I’m not a sneakerhead. Sure, I notice when someone in my HIIT class has some cool-looking kicks with an ombre effect or on-point beige. But I don’t have a tricked-out, Khloe Kardashian-style closet, or even any particular brand loyalty.
But even a casual trend follower like myself took notice of a new style this spring: the Nike VaporMax. Escaped the hype? Imagine the air bubble in your Air Max—and then imagine if that bubble became the entire sole. It’s the culmination of decades (think 30 years) of research and testing, with the brand’s engineers figuring out how to create something absurdly lightweight that wouldn’t burst mid-stride.
The first time I spotted them on someone in my Barry’s Bootcamp class, I have to admit, I thought they looked kind of weird—like a regular Flyknit standing on some bubble wrap. But since the initial March launch, the more I started seeing VaporMax jogging by, the more I found myself wanting them. (Especially when I heard that Comme des Garcons collaborated on a pair.)
But I didn’t want to buy a sneaker based on just looks. After all, I was in desperate need of new running shoes, having worn through my old pair, and I needed something that would hold up through everything from virtual races to IRL marathons.
I was left wondering: Is the Nike VaporMax worth the hype? I tested out the buzzy sneaker to find out.
The buying experience
Dodging tourists on my way into the Nike Soho store, it’s clear as soon as I walk through the doors that the brand is going big with the VaporMax. In fact, virtually the whole first floor—of five, this place is massive—is devoted to a display wall showing the space age-y shoe off. While it certainly is alluring, I’m not yet convinced it’s the right option for a pavement pounder like me.
As I’m purveying the running shoe options, a store employee comes over to walk me through the options. I try on several different pairs, including the Flex Supreme and FlyEase, both of which have a good deal of support and cushioning. But my mind is still on the VaporMax….
“What about the, um, new ones?” I ask shyly, wanting to be thought of as more of a “serious athlete” and not just someone jumping on the latest trend.
“What about the, um, new ones?” I ask shyly, wanting to be thought of as more of a “serious athlete” and not just someone jumping on the latest trend. (Even though, let’s be real, I totally am.)
“Oh, the VaporMax? Those are meant for running, too. Let me get you a pair to try. Some people love ’em and some people aren’t so into them,” she admits.
After I lace them up, I do a slow jog down to the mirror. It feels…bouncy, like jogging on a trampoline. “The idea is to help give you a spring forward when you run,” the Nike employee explains. It definitely feels different, but the more I test them out, the more I like them. “I’ll take them!” I say, trying to not think about the fact that at $190, they’re about $80 more than the other pairs I am considering.
The real test comes the following weekend, when I’m relying on my pair to get me through a seven-mile run as I jog along New York City’s East River (on concrete and dirt, it should be noted). Long run days are hard enough—I don’t need my shoes distracting me or keeping me from reaching my goal time.
I literally hear someone turn to her friend and say, “Those are the shoes I told you about!”
Almost instantly, I feel the difference between my old, worn-out sneaks and my shiny, new VaporMaxes, like I’m being propelled forward a teensy bit—and there’s no strain or annoying rubbing anywhere. The only thing I’m worried about is whether something sharp will pop one of the air bubbles. (The Nike store employee told me it’s only happened once; still, it’s not something you even think about with any other shoe.)
As I zig-zag my way past Sunday strollers and tourists taking pictures, I can’t help but notice several approving looks at my footwear. I literally hear someone turn to her friend and say, “Those are the shoes I told you about!” The extra attention keeps me going, too—I certainly don’t want to be seen walking and gasping for air while everyone’s watching me bounce by.
The all-day test—and verdict
A couple days later, I decide to wear the VaporMax to work: I’m taking a boot-camp class in the evening and it saves me from having to stash another pair of shoes in my bag. Okay, and I want to show them off to my work friends (who, yes, totally notice them).
At boot camp, the VaporMax gives me an added boost during burpees and mountain climbers, but they don’t have the flexibility or security I’m used to while training. And after a long day—to work, on the city streets, and in class—my feet are sore. That walking-on-clouds feeling isn’t meant for the 9-to-9 grind, apparently.
While I don’t plan on wearing the VaporMax to walk around the city, I have consistently been lacing up with them for my runs (you could say that we’re going steady).
So, are they worth it? Here’s my verdict: While I definitely don’t plan on wearing the VaporMax to walk around the city again, I have consistently been lacing up with them for my runs (you could say that we’re going steady).
As for all that hype, if you’re a runner, this could be your new favorite shoe—especially with the new colors (Asphalt and NikeLab neutral, both city-friendly shades of gray and white) coming out on April 27. But if you spend a lot of time walking the city streets, there’s likely a better option out there for you.
Good thing the Nike Cortez looks good paired with jeans….