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Nike Zoom Fly: Which Version to Buy?

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

I got a Nike gift card for Christmas and figured that I would use it to test out the Nike Zoom Fly to see what all of the hype was about. The Nike Zoom Fly is the consumer version of the Breaking2, Nike VaporFly 4%, which was originally created exclusively for select Nike Elite runners in a effort to break the 2-hour marathon mark.

As I shopped for the Zoom Fly, I quickly discovered that there are three different versions of the shoe: Zoom Fly (Mesh), Zoom Fly SP (Special Project) and Zoom Fly FK (Flyknit).

I tried on a pair of the Mesh version in the store and looked at every pair available through the Nike app. I couldn't decide which one to get. Luckily, the reps at the Nike store and the Nike app both told me to buy all three, test the difference, and bring back the ones I didn't like before 30 days. Okay, heck yes I will! (Side note: I have never done that before and only did so based on their recommendation)

Initially, I thought that all three versions had the exact same sole, and my plan was to mostly highlight the differences in the upper material for this review. However, it turns out that there are a couple of subtle differences, which made all the difference for me and explains why some of my response to the three different shoes varied more than I expected.

I tested each shoe with an easy 6-mile treadmill run, a 6-mile treadmill speed workout, and a 6-10 mile outdoor run with a good tempo pace.

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ZOOM FLY (MESH) - Favorite All-Around (Trainer, Racer & Style)

Right from the very first step I could tell that this shoe was different. I immediately noticed how the shoe suddenly rocked forward when stepping onto the toes and releasing the forefoot to step with the next foot. You can literally feel it propel you forward--I really liked that--but it took a bit to get use to.

The foot lock-down was great in the heel and forefront of the shoe. The tongue of the shoe has a really odd-looking shape at the top, but when you step with it, you will noticed that it is specifically designed for the curves where your leg meets the ankle. Really cool touch of fine detail. The upper material is a typical trainer mesh that you will find on most Nike and other running shoes, but with the Flywire. They are warm enough for the winter, but still breathable enough for the summer.

Upon my initial test run on the treadmill, I got only 4 miles into my 6-mile run when I noticed my knees hurting. I tried to shake it off, but didn't get past 5.5 miles before I had to stop. Keep in mind, the only knee pain that I have had in 10 years is when my shoes are getting to the end of life. And that is just a mild soreness. Although, it is important to note that my last three pairs of running shoes had zero drop.

Regardless, my next test run went much better. It was a relatively flat six-mile loop outside. I flew without even trying! I was on cloud nine running in these beauties! My knees didn't hurt the entire time (although, they did feel mildly sore after the next 6-mile treadmill test run).

  • Full-length carbon-infused nylon plate.

  • Lunarlon cushioning.

  • Nearly seamless Flymesh in the upper is designed to be more breathable through the top of your foot.

  • Flywire cables hug your foot the more you tighten your laces, providing a secure fit.

  • Nike React technology (I'm still not sure what that even means, since this shoe has a Lunarlon foam sole).

Other Details:

  • Size runs true.

  • Weight: 8.75oz men & 7.5oz women

  • Offset: 10mm (23mm forefoot, 33 mm heel)

I also love the overall aesthetic design of this shoe the best, with the large gotti Nike logo across the entire shoe. This version seems to have the most variety of color choices too. I liked the white version that I got, but I worried too much about getting them dirty, haha!


ZOOM FLY SP (SPECIAL PROJECT) - Favorite as a pure Racer

Wow, this material is not at all what I was expecting. I thought this would be an unbreathable, water-proof plastic. Nope. It is a flexible, nylon-weave material. Not only is it breathable, it is light and airy. The heel of the shoe looks flimsy, but seemed fine during test runs. My wife also tested these shoes and loved the micro-suede material around the ankle where she tends to get rubbing from other running shoes.

You can definitely feel a breeze through the nylon-weave material, but with regular socks in literally freezing temperatures my feet stayed warm. The nylon-weave material is flimsy when trying to get the shoes on or pull the tongue up, but not that big of a deal. The laces feel like a ribbon material and actually came untied during my run. You can't tie these loosely at all. They need to be cinched really tight to stay tied, but then were a bit annoying to untie.

The upper material fits tight, but is flexible. I personally like it. I believe Nike intended these shoes to fit that way, because this is meant as a marathon racer. Plus, the size of the sole is identical to the other two versions of the shoe. However, nearly every review I read online complained that they were a half or full-size too small. My wife had the same complaint and returned her pair for a half-size bigger.

My outdoor test run in these bad boys was very similar to the Mesh version. They propelled me forward in the exact same way, yet they felt so much lighter and amazing. Eight miles flew by! I was convinced that these were going to win over my final decision before I even tested the Flyknit.

Unfortunately, when I tested the SP's on the treadmill, my knees hurt the same way they did with the Mesh version. I found that this only occurred while running on the treadmill. I believe that it must be the high-profile sole and the way the toes propel you forward. I think that somehow the treadmill creates some sort of resistance to that forward thrust that running on the road just didn't.

  • Full-length carbon-infused nylon plate.

  • Lunarlon cushioning.

  • Flywire technology.

  • Translucent, stretch-woven upper with soft, microsuede arch band.

