It’s been awhile since we pitted two popular running shoe brands against each other in head-to-head comparison. To return to the format, we are looking at what might be the ultimate old-school vs. new school battle: New Balance and Nike. Sure, both have been around for a considerable length of time and are well-known in runner’s circles.
But New Balance goes way way back, to 1906. For over 100 years they have been producing sneakers and clothing. in the 70’s and 80’s, they were a running powerhouse, and many marathon winners ran in NB shoes. They’re still known for their classic running shoes that have a wider toe box and come in narrow to extra-wide. They have a reputation as a no-fuss, no-frills option.
Nike is relatively new, opening for business in 1964. For the last 56 years, they have been producing footwear, clothing, and sports accessories in ever-expanding markets. While the brand may have started on Bill Bowerman’s waffle iron, it quickly became associated with other sports, especially basketball. Their entry into the elite running game is fairly recent, and now the company is at the forefront of technological innovation and elite athlete sponsorship.
Nike offers so many shoes that you can’t make a generalization about their sizing and fit. They make everything from minimalist ‘barefoot’ shoes, to carbon-plate space-age maximalist options built with a firm, snug fit. There is truly an option for everyone.
Both brands are excellent choices for your next big training block or race. But let’s delve into some specific shoe details of both Nike and New Balance and see how they differ.
The upper on New Balance shoes is a combination of either mesh and suede, or mesh and synthetic material. These provide enough stability to keep the foot locked in place while allowing for foot flexibility.
The mesh and perforations allow for better air circulation and prevent hotspots in the shoes, keeping your feet as cool as they need to be.
Nike uppers are made from either an engineered mesh that often features Nike Flyknit material, or ultra-light ripstop fabric. This is where different knit patterns are applied to different parts of the upper to provide additional support.
The material can be lighter in parts of the foot to allow for better air circulation while remaining flexible. Depending on the model, they could also feature Nike’s Flywire Technology with Dynamic Fit technology.
This technology wraps around the midfoot and arch of the foot for a very snug fit. When you tighten the laces, it should feel like your foot is being hugged and that the shoe has conformed to the shape of your foot.
New Balance midsole foam technology can make you feel as though you’re walking or running on clouds.
They’ve brought out Fresh Foam X, which has been engineered to provide cushioning and responsiveness that leaves legs feeling fresher for longer. This midsole technology can be found in the 1080s, 880s, and 860s models, as examples.
Then there are NB shoes that use their FuelCell foam, which will deliver speed to anyone who needs to beat their personal best. This foam is comfortable, responsive, and provides great energy return.
Certain New Balance shoes – NB 1765 and NB 880v3, as examples – all feature Abzorb technology. Abzorb cushioning is used in both the forefoot and heel of the shoe and it absorbs shock, leaving the runner with a soft and protected ride.
New Balance shoes normally come with additional stability and support, with the heel being reinforced with New Balance’s EnCap Technology, which can reduce the drop from heel to toe.
You may also find that the New Balance shoes use Rollbar technology, which helps with overpronation and minimizes the movement of the rear foot.
Running on clouds vs. running on Air
If New Balance shoes make you feel like you’re running on clouds, Nike has you literally running on air. Their Air technology has been the bedrock of Nike cushioning across sports for decades. It is most often combined with other cushioning, though. Nike has been listening to what runners want and their latest shoes feature Nike React Technology, which is often combined with Zoom airbags.
The React Technology was first used in 2017 in basketball shoes. Nike has since improved the technology, and this foam is soft, springy, and provides good energy return. The Zoom bags can be full length or can be inserted in the forefoot or heel to provide for a more comfortable ride.
And then there’s the Nike Joyride, which uses thousands of TPE beads set in sections of the sole of the shoe. The beads are dispersed across the entire midsole, providing a soft, comfortable ride, with great energy return for runners.
AND THEN there’s Nike’s big midsole “And then…” In 2016, Nike introduced the Vaporfly 4%, pioneering the use of carbon fiber plates embedded in the midsole. This is THE revolution in running shoes today, all controversy aside. It’s such a transformative idea in running footwear that even New Balance is now using it.
New Balance shoes either feature the Ndurance rubber sole that also incorporates AT Tread, which gives the shoe effective traction on any surface, or NGrip, which makes shoes slip-resistant and ASTM 2913-11 certified. New Balance outsoles may also feature flex grooves that allow for better flexibility and a more natural foot movement.
Nike shoes often feature a carbon rubber outsole with deeply segmented grooves, and flex grooves to mimic the natural movement and patterns of a barefoot landing.
This helps provide better grip and stability on surfaces and still allows for greater flex of the toes. Some shoes may even feature soft blown rubber on the forefoot and midfoot, which helps to absorb the impact of your footstrike.
Both New Balance and Nike make high-quality shoes that are designed to be long-lasting. There’s no way to give any solid data here, as durability depends on a variety of external factors.
You’d need to consider what the shoes are being used for, how often they’re being used, and how hard you are with your shoes.
The shoes will most likely wear out faster if they’re used for running 65 miles a week than they would if they were only going to be doing 5 miles a week. The upper, midsole, and outsole should be able to withstand the miles that you are going to be doing, without compromising on the comfort or shock absorption of the shoe. Nike does offer a handful of ultra-light racing shoes that are not particularly durable. Other than that, both brands will easily get you the typical 300-400 miles per pair.
Choosing an appropriate shoe with a midsole and outsole to suit your type of running is an important factor in durability and makes more of a difference than the actual quality of the shoe (of which both Nike and New Balance are high).
Cushioning really comes down to personal preference and what each specific runner wants from a shoe.
Both Nike and New Balance have received positive feedback on their cushioning from people who have bought their shoes. Both companies are looking to provide adequate cushioning that reduces the risk of injury while running or walking in their shoes.
Some runners will want firm, responsive cushioning, while others may want to feel as though they’re walking on clouds.
Both New Balance and Nike have shoes with cushioning that runs the full length of the shoe, and shoes where the cushioning provides extra support in the forefoot and heel, for a soft, comfortable, and responsive ride.
Overall Fit & Comfort
New Balance is known for providing stability, support, and a comfortable shoe that can be worn all day. Their wide options mean that all runners are included.
Nike is known for being a comfortable shoe that can help increase your speed and is easy on the feet. However, they can run narrow from the toe to the midfoot.
You’re able to buy New Balance shoes in a wide or extra-wide, which gives you wiggle room for your toes. Their toe box is often spacious and increases comfort. New Balance shoes also get a thumbs-up for being recommended by doctors for a variety of foot conditions and may fall under Medicare/HCPCS code A5500.
Both shoe brands are tested by athletes who provide feedback, and both companies listen to the feedback of those who wear their shoes. This helps them to develop shoes that provide a mix of comfort and performance.
Again, this is a difficult question to answer. Prices vary according to which shoe model you buy, in both brands. The more technology that’s gone into the shoe, the higher the price. Both New Balance and Nike offer options through a variety of price points from budget models up to pro-level gear. If the money is really burning a hole in your pocket, you can lay out $250 or more for Nike’s carbon plate shoes (which have notoriously fragile foam, s you’ll get to buy them more often, too!)
When it comes down to it, both New Balance and Nike are well-established, reputable shoe brands and make some great products.
They both make use of a variety of technologies to keep their shoes improving and catered to the needs of their customers.
In the end, the right brand for you may not be the same as the next runner. It’s up to you to compare and decide which one works best for you.
If you have a foot condition that you see a doctor for, ask your doctor about New Balance shoes. If you’re pain-free, it will most likely come down to which technologies you prefer, with a little bit of personal aesthetic preference too!
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