Nike's "Vapor" name is one of the most iconic in sports. Roger Federer endorsed the silo throughout much of his career, and on the soccer side, the Vapor is worn by Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappé. Those are three of the most popular athletes of the last 30 years, so you can imagine how well the lines usually do.
The Vapor X was my go-to shoe, and I was disappointed when Nike decided to replace it with the React Vapor NXT, not just because they'd stopped producing the X but also because the NXT felt nothing like it.
Over time, I came to appreciate the advanced tech that made the NXT special. Still, I never felt as comfortable with that model as I had always been in the X. Many players had a similar experience, and the takedown Vapor Pro ended up dominating its bigger sibling in popularity and sales.
Nike listened to the criticism and went back to the drawing board with the release of the Vapor 11. The shoe doesn't follow in the footsteps of any particular model but combines elements of several different Nike shoes and innovation of its own in a brand-new package.
After an extensive playtest, here are my thoughts on the new Nike Vapor 11.
The Vapor 11 doesn't really look like any other Nike shoe, but it does take inspiration from some other models. The upper is designed similarly to the one found on the Vapor Cage, with rubber elements scattered all over the medial side, but it's quite a bit thinner and softer. Then, looking at the outsole, it's flat, like on the Vapor Pro, X, and 9.5, but is remarkably stiff, like on the NXT.
The Vapor 11 fits true to size, with an average amount of width in the toe box. It's fairly high volume throughout the rest of the shoe, with a traditional tongue and a deep lacing system; which should help most people personalize their fit. I love the fact they've gone for a traditional tongue. This could be perfect for you if you have a high instep and suffer from pressure when you slip into these new-era bootie enclosures.
The heel is spacious and average height, and there is nothing in the way of rubbing or awkward pressure.
The upper is buttery soft, and extremely flexible. It's made from one of the thinnest woven meshes I have ever seen on a tennis shoe, so it'll naturally adapt to most foot shapes and should feel personalized after a little break-in. If you're worried about discomfort from the rubber elements scattered all over the shoe, Nike has designed them to flow seamlessly with the upper and not take away from its natural flexibility.
Because the upper is so thin, it's also very breathable. It's one of the cooler shoes out there, and the rubber elements are separated so they won't blanket the perforations from the mesh. This should work great during the hot summer months.
As much as the upper is engineered to be as soft and adaptive as possible, the sole is quite the opposite. The midsole is made from a very stiff EVA foam with very little cushioning. That makes for a snappy and stable feel – more on that later, but it might take time to get used to such a firm ride.
Support and Lockdown
Lockdown in the Nike Vapor 11 is good but not great. An effective lacing system is at the core of any great enclosure, and Nike usually nails this, but it could be a lot better on this shoe.
You can crank the laces tight thanks to the traditional tongue, but you don't get that snug hug from the upper as you do with other shoes. Nike consciously decided against adding lockdown tech to maintain the seamless comfort in the upper, but as they've proven to us in the past, the two aren't mutually exclusive.
There's very little in the way of padding to hold your heel into the shoe. There's a bit of slippage, but nothing major.
In terms of support, because the upper is so soft, you'll get some rollover, but not much. The good news is that whatever slack the upper leaves, the sole picks up. The lateral sidewall is made from a stiff rubber that comes high up the outside of the shoe. It's super strong and provides all the support you need on lateral cuts.
The support is lower but less important on the medial side. There is nothing built up in the midsole for arch support, and because the upper is so soft, it won't provide much by itself. If you do need arch support, an insole could do the trick.
Stability and Movement
This is where the Vapor 11 comes into its own. The sole is wide, rigid, and low to the ground, all characteristics that help make it super stable. I love a shoe with a lower stack height and a stiff response because you lose no energy squishing the midsole. Too much height can sometimes make a shoe feel wobbly, and you don't get that here.
The lateral sidewall is the most reactive and stable part of the shoe. The rubber is stiff but provides quite a bit of energy return, like Dynawall on the Gel-Resolution 9. It absorbs impact and then gives a bit of spring when pushing off.
The midsole doesn't give that same springy sensation. There is an Air Zoom unit in the forefoot, but the stiff EVA foam overrides whatever cushioning it's supposed to provide. Despite that, there is still an element of energy return. Because the EVA foam is so rigid, when it flexes, it snaps back into place very quickly.
My favorite characteristic of the Vapor 11 is just how well it slides. Nike has clearly developed an optimal tread pattern, and the hard durometer makes it glide consistently for as long as you want. The stiff medial sidewall is probably the most important factor in making the Vapor instantly react when you initiate a slide because it has no give. I also don't mind the soft upper here because sliding is a violent motion that can be uncomfortable when your foot rams up against the shoe, but this one does a good job of cushioning impact.
Because the outsole is so hard on the Vapor 11, it's pretty much bulletproof. In fact, after 3 hours of play, I saw barely any signs of wear. It'll be the last part to go.
The rubber elements on the upper protect it from the court, but they are on the softer side and not that thick. If you do wear the rubber out, it won't take long to do the same to the super thin mesh, but it will take some time to get there and requires a lot of dragging in the same zone. They even put some rubber on the heel portion of the upper; I don't know about you, but I'm always sliding on my heels…
Nike has also covered the laces on the medial side like they did on the Cage and NXT. There's nothing more annoying than tearing through lace after lace because they're so vulnerable to breakage on hard courts, and it's just another aspect that makes this shoe a pleasure to slide in.
Who is it for?
This shoe will fit most people immediately, and if you value step-in comfort straight out of the box, it's hard to beat, just as long as you're OK with a firmer ride.
If you're a slider, this is one of the best shoes. Maybe Janick Sinner will finally switch away from his Zoom Zeros, although I doubt it.
The Nike Vapor 11 is an interesting shoe with a truly unique playing characteristic. Especially because it carries the Vapor name, I have a hard time comparing it to any of those previous models. That said, I'm actually a big fan because it effectively combines elements of the soft and flexible world with the stiff and stable one, and those two usually don't go that well together. I also love sliding in these shoes, so I know they'll be a go-to for a while. If you'd like to try a pair, come to our Oak Street Store or check us out online.