EVA foam compresses over time and loses its cushioning ability, so Nike designers introduced Air technology back in the late '70s with the Tailwind shoe -- later made popular with the Air Force 1 and Air Jordan shoes. Nike designers replaced some of the EVA with small encapsulated air in polyurethane bags and created a lighter, more durable, and better cushioned shoe.
The new Air Max 360 replaces all of the foam with a full-length Air Sole.
Testing the air
When Nike contacted me to try out the 360s, I knew I could give them an honest assessment. Although I'm not a hard-core runner, I've run enough to appreciate quality shoes. I've been running for about 20 years and currently run five miles once or twice a week with the occasional 5K or 10K race. I like to run, but keep it fairly light because it's a little too hard on my 40-something joints.
Since I'm a pronator, which means my foot tends to rotate inwards when I strike the ground, I typically look for well-cushioned shoes that provide stability. Cushioning is particularly important for me since I run on almost exclusively on asphalt or cement.
Durability is also important, as I've learned the hard way that when the foam wears out, cushioning decreases, and I'm more prone to injuries like shin splints. Not to mention, the less often I have to buy shoes, the better.
First off I noticed the 360s were much lighter than my current New Balance running shoes (with an EVA foam midsole). While the Nike sole is see through, it's thicker and you can't bend it or twist it the way you can with my EVA foam shoes.
The 360s fit snugly, especially in the heel. I don't have particularly wide feet, but had to fiddle with the laces a little before dialing in the right fit. I chose thinner socks than usual to get it just right. Best thing is that my foot didn't slide around in the shoe -- which happens often no matter how much I tighten the laces. No heel blisters with these.
I ran a short two-mile flat route just to get the feel of them before hitting the harder testing course. Although the 360s felt a little stiff the first time, it only took a few runs before they felt snug and comfy.
The real test
I chose my high-impact running route to really test them. It's a 5.5-mile route that covers a variety of terrain: steep uphill and downhill, cement sidewalk, asphalt, uneven dirt trails and grass. The most significant part of my route -- and a great place to check cushioning -- is the steep downhill section that usually jars the heck out of me.
My steps felt cushioned without feeling too spongy. There's enough cushioning but not enough to feel like you're running on a pillow. The cushioning is more springy than fluffy, so you don't feel like you're wasting energy.
On the uneven sections of my run, the shoes felt very stable. In my current shoes I brace my ankles a bit more on these sections, but the 360s felt more stable and allowed me to relax my ankles. The true test for cushioning was a steep half-mile downhill asphalt section at the end of my run. I'm happy to report the Nikes definitely dampened the impact better than my current shoes. I usually feel some aches and pains (usually my knees and shins) here, but not so with the 360s.
I tried on my other pair of running shoes after wearing the 360s for a few weeks and my old shoes felt unstable and flimsy in comparison. Funny, because they didn't particularly feel that way before trying the 360s. Now I'm spoiled.
Designed for comfort
Nike describes the Air Max 360 as a milestone for runners, providing a full air cushioning system in place of foam -- giving runners "360 degrees of Nike Air cushioning." Because testing showed that foam compresses up to 40 percent after 300 miles, the 360's Air Sole allows the shoe to perform as well on the 301st mile as it does on the first.
In addition, the 360 is also designed to be more flexible in the forefoot, to allow for a more natural range of motion and better correspond with pressure points in the foot -- flex grooves on the sole allow for this. The shoe is tuned specifically for gender and shoe size for enhanced impact protection. A seamless sock liner helps eliminate abrasion and midfoot webbing loops provide a better fit.
The Air Max 360 certainly meets all my criteria for a running shoe: Stability, cushioning and durability. Because I'm able to run in these shoes longer without having to worry about EVA foam breakdown, I'd spend the extra money for them.
The 360s retail for $160. For more information, visit www.nike.com.