runners felt how fast the shoe can be.

“I could feel myself being pushed forward with every step,” one runner says. “Despite being sleep-deprived from traveling, dehydrated and hot during the middle of the day, running felt effortless. It’s insane.”

The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% is available on fleetfeet.com and at select Fleet Feet locations.

Still not convinced? Don’t sweat it. Fleet Feet's return policy means you can test drive your shoes and gear without risk. If you’re not happy with the way your gear performs, looks or fits, we’ll take it back within 60 days. Plus, you’ll get free return shipping on all fleetfeet.com orders. That's our Happy Fit Guarantee.

By Evan Matsumoto. Evan played many sports growing up but didn’t go pro in any of them. Now, he’s the digital copywriter for fleetfeet.com and editor for the Fleet Feet blog where he writes about different foam densities and engineered mesh uppers.

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