Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review TL;DR: amazing racing shoes for those who want to run fast and crush their PBs race after race.
Although a little peculiar looking, the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% lives up to the hype and delivers speed and high energy return, making these shoes the best Nike running shoes and even the best running shoes to date. They didn't even need time to break in; you literally take the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% out of the box, put them on, fasten the laces and off you go running your best time on the road, regardless of the distance.
There was an awful lot of talk about the Nike Vaporfly in early 2020, especially after the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly was announced. People used to call Nike's top road running shoe range 'mechanical doping', saying it provides an unfair advantage to athletes who wear them. In all honesty, I thought this whole conversation online was just free marketing for Nike. After I tried the Vaporfly, however, I'm not so sure anymore.
I still wouldn't classify the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% as mechanical doping, but they are incredibly efficient road running shoes for sure. Each stride will return a lot of energy – not more than expended, though – and your legs will feel less tired, even after long distances.
Some people – or rather, a lot of people – might be put off by the price of the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%. Unfortunately, they will get further disheartened when I tell them that these shoes are not for everyday training, meaning when used correctly, they will only be used a handful of times a year. Wearing them more often and especially every day would result in leg pain, something I discovered recently wearing the similarly-built ASICS Metaspeed Sky.
Long story short, the Vaporfly NEXT% is a speed demon that delivers high speeds when you want to run fast. They won't do the work for you, but they will enable you to be faster than ever before.
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review: tech and ergonomics
With the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%, form truly follows function. These shoes have been engineered not to look cool but to deliver performance when you need them. The key component is the ZoomX foam, the updated version of the Zoom foam used in the original Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%.
The base of the ZoomX foam is Pebax, a material traditionally used in aerospace innovation. I'll let Nike explain: "Pebax has a lower density than some thermoplastic alternatives, and this makes it lighter, flexible and more impact-resistant, whilst giving it a higher capacity for energy-return." All we have to pay attention to are the last five words.
Embedded in the ZoomX foam, you'll find a full-length curved carbon fibre plate. The carbon plate is there to distribute propulsion as you roll your feet forward after landing on the soft cloud that is the ZoomX cushion. And it does the job perfectly.
On the top, you'll find the new Vaporweave upper, a lightweight woven mesh with upgraded moisture-wicking properties (compared to the original Vaporfly 4%). The asymmetric lacing system bonds the shoes to your feet, and the updated lace loop eliminates the need for an arch band – helping to relieve pressure on the top of the foot.
Much like the Hoka One One Carbon X 2, the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% is so light, once you fasten the laces, you'll pretty much forget that the shoes are on your feet. They don't feel like running shoes; they feel like trampolines strapped to your feet. They bounce and roll, and since the upper mesh is so thin, your feet won't get overheated or stuffed.
As mentioned above, there is no break-in period with the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%; it's ready to go straight out of the box. I found the fit spot on, not as snug as the Hoka One One Carbon X 2 but a solid fit nevertheless. Even the protruding rear part of the sole won't be in the way after the first few steps.
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review: aesthetics
I don't think many people would opt in to buy the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% for its looks. It truly is an unusual looking shoe with strange angles, asymmetric design and – especially in the case of the tested Ekiden Edition – non-matching colours.
These are not fashion shoes, and if anything, using them for anything but racing would not be beneficial. I couldn't find any information online about the longevity of the ZoomX foam, but I suspect that it won't stay in top condition forever – no running shoes do. The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% are like Formula 1 cars: they are designed for racing, not drive to Tescos to do your weekly shopping.
As much as I wouldn't say that the shoes are good-looking, I do appreciate bizarre looking objects, and whoever runs in the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% will want people to notice them. Even the original neon green and pink colourways were designed to stand out, let alone the Ekiden Edition.
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review: verdict
I loved the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%, but I appreciate they are not for everyone. These shoes will serve competitive runners who want to beat their PBs and don't mind spending extra cash on racing-only shoes. To justify the high price tag, you have to be dedicated to your craft (in this case, running), whether a pro or an amateur.
For the money, though, you'll get running shoes that will unlock your full potential: the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% is light and designed from heel-to-toe to provide the best energy returns on the market today.
The ZoomX foam will feel soft underfoot as you land, and the full-length carbon plate will provide enough propulsion at the toe-off point. The thick foam might seem too soft at first, but it helps tremendously to give you a boost just when it's needed.
The Vaporweave upper is so thin it's practically see-through, almost translucent. Despite the lightness, it does a brilliant job strapping the many layers of soles to your feet, and once the asymmetric laces have been fastened, the sensation of pressure above the foot gets dispersed evenly.
I personally don't think the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% classifies as mechanical doping, but I can see why some people think they would. These shoes will make you go faster because they don't hold you back; you won't lose as much energy on landing, and toe-off will require less effort, too.
Running in the Vaporfly NEXT% can make a runner's energy management more efficient, and on long distances, this can give users of the shoes the competitive edge. Should you be willing to pay the premium price.
Are the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% worth it?
As you can probably tell by now, I quite like the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%, and in my honest opinion, it's worth every penny. However, I appreciate that not everyone can justify the hefty price tag for shoes that should really only be used for races. Therefore, I'd recommend the Vaporfly NEXT% for people who take racing seriously and would like to crush their PBs race after race. Because they will in these shoes.
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% review: also consider
If you want running shoes that you can actually wear for training, try the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit for size. These brilliant running trainers also feature the ZoomX foam (just like the Vaporfly NEXT%) and thanks to the combination of the ‘evolved’ Flyknit upper, padded collar and puffy tongue, comfort is elevated to the next level.
The Hoka One One Mach 4 is yet another brilliant running shoe from Hoka. It's soft, it's springy as well as being well-ventilated and responsive. One of the best fast running trainers on the market today.