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7.2 oz. (204 g) for a US M10.5,
5.3 oz (150 g) for a US W7.5
40 mm in the heel, 32 mm in the forefoot (8 mm drop)
ZoomX midsole, breathable Flyknit upper, more padding in heel area
MEAGHAN: It’s been two years since Nike blessed us with the most recent edition of the Vaporfly, the supersonic jet of racing shoes. I was excited yet skeptical for this update after what happened with the Alphafly 2 (aka the Alphafly without the magic). Nike turned my dream race day shoe into what felt like an unfavorable uptempo trainer. But, we’re not here to talk about the Alphafly, so let’s keep moving.
The Vaporfly Next% 3 looks quite different from its predecessor, but the key components remain. A ZoomX midsole with a full-length carbon fiber plate feels consistent with V2, while the midsole shape itself has been redesigned. The outsole rubber has been thinned out to allow for extra millimeters of ZoomX underfoot while still keeping within the 40mm stack limit.
The upper is a Flyknit mesh that comes with an offset heel seam and internal padding to reduce irritation in the heel area. The off-centered lacing and flat, stretchy laces also remain.
THOMAS: It is difficult not to love the Nike Vaporfly. Of any shoe, the Vaporfly has the most fantastic origin story and forever changed the running footwear industry. The Vaporfly has made professional athletes cry. Some cried because they felt the shoes created an unfair advantage for Nike athletes, while others shed tears on their way to breaking records.
We watched the TV, fingers crossed, while Eliud Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese, and Lelisa Desisa looped the Monza track to try to break two hours in the marathon in variations of the Vaporfly. At the time, the frenzy to get your hands on a pair of Vaporfly 4% was insane. People were paying three to four times the retail price of $250 to get their hands on a pair when the average racing shoe at the time cost less than $150. The fever was real, and it lasted from 2017 up until now, in 2023.
No other brands could answer Nike’s formula for the first three years. The starting lines of distance racing were a sea of Vaporfly 4%, followed by the Next%. Today, runners have alternate offerings that can match the Vaporfly. However, none of them surpass Nike’s super shoe’ performance. No brand will tell you that they have done tests and shown that their shoe is more efficient than the Vaporfly or Alphafly.
But is the dominance Nike had on distance racing still as strong as they tweak the Vaporfly for the fifth time? The answer to the question is yes and no. Nike still sells the most super shoes, but the competition is getting hot, and you (hopefully) don’t have to worry about getting your hands on the Vaporfly like in the early days.
ROBBE: We all know the iconic role the Vaporfly has played in running, from Eliud Kipchoge’s first Breaking 2 attempt in Monza to the many podium spots it’s taken over the last half decade. It’s also just been fun as hell for us regular folks, as it was the first true carbon-plated super shoe of the modern era– lightweight, cushioned, bouncy, and propulsive.
Since then, the field has made great strides in catching up to its prowess, the success of which has been mixed, but the fact remains– the Vaporfly set the standard and the standard still remains. And that standard has only truly been challenged by its sibling counterpart in the Alphafly, specifically version one of the shoe.
This is technically the fifth version of the Vaporfly if you include the original Vaporfly 4% and Vaporfly 4% FK– but is it the best one? Let’s find out.
MEAGHAN: Lacing up the Vaporfly 3 immediately gave me race day vibes. At 5.3 ounces, it’s by far the lightest shoe I own. It’s hard to believe something so minimal could provide such a propulsive feeling out on the roads – and yet, it does.
The upper hugs the foot like you would expect from a race day shoe. There is not much room in the toebox, but because the Flyknit is so thin and breathable, I didn’t mind it. Despite the very minimal design, the shoes felt comfortable. The structured heel and offset seam provide a secure fit without irritation, and although the tongue isn’t gusseted, I didn’t have any issues with it.
The real sorcery of this shoe is what lies beneath the foot – a full slab of ZoomX and a carbon fiber Flyplate. I don’t know what it is about this combination, but it feels magical. The foam and plate itself feel firm, but when you’re out running, it transforms into a light, bouncy ride. There’s no harsh plate feeling like I’ve found with some other super shoes, and the miles just fly by.
THOMAS: People will tell you that the Vaporfly Next% 3 is a minor update. However, this is a substantial update to the line. Off the bat, this is my favorite Vaporfly model ever. Boom! I said it. People are looking for a complete redesign, but when you have a shoe as good as the Vaporfly, the minute updates are like fine-tuning an instrument. The updates to this model make it sing.
First, the Flyknit upper is a work of art—light as a feather and strong as a bull. Besides being the most breathable upper, it fits better than previous versions. In addition, the ankle gaping is gone, making the shoe look as good as it performs. Finally, you won’t hurt the top of your foot if you cinch the laces tight with the off-center lacing.
The ZoomX midsole feels similar to the previous model, but the thinner outsole rubber makes the shoe less slappy through the stride. As a result, the bounce off the toe feels more energetic. In addition, Nike removed pieces of the midsole to lower weight. As a result of the new upper, thinner rubber, and strategic cut-outs, the Vaporfly Next% 3 is a touch lighter than the previous version. It’s the lightest marathon shoe money can buy, which is ridiculous for a shoe with this much cushion.
My runs in the Vaporfly Next% 3 were fun, and the effort vs. pace was in the minus column. I avoided looking at my Coros during a mile repeat workout using only effort as my guide. After the run, I was pleasantly surprised to have been running 15 seconds per mile faster than I would have guessed. That’s a win.
