March 26 is Air Max Day and Nike delivers on the line’s feeling of air more so now than ever with the release of the Air VaporMax, the most-tested shoe in the brand’s footwear history. But does the Air VaporMax stack up as a run-specific shoe?

Sunday marks the 30-year anniversary of Air Max, which was first incorporated into a shoe back in 1987. Ever since, the Air Max has been a hit among sneakerheads because of their sharp and innovative designs. After checking out the latest release, the Air VaporMax, the shoe is unlike any Air Max predecessor when it comes to running, both because of FlyKnit and the Air pockets themselves.

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A few things stick out on first glance of the VaporMax: the entire sole is comprised of airbags making the pockets look like a transparent pillow, the upper is traditional FlyKnit and there’s a total absence of foam between the sole and the upper. All three factors result in a slimmed down Air Max. The drop is 10 mm and the shoe weighs, depending on size, 7.5 oz. based off a women’s 5.5.

In the past, models of Air Maxs featured air pods encapsulated by a layer of foam or rubber. Not with the VaporMax, however, as the foot sits directly above the Air technology, which significantly reduces the weight of the shoe in line with other lightweight trainers in the industry. The innovative shoe does, however, come with a price: the shoe is currently retailing for $255 online at Nike Canada. If you want customization in the form of NIKEiD, that will raise the price to $330.

Nike Air VaporMax

Photo: Matt Stetson.

“Working on Air since 1979, the goal has always been striving to deliver a pneumatic sensation of air in a soft, light, bouncy [and] flexible platform,” says Kathy Gomez, vice president of innovation at Nike. “To unlock that sensation, we had to re-imagine how to build the shoe.” The Air Max, she says, has been reduced to three layers, from 10, which made a difference in maximizing the volume of air under the foot while ensuring that the air pads keep a runner’s foot flush to the ground.

Nike logged some serious mileage, to the tune of 200,000 kilometres, to ensure that the newly-released Air VaporMax was the best possible result of the technology and design. Though we at Canadian Running haven’t quite hit the triple digits in test kilometres, the Air VaporMax does actually feel like a running shoe despite what its predecessors may have been designed for. Preliminary testing of the Missouri- and Oregon-manufactured shoe has been done on the treadmill and on asphalt. So far, we like what we see. (More on that further down.)

Because of the sheer volume of kilometres tested, the VaporMax was taken through the rounds by runners of all abilities, from newcomers to the everyday runner to the professionals, adds Andreas Harlow, vice-president and footwear creative director with Nike Running and Core Performance. He says that the FlyKnit upper has gone through more than 100 iterations from the early VaporMax to the current version available on the market. “It’s the most tested shoe we’ve ever made,” he adds noting that performance, via athlete insight, comes first.

RELATED: Nike’s sub-two-hour marathon shoe doesn’t look the way you think it should.

Beyond the air pockets, one of the more intriguing features of the shoe can be found on the underside of the VaporMax. The grip system, comprised of a unique pattern with specific pressure points along the outer portions of the foot, is a feature that runners will instantly notice, especially when hitting the asphalt. It’s also an interesting dynamic as only parts of the sole will ever touch the ground unlike more traditional, flat-bottomed running shoes. When running, these areas tend to grab the ground in a very effective way, though it’s unclear how the divots on the sole will accommodate debris if taken off-road.

Admittedly, one of the more surprising features of the Air technology in the VaporMax is the robustness and stiffness of the air pockets themselves. At a glance, it would seem like the Air technology is way too soft for running but in fact, the Air sole would not be a huge transition from another of Nike’s lightweight trainer, like the Pegasus, for example. Fortunately, that means that the VaporMax has its spot in a runner’s lineup without the fear of switching up the feel of shoes too much. Also, the pods are tough. First impressions may give off the feeling that the pods can be popped but that is most certainly not the case.

The timing couldn’t be better for Nike as the sportswear brand is heavily invested in a project named Breaking2, the name given to the pursuit of a sub-2:00 marathon, the topic of which has dominated running headlines in recent months. Recently, Nike revealed the fascinating racing flat that will be used for the bid with a variant available to the public later in 2017. (See photos of the sub-2:00 shoe here.) The sportswear giant is planning on staging a sub-2:00 marathon attempt, which would involve taking 2:57 off the existing men’s world record, sometime this spring with other innovations expected to be unveiled closer to the to-be-determined date.

Canadian Running will revisit the state of the VaporMax once some serious mileage has been put in to see if the shoe is as durable and runner-friendly as it’s marketed to be.


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