Nike, a brand that seems wholeheartedly invested in the advancement of road-shoe design, has barely dipped a toe in the trail running shoe market in the last eight years. While their two mainstay models, the Terra Kiger and Wildhorse, remain immensely popular, we haven’t seen the typical updates and redesigns that you’d expect in a Nike shoe. In a way this is very refreshing, particularly with regard to the Wildhorse which has kept the exact same midsole and outsole since its inception. Those who love the Wildhorse describe it as a steady and durable all-arounder that can handle all distances and most terrain. The Terra Kiger, which was always meant to be the Wildhorse’s lighter and more nimble counterpart, has been a different story altogether. Designs seemed to peak with the third version of the shoe, but the Kiger 4 added weight and felt hemmed in around the forefoot. Trail runners seemed be disinterested in what was a tried-and-true underfoot feel which featured Nike’s popular Zoom Air under the forefoot.
Personally, I’ve run in and enjoyed every version of the Terra Kiger. It has always felt nimble and built for fast paces. It has always been a shoe that easily lasted 500 miles and also looked good with interesting, but mostly monochromatic, colorways. So, understandably, I was a bit perplexed by the complete redesign of the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 ($130) with the initial offering being a mid-1990s-looking colorway that resembled my daughter’s favorite My Little Pony, Rainbow Dash. However, from my initial run in the Terra Kiger 5 to racing multiple sub-ultramarathon-distance trail races, I can confirm that this redesign is indeed warranted and well designed.
Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 Upper
Simply stated, the upper design of the Kiger 5 feels like Nike finally started bringing their road-shoe upper technology to trail shoes. It wasn’t that the uppers of former models were poorly built or dated, it’s just that Nike’s road-shoe models have progressed to be light years ahead of most of the competition on the market. The Kiger 5 hugs the foot with a well-fitting heel cup, a locked-down midsole, and an accommodating forefoot that even those of us with wide forefeet or bunions can wear comfortably. That being said, the Kiger 5 feels like a racing shoe and it is a blast to take out on up-tempo excursions with significant vert and downhill.
Soft dual-density mesh covers the entire upper with welded-on, asymmetrical skin overlays adding some structure and durability around the toecap. The lacing system stays away from Flywire which Nike has employed in past versions of this shoe to get the kind of midfoot lockdown needed for security on technical terrain, but honestly, the reinforced mesh loops of the Kiger 5 feel more comfortable and seem to be just as durable. Nike uses a thin, laser-cut tongue, reminiscent of their road shoes (Pegasus 36), but then adds a thin layer of cushioning on the tongue to reduce pressure on the top of the foot. Gone is the shallow toebox of the Kiger 4, which felt racy but ultimately restrictive. I don’t feel any heel slippage, sliding forward on steep downhills, or hotspots with the Kiger 5.
Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 Midsole
This is really where the majority of redesign took place, and Nike’s choices initially left me perplexed. Nike reduces their tried and true Zoom Air, from two Zoom Air pods to one, just in the heel. They also employ their React foam, which is used on several road models, instead of the Phylon foam. Interestingly enough, I wasn’t crazy about the React foam’s performance over time in Nike’s road shoes, like the Epic React, but in the Kiger 5 it works splendidly. This could be due to the addition of a rockplate, the first of its kind in the Kiger line. This allows the Kiger 5 to finally function as a technical trail running shoe.
To get a sense of what Nike’s React foam feels like, I’ll give you a few comparisons. It is softer than Nike’s Phylon midsole as well as Salomon’s Vibe midsole material. It isn’t super soft and it does seem to provide energy return. Descents in the Kiger 5 were an absolute pleasure as I felt I could open up my stride without worrying about my forefoot being stabbed by a rock thanks to the rockplate. This new protection comes without an added weight gain, and my guess is this is due to the React foam being lighter in addition to a lighter outsole.
Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 Outsole
Nike abandons their waffle outsole for the fifth version of this shoe. The previous outsole pales in comparison to the performance of this new multi-directional lug design. This outsole climbs better, descends better, and actually gives you traction on wet surfaces which was always lacking in past versions of the Terra Kiger. Nike uses a sticky rubber pod on the midfoot area of the outsole which I initially chalked up to a gimmick. It must be effective because I’ve felt way more confident, like Salomon Contagrip confident, descending in this shoe. At well over 100 miles in the Kiger 5, I’m not seeing any wear on the outsole and I don’t anticipate any durability issues.
Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 Overall Impressions
This is a great update to what has now become a legacy trail shoe. Every version and update seems well thought out without departing from the core properties and purpose of the shoe. I think that other companies could learn a lesson from what happens when you take a softer midsole foam and pair it with a minimal rockplate–you get a fantastic and snappy ride. Isn’t that what Nike, Hoka, Skechers, etc.. are doing with their carbon-plated shoes? Instead I see the trail-shoe market riddled with too responsive (read too damn hard) forefoot cushioning or marshmallow-soft midsoles.
In this, the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5, Nike has created a trail shoe that works as a hybrid road-to-trail shoe, a fast technical trail racer, and even a 100-mile-worthy shoe. For fleet-footed neutral trail runners, or runners looking for a nimble yet protective trail shoe, I absolutely recommend the Kiger 5.
Read up on more new trail shoes for spring-summer 2019.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Do you run in the Nike Terra Kiger 5? If so, can you share what you think of the shoe in general and its various features specifically?
- If you are running in this fifth version and have also used previous Terra Kiger models, let us know what you think of the updates made to this model, including the upper, the new materials of the midsole, and the effectiveness of the redesigned outsole.
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a shoe brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]