jessie Air Max red rose

Last week, I ventured out to Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., to test out the brand’s latest running innovation, the Air VaporMax, more than a month before they hit stores. Nike took media members from around the world on a run led by Olympian and American 3000m steeplechase record holder, Evan Jager.Now I’m no Olympian, but these shoes made me feel like I could keep up with one. (Jager admittedly set a pace that non-steeplechase record holders could handle.)One criticism I’ve had for years of the Air Max franchise is the weight of the shoes. My favorite Air Max looks (Air Max 95, 97 and 2009) are heavier than most performance running shoes, which would make taking them on a lengthy run difficult (hence me never doing so).

But the construction of the Nike Air VaporMax is stripped down, placing your foot the closest it has ever been to the brand’s Air bag, which significantly reduces the weight. And pairing the Air unit with a thin and stretchy Flyknit upper ensures the sneakers are light.The VaporMax weight is similar to neutral performance models I’ve put miles in from the favorite brands of devoted runners such as Brooks and Saucony.And the Air VaporMax cushioning rivals the best compounds on the market today. Yes, Air technology isn’t new, but having your foot so close to the air bag provides a far different on-foot experience. The ride of the VaporMax is smooth, and the lack of a traditional midsole and outsole gives the shoe a springier feel with each step.

For Air Max fans that wear the shoes for look versus performance, the VaporMax is eye-catching in person. Part of me was hesitant to run in them because it was pouring, and I didn’t hit them with protective spray first (the rain didn’t kill them; style disaster avoided).After wearing the Air VaporMax, I’d say this shoe is a win for Nike, and has what it takes to win over both the dedicated runner and the fashion-forward sneaker fan.