(The Gear Loop) - Despite being released in the early part of 2021, the Vaporfly Next% 2 has continued to maintain its place at the top of the race shoe leaderboard, both for general runners and elite athletes. Considering the number of carbon plate options that have appeared over the last 12 months, that’s no mean feat.
Combining a full-length carbon plate with Nike’s bouncy ZoomX foam, the Vaporfly Next% 2 offers one of, if not the, most efficient ride for racing across most distances. When you add to that one of the lightest uppers on the market, you start to see why the shoe has dominated for so long.
With continued updates taking place to competitor race shoes – and the appearance of them in some of the world’s biggest elite events, is the Vaporfly Next% 2 still the shoe to beat?
The Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 continues to be the archetypal carbon plate shoe for runners that want a combination of lightness with bounce and propulsion. Despite an ever-growing list of competing shoes, it’s still our favourite choice when it comes to race day, from 5k all the way up to marathon. Those benefits don’t come without a price, however, and aside from the hefty physical price tag, the Vaporfly Next% 2 does have limitations when it comes to stability and durability, so it’s best to pair it with a longer lasting shoe to tick off the training miles.
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2
- High energy return from the ZoomX midsole foam
- New mesh upper offers improved breathability and fit
- Incredibly light
- High stack = lack of stability
- Minimal outsole rubber causes durability issues
In the Loop
Everything you need to know about the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2 in brief:
- Full-length carbon plate
- ZoomX midsole foam
- A redesigned mesh fabric upper
- An internal foam pod at the heel for cushioning
- A wider toe area for extra space
- Rubber outsole in the forefoot for grip and durability
- Weight: 6.6oz (187g)
- Offset: 8mm (40mm/32mm)
Fit and features
The biggest change in the second iteration of the Vaporfly Next% is the updated mesh fabric upper. The previous Vaporweave material had a plastic-y feel that could make it hard to get a comfortable fit. The new mesh fabric, thankfully, resolves this with a softer design that aids breathability through ventilated perforations across the length of the shoe.
Although it doesn’t change the overall fit of the shoe, the new upper does make it easier to lace up without the material bunching up. There’s also plenty of wiggle room in the toe box, but you can still expect the same narrow fit as before – worth taking note if you have wide feet.
Other features include a slightly more padded tongue, which is minimal but does help it stay in place – something people did struggle with in the first Vaporfly Next%. It also has knotted laces to help keep them in place without requiring doubling up, and plenty of padding around the heel and ankle collar.
The most notable piece of technology that sits in the Vaporfly Next% 2 is without a doubt the ZoomX midsole foam that spans the full length of the shoe. It’s made using Pebax, a lightweight thermoplastic that offers a soft, bouncy experience and acts like a trampoline when running. It’s a foam that rival brands have inevitably been trying to replicate for many years, with mixed results.
That midsole works in unison with the full-length carbon plate, designed to improve the energy return that the runner achieves with each step. Carbon plates come in many forms across the range of shoes available in running shops these days, but few are as noticeable as the Vaporfly Next% 2’s.
On the outsole is a healthy layer of rubber covering the forefoot of the shoe. This is to protect the delicate ZoomX midsole and add grip on varied surface conditions. The focus here is the forefoot, as the shoe is predominantly used for faster paced running, but it does cause a problem for heel strikers when it comes to durability, as there are only two small sections covering the rear.
When running in the Vaporfly Next% 2 it’s easy to see why so many people opt to buy it for race day. From the first time you put it on it feels like the shoe is leaning you forward and transitioning you from heel to the toe. That may be a strange experience straight away, but it suddenly makes sense when you start to clock up the miles.
Even at a comfortable pace, the ZoomX foam feels like it’s launching you forward, making it difficult to maintain a consistent easy speed without looking at your watch and realising you’re going too fast. At race pace, that feeling is dialled up to max and, when compared to running in a conventional running shoe, can give the impression you’re putting in less effort than you actually are.
The narrow nature of the ZoomX midsole foam can be problematic when it comes to stability, and turning corners quickly or hitting an uneven surface often brings that lack of support into focus. It’s one of the main reasons that few people use the shoe for training – alongside the lack of durability from the midsole foam. For Nike fans that want a similar experience to the Vaporfly Next% 2 for race day, but with some additional width, it may be worth looking at the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%.
The efficiency gains of the Vaporfly Next% 2 are predominantly aimed at longer distance events upwards of 10km, but the shoe delivers competently for shorter track sessions and 5km races. Even when compared with lean shoes designed for shorter distance runs, it generally comes up lighter.
We found that the outsole rubber in the forefoot did a good job at gripping wet or slippery tarmac, even during faster efforts. It’s also worth noting that, as midfoot strikers, we had no issues with wear on the ZoomX midsole over 50km of testing.
Many discussions have taken place – both among consumers and competitors – around what exactly it is that makes the Vaporfly Next% 2 such an impressive race shoe. But the answer isn’t as simple as picking one feature, with the overall benefits coming from the combination of elements. At its core it’s a shoe that delivers efficiency, instead of what most perceive as speed, by minimising the effort required to run and allowing athletes to maintain a consistent pace through a propulsive fluid motion, one that improves the energy returned from each stride. It’s a shoe that isn’t without its limitations though. The narrow stack of midsole foam can feel unstable for many users and the delicate material means that runners tend to keep it purely for race day due to the lack of durability.