Shantideva, an 8th-century Indian Buddhist monk and scholar, was once quoted as asking: "Where would I find enough leather to cover the entire surface of the earth?" Thankfully for our bovine mammals, he answered his own question with, "but with leather soles beneath my feet, it’s as if the whole world has been covered."
Nike too had similar aspirations when they launched their React technology in 2017: a world covered in their soles. But unlike the humble leather shoes, which were more protective than anything else, the React soles were developed with feedback from everyday athletes—who asked for more comfort, durability, lighter shoes and better energy return.
Sounds like a big ask, but Nike delivered. With the functionality of their new foam sole technology sorted, Nike worked on the form; translating it into the Nike React Element 55 and the Nike Epic React Phantom Flyknits. The former was designed as a lifestyle sneaker (which focused on style and comfort when walking) and the latter for running.
First up, the review of the React Element 55. It is not hyperbole to say that 55s are extremely light, one that we can tribute to not only the weight or lack of the React soles, but also the construction of the sneaker as a whole. A cousin of the React Element 87, the two share a similar silhouette, but the 55 features more pared-down materials. The biggest difference besides the colourway is the use of translucent fabrics on the upper. For a sneaker designed for walking, it delivers.
Let's face it, we spend more of our time walking then we actually do running, which equals more wear and tear on the 55s. While the React form is durable, Nike added another layer of protection, redesigning the sole to include an additional layer of material in areas where tread-wear happens most frequently. The only downside of the sneaker is the stiff heel, which means that if you are wearing these kick sans socks, you might get an abrasion.
If you're acquainted with Nike's Epic React series, then the Nike Epic React Phantom Flyknits delivers on all those fronts and a tad more. While I was sceptical about the performance of a running shoe without laces, it held up; at no point during my run did the sneaker feel like it was about to come off my foot.
The performance of the Epic React Phantom Flyknits was expected—after all it comes from a line of great running shoes–but without laces and the almost incognito 'Swoosh' logo, the shoe gives off a sleek and minimalist look. It is one of the rare sneakers designed in this era that holds it own on as both a lifestyle and performance sneaker.
But perhaps the best review came from my Dad. He saw these kicks lying around at home and made me go out and purchase him a pair each in his size. In this never-ending sneaker war, this innate ability to appeal to a wide demographic, continues to be Nike's competitive advantage.
The Nike Epic React Phantom Flyknit and Nike React Element 55 is out now at all Nike stores and select retailers.