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Best Nike running shoes 2021: Top picks for every kind of runner

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Whether you want a comfortable training shoe or the best racing shoe on the market, Nike has you covered

If you’re the kind of person who looks at runners’ feet as they line up for a race, you’d once have seen a broad range of shoes in use – but not any more. Now, it’s a sea of green and pink, with Nike Vaporfly NEXT% emerging as the go-to option for pros and serious amateurs alike.

The Vaporfly is just one of many excellent shoes in Nike’s line-up, though. As well as premium racers, the manufacturer produces great stability, trail and cushioned shoes to suit all types of runner, all of which cost a lot less than the £240 Vaporfly.


Best Nike running shoes: At a glance


How to choose the best Nike running shoe for you

What kind of surface are you going to run on?

If you’re hitting the trails, you’ll need a dedicated shoe with extra grip and some protective elements on the upper to protect your feet from rogue roots and stones. In contrast, if you’re expecting to use the shoe mostly on the treadmill you don’t need to worry so much about grip.

Any road running shoe will work fine on the treadmill, but you might want to consider one of Nike’s gym shoes if you plan to also hit the weights room. These shoes will have sufficient cushioning for short strings on the treadmill while also being better-suited to lifting than normal running shoes.

Are you looking for a trainer, a racer, or a shoe to do it all?

If you only have space for one running shoe in your life, then an all-rounder that’s sufficiently cushioned for training, but still quick enough for racing, is your best bet. Alternatively, you could opt for a cushioned shoe, which will be the most comfortable option for your training if you’re a beginner runner or not too fussed about racing.

If you’re on the lookout for something to help set some PBs, you have the choice of a shoe like the Vaporfly, which has a large stack of lightweight cushioning and a carbon plate, or a traditional racing flat like the Streak, which only has a thin sliver of foam to keep the weight down. The latter can be a better option for those who want to set fast 5K and 10K times, especially as the Streak is much cheaper than the Vaporfly, but the Vaporfly is considerably more comfortable to use in a marathon or half marathon.

Do you need a stability shoe?

If you’ve had gait analysis and have been told you overpronate – roll your foot excessively inwards when landing – then you may well need a stability shoe to provide extra support. Nike has a few great options here. If you don’t overpronate, then a neutral shoe is the best option for you.

How much do you need to spend?

Nike’s latest Alphafly will set you back £260, which is as expensive as it gets. Below that, the Vaporfly will cost you £240. Nike’s other premium shoes tend to have an RRP of around £120 to £160, but they will often pop up in sales that take them nearer the £100 mark.

There are even better value options in the range, too, with shoes like the Pegasus and Streak having an RRP of around £100 and usually being available for a lot less than that.

How often does Nike update its shoe lines?

Nike releases an update to popular shoe lines like the Pegasus and Structure every year, so there are usually deals to be had on older versions that might differ only in colour. While the Vaporfly is updated less frequently, Nike released the Alphafly in 2020 which superseded the Vaporfly as the best racing shoe in its line-up. However, that’s not going to make the Vaporfly any less amazing, so don’t be deterred from picking it up if you want to set a PB in the near future.

The best Nike running shoes to buy in 2021

1. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38: The best all-rounder running shoes

Price: £105 | Buy men’s | women’s from Nike

Since Nike discontinued the popular Pegasus Turbo line, there hasn’t been a true all-rounder in its range. By that, we mean that there isn’t one shoe that offers the perfect blend of comfort and speed that you can use for all your training and racing. However, the Pegasus 38 comes the closest, and also costs just over £100, adding value to its many other attributes.

The stack of comfortable React cushioning in the midsole is the Pegasus 38’s main strength, with the foam providing a comfortable ride that still has a bit of pop in it when you do want to up the pace. The shoe is at its best on long and steady runs, but will cover all the bases for newer runners in particular. It is impressively durable, too, and the outsole grips well on light trails as well as the road to add to the Pegasus 38’s versatility.

Key specs – Terrain: Road; Arch support: Neutral; Best Used for: Training; Weight: 310g (UK 9); Heel-to-toe offset: 10mm

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2. Nike Downshifter 11: The best budget running shoes

Price: £55 | Buy men’s from Nike | women’s from Sports Direct

The best bargains on Nike running shoes are usually found in big sales, where you can usually pick up the Pegasus or Infinity Run shoes for well under £100. However, if you’re looking for a cheaper option without having to hope for the best in sales, the Downshifter 11 is worth considering.

It has an EVA midsole that’s not as responsive or cushioned as you’ll find on Nike’s pricier options, but it will get the job done for runners heading out for a few 5Ks each week, and the smart design of the shoe works for casual wear as well.

Key specs – Terrain: Road; Arch support: Neutral; Best Used for: Training; Weight: 288g; Heel-to-toe offset: 10mm

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3. Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2: The best short distance racing shoes

Price: £210 | Buy men’s | women’s from Nike

The Vaporfly NEXT% 2 largely stuck to the same formula as the original NEXT%, with the main change being that the upper is now a breathable mesh that allows for a roomier fit in the toe box. The biggest change between generations was actually in the price, with the Vaporfly 2 being £30 cheaper than its predecessor.

Given that you’re getting the same high level of performance from the shoe, that’s fantastic news. The Vaporfly pairs Nike’s soft and springy ZoomX foam with a carbon plate to produce a remarkably fast and efficient ride that’s helped runners of all levels set PBs at races of all distances in recent years. There’s no better option for 5Ks and 10Ks, and there’s only one shoe we rate as better than the Vaporfly for long distance races, and that’s Nike’s other carbon racer, below.

