10 Best Nike Running Shoes in 2021

Jens Jakob Andersen
Jens Jakob Andersen on
10 Best Nike Running Shoes in 2021

Nike needs no introduction.

The brand offers some of the widest selections of highly-rated running shoes for both beginners and seasoned runners.

We have tested over 70 Nike running shoes in our lab to help you narrow down the choices. If you are easily satisfied with the best, here are our top picks in different categories.

And if you’d like to learn more about various Nike collections, skip to our guide below the shoe reviews.

How we review Nike running shoes

Nike is a serious brand. But RunRepeat shoe testing lab is even more serious.

We purchase Nike shoes with our own funds to stay unbiased while testing every new release. Here is what we take each shoe through before claiming the best ones:

  • We cut, slice, and measure all Nike shoes in our lab to test them on more than 30 different parameters like durability, breathability, flexibility, and others.
  • Our testers run 30-50 miles a week to provide extensive feedback on each Nike model.
  • We also reflect thousands of expert and user reviews in our scores for a more comprehensive overview.

As a result, each Nike shoe receives a CoreScore, a number from 0 to 100, which helps us define the best Nike running shoes on the market.

Best overall

A shoe that’s it’s nearing its 40th iteration definitely does something right. But we still had to make sure by putting it through some rough wear tests and comparing it to over 200 other Nike shoes. 

And the Nike Pegasus still beats them all!

If you are looking for just one go-to for all your daily runs and walks, this is the one. Slower runs, tempo sessions, treadmill, and even some light gym workouts - this is your workhorse.

We find it surprisingly well-fitting for a Nike shoe (most tend to run narrow) and offering a little bit more toe room than the previous versions. We love its fully gusseted tongue that locks you down so well.

Its cushioning has a fantastic combination of softness (18% softer than average) and responsiveness (thanks to the Zoom Air unit). Together they make you feel so agile that you wouldn’t believe that this shoe is slightly heavier than the average.

Those extra 0.7 oz actually bring the benefit of durability. There was zero wear on the outsole after 30 miles and our lab tests show above-average rubber thickness and stiffness. The Pegasus will serve you well for at least 500 miles.

We are amazed at everything that Nike Pegasus is able to pack for its moderate $120 price tag. This is the GOAT not only among Nike shoes but also made it the top pick of our best running shoes!

See our full review and facts

If you forgot what it feels like to have fun on your runs, get the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run. This insanely bouncy trainer literally made us jump for joy!

You get the best possible cushioning unit from Nike (ZoomX foam) which is also used on their elite racing shoe (Vaporfly). “Bouncy” is not enough to describe it. And it’s 47%(!) softer than foams on average.

Although it is not the lightest trainer (9.65 oz compared to the average 9.8 oz) it actually feels weightless thanks to all that lively cushion.

It will be most suitable for people with stronger feet and ankles as the bouncy foam can get “too fun” and feel a bit unstable on corners.

But if a pair of trampolines is what you want to feel under your feet, there is no better option than the Invincible Run!

See our full review and facts

Best budget shoe

Nike Winflo 8 packs so much comfort into a $90 running shoe you wouldn’t tell it apart from a more expensive one!

We chose this shoe above 60+ other budget Nike’s as this is the closest that a cheaper shoe gets to the more advanced models. If you are looking for a stylish Nike shoe that you can take on daily runs, casual walks, or athleisure, this one will exceed your expectations.

The shoe feels so light and breathable that it makes a perfect pair for warmer weather (up to 80F!).

With its supportive cushioning you can go up to 10K at a time or even wear it all day long. We haven’t noticed any bottoming out of the sole after hours of running and walking.

For the style-oriented runners out there, the shoe is an eye-catcher with its visible Flywire on the top and the sculpted midsole underfoot.

It doesn’t get any better for $90!

See our full review and facts

Best for race

If you set out to run a marathon in less than 2 hours, this is THE shoe. 

The first Vaporfly turned the world of running shoes upside down by introducing a speed-boosting carbon plate and shattering all the previous records. And we have tried and tested the second iteration thoroughly only to make sure that it is still the absolute winner.

This elite racer is insane! It is a speed monster that keeps you on your toes all throughout the run. The carbon plate sets your feet flying while the unbelievable amount of Nike’s best cushioning foam (ZoomX) will bounce you off to a new PB.

Incredibly lightweight, the Vaporfly is among the lightest racing shoes in history. At 6.9 oz it weighs close to a racing flat while packing a crazy 38.6 mm of cushioning in the heel.

This shoe is not for everybody. It is too narrow and unstable to make a daily trainer but it was never meant for that. 

