Are Nike Vaporfly Shoes Good for Running?

Nike Vaporfly shoes have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among serious runners and marathoners. These unique running shoes feature a thick, cushioned midsole with a carbon fiber plate embedded inside, providing exceptional energy return with each stride.

But there has been some controversy around whether the Nike Vaporfly gives runners an unfair advantage. In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at the technology behind the Vaporfly and examine whether they are beneficial for different types of runners.

Key Features of the Nike Vaporfly

The Nike Vaporfly 4% and Next% models have a few important features that set them apart from standard running shoes:

  • Thick Cushioned Midsole: The midsole uses Nike’s lightweight ZoomX foam which provides soft cushioning and responsiveness. The stack height of the midsole ranges from 35mm to 40mm.
  • Carbon Fiber Plate: Embedded in the midsole is a rigid carbon fiber plate that extends from the midfoot to the forefoot. This plate propels your foot forward with each stride for optimized energy return.
  • Lightweight Design: Despite the thick cushioning, Nike Vaporfly models are quite lightweight, ranging from 6.5oz to 8.5oz depending on the version. This helps reduce fatigue on long runs.
  • Tapered Heel: The heel tapers inward to improve stability and achieve a smooth heel-to-toe transition.
  • Breathable Mesh Upper: The upper uses an engineered mesh material that provides ventilation and conforms to the foot.

How Do Nike Vaporfly Shoes Improve Running Economy?

Multiple studies have confirmed that running in Nike Vaporfly shoes improves running economy, which refers to the energy required to sustain a given pace. For example, a 2018 study published in Sports Medicine found that the Vaporfly 4% provided a 4% improvement in running economy compared to a standard racing shoe.

This benefit is attributed to three key factors:

  1. Reduced Energy Loss: The cushioned midsole absorbs impact shock and protects against energy loss into the ground.
  2. Enhanced Energy Return: The carbon fiber plate acts as a lever to propel the foot forward with each stride, returning energy into the next step.
  3. Minimalized Fatigue: The lightweight build helps runners maintain faster paces for longer without their legs fatiguing as quickly.

For these reasons, runners are able to sustain paces using less energy compared to regular running shoes. The 4% or more improvement in economy can translate into significant time savings over long distances like the marathon.

Are Nike Vaporfly Shoes Beneficial for Different Types of Runners?

Here is a look at how Nike Vaporfly performance may vary depending on the type of runner:

Elite Marathoners and Pro Runners

The Nike Vaporfly provides the greatest advantage to elite marathoners and pro runners aiming for peak performance. For runners already operating at an incredibly efficient pace, the savings of 1-2% of energy expenditure per step can improve race times substantially without increasing effort.

The shoes have been popular choices for athletes competing in world major marathons. Many pro athletes even use customized versions of the Vaporfly.

Recreational Marathoners and Long Distance Runners

Recreational runners can also benefit from the energy boost of the Vaporfly for marathons, half-marathons, and long training runs. The extra cushioning helps maintain pace late into races when legs typically feel drained.

However, some economical benefits diminish at slower paces. The carbon plate may also feel too stiff for slower runners. A milder plated shoe may be ideal for comfort over 26+ miles.

Shorter Distance Racers (5K to Half Marathon)

The Nike Vaporfly performs best for racers doing 10K+ distances. The full benefits may not be realized for shorter distances like 5Ks and 10Ks where pace is extremely high. The cushioning adds weight compared to lightweight racing flats, and the stiffness requires extra ankle adaptation. A traditional racing flat or spike may maximize speed over short bursts.

Everyday Trainers and New Runners

The Nike Vaporfly is overkill for regular training runs due to the high price tag. Traditional daily trainers with milder cushioning better suit recovery days and long miles. Complete beginners also need time adapting to running before using the Vaporfly for races. Walkers and new runners are better off building a base in a supportive neutral shoe first.

Key Considerations When Using the Nike Vaporfly

Here are some factors to keep in mind if you plan to use the Vaporfly for your running needs:

  • Break-In Period: Take the time to break-in new Vaporflys gradually with some short runs before racing in them. The stiff plate may feel awkward at first until your legs adapt.
  • Race Day Use Only: The Vaporfly is best reserved only for race day rather than training miles to maximize the lifespan of the foam and plate. Use daily trainers for other runs.
  • Monitor for Injuries: Due to the rigid plate, pay careful attention to any pains in your feet, ankles, knees, and hips when transitioning to the Vaporfly. Cease use if you experience any unusual pains.
  • Use Careful Transition: Gradually incorporate the Vaporfly into certain key sessions over 4-6 weeks, rather than immediately using for all training. Give your body time to adapt to the unique ride.
  • Track Your Improvements: Keep detailed records of your splits and times in Vaporflys vs. other shoes to see if the economics benefits translate for you at your pace range.

Tips for Purchasing the Nike Vaporfly Next%

If you decide the Nike Vaporfly is suitable for your running needs, here are some quick tips for purchasing:

  • Try Them On: Be sure to try on Vaporflys in-store for fit and feel rather than buying sight unseen online. The sizing and fit can vary.
  • Select Your Purpose: Choose the Vaporfly Next% for road racing or the Vaporfly Trail for trail/off-road races. The models are tuned differently for their intended surfaces.
  • Consider Older Versions: If sold-out of the latest model, consider older versions like the Vaporfly 4% or Zoom Fly which still provide benefits at lower prices.
  • Find Your Size: Due to high demand, you may need to hunt around for your size from different retailers if sold out in one spot. Be patient!
  • Look for Sales: Retail is $250, but you can sometimes find Vaporflys discounted during sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday depending on availability.
  • Buy From Authorized Dealers: Carefully buy from authorized Nike retailers and be wary of potential fakes from unauthorized sellers.

FAQs About Nike Vaporfly Shoes

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the Nike Vaporfly shoes:

Are the Nike Vaporfly shoes legal for race events?

Yes, World Athletics and most major race organizations have approved the use of Vaporfly shoes for competition. The carbon plate and foam thickness comply with current rules, despite controversy.

How long do Nike Vaporfly shoes last?

The lifespan is around 100-200 miles before cushioning deteriorates. Many runners only use them sparingly for competitions to extend longevity. Rotate them with daily trainers.

Can I use Nike Vaporfly for gym workouts or cross-training?

No, the Vaporfly is designed exclusively for running and racing on roads/trials. The plate and cushioning are prone to damage with lateral movements or weightlifting. Stick with general trainers for the gym.

Should I size up or down for the Nike Vaporfly?

It is recommended to size up 0.5 from your normal running shoe size, especially if you are in between sizes. The narrow heel and snug midfoot fit best with sizing up.

Do I need to be an elite runner to use the Nike Vaporfly?

Not at all. While elites may benefit most, recreational runners can still achieve improvements in economy and times with the Vaporfly at moderate paces. Proper training is still required.


The Nike Vaporfly shoe series clearly has competitive advantages that can boost race day performance for all levels of runners when used properly. However, the shoes still require careful usage, training, and transition for safe and successful usage.

While not necessarily ideal for each runner’s needs and goals, the Vaporfly models are hard to beat for optimized speed over long distances. Just take the time to evaluate if the benefits outweigh the costs based on your specific running profile.

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