Nike’s Alphafly vs Vaporfly: What Separates The Shoe Giant’s Two Flagship Supershoes?

Confused about Nike's iconic carbon-plated racers? Here's how they differ.

The Nike Vaporfly 3 and Nike Zoom Alphafly Next are two of Nike’s premium high-performance running shoes.

These high-performing super shoes are considered to be some of the best Nike running shoes yet and have been worn for many record-setting races.

But, what are the differences between the Nike Alphafly 2 vs Vaporfly?

In this Nike Alphafly vs Vaporfly running shoe comparison guide, we will discuss the features of these Nike racing shoes and compare and contrast them to help you decide which is better for your needs.

The flyplate.
Photo: Nike

What Makes Nike Alphaflys and Vaporflys So Expensive?

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% and the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2 are both considered Nike “super shoes.”

This super shoe designation has been earned because both of these high performing racing shoes have been worn by some of the fastest runners in the world for record-setting races.

The 2019 Nike Athletics Sub 2:00 project, in which three of the fastest marathon runners in the world (including Eliud Kipchoge) were selected by Nike and trained to break 2 hours in the marathon, was one of the first times long-distance runners had the opportunity to wear racing shoes with a carbon fiber plate.

Although Eliud Kipchoge fell about 25 seconds short of breaking the 2 hour marathon barrier in that experiment, he went on to run under two hours for the marathon in Vienna in 2019 wearing the prototype of the Nike Alphafly Next%.

Then, we saw the women’s marathon world record fall at the 2019 Chicago marathon when Brigid Kosgei beat Paula Radcliffe’s long-standing women’s marathon world record.

Brigid Kosgei was wearing the prototype of the first women’s Nike Vaporfly Next% racer for that marathon world record performance.

As such, both of these Nike racing shoes have been extremely popular and are now commercially available for elite runners and everyday runners who are looking for the most lightweight carbon fiber plate racing shoe.

Other top running shoe brands have also implemented their own racing shoe designs that utilize a carbon fiber plate, including ASICS, Hoka, and others.

As more and more running records on the road and track fall, the running community is increasingly intrigued as to whether the improvements in running performance are due to progress in training modalities and philosophies or more a product of technology in footwear.

One important thing to note is that both the Nike Vaporfly and Nike Alphafly are considered racing shoes and not everyday training shoes for regular runs. 

Some elite runners may wear the Nike Alphafly 2 racer or the Nike Vaporfly 3 racer for speed workouts or tempo runs, but neither of these running shoes are cushioned or supportive, and the brand does not recommend using these lightweight running shoes for everyday training.

The ALPHAfys.
Photo: Nike

Are Alphaflys Better Than Vaporflys?

The Vaporfly Next% 3, now its third iteration, has a full-length carbon plate flyplate and a full-length ZoomX midsole, making it super lightweight yet still responsive, slightly cushioned and bouncy, and fairly snappy and propulsive with the full-length carbon fiber plate. 

The Vaporfly Next% midsole is made of ZoomX foam, which is super lightweight and bouncy. 

The ZoomX foam strikes just the right balance so that the Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 can be one of the lightest carbon fiber plate running shoes on the market that has enough cushioning for a full marathon while still being extremely lightweight.

To aid stability, the ZoomX midsole bulges out near the heel so that you have a broader base of material.

The Vaporfly 3 has a Flyknit upper for breathability with zones of a more snug, intimate support that conforms to your foot like a soft sock.

The main difference between the Vaporfly 3 vs Vaporfly 2 is that the forefoot is softer in the updated version.

This improves the comfort for long distance running when wearing the Vaporfly 3 vs Vaporfly 2, but you will find that the responsiveness or how “fast“ the shoe feels was more pronounced in the Vaporfly 2 vs Vaporfly 3.

People passing the Alphaflys.
Photo: Nike

For everyday runners who are looking for a marathon racing shoe, this difference is negligible, and probably the added degree of cushioning in the updated Vaporfly 3 vs Vaporfly 2 outweighs the slight loss in speediness afforded by the carbon fiber plate racer.

However, for shorter distances where added plushness may not be as important for race day comfort and risk of injury, the update to the forefoot may be seen as a step backward.

The typical cost of this Vaporfly 3 racing shoe is $260.

The Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 is still Nike’s most popular marathon racing shoe, but the Nike Alphafly Next% is a newer, premium racing shoe considered the “top-of-the-line“ Nike performance racing shoe.

Like the Vaporfly, the Nike Alphafly Next% 2 also has a full-length carbon plate and a full-length ZoomX midsole.

However, one of the key design differences between the Nike Alphafly vs Vaporfly is that the Alphafly Next has two large Zoom Air pods in the forefoot region of the shoe.

These Nike Zoom Air pods are said to make the shoe even more responsive and able to aid propulsion.

For this reason, the sticker price is slightly higher, with the Alphafly Next% 3 coming in at around $280, making it one of the most expensive running shoes on the market.

The Alphafly 3
Photo: Nike

The Alphafly Next% 2 is the second generation of this super shoe.

Compared with the original Nike Alphafly model, the updated Alphafly Next% 2 has several design changes that enhance stability and durability.

