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The best Nike running shoes 2021

Best Nike running shoes: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38
(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Future)

 If you’re a fan of the Swoosh and are thinking of investing in a pair of Nike running shoes, we don’t need to tell you that the choice is overwhelming. From the carbon fiber plates worn by Eliud Kipchoge, to the Pegasus running shoes your friend swears by, knowing where to start, especially when shopping online, can be the first hurdle to a more comfortable run.

Let’s start by saying, there’s no such thing as the best Nike running shoes. Like choosing a running watch or finding the perfect sports bra, it’s a personal choice and depends on how you run, your foot shape, and the ground you’re covering. That said, there’s a reason why Nike is one of the biggest brands in the world - love them or loathe them, they know their stuff when it comes to creating exciting shoes. 

Since Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman started experimenting with shoe designs in 1964, Nike has had one goal - to help runners go faster and further than ever before. Here, we've rounded up some of our top picks - from the shoes that will help you run faster than ever on race day, to the best pair to pick for your first 5K. 

What are the best Nike running shoes? 

 After pounding the pavements in the top models this year, we think the best Nike running shoes to buy right now are the Nike Air Zoom Tempo Next%. They’re far cheaper than the Vaporfly Next% or the Alphafly Next% on race day and they make speedwork and training really fun. In addition, you can wear them for just about all your runs, and (if you’re not planning on making it onto the podium) you can even use them for race day too. 

Alternatively, if you’re a beginner or you’re not looking to spend quite that much, the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 will forever be a safe and reliable choice. The Pegasus 38 has a higher and wider toe box than the Pegasus 37, a react midsole that offers a brilliant amount of cushioning, that is still on the firm and responsive side rather than pillowy. This makes the Pegasus 38 brilliant for everything from long training runs to shorter speedier stuff, it’s a great all-rounder.

The best Nike running shoes to buy 2021 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Future)

1. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38

The best Bike running shoes for most people

Specifications
Weight: 275 g (M), 235 g (W)
Drop : 10mm
Type : Road
Reasons to buy
+A great all-rounder +Affordable +React midsole offers a good amount of cushioning 
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most responsive shoe 

For a shoe to go through 38 iterations and still be a best-seller is always a good sign. The Nike Pegasus 37 saw a huge overhaul of the Pegasus model, mainly with the introduction of Nike’s React foam - a lightweight, springy choice, which has previously been saved for Nike’s ‘bouncier’ shoes. The change was somewhat controversial - some old-school Pegasus fans pined for the firmer shoes of old, but most loved the reactiveness and the energy return of the React. 

It’s important to note, this shoe is still, by no means ‘pillowy’ (if you’re after a super-cushioned ride, scroll down to the Nike Invincible Run); it’s still got that somewhat unresponsive snap the Pegasus has always had. It’ll get you around a marathon, or a 5K with ease and will perform well mile after mile. The 10mm drop is good for runners who don’t want to feel the pavement beneath their feet or feel like they are running in flatforms.

With the Pegasus 38, Nike made some tweaks to respond to some of the most common complaints of the Pegasus 37 - the tongue of the shoe has more cushioning to prevent hot spots and to really keep the foot in place during the run. The forefoot is higher and wider, more reminiscent of the Pegasus 36 and the upper was tweaked to offer support and prevent the heel from slipping. 

All in all, this is a brilliant shoe for the runner who only wants one pair of shoes in his or her closet. It’s not the fastest or the snazziest, but it’s reliable and will get the job done. 

Best Nike running shoes: Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2

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2. Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2

Best Nike running shoe for a road race

Specifications
Weight : 211g (unisex)
Drop: 8mm
Type : Race
Reasons to buy
+Incredible energy return +Lightweight and comfortable for race day 
Reasons to avoid
-Unisex sizing 

From the moment Nike launched its Vaporfly 4% running shoes in 2016, with the claim they would help runners run 4% faster, pretty much every shoe brand out there has experimented with carbon fibre plates. The Vaporfly Next% 2 is the third iteration of the shoe, and it’s become one of the most popular marathon running shoes on the market. 

Nike didn’t change much in the Vaporfly Next% 2. The shoe still contains the brand’s ZoomX foam - the lightest and most responsive midsole Nike makes, plus there’s a full-length carbon-fibre plate which helps for a faster toe-off. The shoe feels fast, it’s incredibly lightweight and fits true to size. 

The main tweaks Nike made between version one and two were in the upper - the Vaporweave material is gone and it’s been replaced with a breathable engineered mesh, which doesn’t bunch up. They’ve also added reinforcement in high wear areas to provide extra durability. They also made the shoe cheaper, which is music to our ears.

