The most popular carbon racing shoe is back and it’s better than ever, with the ability to help you set PBs over any distance.
- New upper is more comfortable
- Springy ZoomX midsole with carbon plate
- Great for races of any distance
- Some runners find it unstable
In 2020 pretty much every major running brand released a new carbon plate racing shoe, in response to the huge success of the Nike Vaporfly line, comprising of the Nike Vaporfly 4% and NEXT% shoes – the default picks for runners at every level chasing fast times. That includes Nike, which made the Alphafly NEXT% – the shoe Eliud Kipchoge used to run the first sub-2hr marathon – available to all.
Given all these new launches, it is an indication of the quality of the Vaporfly NEXT% – which was released in mid-2019 – that it still makes a strong case for being the best racing shoe (although we put the Alphafly slightly ahead of it). Another indication of its quality is that Nike has made very few changes with the second version of the Vaporfly NEXT%.
All the updates on the Vaporfly NEXT% 2 (opens in new tab) are in the upper. The Vaporweave material used in the original Vaporfly NEXT% is gone, replaced by a breathable engineered mesh. Vaporweave wasn’t a bad upper material by any means, but it tended to bunch up a little in the forefoot rather than hugging the foot.
- Newsflash: Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2 limited release announced and we got our hands on it first. Read our Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2 review
- Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2 Vs Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2: Nike’s Top Carbon Racers Compared
There is also some extra padding on the tongue, which reduces the pressure placed on the top of the foot by the offset laces, making the shoe more comfortable. Additionally, a new reinforced section around the toe box increases the durability of the upper.
After one run in the shoe, these changes all seemed like improvements. I didn’t notice the upper while running at all – the sure sign of a good upper – and the reinforced section at the front successfully keeps the material off your toe. I ran 20km in the shoe out of the box and experienced no rubbing, and I did notice less pressure on the top of my foot from the laces.
However, after using the shoe for around 50km of running over four days, I did start to get some rubbing on my right achilles, something that never happened to me wearing the original Vaporfly NEXT%. I think the knit upper is a little more structured at the back, which stops it hugging the achilles so tightly, or the problem could be a small piece of fabric on top of the collar that wasn’t there on the first NEXT%.(opens in new tab)
Whatever the cause, I’m not too concerned about the rubbing – I wouldn’t be using the shoe for all those back-to-back runs ordinarily. It’s a shoe to only use for a few key training sessions and then for races, rather than as an everyday trainer. Since I didn’t have any rubbing in my first couple of runs in the shoe I wouldn’t expect it to become a problem during a marathon and I would have no hesitation in lacing it up for a long-distance event. Maybe just take care when pulling it on to get as secure a fit as you can at the back.
On balance, I’d still say the new upper is an improvement, with the extra room and more comfortable fit at the front of the shoe making up for my mild concerns around rubbing at the back. Admittedly, I never had any real problems with the upper on the original Vaporfly NEXT%, but these changes do appear to be for the better, especially for those who suffered from rubbing around the toes with the first NEXT%.
In the sole you’re getting the same experience as the Vaporfly NEXT% and that is a very good thing. There’s a full-length carbon plate coupled with a generous stack of Nike’s soft and springy ZoomX cushioning. The shoe has an 8mm drop, with a thin rubber layer on key sections of the outsole, which in my experience does a good job of gripping even in the wet.
Having run several PBs and my best marathon in the Vaporfly NEXT%, I am happy to report the ride is the same in the second edition. The comfort and protection of the ZoomX foam is still there, while the carbon plate in the midsole delivers plenty of propulsion at faster paces.
I’ve done a couple of sessions in the shoe to put it through its paces. In the first I did 16km alternating between my marathon pace for a kilometre and then a float recovery pace for a kilometre – easing off, but not slowing down to an easy jog. In the second session I did a couple of rounds of 8 x 60 seconds on, with 30 seconds’ recovery, to see how the shoe performed at faster than 5K pace. The answer is brilliantly, as was the case on the longer run with sections at marathon pace. The Vaporfly is a superb racing option from 5K to the marathon – or even beyond, if you have road ultramarathons in mind.
I still prefer the Alphafly (just), especially for longer races when it seems to protect my legs more while still providing plenty of propulsion. I’ve now logged half marathon and marathon PBs in the Alphafly and it’s my go-to for those events, though the Vaporfly has an edge at shorter distances purely because it’s lighter and easier to round sharp corners in.
Nike does have some real completion now, which may be what led to the biggest change to the Vaporfly 2, which is the price. The Vaporfly 2 costs £209.95, in contrast to the original’s £239.95. While this is still at the upper end of the carbon-shoe spectrum, it’s a significant reduction on the price of the Vaporfly NEXT%, not to mention the £260 you have to shell out for the Alphafly.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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