There is no denying that running shoe technology has come a long way over the past couple of decades, with advanced midsole cushioning and improvements in breathable upper materials among the numerous innovations that have transformed the running industry.
And while upstart companies have emerged to try and capitalize on this market, there are some established players that have simply taken their existing catalog and made it even better.
Two of these names are New Balance and Nike.
As a kid growing up in the 90’s, I remember Nike being the must-have brand for all types of athletic shoes. The trademark “swoosh” became a status symbol that all athletes must wear.
When I saw my first pair of New Balance shoes around that time, I genuinely thought the distinctive “N” on the side of the shoe was an alternate logo for Nike and wondered why in the world they would make a pair of shoes without the swoosh?
I was quickly corrected of my adolescent error, and since that day, I have seen the New Balance “N” and Nike “swoosh” on thousands of feet throughout the years.
As we get set to enter a new year, it begs the question: Is New Balance or Nike better at making running shoes in this day and age?
Keep reading our comparison of New Balance vs Nike to find out everything you need to know about these two running shoe giants!
New Balance at a Glance
New Balance is a well-known brand for designing comfortable running shoes. While you usually don’t see New Balance on the feet of elite athletes, it is an extremely popular brand for casual runners and those looking for a good running/leisure crossover shoe.
Some of the general features you can expect to find in New Balance shoes are:
- A wider shoe with a spacious toe box
- Thicker, more padded upper designs
- A lot of gray, black, and white in the color scheme
- Ample midsoles to provide cushioning
Due to these general features, New Balance sometimes gets pegged as a “geriatric” brand. The company has not necessarily shied away from this association and has historically used more “ma and pa” types of models in lieu of famous athletes for its advertising.
However, to peg New Balance as a brand fit only for elderly power walkers is simply not accurate, with the company offering a full catalog of innovative shoes for all types of occasions, as you will see later in this breakdown.
Nike at a Glance
Now for the opposite end of the spectrum.
If New Balance is pigeonholed as a comfort/casualwear brand, Nike is arguably the first name that comes to mind when thinking of high-performance shoes.
Among the general features you can expect to receive from a pair of Nikes include:
- The most innovative midsoles and outsoles to help merge comfort and responsiveness
- Lightweight, breathable uppers to help diffuse sweat
- Bold, catchy color schemes that exude confidence
- A bit narrower and tighter fitting than New Balance
Due to this high performance reputation, Nike has received endorsements from athletes such as LeBron James and Tiger Woods.
In fact, its first endorsement deal in 1974 was with iconic runner Steve Prefontaine, establishing Nike as a premier name in the running community ever since.
New Balance vs Nike Differences in Design
Now that you know a little bit about New Balance and Nike in general terms, let’s delve deep into the design of each of these brands.
If you are simply looking for a comfortable upper, New Balance is the brand to go with.
Most of its shoes offer ample cushioning around the ankle and plentiful space in the toe box. Despite this, many runners find the uppers of New Balance shoes to be surprisingly breathable. This is due to what is known as Hypoknit technology which wicks moisture to keep solid air flow throughout use.
Nike is known for producing thinner uppers than New Balance. This helps performance runners who want to feel like there is nothing cumbersome bogging them down. The Nike toe box will usually be a bit narrower, which does feel a bit restrictive to some and may induce fears in those susceptible to overpronation. However, most Nikes counter this with innovative heel clutch technology that will keep runners’ feet from sliding during times of maximum exertion.
While many Nikes come with thinner uppers, there are some models that use additional FlyKnit material to increase padding while still allowing for breathability.
New Balance is known for providing ample midsoles that offer a great deal of cushioning. Depending on the shoe you choose, it will contain either Fresh Foam or FuelCell foam in the midsole:
- Fresh Foam – inspired by 3D motion captured pressure mapping to put the right amount of the company’s proprietary EVA soft foam blend in the right places
- FuelCell Foam – this is the company’s performance EVA foam. While still comfortable, it is more focused on providing a high energy return from the midsole
Nike midsoles are some of the most famous ever, with the unmistakable Air Max technology bringing great fame to the company. Air Max midsoles incorporate flexible urethane pouches filled with pressurized gas to help runners achieve the sensation that they are running on air.
A more traditional approach to midsole cushioning comes in the form of the company’s ZoomX technology. It is a light, soft midsole foam used to give runners up to 85% greater energy return than the EVA foam used in many types of midsoles.
Many lines of New Balance shoes will come with ample amounts of blown rubber in the outsoles. This helps improve the slip resistance of the sneakers while also improving durability.
While Nike typically offers a greater range of designs and tread patterns for its outsoles, you can expect to find a generous amount of blown crystal rubber to guarantee the best combination of traction, flexibility, and durability possible.
New Balance vs Nike Feature Comparison
Let’s take a deep dive and see how New Balance and Nike shoes perform along a number of important purchase considerations.
As mentioned, both brands tend to have a good amount of strategically placed blown rubber in the outsoles, cementing the longevity of the shoe when used over a wide variety of terrains.
You can easily expect any pair of New Balance shoes to last at least 300 miles, with most runners reporting that they exceed 500 miles before it is time to get a new pair.
Nike shoes will generally come with a similar lifespan. However, some of Nike’s most lightweight products will wear out a bit faster when confronted with normal use. For example, the ultra lightweight Nike Vapor Fly is said to reach the end of its useful life at a mere 200 miles, so be sure to check the outsole material prior to purchasing a pair of Nikes.
