Is the Nike Vaporfly Next% the best marathon shoe of 2023?
In 2017 Nike released the Vaporfly 4%, which was followed one year after by the Vaporfly 4% Flyknit. These two shoes started changing the running landscape with Elite athletes winning their first races in what was meant to become « supershoes ». For the everyday runner, it’s mainly when Nike released the first Vaporfly Next% in 2019 that things changed. This model was heavily marketed and also widely available making it possible for anyone to get a pair. The first two colorways – green and pink – were flooding starting lines and it soon became obvious that this shoe had something special. Eliud Kipchoge set what was then a new world record in it – 2:01:39 in September 2019 in Berlin. The second iteration remained highly popular despite some runners complaining about a less dialed in fit. But the records kept on being broken and the races kept on being won. Still today, the Vaporfly remains one of the most popular shoe on podiums.
When Nike announced the Vaporfly Next% 3 and allowed media outlets to share first images of in from TRE in Austin, TX, a large anticipation among the running community started to create. How is it going to be? Will it help performance oriented runners to feel even faster? This first impression review should address some of these questions.
Specs: the Vaporfly Next% gets a touch lighter
At 213g in my size US11 / EU45, the prototype colorway of the Nike Vaporfly Next%3 appears to be around 10g lighter compared to my pair of v2 and also a couple grams lighter compared to my pair of v1.
When writing this review, I have no confirmation about the stack height and drop. The heel seems to be in that 39/40mm region like previous versions and I would think that the forefoot sits around 33/34mm, making it a 6mm drop instead of the 8mm.
The upper of the Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 is a piece of art, but maybe not the best for running
Nike went for a very aerated Flyknit upper on this new version of the Vaporfly Next%. The perforations in the forefoot will make it a super breathable shoe for hotter days or tougher workouts. I have no doubts that the airflow in the shoe will be improved compared to previous versions, especially compared to the Vaporweave upper on v1. The material isn’t soft against the feet and that is something that could certainly be improved. It’s a racing shoe, yes, but still a little extra comfort does not hurt. This Flyknit mesh feels like it’s straight out of the CNC machine and it didn’t have time to go through the other machine where they soften it up.
Why does Nike seem to struggle so much with fits in their latest shoes?
The first step-in sensations are good, mostly because the upper is so light that you can already imagine how fast the shoe will ride. My first thoughts were that the size seemed good lengthwise but at the same time the heel seemed a little loose. The insoles are removable but they’re probably the best glued-in Nike insoles in the ZoomX line. It took me some time and efforts to pull them out of the shoes. The heel is a little structured but nothing too rigid. You can bend it when pressing strongly against it.
The main issue I had with the upper was regarding the lockdown. I went out for my first run in the shoe and I laced them up without any special knot like I would do with any other shoe. The pressure from the laces was so bad that I had to stop after 100 meters to redo my lacing. I removed some of the pressure but then the heel was way too loose. I eventually went with a runners’ knot despite the laces being a bit short for that.
The Vaporfly 3 ride gets softer and will work best for efficient runners
Nike did not change what made the magic of the Vaporfly. ZoomX is still the foam compound used for the midsole on the Vaporfly Next% 3. But I would argue that it is a very different ZoomX flavor compared to v1 and v2. It feels softer when pressing on it with fingers and it definitely compresses more under foot even when walking with the shoe. This ZoomX is reminiscent of the ZoomX used on the Nike Streakfly and to a certain extent of the ZoomX used on the OG Vaporfly 4%. I would also argue that the two layers (above and beneath the carbon fiber Flyplate) are made of the same ZoomX, unlike on v1 and v2.
The shoe rides very differently compared to the Next% v1 and v2 – again returning to some sensations experienced in the 4% and 4% Flyknit. The heel is definitely softer than the forefoot and you get a lot of compression when heel striking. That translates to a decent forward transition at faster paces, less so at easier ones. The forefoot is firmer, feels closer to the ground and more aggressive than the very gentle heel. It creates a good platform to push on – and a rather stable one, unlike the rather shaky heel which collapses quite a bit (see below). A midfoot to heel strike will probably offer you a very different experience in this shoe compared to a pure forefoot strike. I forced some forefoot strike and it’s actually quite pleasant but very different from any Vaporfly to date. The « efficient » heel to mid foot strike with a nice roll towards toe-off is probably what this shoe is designed for.
Stability, price and racing distances of choice for the Vaporfly v3
As mentioned above the stability in the shoe remains a concerns, like in previous Vaporfly Next% models. The medial collapsing is quite bad and the lateral one isn’t better either. That softer ZoomX foam compresses a lot and I can see many runners struggling because of that in the back stretch of marathon races. The upper does not help addressing this issue – and maybe worsens it a bit even – given how loose the heel cup and collars are.
At €260/$260 the Vaporfly price gets a €10/$10 price bump which was to be expected in the current context and in the light of all other brands pricing strategies. This remains an “ok” price for a shoe many runners use a comparison point for other models.
When it comes to racing distances, the new Vaporfly Next% 3 will be put this shoe in the marathon category by many. It lacks the aggressiveness and pop of the earlier versions for shorter distances. I personally would not take it even for a half marathon. but for a full distance marathon I could try it at some point. But first I need to run more in mine and refine my thoughts. Stay tuned for that. With that, thanks for reading.
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