Key specs – Terrain: Road; Arch support: Neutral; Best Used for: Racing; Weight: 206g (UK 9); Heel-to-toe offset: 8mm

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4. Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%: The best marathon racing shoes

Price: £260 | Buy men’s | women’s from Nike

It’s very expensive, not exactly good-looking, and feels huge when you first pull it on, but there’s no other shoe we’d rather have on our feet when it comes to racing the marathon than the Alphafly. It takes the best attributes of the Vaporfly – the ZoomX foam and the carbon plate – and adds Nike’s Air Zoom pods under the forefoot for a poppier toe-off that only adds to the speed of the shoe.

While the high stack of the Alphafly can make it a bit unstable on twisty courses, especially at 5K or 10K pace, it’s brilliant for cruising through half marathons and marathons at high paces, when the cushioning and propulsion it provides helps you stay fresher for longer so you can power through the last few miles and claim that PB.

Key specs – Terrain: Road; Arch support: Neutral; Best Used for: Racing; Weight: 232g (UK 9); Heel-to-toe offset: 4mm

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5. Nike React Infinity Run 2: The best cushioned running shoe

Price: £140 | Buy men’s | women’s from Nike

When it comes to racking up the miles in comfort, few shoes can match the feel of the Nike Infinity Run. The large stack of React foam protects you from the impact of the pavements you pound, while a rocker moves you from heel to toe quickly and smoothly. There’s a band around the ankle to provide a small amount of stability, but not so much that it’s intrusive for neutral runners. The wide forefoot also adds to the stable feel of the shoe, which makes it a great workhorse for serious runners as well as a top option for heavier people just getting into the sport who will value the extra support.

The second edition of the shoe improves on the first by adding more padding and support around the heel while also adding more structure to certain areas of the upper. This means you get a more secure fit around the heel in particular, and the Flywire section around the laces holds the midfoot firmly in place on the run.

Key specs – Terrain: Road; Arch support: Mild stability/neutral; Best Used for: Training; Weight: 303g (UK 9); Heel-to-toe offset: 9mm

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6. Nike Pegasus Trail 3: The best trail-running shoes

Price: £115 | Buy men’s | women’s from Nike

Bringing the comfort of the Pegasus road shoe to the trails, the Pegasus Trail 3 is a great option for those who mainly stay on harder off-road tracks, or like to do their running on a mix of road and trails. The Pegasus Trail 3 has a full-length React midsole, which offers a high level of comfort while still being stable enough for runs on uneven ground, and there’s extra protection around the front of the shoe to stop stray roots or stones from smashing your toes and ruining your run.

The key difference with the road shoe is the outsole, which is designed to mimic a mountain bike tyre and does a great job of finding grip on harder trails, even in the rain. The relatively shallow lugs aren’t ideal for muddy paths, when deep studs are preferred for finding purchase. However, the shorter, wider lugs are why the Pegasus Trail 3 works well on the road as well as the trail, which many runners will value more than grip on boggy ground.

Key specs – Terrain: Trail; Arch support: Neutral; Best Used for: Training; Weight: 321g; Heel-to-toe offset: 9.5mm

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7. Nike Air Zoom Structure 23: The best stability running shoe

Price: £105 | Buy men’s | women’s from Nike

The Structure has been a popular pick for overpronators for more than two decades, and if you need a touch more support than that provided by the Infinity Run it’s your best bet in the Nike line-up. The stability features are still not overbearing, though, with extra support around the heel and through the midsole to guide your foot into a linear position gently, and neutral runners might also get on with this cushioned daily trainer, which is built to rack up a lot of training miles.

Key specs – Terrain: Road; Arch support: Stability; Best Used for: Training; Weight: 309g (UK 9); Heel-to-toe offset: 8mm

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8. Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit: The most comfortable running shoes

Price: £160 | Buy men’s | women’s from Nike

The Invincible is the first training shoe from Nike to feature a midsole entirely made from the ZoomX foam used in racing shoes like the Vaporfly and Alphafly. The foam is renowned for its softness and bounce, and the huge stack of it in the Invincible makes for an incredibly comfortable ride on long and easy training runs in particular.

Without a carbon plate in there, the foam loses the propulsive power you get in Nike’s racing shoes, but the Invincible is still pretty light and no slouch when you do want to up the pace. It’s also not unstable thanks to the wide design and plastic heel clip.

Key specs – Terrain: Road; Arch support: Neutral; Best Used for: Training; Weight: 314g; Heel-to-toe offset: 9mm

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9. Nike Air Zoom Tempo NEXT%: The best fast training shoe

Price: £170 | Buy men's | women’s from Nike

There’s a whole lot of tech packed into the Tempo NEXT%, which features two different foams, Air Zoom pods under the forefoot, and a carbon composite plate that runs from the midfoot forward. The shoe also has a huge stack height that’s technically too high to be legal for road racing, though we’re not sure anyone is going to be too bothered if you do race in them.

All that adds up to quite a bulky and odd-feeling shoe, but it’s also an undeniably fast one, despite the weight. React foam is used at the heel to provide a cushioned landing while also increasing the durability of the shoe, then the bouncy ZoomX foam used in the Alphafly and Vaporfly is used in the midfoot before you hit the plate and the responsive Air Zoom pods in the forefoot. It all adds up to a springy and speedy ride that only feels better the faster you run in the shoe, but the slightly strange sensation produced by the different foams, the plate and the pods might not suit every runner.

Key specs – Terrain: Road; Arch support: Neutral; Best Used for: Fast training; Weight: 277g (UK 9); Heel-to-toe offset: 10mm

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