If you are looking for the most cutting-edge Nike shoe for going beyond fast, the Vaporfly Next% is the brand’s number one.

See our full review and facts

A runner-up to the Vaporfly is its maxed-out sibling, the AlphaFly Next%. This shoe embodies the future of running shoes, packing the most advanced technologies from Nike.

We were blown away by its marshmallowy soft cushioning which somehow manages to stay exceptionally bouncy for hours! And once you get on your toes, prepare to take off because the carbon plate together with two large Zoom Air units will make you believe you can fly.

It is a shoe for setting new records, both personal and world ones! It was the Alphafly prototype that took Eliud Kipchoge to the finish line when he ran a marathon in under 2 hours!

Beast of a shoe, it is also unbelievably lightweight. Given how much is going on under your feet, it weighs only 8 oz (16% lighter than the average).

Similar to the Vaporfly, it is not a stable shoe for daily training. Meant for the elite, it is the shoe that will shave off minutes (if not hours!) from your time on any distance from a 10K to an ultra.

See our full review and facts

Best for trail

Oh, how soft! Oh, so sexy! The Nike Pegasus Trail 3 won over our hearts and feet as one of the plushest, max-cushioned trail shoes out there.

There is so much joy in landing on these bad boys that it feels more like its cushy road brother (Pegasus 38). It also has a wider platform than other Nikes: our lab measurements show 116 mm (forefoot) and 92.6 mm (heel) compared to the average 112.8 and 89.3. Nice and stable!

It is also a lasting one. The shoe’s rubber outsole scores above-average on our hardness test, reaching 86HC over the average 79.2HC. It is not wearing out any time soon and we expect it to last as good 500 miles and beyond.

It is definitely a shoe for dry conditions and is also a great door-to-trail shoe. It’s going to feel comfortable even on a walk in a park when you take a break from trails.

If you want to stay away from the stiff, utilitarian off-road trainers, the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 is our absolute favorite. Its ultra-soft landings will make it love at first step for you!

See our full review and facts

If it is a trailblazer that you’re after, our top recommendation is the Wildhorse 7.

Having tested it on dirt roads, rocky trails, soft ground, and branches, we can confirm that this shoe “bites!” It’s all about the grip in this shoe. A variety of well-spaced lugs and dimples all over the outsole scream confidence and make you feel so secure on the trail.

We loved how the rock plate makes you forget about the obstacles below and focus on the fun. Even more, our feet never felt beaten up after the runs!

All the components in the shoe’s upper work so well together to make you feel locked in all throughout the run. Never once have we experienced slippage or foot shifting inside the shoe.

The semi-gaiters around the ankle are something. If you’re tired of catching debris and small rocks as you run, this thing will change your life.

Overall, the Wildhorse is not a shoe that will make you “walk on clouds” (that’s what the Pegasus Trail 3 is for). It is a workhorse that helps you go far and wide on your runs and hikes without thinking about the ground below.

See our full review and facts

Best for speedwork

Nike Zoom Fly 3 is the down-to-earth version of the Vaporfly elite racer. But once we put it through our tests, we found nothing “down” about this shoe.

It is a real speedster! It looks fast even when simply standing on the shelf. Visually it is very easy to confuse with the Vapofly.

Packing a similar carbon plate that’s used on the top-tier racers these days, we were impressed with how close it feels to the more expensive models. It sets you flying and at the same time feels stable enough to do your train runs for a marathon or a tempo workout.

This shoe is so versatile, we also find it by far the best value for money option from Nike. You get a hybrid of an elite racer for a price that’s slightly above-average for a regular training shoe.

This shoe passed our long-distance tests (10K) with flying colors that we can also recommend it for running a marathon.

So, if you are not yet ready to ride the insanely fast Vaporfly but want to start getting a feel for it, the Nike Zoom Fly 3 is the best starting point.

See our full review and facts

Another admirable option from Nike’s Next%-level running shoe collection, the Tempo is committed for a long haul.

This shoe “begged” us to take it on a long run straight from the box that we ended up going 13(!) miles at once! And what surprised us even more is that there was ZERO recovery time after running in this shoe. Your feet feel nice and pampered as if they just went on a light walk! 

Not only does the Tempo Next% feel fast like its bigger brothers (Vaporfly and Alphafly), it is also unbelievably comfortable. There is no breaking-in needed with the Tempo Next%. It connects to your foot from the start. 

We enjoyed the breeze coming from its paper-thin upper and the “swoosh” from its bouncy cushioning.

It IS a more expensive option for a speed trainer but it is also the most durable. Having logged 100 miles in the shoe, the rubber outsole is not even starting to show signs of wear. We find it the most heavy-duty shoe from the Next% collection.