If you’re looking for a shoe that looks and feels fast, and that’ll give you that extra confidence to run a PB, this is it. They are by no means cheap, but if you can afford them, you won’t regret it. 

Best Nike running shoes: Nike ZoomX Invincible Run

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3. Nike ZoomX Invincible Run

Best Nike running shoe for easy miles

Specifications
Weight : 314g (M), 253g (W)
Drop : 9mm
Type : Road
Reasons to buy
+Extremely cushioned and comfortable +Brilliant for long training runs 
Reasons to avoid
-Not a fast shoe -Outsole can be slippery 

 Of course, there’s no one shoe for easy miles, but these are some of the most comfortable running shoes Nike have ever made. Think easy training miles when you’re working towards a marathon, or just want to relax and enjoy the view without worrying about your pace. The Invincible Run is an extremely plush shoe thanks to the ZoomX foam. Yes, that is the same foam used in Nike’s speedier shoes, but in Invincible the ZoomX is responsive and cushioned in a way that’s designed to take some of the load off, rather than propel you to your next PB. 

The midsole incorporates the rocker geometry we’ve seen in Nike’s faster shoes, but with no carbon fiber plate, this is far more gentle. The Flyknit upper is robust, built to help you feel supported over all that bouncy foam and the moulded tongue is plush and cushioned, almost like those netball trainers you wore at school. 

All in all, it’s an extremely comfortable shoe. It looks huge when you get it out the box - your foot almost feels encased in a thick wodge of foam, but the shoe still feels incredibly lightweight on the run. Although Nike says the Invincible Run is designed for longer mileage, we believe this would be a brilliant shoe for beginners and experienced runners alike.

Best Nike running shoes: Nike React Infinity Flyknit 2

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4. Nike React Infinity Flyknit 2

Best Nike running shoe for beginners

Specifications
Weight : 302g (M), 244g (W)
Drop: 9mm
Type : Road
Reasons to buy
+Flywire lacing ensures comfortable fit +Cushioned and responsive 
Reasons to avoid
-Outsole can be slippery in rainy weather -Faster runners might find shoe heavy

When Nike launched the Infinity React, it made very bold claims about the shoe’s ability to reduce injuries in runners and brought stats to prove it. While this is still all still rather dubious, it's made a wonderfully comfortable, responsive shoe that could be worn for easy miles and long runs. In the Infinity React 2, Nike didn’t change much and this is still a reliable shoe for beginners and experienced runners alike, although probably not for speedier sessions.  

The shoe isn’t quite as reliable as the Pegasus — it feels a little heftier underfoot and it’s more divisive — some runners love it, others just can’t get on with it. That said, if you’re looking for a shoe to wear on the treadmill for a quick 5K before your gym session, or to wear on hikes and dog walks as well as the odd run, this is a great choice.

Highlights include the Flywire lacing system, which really hugs the shoe to your foot, even on runners with high arches. The heel system is also fantastic - the padding really helps lock the foot into the shoe, so you shouldn’t experience slipping or rubbing. For most runners, this is a comfortable shoe for recovery runs and on easy days.

Best Nike running shoes: Nike Wildhorse 7

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5. Nike Wildhorse 7

Best Nike trail running shoe

Specifications
Weight : 312 g (M), 265 g (W)
Drop : 8mm
Type : Trail
Reasons to buy
+Ankle gaiter is comfortable and protective +Comfortable over long distances 
Reasons to avoid
-Outsole can be slippery on wet, rocky terrains 

 We’ll start with the obvious - this is one of the best-looking trail shoes we’ve ever seen. The bold upper and the contrasting outsole stand out on the trail, but that’s not the only reason it made it into this guide. This is a comfortable shoe and offers a good amount of protection on the run. Similar to the Trailhorse 6, the mid-sole contains Nike’s React foam, which offers just the right amount of cushioning - you can definitely still feel the ground, but it’s a smoother, more comfortable experience than your traditional, firm trail shoe. In fact, the Wildhorse 7 is a brilliant shoe if you’re running from your home to the trail, as there’s enough cushioning for it to cope with the pavements. 

The gaiter collar is also a brilliant addition to this already reliable shoe - not only does it offer a little more ankle support, but it also stops small stones or sticks from getting into the shoe mid-run. The padded heel collar and tongue work for an all-together comfortable experience and the wide toe box gives the shoe a good, true-to-size fit. 

