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The Ultimate Guide to the Nike Air Max Series

Nike Air Max are kings of the trainer world, but can you tell the difference between an Air Max 95 and an Air Max 97?

Nike Air Max trainers`

Back in 1987, Nike released the Air Max 1, a lightweight athletic trainer designed for running that featured a single unit of pressurised air in the heel; and with that the Air Max technology was born - Nike Air technology had been in use for 9 years at this point, but had never been ‘visible’ like the Air Max models.

Way back then, not even the most optimistic Nike employee could have foresaw what the Air Max range would go onto become. Now, 33 years on, with literally thousands of iterations since, and millions upon millions of pairs sold, it is arguably the biggest sneaker line of all time. Here we break it down for you and answer your top questions:

What kinds of Air Max are there?

It feels as if Nike are releasing a brand new model (or remodelling an old pair) every other week nowadays. As well as regular new creations such as the Air Max 270, Nike usually release an annual pair titled after their year of release; some are more successful and memorable than others - could you picture a pair of Air Max 2013? Don’t worry, nobody can.

Some models however, have truly stood the test of time...

Nike Air Max 1

Image by Nike.

The OG Air Max, and probably one of the most iconic trainers of all time. These usually release in softer colours with suede materials, and even the most basic of designs or colourways can sell out instantly. In recent years however (like most Nike models) the all-leather versions have been the ones most readily available on the shelves - make of that what you will. Air Max 1 are short in height whilst also appearing long as a result of the lengthy colour block at the top of the shoe and the relatively narrow toe section. You'll also find a small air unit on the interior of the heel, visible from either side. It is pivotal that you purchase a pair that fit your feet snugly; due to the design of the AM1s, poorly-fitting shoes will curl up at the toes after a while, giving the shoe a terrible shape. They start from around £95 but can be picked up for much cheaper.

The 2004 Atmos ‘Safari’ collaboration pair are argued by some to be the greatest Nike sneaker of all time, and have been regularly remastered and re-released to immense critical acclaim, but more on that later.

Nike Air Max 95

Image by Nike.

Known in some parts of England, namely Merseyside, as ‘110s’ (in reference to their original price) the Air Max 95 are one of the most popular shoes on UK streets today, even after almost 25 years. By far the largest of the popular Air Max models, these are high, with thick sides. They feature 3 contoured lines that run atop one another right the way round the shoe, and have air units that are visible along most of the midsole. Their importance to UK urban culture cannot be understated, with the black and neon green / orange pairs being hugely popular amongst the youth of the previous two decades. They now start from around £130, and are ridiculously comfortable.

Nike Air Max 90

Image by Nike.

The Air Max 90 are similar to the Air Max 1s in many ways, with similar positioning of the air unit and similar positioning of the large signature Tick. They are however, much higher than their predecessor, have a slightly larger air unit, have deep ridges on the sole, and feature a single rectangular colour block that reaches right the way from the upper heel to the beginning of the toe. Unlike most of their AM counterparts, they normally come in all-leather designs - the Triple White Leather Air Max 90s are an absolute icon of the game, and go perfectly with literally any outfit. Starting from £100.

Nike Air Max 97

Image by Nike.

A revolutionary pair of trainers now, and the first model of Air Max to feature 3M reflective technology as standard. Any form of light would illuminate these kicks, and any photo taken with the flash on would be dazzled entirely. The highly visible reflective strips are now a mainstay of the fashion industry, but Nike truly broke new ground when they introduced these to their ‘Silver Bullet’ Air Max back in 1997 - another pair of shoes that could arguably sit in the top 10 most iconic nike sneakers of all time.

Named after the famous trains of Japan, these fell off the map for a couple of years in the early 2010s, but a limited release in 2017 was met with an absolute frenzy, before the world went wild for a full remaster of the entire line back in 2018. A single, uninterrupted air unit runs almost the entire length of the midsole, and multiple solid lines adorn the upper. One of the most comfortable Nike shoes ever made, and one of the most stylish too, we think that these are definitely worth the £145 price tag.

