The four pillars of a running shoe are cushioning (for comfort), energy return (for feedback from the running surface), light weight, and durability. The biggest challenge is the foaming material used beneath the foot: It should be soft and still provide ideal feedback. A slightly harder foam would offer energy return, but would not be as comfortable.

Nike’s new React foam cushioning, the foundation of the Epic React Flyknit shoe, could offer the right balance.

The React foam is essentially a single piece of foam making up the midsole and the outsole; when you look at the shoe from the side, the thickness of the bottom portion is apparent. It is quite comfortable, whether on the treadmill or on a concrete running surface. We feel this foam provides an even better balance than Adidas’ Boost cushioning material.

When compared with Nike’s own top-notch Lunarlon foam (found in the Nike LunarEpic Flyknit, for instance), the React foam is 11% softer, 13% bouncier (greater comfort without muffling the running sensation) and 5% lighter, which makes it even more comfortable.

The Epic React Flyknit has a 10mm heel-to-toe drop (also known as offset). It has adequate cushioning under the forefoot, something many running shoes lack, and that becomes apparent when your foot lands heavily on a hard surface. The only additional elements to the React foam are the durable clear rubber inserts for the toe and heel on the outsole, both of which are useful in foot transition during running as well as direction changes.

The upper helps provide a sock-like fit, flexibility, and a wide toe-box. This material adjusts to the contours of your feet after a couple of runs. The heel collar can feel a little tight, and if you aren’t wearing socks, can irritate the skin. Nike perhaps missed a trick by not using the Flywire lacing tech, which connects the laces with the midsole, for extra stability.

At a time when footwear makers have their own foam technology, the differences are minimal and the room for error, even less. Even the slightest improvements can make a lot of difference. So the changes in the Nike Epic React Flyknit’s materials hold it in good stead, though slight improvements to the upper would be welcome.

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