The downsides here are in the outsole lugs - while they perform well on soft, wet, muddy tracks, on hard, wet trails, things can still feel a little slippery. If your route involves clambering over wet rocks, for example, you might not have the grip you’d expect from a trail shoe with the Wildhorse. All in all, however, they hold up well, but for the technical adventurers amongst us, the Wildhorse 7 might fall short.  

Best Nike running shoes: Nike Air Zoom Tempo Next% Flyknit

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6. Nike Air Zoom Tempo Next% Flyknit

Best Nike running shoe for speedwork

Specifications
Weight : 279g (M) 225g (W)
Drop : 10mm
Type : Road
Reasons to buy
+More affordable than the Vaporfly Next% or Alphafly Next% +More stable than the Alphafly Next%
Reasons to avoid
-If you're a serious runner, technically the stack height is illegal 

Nike released the Nike Air Zoom Tempo Next% to replace the Zoom Pegasus Turbo 2 and to be a training partner to the Alphafly Next% (as in, you’d do your training sessions in this and race in the Alphafly). It’s got three different elements to help you power through your miles - ZoomX foam in the forefoot for a cushioned, responsive ride, React foam in the heel for extra cushioning, a full-length carbon composite plate and air pods in the forefoot for a snappy toe off. It’s a brilliant shoe and it makes speed sessions fun. 

The downside with the Tempo Next% is the stack height - it’s a whopping 46mm, which doesn’t feel unstable on the run, thanks to the knitted upper, but it does technically make it too high to wear at competitions. Current World Athletics regulations state that a shoe must have a stack height of 40mm or less, but unless you’re a super-speedy runner, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. 

Unlike other shoes with high stack heights and rocker geometry carbon fiber plates, the Tempo Next% feels incredibly stable, even around corners. This is largely due to the Flyknit upper, which really cradles the foot, as well as the asymmetrical lacing, which helps keep the foot in place. 

To conclude, If you don’t want to fork out for the Vaporfly Next% or the Alphafly Next% and aren’t likely to be on the podium, these are the next best thing.

Best Nike running shoes: Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% Flyknit

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7. Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% Flyknit

Best Nike running shoe for marathons

Specifications
Weight: 210g (unisex)
Drop: 4mm
Type : Racing
Reasons to buy
+Unmatched responsiveness+An extremely exciting shoe 
Reasons to avoid
-Can feel unstable -Extremely expensive for a shoe you'd only race in

When Eliud Kipchoge became the first man in the world to run a sub-2 hour marathon, the world’s attention soon turned to his feet - what were those huge shoes, did they really have two carbon fiber plates and should they be banned? A few months later Nike launched the Alphafly Next% to the public, calling Kipchoge’s record the “ultimate test run”. 

While these definitely aren’t for everyone, we’d be remiss to not mention one of Nike’s most exciting innovations in a roundup of their best running shoes. No, they don’t have two carbon fiber plates, just the one that varies in thickness depending on the size of the shoe, but the introduction of the two zoom air pods in the forefoot is incredibly exciting. These shoe’s feel like rockets on your feet and the AtomKnit upper is incredibly lightweight. 

But are they worth the hefty price tag? If you’re not Kipchoge, the Alphaflys can feel a little unstable. There’s no ifs or buts, they’re extremely fast, but in the nicest possible way, if you don’t have the muscles or foot strength to support them, you’ll really feel it the next day. (However, you’ll probably have a new PB and a shiny medal round your neck, so who cares, right?) 

How to choose the best Nike running shoes for you

When it comes to choosing the best Nike running shoes, you'll need to think about how you run, how far you're going and the type of surface you prefer to do your miles on. There's no one-size-fits-all with running shoes, but certain shoes will be better designed for the type of run you have in mind. 

For example, if you're looking to go fast on race day, you'll probably want to look at Nike's shoes with carbon fibre plates and ZoomX foam, designed to give you more efficient energy return as your foot hits the ground. If you're into trail running, a road shoe isn't likely to have enough grip, so you'll want a running shoe with deep lugs to ensure you don't slip as you clamber over rocky or muddy terrains. 

Finally, getting the shoe that best suits your running gait is important. Nowadays, running brands are moving away from 'neutral' and 'support' shoes, but some shoes will offer more structure if you do overpronate when you run. The easiest way to test this is to head to a running shop and have your gait analyzed, but if that's not an option perhaps get a friend to video you, or look at the tread of your old shoes to see which part has worn away fastest.  

How we test the best Nike running shoes 

We run in them! Our team of dedicated experts head out in all conditions and put each shoe through it's paces, literally. From sprint sessions on the track to gentle miles on the treadmill, we do our homework so you don't have to. 

Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.