Nike Air Max Plus

Image by Nike.

Originally inspired by the beaches of south-east America, it is the UK where these found their true calling. Something about them, especially in the darker colourways, just had that gritty feel that resonated so perfectly with the British Urban scene. These are short in overall height, but have a sizeable sole comprised largely of visible air units right the way from heel to toe, and the upper part of the shoe itself features regularly spaced lines that shrink in stature the higher up the shoe they reach - it is thought by some that these were actually intended to mimic the waves of the Floridian coastline. Starting at £135, we highly recommend you add a pair to your collection.

How can I look after my Air Max? Will the Air Units pop?

Believe it or not, the material used to make Air Max units is incredibly durable, and even after extended contact with sharp items the air units will not pop.

As for taking care of them, regularly applying sprays such as ‘Crep Protect’ will prevent liquids from attaching to suede materialing, and therefore help preserve the colour. For non-suede shoes, the best method in our opinion is simply baby wipes, and a toothbrush. By wiping your shoes down with a baby wipe immediately after use, you therefore do not give the mud/dirt time to dry and embed itself within the material, extending their brightness and shine for much longer. Furthermore, using a toothbrush can help remove dirt from the more intricate areas, such as stitch lining or mesh. Most trainers these days are also machine washable, so investing in small laundry bags could be a good idea. Make sure however, that the shoes are actually machine washable - it usually says so on the inside tag, because materials such as the aforementioned 3M do not wash well, and will most likely just peel away.

Image by Nike.

Can I run in Air Max?

Although originally patented for running, newer models are designed primarily with aesthetics in mind, and whilst they do mostly provide exceptional levels of comfort, most Air Max are too heavy to be useful for running. Furthermore, the materials used in most designs provide poor levels of breathability and durability, and as such are not able to withstand the wear and tear that running inflicts on a shoe.

Sports Technology has advanced hugely in recent times, especially this side of the millenia, and there are now a wide range of shoes designed specifically for running at all price points. Have a look at our article here for an in-depth look at the best options for running footwear.

What is ‘Flyknit’ exactly?

You will have probably seen this word slapped onto the end of many Air Max models, and wondered exactly what it means. It basically just describes the method used to create the shoe, and the material used in the process. Flyknit shoes make use of various lightweight fabric (such as polyester or nylon), intricately spinning them together to create a more breathable and flexible material which is employed onto the upper of the shoe. Nike claim it allows for greater stretch, support, and all round general comfort.

Top 7 Nike Air Max Trainers in 2020

Vapormax Flyknit

Image by Nike.

These caught more than a few eyes when they debuted for the first time last year, if not for the design then certainly for the price tag. Nike took a risk debuting these at £180, and whilst initial reactions were mixed - some were rightly worried that the soles would just pop fairly instantly - the public seems to have come around to them. The entire sole consists of Air Units and is insanely comfortable as a result, and you can be rest assured that the sole will definitely not pop from day to day use (multiple video tests can be found on YouTube which will prove this).

Air Max 720

Image by Nike.

Another fairly new design here, with the bouncy Air Max 720’s - named so because the visible air unit in the midsole reaches the entire way round the shoes. The actual design of the upper is rather understated, giving the shoe a sleek and elegant feel. Whilst we have just argued that Air Max are not the ideal running shoe, these do seem to be a popular choice amongst gym goers - probably due to their spring and overall versatility. Starting from £150.

Air Max 90

Image by Nike.

Not much to add here that hasn't already been said, except for the fact that these shoes are just as relevant heading into the new decade as they always have been. A staple of your wardrobe that we are sure you’ll not regret picking up.

Air Max 98

Image by Nike.

After a remastering last year these beauties are fully back in the public domain, looking as aggressively 1990s as they did the day they were released. Popular amongst punters of the early 21st century rave scene, that vibe has carried through to today, where you are just as likely to see a pair at an abandoned warehouse as you did back then. Starting from £145.

Air Max 270

Image by Nike.

