Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 Review

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.

The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

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.

The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 lateral upper.

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.

The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 medial upper.

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.

The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 outsole.

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.

With this fifth version of the Terra Kiger, 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.

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!]

The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 view from the top.

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 15 comments

  1. Alex Varner

    sponsored Nike trail athlete here, but a minor point of correction that the wild horse has definitely not been the same shoe since inception. it received a full re-design (midsole and outsole) from v2 to v3 and the upper has been updated on each iteration since (currently on v5). and definitely agree with you on the kiger – i’m a huge fan of it!

    1. Tom Caughlan

      Alex,
      In re-reading yesterday, after publishing, I realized my error (smh). v2 to v3 was the big change. I meant to say that the midsole/ outsole has stayed the same on every version since. Thanks for correcting! I have yet to wear out a Wildhorse.

  2. Chase Parnell

    I’m running in this shoe now. Maybe 200 miles into it. I’m a narrow footed guy and this is one of the only shoes I’ve ever ran in where I don’t have to sinch the laces to the point where you can’t even see the tongue of the shoe. My one critique is that the outsole doesn’t seem quite as grippy on technical terrain as some shoes I’ve ran in. I just came off of running through fours pairs of the Hoka Torrent in a row and on my first run in the Kiger 5 I noticed they were a little slippier on loose rock and whatnot. That being said, this is still a great shoe. Maybe better for bomber trails than mountain terrain. Light and snappy for sure though. Great review. Learned a lot. Thanks!

  3. Ghislain

    I’m going through my second pair of TK5 and did well over 800 miles on them. I agree with most of the above. They seem to accommodate most terrain and most distance. The upgrade from the previous version are great. I like the look but I can understand it’s subject to controversy. The low toe-box require a bit of adjustment and so does the lacing system. I like the lightweight and snug feel with the right level of comfort. The change on the outsole is significant and is an upgrade for the most part. However, I think the grip on wet terrain is catastrophic. The challenge is how the behavior change from dry to wet. It’s literally days and nights and the transition is brutal.
    Overall I’ll keep buying those but would love a better wet condition handling.

  4. Ben

    Just to add to some of the comments above, I’ve been very underwhelmed with the grip in anything but the driest conditions. I only have a few runs on these so far, but given my experience so far, I find very little reason to reach for these over a pair of Mafate EVO or Torrents on any technical run in the mountains around here – where there’s usually at least some moisture on rocks/roots above certain elevations. Maybe the grip improves after a break in period…but I can’t say I’ve ever had that be the case. Otherwise it’s a comfortable shoe with a good amount of room in the toe box to accommodate an enlarged fifth metatarsal.

  5. Zak

    I’ve thought that the Kiger has gotten better in each new version, but the 5 is probably the biggest jump. After about 10 miles of break-in running, I’ve raced a 100k and then a mountain 100 mile in the Kiger 5s, and I was totally happy with the fit, cushioning, and traction. No soreness or blisters. My one complaint is that the outsole is absolutely shredded after 200 miles, but they were very rocky miles, and I think that’s not typical wear.

    I liked the Kiger 4 a lot, but after 350-400 miles the midsole wasn’t enough for me, there wasn’t much cushion and I could feel every rock under foot when the shoes got old.

  6. SG

    Nice review. I love this shoe and agree with most of your review. But the wet grip on these is downright scary and non-existent. The middle segment does nothing to help this, especially because I’m usually landing on my forefoot on rocky technical. I’ve been through several pairs of TK3’s and those had better wet grip once they were broken in. This rubber and wet contagrip are in completely different leagues. If nike could make a shoe with good rubber, I wouldn’t wear much else. Even though this is supposedly high abrasion rubber, the lugs have worn off quickly. I’m got 200 miles of CO front range running on these and I don’t see the lugs lasting past 300. Aside from that, easily one of my favorite shoes. The shoe hugs your foot well without constraining or pinching it. The tongue padding is really smart. The react is an upgrade to the forefoot zoom. I like zoom, but after a couple hundred miles, it ends up feeling deflated. This foam hasn’t packed out much on these. I actually find the zoom more protective on rocky terrain though. I get more poke through on these.

    1. Tom Caughlan

      SG, Ben, Chase,

      In regards to wet terrain… Honestly, I don’t see much of it in the Colorado Springs area. When it rains here the pikes peak granite drains pretty well and the only other surface that is challenging is clay mud. I do think it grips better on wet rocks than past versions of the Kiger outsole and Wildhorse outsole. However, its still nothing like Contragrip or Vibram. Thanks for the feedback.

      1. Tim

        In the Alps on wet granite no problem, but grip is bad on wet limestone.
        Vibram probably the best all-round and quite durable.
        Contragrip (premium wet traction) the best for slick wet surfaces like limestone and wet wood.
        Nike doesn’t want to dilute their profits by collab with Vibram?
        Otherwise they need to add nanoparticles into their rubber.

  7. Steve

    Toe box is still a whisker too shallow imo. It feels odd although ultimately doesn’t cause and damage when running. I like the minimal protection on the toebox, which is light and flexible and protects just enough for loose stones etc.
    Heel counter is about 5mm too tall and rubs against the ankle joint. Again feels odd and at first you think the extra pressure and rubbing is going to cause blisters but it’s okay.
    I really can’t understand comments that praise the outersole durability. I have maybe 200miles in mine also and need to rotate them already. I run in sometimes technical and almost always dry conditions so that doesn’t help but the lugs have lasted way less then other shoes in the same conditions (like half or less). that said, I have actually really enjoyed them, the fit, the ride, the design, but I have a problem with them on very dry/gritty terrain. They tend to slip more, especially up hill. It’s like the rubber doesn’t really hold down the dirt properly and it slips. It’s not your typical soft sticky or hard durable rubber it’s kind of somewhere in between but almost like a hard sponge. