Verdict: The Nike Air Max 98 suffers from middle child syndrome. Trying too hard to be equally what came before (the AM 95) and carefree enough so that people don't notice. It is a comfy, retro-styled Air Max with elements of creativity. It's definitely one for the history books and holds true in today's trends.
Retro-styling with lots of colorways to choose from
Fits true to size
Speed lacing is easy and secure
Air pocket comfort
Lacks creativity in the design
Less durable than it looks
4.4 / 5
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The Nike Air Max 98 was born in the shadow of greatness
Nike’s Air Max line has been a highway of culture, revenue, and popularity for the brand that led them to become the powerhouse that they are today. But not all sneakers started off in the fast lane like the 95s and the AM Plus.
Some, especially the Nike Air Max 98 were always going to take their time. Maybe because of a lack of inspiration, or being overshadowed by both the 97 and the Air Max Plus. Either way, no one really thought about the Air Max 98 after its release.
Nike certainly didn’t, leaving Sergio Lozano’s (the designer of the Air Max 95) streamlined silhouette untouched, without a re-release until 2018.
The 98 lacked any of the innovation people expected from the Air Max line
Looking at the shoe, I’m not 100% sure Lozano cared too much, the air unit and the foam around it is an identical duplicate of the 97. Now, maybe he’d decided the 97 had the perfect sole, but I would love to see some changes.
There are other small similarities to the out-of-the-box success of the 97 like in the tongue shank, but they’re distant cousins when looking at the upper. No flowing lines (not even a hint of Lozano’s last sneaker, the AM95), just bold, in-your-face pallets of canvas and fabric.
Like most Air Max’s, the 98 was developed for runners (please don’t actually run in these though) and focused heavily on an aggressive shape and lots of cushioning.
The Nike Air Max 98 promises lots of retro, without overdoing it
I picked up the Racer Blue/Black/Dynamic Yellow colorway, opting to allow the sneakers to fit the retro styling they clearly want to. I do really love the silhouette for this kind of look. Thanks to its running inspiration, the Air Max 98 gives retro vibes without ballooning the sole to fit the waning chunky dad-shoe trend.
The Air Max 98 is quite stiff, like most running shoes of the 90s. This paired with what looks like sturdy upper construction makes for a comfortable shoe only once it’s been worn in.
Nike didn’t change much with the AM98, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing anymore
Sometimes staying to the same lane is great though; Nike is consistent in sizing and like most of their silhouettes, the Air Max 98 fits true to size.
The overlay lacing system that’s only changed slightly from the AM97 gives a solid amount of support throughout the whole shoe. The foam in the midsole is also embedded with polyurethane to add more strength to what is admittedly an excellent airbag system.
The upper’s high-contrast blocks of material are a mix of synthetic leather, mesh, and an enforcedsynthetic weave on the lower panels. This all builds up to a strong-looking, noticeable sneaker.
The Air Max 98 is a big step from the lightweight, agile sneakers of today
The construction doesn’t scream lightweight yet waterproof, so no surprise there that it’s neither of those things. In weather testing, also the construction kept water seeping between the sole and the upper, once the fabric was a little wet, water just flowed in.
However, the upper mesh and the tongue are both pretty breathable, allowing for the sneaker to dry quickly.
Thanks to the materials used and the range of non-white colors, the Air Max 98 is quite stain proof, the only areas of worry being the white mesh on the top. In reality, though, there’s nothing there that soaked up too much of the stains I put it through, and everything cleaned out pretty fast.
Although it looks tough, the AM98 falls apart where it counts
The final area I tested was the durability of the upper, and I was left really disappointed by how the Air Max 98 performed.
I was worried about the stitch detailing across the upper at first, thinking it could easily fall prey to abrasion and snagging. In actual fact, it was the synthetic plastic weavethat fell apart. I had been excited to see a sneaker that seemed to focus on strength across the upper, but here it really fell apart.
All said and done, the Nike Air Max 98 is still something of a contradiction. Not in keeping with the style of the other Air Max sneakers from the 90s, it is still a stand-out, retro-styled shoe that I/m happy to wear.
But, it falls prey to a lack of creativity and even worse, a lack of focus on some of the details. If fresh releases happen, I’d love to see some of that addressed.
Doug is a Scottish documentary and fashion photographer and filmmaker. Stumbling into the sneaker game later than usual, he started out behind a camera through long hiking expeditions around the world. Seeking a cleaner aesthetic, Doug now works mostly in fashion and sport, opting for outdoor locations rather than a studio.