As touched on a couple of times, New Balance has the more spacious toe box and is better for people with wide feet. Its Hypoknit uppers provide a soft feel to the shoe without restricting breathability.
Nike shoes are narrower in the toe box and feel a bit tighter. However, some runners feel like this is offset by the lightweight, breathable upper design that keeps the foot feeling fresh throughout the run.
You really can’t go wrong with either of these brands when it comes to cushioning, as both companies employ some of the most innovative midsole technology on the market.
However, New Balance has more of a reputation as a producer of comfortable shoes. Most of its shoes will feature soft EVA foam strategically placed throughout the midsole, known as Fresh Foam, while its performance lines will generally use FuelCell foam, which is still soft but more responsive.
Nike will offer a greater array of midsole cushioning choices. Any of its “Air” products will provide superior comfort for walking or running purposes, while its ZoomX midsoles will be used for energy return in addition to ample cushioning.
Stability and Support
In general, New Balance shoes will offer a greater deal of stability than Nike shoes. The wider platform allows for greater toe splaying, which can help prevent pronation during running. They are also designed with an S-curve to help with side to side stability and “Ultra Heel” that keeps the heel locked in place.
One interesting note. You have probably noticed New Balance shoes have a number in their name. Whenever you see a shoe name that has a “60” at the end, it is specifically designed to improve stability and prevent overpronation.
Because they are generally a bit narrower, runners may be at a slightly greater risk of rolling their ankle in a Nike shoe. However, the company does have some shoes, such as the Nike React Miler, that feature a wider platform and do perform better as a stability shoe.
Most runners feel like New Balance runs true to size. Nike shoes tend to run on the small side–perhaps due to the more narrow design–so it may be better to size up when choosing a Nike, as a little more room is desirable to account for foot swelling during exertion.
Nike is definitely the more expensive of the two brands. While some of its more basic shoes will start at around $75, many of its premium products will exceed $125.
New Balance has a number of shoes checking in between $50 and $75, with fewer of its products exceeding $100 than Nike.
It is worth noting that some premium products by both brands can exceed $200.
New Balance vs Nike Top Shoes
Now let’s spend some time on a specific, apples-to-apples comparison of some of the most well-known shoes from each company.
Performance: New Balance FuelCell Rebel v3 vs. Nike Air Zoom Alphafly
For those who feel like New Balance is nothing more than a comfort/crossover brand, the New Balance FuelCell Rebel v3 will have you thinking twice.
Bold in appearance and design, its light and springy fabrication–featuring an extra supply of New Balance’s patented FuelCell midsole foam–gives runners just what they need to turn in an optimal performance. The lightweight, breathable upper and gusseted tongue provide everything runners need to go mile after mile without getting bogged down.
While these features are impressive, it is hard to match the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly when it comes to speed. Checking in at a miniscule 7.4 ounces, the Alphafly gives runners the lightweight running sensation for which Nike is famous.
Despite being lightweight, this “super shoe” has an impressive midsole stack to absorb shock and ample outsole rubber to guarantee traction. It comes with an efficient rocker design that lets the miles tick by with ease and is surprisingly stable for a shoe with its stack.
Winner: Nike Air Zoom Alphafly
Stability: New Balance Fresh Foam X 860 v13 vs Nike React Mile 3
As mentioned, you can identify New Balance’s stability shoes by looking for the “60” at the end of the product number. In this case, the Fresh Foam X 860 v13 definitely fits the bill.
With an ample toe box and molded heel counter, this shoe allows the toes to splay while preventing any lateral slippage that could lead to pronation issues.
In addition, although it provides adequate cushioning in the midsole, it feels a bit firmer than other lines of New Balance shoes, which can give runners a better sense of control when compared to shoes that are more “gooey.”
The Nike React Miler 3 is probably the company’s best in terms of stability. Its wider platform and roomier toe box give the toes ample room to splay, helping alleviate any overpronation issues.
It also has a padded upper, which can give runners a bit greater sense of protection over some of Nike’s other more lightweight designs.
Winner: New Balance Fresh Foam X 860 v13
Cushioning: New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080 v12 vs Nike Air Zoom Vomero 16
Remember how we said that the numbers in New Balance shoes mean something? Well, any shoe with an “80” in the name will be designed for superior cushioning, as is the case with the Fresh Foam X 1080 v12.
With an ample bed of Fresh Foam midsole cushioning, the 1080 v12 is a great shoe for those runners looking to log significant miles while minimizing stress on the joints. The Hypoknit upper also guarantees a lightweight, breathable running experience that provides just enough stretchiness to keep the foot secure without being overly restrictive.
The Air Zoom Vomero 16 is Nike’s top pick for a highly cushioned shoe. Upgraded to the company’s proprietary ZoomX midsole foam, the Vomero 16 gives runners an exceptionally soft landing experience with each stride. It also adds some strategic ventilation spots throughout the shoe to maximize breathability throughout the run.
Winner: New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12
New Balance vs Nike: Final Thoughts
When it comes to established names in the world of running shoes, not many companies can rival the decades of experience that New Balance and Nike bring to the game.
However, these two mega brands are more than just hollow names–they undoubtedly bring some of the best running shoe innovations to each of their products.
When combining all of our personal experience, research, and other customer reviews, it can be safely stated that Nike has an edge for those looking for a fast, high performance shoe, while New Balance is more consistent in providing high-cushioned shoes for everyday purposes.
But whatever your primary motivation, both of these companies offer extensive catalogs of first rate shoes, so find your ideal pair and hit the track today!