ROBBE: Truth be told, I wasn’t around here when the original Vaporfly came out, so my history doesn’t go as deep as Thomas and Meg. But I have run in plenty of super shoes in the past four years, and the Vaporfly has always held an almost reverential spot in that category. A combination of the details, the featherlight weight in hand and on foot, the sleek design– it always appears as if every detail has been considered and that it’s an honor just to own the shoe. But it is a shoe after all. It will be worn and destroyed, if everything goes according to plan.
However, there is a certain excitement when the lid of the box opens and you see a beautiful shoe in real life. Not in leaked Instagram photos or on the passing feet of an elite on race day, but actually in your living room waiting to go out your own door.
That feeling was pretty evident with the Vaporfly Next% 3. Purely subjective, but I think it’s the best-looking version of the Vaporfly to date. It just looks fast, and something about the triangle cut-out doubling as a Flyplate window gives off an immediate “I’m looking at a luxury sports car” sensation.
Of course, looks aren’t everything and what really matters is what’s under the hood. Before we pop the latch, let’s talk about the upper. I’m not sure you can get any more breathable than the barely-there Flyknit. Flyknit or fishnet, it’s so see-through it looks like it belongs in a Motley Crüe video, either on Tommy Lee or on his fling of the hour. Without a doubt, this has to be the most breathable race upper out there. I wore this on a long run through a torrential spring downpour and it drained fully; it probably weighed less than most race shoes even soaking wet. You may write that off, but that’s a huge factor come race day in foul weather. Never know what hand you’ll be dealt.
I felt the lockdown in the midfoot was good, maybe not great. That’s always kind of been the case with the Vaporfly. It doesn’t have any internal support, so that comes with the territory.
Moving to the ZoomX midsole, I mean– it’s pretty great. It still maintains the same stack height but comes with a thinner midfoot ground contact area, while the forefoot widens just a touch. You get that classic bounce that you’ve come to know from the Vaporfly, though maybe a touch more firm. If you look at the actual side of the shoe and compare it to the last version, you can see the line where the plate sits, and it appears that the FlyPlate has a slightly more aggressive angle to it. I felt that this version was slightly more aggressive and firmer on the toe-off, which I honestly prefer, so I like that aspect of the shoe.
The outsole rubber is much thinner this go around– in fact, you can see quite a bit of ZoomX through the punched-out hexagons. To me, this is a positive, and according to Nike, this doesn’t sacrifice durability. But as anyone who’s run over a couple hundred miles in the last version knows, that rubber already burned quicker than a blunt in Snoop Dogg’s possession, so it’ll be interesting to see how this version holds up.
Also, nobody mentions this, but I think it matters: shoe prices have been going up and to the right for some time now. The Vaporfly remains the same price as it did in 2017.
MEAGHAN: The only weird thing about this shoe is the tongue. It’s a very thin, unpadded piece of material that just seems out of place. I’m not sure what’s going on with it, but there’s certainly room for improvement.
THOMAS: I don’t have a bad for the Vaporfly Next% 3. If forced, I would go after the tongue. It is a little extra at the top, with no gusset.
ROBBE: As Meg said, the tongue is a bit awkward. You have to strategically place it so the extended triangle pieces aren’t riding up your leg like a dog in heat. It didn’t really bother me, it was just weird.
Apparently nobody else experienced this, but even with cinching the laces down and going the whole way up on the eyelets, I still had some heel lift. I get that it’s a stiff, carbon-plated shoe, but even so, I felt like I couldn’t get a perfect lockdown. Maybe it’s just a me and Nike 2023 thing, because I had the same experience in the Invincible 3.
In the rain, I did experience some slippage, so I wouldn’t say it’s the grippiest out there, but it wasn’t exactly a Nike Trail outsole, so I survived.
MEAGHAN: The Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 has quickly climbed to the top of the charts for race day. While I still think I’m favoring the original Alphafly for the marathon, anything 13.1 and under has shifted to the Vaporfly 3.
THOMAS: There are many excellent race day options right now, but for shoes released in 2023, the Vaporfly Next% 3 is my favorite. The close second place would go to the Hoka Rocket X 2. I loved putting these shoes to the test and enjoyed every mile in them. If you chose them for race day, I hope they make you feel like they made me feel during workouts. Who knows, maybe you’ll surprise yourself with a new PB.
ROBBE: While I consider the Vaporfly to be a dart of a shoe that’s undeniably great on race day, my personal preference leans towards rockered rollers, so I’m still going with the Hoka Rocket X 2 (or dare I say the Asics Metaspeed Edge+, though beware of a leg thrashing after 26.2) on race day. I just like the way they roll along, mile after mile and I appreciate the wider platform for more stability. That said, the weight savings of the Vaporfly could come into play in the later stages of a race, so we may be splitting hairs at this point. And for distances under the half marathon where it’s just pure speed, I could definitely see myself opting for the Vaporfly.
Point being: there’s a wealth of super shoes right now, so it’s either going to come down to personal preference or the decimal place in your checking account. Your bank statement may have a black eye, but at least you’ll feel good and look gooder on race day. In the end, isn’t that what matters in life?
As the founder of Believe in the Run, Thomas’s goal is to help runners pick the shoes and gear that will make their running experience the best that it can be.More from Thomas
Meaghan signed up for her first marathon three weeks before the race, because it was $10 more than the half she planned to run. She learned everything in running the hard way. Now a USATF & UESCA certified run coach, she loves encouraging friends to go for big goals as she continues to chase faster times. She enjoys a hot cup of coffee, a cold martini, and making bagels for friends and family.More from Meaghan
Robbe is the senior editor of Believe in the Run. He loves going on weird routes through Baltimore, finding trash on the ground, and running with the Faster Bastards. At home in the city, but country at heart. Loves his two boys more than anything. Has the weakest ankles in the game.More from Robbe