So, you want to buy a super shoe, but can’t decide between the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% and the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2? Both are brilliantly fast shoes and some of the best Nike running shoes that have amassed many records. Eliud Kipchoge ran his famous 1:59 marathon wearing a prototype of the Alphafly Next% in Vienna in 2019. Brigid Kosgei beat Paula Radcliffe’s female marathon world record at the Chicago Marathon in 2019 wearing the first version of the Vaporfly Next%. Both are incredibly lightweight and incredibly fast.
Although I definitely can’t claim to have stood on the podium, or even remotely near the leading pack in either shoe, I have been lucky enough to run in both. I ran my half marathon and 10K PR (personal record) with the Alphafly Next% on my feet, and PR’d my most recent marathon wearing the Vaporfly Next% 2. It’s a tricky choice, but one I’ll attempt to make easier with this face-off. Read my full Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 review here, my full Nike Alphafly Next% review here, and below is my face-off between the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% vs the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2.
Before drilling down into the similarities and differences, it’s important to note that these are both top-of-the-line racing shoes. While Nike says they’ll last longer than a couple of races, you definitely wouldn’t want to be doing all of your training or long runs in either of these shoes. In fact, Nike recommends you don’t and has released training companions, such as the Nike Air Zoom Tempo Next%, which is designed to take the load of training miles. If you are looking for more of an everyday running shoe, we’ve rounded up the best running shoes on the market here.
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It's also worth noting there's now newer versions of both shoes — the Nike Alphafly Next% 2 was released last year, and the Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 was released in March 2022. If you're not bothered about running in the latest version of the shoe, now is a good time to buy the Alphafly Next% or the Vaporfly Next% 2, as both shoes are likely to be discounted.
Can't decide between the newer and older models? We've written a Nike Alphafly Next% 2 vs Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 face-off here, as well as this comparison of the Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 vs Nike Vaporfly Next% 2.
Nike Alphafly Next% vs Nike Vaporfly Next% 2: Price and availability
These two shoes are similarly priced, and both at the top end of what you’d probably expect to pay for a pair of running shoes. The Alphafly Next% is $275, whereas the Vaporfly Next% 2 is $250. While both come in a number of different colorways, you have slightly more choice when it comes to the Vaporfly Next% 2. In terms of availability, the Alphafly Next% comes in U.S. 6 to U.S. 15 in men’s sizing, and U.S. 5 to U.S. 12 in women’s sizing. The Vaporfly Next% 2 comes in unisex sizing from a men’s U.S. 3.5 (a women’s U.S. 5) to a men’s U.S. 15 (a women’s U.S. 16.5). Both only come in one shoe width, regular.
As the Alphafly Next% has now been replaced by the Alphafly Next% 2, so the older shoe is likely to be on sale now.
Nike Alphafly Next% vs Nike Vaporfly Next% 2: Design, fit and feel
Here’s where things get a little different, while both are racing shoes with the same ZoomX foam, the design and feel of both shoes is different. The Vaporfly Next% 2 is the updated version of the Vaporfly Next%, which was released in March 2019. The ZoomX foam is soft, yet extremely responsive underfoot and the full-length carbon-fiber plate and rocker-geometry help for a faster toe-off. It feels fast and stable underfoot, and with the second version of the shoe, Nike made some slight changes to the upper to make it wider and more comfortable.
While the Alphafly Next% also has Zoom X foam, the most noticeable difference is that the shoe has two Zoom Air bags in the forefoot, which sit underneath the carbon-fiber plate. These really do the job and you notice the bounce under the ball of your foot on every toe-off. The stack height is also higher on the Alphafly Next%, which has a height of 35mm in the forefoot and 39mm in the heel, compared to the Vaporfly Next%, which has a height of 32mm in the forefoot and 40mm in the heel. Although the difference is merely a few millimeters, I definitely feel higher off the ground in the Alphafly Next%.
Both shoes have a knitted-style upper, in the Alphafly Next% this is the AtomKnit, Nike’s latest version of it’s FlyKnit upper. Both uppers are super lightweight and breathable, with minimal water absorption on the run. They also both have an asymmetrical lacing system, which is designed to put less pressure on the top of the foot, and a pillow around the back of the shoe to give you extra cushioning on the heel.
When it comes to the outsole, both shoes are designed for the road and don’t have a huge amount of traction. There’s enough there to get you round a road marathon in the rain, but I wouldn’t take either shoe off-road in any capacity. Both shoes also have a rocker geometry, which we are seeing more from brands at the moment. This is definitely more pronounced on the Alphafly Next% due to the Zoom Air bags, but both shoes work to propel you forwards faster.
Fit-wise, both fit true to size. Although, by this, we mean your regular running shoe size, which should be at least a half size bigger than your day-to-day sneakers. I wear a U.K. 4 in my everyday shoes but ran in a U.K. 5 in both the Alphafly Next% and Vaporfly Next% 2.
Nike Alphafly Next% vs Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 Differences underfoot
While we’ve covered how the two shoes are similar, there are also some key differences to note when looking at the Vaporfly Next% 2 next to the Alphafly Next%. Firstly, the Zoom Air bags in the midsole and the higher stack height of the Alphafly Next% make the shoe feel very different underfoot. I felt much higher from the ground, and a little less stable when running on the track, or around corners. That said, putting the Alphafly Next% on for the first time is magic. You really do feel like you’re flying and they definitely give you that extra snap on race day.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, that extra foam and those airbags mean the Alphafly Next% is slightly heavier than the Vaporfly Next% 2. The Vaporfly Next% 2 weighs in at 6.9 oz, whereas the Alphafly Next% is 7.4 oz. That said, unless you’re trying to reach the podium, it’s unlikely you’ll really notice this difference underfoot.
Nike Alphafly Next% vs Nike Vaporfly Next% 2: Which is best for you?
So, between the Nike Alphafly Next% and Nike Vaporfly Next% 2, which do you choose? It’s hard to pick — both are truly excellent shoes that will definitely help you run faster, and probably PR your next race. On one hand, the Alphafly is the most super of the super shoes on the market right now. The air pods make it feel faster than the Vaporfly Next% 2, plus the fact that Kipchoge wore it for, what Nike called, "the ultimate test run" proves how groundbreaking the shoes are.
That said, when it came to choosing a shoe for my last marathon, I opted for the Vaporfly Next% 2. As exciting as I found the Alphafly Next%, I found them a little bit too much. They were too bouncy and propelled me forwards more than I was expecting. And, in all honesty, I didn’t feel that my legs were strong enough to cope. After PR’ing my half marathon by 15 minutes, my calves and shins ached and I felt like I didn’t have the leg strength to handle the bounce the shoe gave me. I feel like they are designed for the best of the best, not a middle-of-the-pack runner, like me.
By contrast, I was wearing the Vaporfly Next% 2 when I PR’d my latest marathon by six minutes and loved how responsive they felt for the entire race. I also found that my legs didn’t feel as fatigued the next day as they had after past marathons.
If you’re looking for something cheaper, the Nike Air Zoom Tempo Next% is also a brilliant shoe for race day. Designed as the training partner for the Alphafly, the Tempo Next% has the same ZoomX foam and Zoom Air unit under the ball of the foot, designed to give a spring to your stride. It’s fast, comfortable, and built to last for miles.
While there will be plenty of runners that are fitter and faster than I, who upgrade to the Alphafly Next% and run their best race yet wearing them, there will also be lots that stick with the Vaporfly, and I don’t blame them.
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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 five 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.