Other Details:

  • Size runs half-size small (according to overwhelming online reviews).

  • Weight: 8.2oz men & 7.2oz women

  • Offset: 10mm (23mm forefoot, 33 mm heel)

I was not a huge for of the translucent aesthetics of this shoe or the design. Nike came out with more color options and called them the "SP Fast," but the color options are lackluster in my opinion and seemed to be the only real substantive difference from the original SP's.


ZOOM FLY FK (FLYKNIT) - Favorite for Comfort, Natural Splay & Energy Return

When I put these shoes on I could immediately tell that there was a difference from the other two versions. They still had the same forward thrust, but they were more cushioned and comfortable, which made the forward thrust feel less dramatic. I could also tell that the impact with the road was not so firm and rigid like the other versions, and the springiness of the sole felt almost as responsive as the 4% (only almost though).

The upper material fit very much like the VaporFly 4% as well (looks nearly identical to me). It feels like a firm sock. Also similar to the 4%, the Flyknit laces have only four lace loops on each side, instead of 6-7 on the other two versions. This caused the forefoot to feel a bit less locked down. However, I really liked that aspect of the material because it allows my forefoot to splay more naturally as I run, yet it still keeps it sufficiently locked in.

Most importantly, my knees never hurt! This was particularly true on the treadmill. Perhaps I was just getting use to the height of the soles on all three versions of the shoe. However, when I did another treadmill test run on the SP, my knees hurt again.

Although the Flyknit has the same sole shape, design and height, I believe that the Nike React cushion of the sole and the full-length, carbon-fiber plate was much more responsive then the "carbon-infused nylon plate" and the Lunarlon foam of the other two versions. And that is saying something coming from me, because I ran over 1500 miles on Nike's various versions of the discontinued LunarGlides (and loved them!), which used the same Lunarlon foam as the other two Zoom Fly versions tested above.

  • Flyknit upper with fusible yarns that create zones of structure and support.

  • Full-length carbon fiber plate is the same plate used in the VaporFly 4%.

  • Nike React technology (this shoe actually uses the Nike React foam for the sole).

Other Details:

  • Size runs true.

  • Weight: 8.6oz men & 7.6oz women

  • Offset: 10mm (23mm forefoot, 33 mm heel)

I didn't like the partially cut-off logo design of this shoe, but I did like the color of these much better, with a grey upper and a grey sole. This is also the first running shoe that I have had in which I would definitely wear casually for more than just mowing the lawn after I am done with them.


VAPORFLY 4% - Favorite if you have Excess Dough to Spend

Seeing that all of these shoes were "inspired" by the Breaking2 shoe, I can't finish without making a couple of points about the Vaporfly 4%. The 4% is now available to consumers, but comes in limited quantities. I tried them on at a local running store and they felt like nothing I had ever experienced before. They fit like a pair of socks, but with all of the upper support you would need. With each step, you could feel how cushioned they were, and yet they provided an unexpected, springy energy return. Like the Zoom Fly, they propelled you forward, but with an energy return that the Zoom Fly just could not produce (although the Flyknit version felt somewhat close).

  • Flyknit constructed upper.

  • ZoomX foam.

  • Full-length carbon fiber plate feels like it's propelling you forward.

Other Details

  • Size runs true.

  • Weight: 6.8oz (Men's size 10), 5.8oz (Women's size 8)

  • Offset: 10mm (21mm forefoot, 31 mm heel)

Sadly, the price tag of these elite and commercial beauties is $250. Annnnd...they only get 100 miles of pure racing speed before they need to be replaced...which is why the store clerk would only let me walk in them, because they are worth $2.50 a mile (if you didn't do the math). One day you shall be mine! ...but for's too hefty of a price tag for an Average Joe Runner like me.


Drum roll please (as if it wasn't already obvious)...easily the Zoom Fly FK (Flyknit) over the other two versions. This was mostly based on the impact to my knees, which I think is directly related to how closely the Flyknit mimics the VaporFly 4%. Not only does it have a cushiony and responsive sole, with an upper sock-like material that more closely mimics the 4%, it has the identical carbon-fiber plate as the 4%. Not to mention, they are only $20 more than the other two Zoom Fly versions, yet $150 less than the 4%. That's a no-brainer! Plus, I will get at least 200 more miles out of them than the 4%. Annnnd...there still remains the fact that these babies will look soooo good for casual wear long after they retire from running.

Hello Zoom Fly FK (Flyknit)! You will do me just fine.



Zoom Fly

The Ginger Runner - @ethannewberry

Zoom Fly SP

Kofuzi - @kofuzi

Zoom Fly Flyknit

Believe in the Run - @believeintherun

Vaporfly 4%

Jamison Michael - @jamisonruns



Well, his real name is actually Dave...but "The Average Joe Runner" seemed like a catchy name for a blog. Born a sprinter, but converted to distance running in adulthood, Dave has run for more than 25 years. He is the father of four awesome kids and the husband to one amazingly talented, smart and fast-running wife.

The Average Joe Runner blog and website was born after Dave continued to get questions from friends and family alike for running tips and gear advice. However, this blog is also meant to hear from other Average Joe and Jane Runners out there. You can contribute to the blog by clicking Submit or Request. Follow The Average Joe Runner on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @TheAvgJoeRun. Read More.



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