The Air Max 270 originally debuted on Air Max day back in 2018 and have been immeasurably popular ever since - you will have definitely seen a pair of these out and about. Since releasing in limited colourways, they have been remixed into a plethora of colour combinations ever since, including a flyknit range. These feature an air unit which compromises the entire heel, and are lightweight and very, very comfortable.

These have also recently been adapted into the Air Max 270 React, a more futuristic take on the shoe, that features a slightly larger air unit, and a slightly more intricate design on the upper, which allows for a wider range of colourways to be implemented. They have proven to be quite popular thus far, and start from £140.

Air Max 200

Image by Nike.

Nike’s most recent foray into the mid-tier market, the Air Max 200 are versatile, reliable and, perhaps most importantly, reasonably priced. Modelled after the classic Air Max 180, they are long, narrow, and feature a single small air unit at the heel which extends from the midsole down onto the sole itself, a feature rarely seen on traditional Air Max. Coming in with a range of solid colourways, they are sure to have been a widely gifted present this holiday season. Starting from £110.

When is Air Max Day?

Air Max Day is on the 26th March, a day chosen simply because that was the day on which the Air Max 1 was originally released.

On this day Nike often release special editions, run huge design competitions or re-stock some of the most hyped releases of the past few years. Most of this takes place on the SNEAKRS app, Nike’s flagship app for everything to do with its kicks. The app is super easy to use, allows you to enter the raffles for some of the more limited releases, and has stacks of info regarding the history and design of some of the brands most famous shoes.

Image by Nike.

The most famous pair of shoes released on Air Max Day is definitely the Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 97/1, a corduroy hybrid of the Air Max 97s and 1s which renowned trainer collector Sean Wotherspoon won the design your own competition with back in 2017. They were one of the most anticipated shoe releases of all time, and getting your hands on a pair was much easier said than done - you can see why too, they are a truly amazing pair of trainers.

This leads us onto our next point…

What are some Other Special Editions of Air Max?

Atmos Safari Air Max 1

Streetwear brand Atmos teamed up with Nike to create this heat back in 2004, and as already mentioned they have been wildly popular ever since. They have been re-released a couple of times, most recently as part of the Air Max Day celebrations last year. They currently fetch a pretty penny on resale, as do other Atmos collaborations such as the ‘Elephant’.

UNDFTD Air Max 90

UNDFTD are another streetwear brand that Nike have joined forces with on multiple occasions, and next year they are doing so yet again, releasing a range of very crisp Air Max 90s, in lush, deep colours complete with the iconic UNDFTD logo. These will no doubt be very sought after so make sure you enter as many raffles as possible if you are looking to secure a pair - END clothing, Size?, SneakrsNStuff and the aforementioned Nike SNEAKRS app will be the most likely stockists.

Image by Nike.

Nike x Off White - ‘The Ten’

Back in 2017 Nike came together with the legend himself, Virgil Abloh, to create 10 ‘remixed’ versions of classic Nike silhouettes. Abloh is most famous for creating the brand Off-White, and is now Artistic Director of menswear at Louis Vuitton. The Off-White aesthetic was therefore heavily apparent on these shoes with ‘deconstructed’ elements, unusual components and other added materials. The shoes were a huge critical and financial success with each pair selling out instantly in any colour or size - some have gone on to sit near the top of the StockX charts in terms of resale value, which gives you an idea of just how sought-after these trainers really are. The Air Max that were included in this rework series were the Vapormax, Air Max 90, and Air Max 97.

Where Can I buy Nike Air Max?

As previously mentioned, the more limited edition models can be grabbed from the likes of SneakersNStuff, Size?, Urban Industry, END Clothing, Consortium, StockX or the Nike SNEAKRS app, but be warned that most limited releases are performed through a raffle system.

If you’re looking for a real steal though, you can compare thousands of prices on cheap Nike trainers at FOOTY.COM to ensure you get the best deal on any pair that catches your eye.

Chris Semple

Manchester City season ticket holder and FC Schalke armchair. Wannabe trainer collector and travelling enthusiast.