The outsole is now firmer and said to be made to be more durable. It is also flatter and somewhat broader, which can provide a little bit more stability. 

This is coupled with a wider midsole to also enhance stability. 

That said, this is still a neutral running shoe, so it doesn’t do much in terms of correction of your running gait.

Another difference between the Alphafly Next% 2 vs Alphafly Next first version is that the newer model now has a different upper, crafted from a snugger Atomknit 2 material.

When I tested the shoe, I felt that this change in the upper knit material helps the Alphafly Next 2 have a more intimate fit with your foot, which gives the perception that it is even lighter and faster. 

However, it does make the Alphafly 2 feel even narrower and snugger than its predecessor.

I would highly suggest sizing up a full size if you want to buy the Alphafly Next% 2 even though Nike reports that this running shoe fits true to size.

Note that the Nike Alphafly 3 will be available April 4, 2024 at 10AM EST and retail for $285.

Vaporfly.
Photo: Nike

What Are The Main Differences Between The Nike Alphafly Vs Vaporfly Running Shoes?

One of the biggest differences between the Vaporfly vs Alphafly running shoes is in the feel or responsiveness of each.

Both racing shoes have a heel-to-toe drop of 8 mm, and the stack height of the Vaporfly is 40mm at the heel and 32mm at the toe. The Alphafly 2 stack height appears to be similar, but it definitely feels higher off the ground.

The weight of the Vaporfly 3 is 165 grams for a women’s size 8 and 200 grams for a men’s size 10. In contrast, the Alphafly 2 weighs 198 grams for a women’s size 8 and 249 grams for a men’s size 10. 

When comparing the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly 3 vs Alphafly, the Vaporfly is a little softer, and the Alphafly is stiffer but has the propulsive spring in the toe. 

However, there is less “speed assistance“ or propulsion provided by the Nike Vaporfly Next vs Alphafly because some amount of responsiveness is sacrificed for softer cushioning and more midsole stability.

There is also a slight forefoot rocker (meta rocker) built into the bottom of the shoe to aid the heel-to-toe transition.

Vaporfly.
Photo: Nike

When comparing the Alphafly Next% 2 vs Vaporfly Next% 3, the Nike Alphafly is firmer and feels more responsive and propulsive for fast running, especially at toe-off.

Like the Vaporfly Next 3, the Alphafly Next 2 midsole is made with ZoomX foam, but there are also two forefoot Zoom Air Pods for toe-off bounce.

The two Zoom Air units in the forefoot of the Alphafly Next% 2 help provide some rebound cushioning when you push off, so the shoe doesn’t feel like you are running in a barefoot running shoe or racing flat.

I like the springiness of the Air unit cushioning, but these units do increase the weight of the shoe, making the Alphafly Next% 2 heavier than the Vaporfly 3.

It can also feel almost like too much energy return for most recreational runners, such that you might feel kind of unstable, especially when taking tight turns.

There is another difference in how these two racing shoes feel based on the design of the carbon fiber plate.

The Vaporfly Next% 3 has a stiff carbon fiber plate that is angled upwards in the forefoot but not the heel, and the carbon fiber plate is not rounded, whereas the full-length carbon fiber plate is grounded in the forefoot of the Nike Alphafly Next.

Vaporfly.
Photo: Nike

Therefore, one of the key differences in how it felt when I first tried on the Vaporfly Next% 3 vs Alphafly Next% 2, is that the Vaporfly racer sort of gives you the perception that you’re tipping forward even when you are just standing.

This sensation carries over when you are running as you go from ground contact to push-off.

There are also fairly significant differences in the fit of the Nike Alphafly Next 2 vs Vaporfly Next 3.

While all Nike running shoes run narrow, particularly compared to athletic shoe brands like Brooks and New Balance, the Nike Alphafly 2 is particularly narrow and has a high arch.

Therefore, distance runners who have a wide foot, flat foot, or who overpronate should certainly consider the Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 vs Alphafly 2, with the disclaimer that neither of these lightweight running shoes is ideal for runners who need support either due to flat feet or overpronation.

For some marathon runners, there may be enough cushioning in the middle and outsole of the Alphafly 2 for a full marathon or other longer distance races such as a half marathon.

Overall, both the Vaporfly and Alphafly are two of the most expensive, premium Nike running shoes for high-performance running and racing.

However, my honest opinion as a certified running coach is that for most recreational runners, the risk of injury in racing long distances in this type of shoe probably does not warrant the expensive price and the firm, relatively unforgiving feel for long road races.

Competitive runners who are trying to break their own personal record or qualify for the Boston Marathon, who have a narrow foot and do not need much support or stability from their running shoes may be able to race a full marathon or half marathons without problems in either racing shoe.

If I had to recommend one over the other for marathon races and long-distance road races, it would be the Alphafly Next 2.

For shorter road races, such as 5ks and 10ks, or limited speed workouts, the Vaporfly 3 would be better.

For our running shoe review database, click here!

Nike's Alphafly vs Vaporfly: What Separates The Shoe Giant's Two Flagship Supershoes? 1
Photo: Nike

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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