There’s probably not a more innovative shoe company out there right now than Nike. As a shoe geek who has been following the trends since the ‘80s and wearing many of the brands out there, I can say for a fact that there’s never been a been a more exciting time to be a runner-shoe geek. I’ve had a mixed relationship with Nike shoes in the past. Other than the Free series, I’ve found that they tend to be narrow and pointy around the toebox section. We Asians who spend our time unshod at home, typically have wider feet than our Western counterparts. It was almost a certainty that I finish a marathon with a medal and bruised toenails!
Sometime in the past 3 years, things changed. Perhaps it was due to the introduction of Flyknit and the engineered mesh upper that gave the shoe uppers more give and “stretch-ability”. Perhaps there was really an update to the shoe lasts. Shoes like the Flyknit Lunar series, Lunar Tempo, Zoom Span and even the later versions of the Lunaracers were fantastic shoes to run in. They had forgiving uppers, light and cushioned. So were the performance oriented models like the Streak 6, Zoom Elite 9 and Speed Rival 6, which became favorites not only of the super-efficient elites but also weekend warriors. They were still based on various forms of traditional foam like Cushlon, Lunarlon and old fashioned EVA.
Then hot on the heels of the Breaking2 Project (watch the videos here – link 1 | link 2 | NatGeo feature, came the release of the Zoom Fly and Vapor Fly 4% into the wild. The runners-shoe geek population and sneakerheads everywhere went wild literally. Since this review is not on the Flys, let’s move on.
The Epic React Flyknit (ERF) was released in the States end January 2018 and a month later, they landed in Malaysia. To the uninitiated, React refers to Nike’s new midsole material, much like how Adidas affixed the Boost name to nearly all their running line of shoes. I won’t be regurgitating what React is but Nike has it covered here. Now, if you’re familiar with Boost (or for that matter any of the BASF’s Boost derivative such as Saucony’s EVERUN or Reebok’s Floatride) shoes, you’ll know that that they can range between soft and bouncy (such as the Ultra Boost) to firm (such as Freedom ISO) depending on how they’re “tuned”. They’re undoubtedly durable and pretty temperature resistant, meaning they’ll retain their wear properties in cold and warm temperatures. However, the TPU material is heavy, resulting in heavy shoes. The Ultra Boost weighs in around 10oz, the Reebok Floatride Run comes in at 9.7oz and even Adidas very own racing and performance oriented Boston Boost and Adios weigh between 7.8 to 8.6oz. TPU usage often meant shoe companies will need to be creative in the design of the upper and outsole so that they don’t add on to the already heavy (relatively speaking, of course) shoes.
So Nike decided to go their own way. Instead of putting out another BASF-based TPU, they developed React and slapped it on the Epic. Now, in case you’re wondering, the Epic name isn’t used for the first time by Nike. In fact, the very shoe that the ERF replaces – Flyknit Lunar Epic Low 2 – is still being sold at a premium price of RM629 in Nike stores around here. Going further back, the Epic Low was a replacement for the Flyknit Lunar 3. That’s history for you.
If you’ve clicked on the link to the React page, you’d see the many numbers put forth by Nike in terms of durability, softness, bounce and weight. So how do they measure up on the feet of a marathoner deep-in-training? Pretty good. In fact, I’m downright impressed! The hype may be from the collectors and sneakerheads but I’m here to state that the ERF is a totally legit running shoe. So let’s get on with the review.
Compared to the Boston Boost 5, the ERF has a more forgiving forefoot due to the absence of hard Continental rubber. I also find it softer than the Freedom ISO but firmer than the FloatRide Run. The ERF offers a different ride experience at different speeds. Firm when things heat up, smooth and cushy without any of the mushiness of the Hoka Clayton 2 when taken at a slower pace. It’s over long and easy runs (between 5:50 to 6:30/km pace) that I like them the most. They’re surprisingly stable and responsive, a sentiment concurred by my fellow running mates. There’s some ground feel but minus the harshness of the Boston or the NB Zante.
I’ve logged 77km in total in the ER and have very little to complain. The longest single run in them was a fast-finish 24km in clammy conditions, and there were no blisters, no chafing, no heat build-up. The superbly engineered one piece Flyknit upper provided a snug midfoot fit that’s just nice without the overly constricting feel of the Vapor Street’s. You can see for yourself the quality of the weave in the photo.
The toe box is accommodating enough, no complains there. Flat laces are used but there were no pressure on top of the feet. They never got undone either, unlike those used for the Zoom Elite 9. Even with the external piece of plastic to help stabilize the shoe and a thin heel counter to further lock in the foot, the shoe only weighs in at 8.6oz for my US10. And yes, the Epic React Flyknit fits true to size.
The uniquely designed React midsole has the appearance of ant farm tunneling. Flip the shoe over and you’ll see that most of the outsole is exposed React foam. Only the heel and toe sections have translucent-like rubber placements. I thought the placements were a little too minimal and durability will take a hit. That’s true to a certain extent. There were already visible wear signs from the very first get go (they’re exposed foam anyway, so that’s a given) but the wear seem to ease off and became less noticeable after I heaped more miles on them. The ERF’s outsole won’t return you 600km – you’ll probably see around 350 to 400km tops. Nike has since released a lower priced light stability React model which has more rubber on its outsole – the Odyssey React (OR). So if you’re looking to get more miles for your hard-earned cash, the OR may be the option for you.
Nike’s recent releases are certainly bringing plenty of new tech to the roads and that’s exciting for us runners. The Epic React Flyknit remains the most readily available model right now and it retails at RM589. If you’d like a bit more durability, and mild stability at a lower price point (engineered mesh instead of Flyknit), consider the Odyssey React. The Odyssey (also a carried over name from a discontinued stability model) feels slightly different from the Epic, so give both a try first. The Nike Epic React has my recommendation.
Other reviews of the Epic React Flyknit: