4% faster or 4% poorer? Does the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% live up to the hype?
The Nike Vaporfly Elite was created in conjunction with Nike’s Breaking2 project, to see if it was possible for a human to break the elusive 2-hour barrier in the full marathon. They came fairly close, with Eliud Kipchoge missing the mark by a mere 25 seconds.
The Nike Vaporfly Elite, however, is not available to consumers.
Instead, The Zoom Vaporfly 4%. The Zoom Vaporfly 4% retained the same traits as the Elites but feature a different upper.
The Zoom Vaporfly 4% is marketed to provide a 4% increase in running economy, allowing runners to run 4% more efficiently than Nike’s previous flagship racer, the Zoom Streak 6.
The Zoom Vaporfly 4% is exorbitantly priced at USD$250, higher than any other running shoe in the market. Adding on to the ridiculous price, Nike releases the Vaporfly in small and controlled quantities at long intervals.
I suspect this is a strategy to drive continuous interest. As evil as that sounds it works. Unless one constantly monitors several websites and is informed about the release dates, it is almost impossible to purchase one.
The shoes sell out after less than an hour, with some websites selling out in 10minutes. Many of those who purchased the shoes put them up on resale for 1.5-2x of the sale price.
After almost a year, I managed to get my hands on a pair in the “Obsidian/ Metallic” colorway. I admit I was bought over by the marketing hype and the endless praises this shoe received.
Heel to toe offset (drop): 10mm
Forefoot stack: 29mm
Rearfoot stack: 39mm
Technology: A one-piece engineered mesh upper (Flymesh) with an internal dynamic arch band.
Thoughts: The last of the shoe fits the shape of the human foot, which is extremely rare for racers.
The upper is comfortable and wraps your foot securely, like the ISO FIT used in many of the newer Saucony models. It remained very breathable even at 33°C and 85% humidity during my half marathon and I did not experience any hotspots.
There was one issue experienced with the reinforced toe cap. After the half marathon, I noticed that the toe bumper on my left shoe was dented in. I had to use a shoe tree to push the toe bumper back out. I’m not sure if it is a manufacturing defect.
Other than that, the upper is very well constructed with little room available for improvement.
Ankle Collar/Heel Counter
The ankle collar, like the rest of the upper, is very minimally padded. There is no heel counter or any sort of support frame in the shoe.
Usually, I don’t mind not having a heel counter in a shoe. However, with a shoe of such an unstable nature, a minimal heel counter would be a nice addition to provide some support to the shoe.
The tongue is of an asymmetrical shape that wraps around the foot nicely without bunching up.
It is rather thin but enough to protect the top of the foot from lacing pressure. I did not face any problems with the tongue falling to the sides.
True to Size.
There is ample room in the forefoot (one thumbs space) which is generous for a racer. The width accommodates those with wider feet.
Given the superb lockdown of the upper, there was no sliding around in the shoe. The shoe also accommodates those with higher volume feet.
Midsole Technology and Ride Quality
Technology: The midsole has two magic ingredients: ZoomX foam and a Carbon Fiber plate that covers the entire length of the shoe.
ZoomX is Nike's new foam compound made from Pebax. Embedded in the foam is a full-length Carbon Fiber plate that is specially moudled in a certain shape to transition quicker from heel to toe and pop off in the forefoot.
ZoomX foam claims a minimal energy loss of between 13%-17% and is 1/3 the weight of Cushlon.
Thoughts: When standing still or walking around in the shoes, it felt very unstable. This made me concerned that the initial instability would carry over to the running aspect.
The magic happens the moment you start jogging. “What kind of sorcery is this??” was the first thought that came to my mind. Placebo or not, the ride felt so smooth and soft yet retained the responsiveness akin to a racing flat.
The Vaporfly completely breaks the mould of a conventional racing flat. It feels like a Hoka Clifton 3 on steroids. Usually, there will be a trade-off when picking a shoe; cushioning or responsiveness, you have to sacrifice either one.
With the Vaporfly, you get the best of both worlds. The bounce back quality of the ZoomX is outstanding, and this is further amplified by the Carbon fiber plate. Nothing comes close. Not Boost, not Everun, not Flytefoam.
I initially tested the shoes with a tuneup run of 5x30sec at 1500m pace (3:20min/km) with a rest of 30sec at easy pace (5:20-5:40min/km). Three days later, I used it for a half marathon.
I concluded that the faster you go, the more the shoe rewards you. The shoe becomes more stable at speed compared to half-full marathon paces.
Speaking about stability, the shoe is not suitable for people with ankle instability/weakness. Due to my right hip being tighter than my left, my running stride is such that more stress is loaded on my left ankle and peroneals. This is further aggravated by the constant anti-clockwise turning while doing track work.
Halfway during my half-marathon, my left ankle felt more fatigued than usual and it got to the point where lifting my foot off the ground was a challenge. Due to the Vaporfly's soft nature combined with the high stack height, any weakness/tightness in the lower extremity is further amplified.