Overall, if you don’t mind spending a little extra for that premium experience, you’ll get a lasting companion for going the distance and going it faster.

See our full review and facts

Choose the right Nike running shoe: Road or Trail?

nike-road-vs-trail-shoe.jpg

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus (road shoe) vs. Nike Pegasus Trail (trail shoe)

Nike road shoes

Nike trail shoes

Best for: pavement and surfaces with minor irregularities Best for: light and rugged trail
  • lighter
  • more flexible
  • generally responsive
  • more durable
  • aggressive sole
  • enhanced foot protection
  • usually have a stiffer midsole
See all Nike road running shoes Get your Nike trail running shoes here
Good to know: It’s fine to wear your trail shoes on the roads, but only at a minimum distance to avoid knee or foot pain. 

nike-road-vs-trail-outsole.jpg

Nike trail shoes have a more durable, lugged outsole.

nike-road-vs-trail-toe.jpg

The toe bumper is reinforced on the trail shoe.

nike-road-vs-trail-heel.jpg

Nike shoes for daily running vs. competition

Nike offers running shoes for competition and everyday runs. To help you get the right pair, here's the quick comparison between the two:

nike-daily-trainer-vs-race-shoe.jpg

Daily trainer: Nike ZoomX Invincible Run (left), Race shoe: Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2 (right)

Daily running shoes vs. competition.png

Nike shoes for daily running

Nike shoes for competition (racing)

Disclaimer: These are based on how each type of shoe performs in general. This does not apply to a specific model that exists. 

If you’re looking for a middle-ground daily trainer that can also go fast, Nike also has a selection of speed training shoes. Lighter, more nimble, and responsive, these trainers are ready for tempo runs, intervals, and even shorter races.

Arch support in Nike running shoes

Depending on the level of support you require, Nike classifies their running shoes into neutral and stability categories.

Neutral

shoe feel_neutral.png

Stability

shoe feel stability.png

  • enough cushioning for shock absorption and more comfortable experience
  • typically flexible and responsive
  • durable enough for everyday run
  • most Nike stability shoes are equipped with Dynamic Support technology
  • softer foam is added on the lateral side for cushioning
  • firmer foam on the medial side for support
 See neutral Nike running shoes See stability Nike running shoes (good for flat feet and overpronation)

Learn more in our in-depth guide on arch support and whether or not you need it. 

Additional features in Nike running shoes

Another factor to consider in choosing the best Nike running shoes is the extra features the shoe offers. 

Slip-on: Without the fuss of laces, slip-on running shoes allow you to simply slide your foot in and out of the shoe in an instant. Some of these models employ Nike's proprietary FlyEase design.

How it works on the Nike Revolution 5 FlyEase

Reflective: Some Nike running shoes also use Nike's reflective element to give additional visibility on low-light running conditions.

Nike-Pegasus-Trail-3-Reflection.jpg

Reflective element on the Nike Pegasus Trail 3

Water-repellent/Waterproof - Some Nike running shoes are equipped with Nike Shield technology, which offers protection from moist and cold weather without compromising breathability. They also have a few shoes equipped with a GTX membrane that gives the feet waterproof protection. See: Nike water-repellent running shoes.

GTX membrane on the Nike Pegasus Trail 2 GTX

Nike Vaporfly Models: Marathon Dominance and Controversy

Nike competition shoes, particularly the Vaporfly models, have shown dominance in major marathons including New York City Marathon, Chicago Marathon, London Marathon, Berlin Marathon, Tokyo Marathon, and Boston Marathon.

In 2018, out of the 12 winners (both men and women categories), 7 were wearing Nike Vaporfly shoes and 10 in 2019.

Infographic 4.png

The controversy around Vaporfly

A study conducted in 2019 found that the new Nike Vaporfly shoes improved an athlete's running economy by 4.2%. This sparked disputes as researchers and runners think that it confers an unfair advantage

The overall design of the shoe (a combination of the foam layer and carbon-fiber plate) that helps runners run faster ignited a discussion on whether it should be banned or not in competition. But after the World Athletics reviewed all the guidelines, the controversial Nike shoe was given a go for the Tokyo Olympics.

nike-vaporfly-next.jpg

Author
Jens Jakob Andersen
Jens Jakob Andersen

Jens Jakob is a fan of short distances with a 5K PR at 15:58 minutes. Based on 35 million race results, he's among the fastest 0.2% runners. Jens Jakob previously owned a running store, when he was also a competitive runner. His work is regularly featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC and the likes as well as peer-reviewed journals. Finally, he has been a guest on +30 podcasts on running.