This brings me to the next dislike. The plate is way too stiff. With the Nike Zoom Fly, the plate eventually gets more flexible after about a month of use.
The Vaporfly is unbendable. This locks the toes in place without allowing them to flex. The concept is similar to the Hoka Clifton: stiff midsole, high stack height, and a huge amount of toe spring as compensation.
The difference between both shoes is that the Clifton still provides a small amount of flex as there is no plate to stiffen the midsole. I strongly believe that a shoe should work together with your foot and not alter its natural movement.
Yes, the carbon plate facilitates faster and smoother transitions in your stride. However, restricting the flexion of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint due to the extremely stiff plates could pose many injury risks.
Overall, the ride is perhaps the smoothest and softest that I’ve experienced yet the most responsive. The only drawback is the injury risk that the Vaporfly poses to certain individuals.
The insole in the Vaporfly is a standard foam insole that is glued down to the Strobel board. This is probably to prevent the disaster involving the insoles of the Zoom Streak that Eliud Kipchoge wore during the Berlin Marathon in 2015.
I would have preferred for the insoles to be removable as the shoe is on the unstable side. A light insole providing a little support would have been nice to provide some stability to the shoe.
Technology: A sheet of high-abrasion black rubber in the forefoot and several black patches of black rubber in the rear to provide grip and added durability. The sheet of rubber in the forefoot is strategically cut into several shapes to improve traction.
Thoughts: The outsole's traction is impressive. It provides plenty of grip on both dry and wet concrete/asphalt.
There wasn’t an instance where I slipped in this shoe. Traction on this shoe will never beat the tiny plastic nubs on those aggressive racers but performs sufficiently well. I don’t know what the weird shapes on the rubber of the forefoot does, but it works.
Midsole: The midsole comes creased right out of the box. I'm merely 25km in my Vaporfly, so only time will tell. I’ve heard from many owners of the Vaporfly that they last roughly 200km before the ZoomX cushion starts to break down.
Outsole: The black patches of carbon rubber are extremely durable. 25km in and the rubber pieces show zero signs of wear. The exposed parts of the midsole, on the other hand, are not as resilient.
The thin layer of “skin” that coats the ZoomX midsole is peeling ever so slightly, which worries me on how fast asphalt/concrete surfaces shred through the exposed areas.
Type of Work outs
The Nike Vaporfly 4% is best used for faster-paced training ranging from intervals to tempo workouts or races up to full marathons. I’ll keep it strictly for races, as the durability does not seem promising.
- Excellent traction
- Very cushioned yet responsive
- Seems to be easier on the calves
- Promotes a smoother running gait at speed
- Carbon plate perhaps too stiff
- Unstable midsole (more stress on the ankle)
- Overpriced ($345SGD for a running shoe??)
- Released too rarely and in limited quantities
- Glued in insole
Recommended Runner's Profile for Optimum Usage
- Midfoot Strikers (PURE forefoot striking in this shoe doesn’t utilize the plate as well)
- Pose method of running (Pulling instead of pushing)
- Good ankle stability
- Pronates mildly
Potential Areas for Improvement
- Wider and more stable midsole
- Slightly more flexible plate
- A heel counter maybe?
- Increased durability
- Removable insole
(Side note: Comparisons with this shoe are difficult as it does not feel similar to any shoe I’ve tested.)
Nike Vaporfly 4% vs Nike Zoom Fly
Both shoes look alike. That’s where the similarities end. The upper of the Vaporfly provides a much better lockdown and the ZoomX midsole shames the inferior Lunarlon, which feels dead in comparison.
I would love to have a Zoom Fly v2.0 where the midsole is made of React foam instead. The feel of the carbon plate is much more pronounced in the Vaporfly but is also much stiffer than the nylon plate in the Zoom Fly.
However, the Zoom Fly lasts twice as long as the Vaporfly. If you can afford it, this shouldn’t even be a question.
Nike Vaporfly 4% vs Skechers GoRun Ride 7
Even though both shoes are made for different purposes, I picked the GoRun Ride 7 as a comparison as the bounce of the FlightGen midsole was the closest thing to the Vaporfly.
Get both if you can. The GoRun Ride 7 is twice as cheap and feels best for slower runs whereas the Vaporfly is strictly for racing (at least for me).
Nike Vaporfly 4% vs Hoka Tracer
I’m using the Hoka Tracer solely as a representation of a long-distance racing flat, just to illustrate how the Vaporfly compares to the current market. The Tracer is much more stable, due to the firmer ride.
The Vaporfly wins in every other aspect. You probably have heard this in many other reviews (I was skeptical at first too) but the Vaporfly kept my calves happy at the points of the race where it would have been burning with lactate if I had worn the tracer.
Vaporfly hands down!
racing shoe that is a must try if you have sufficient ankle stability and don’t pronate severely. Snap up a pair when you have the chance!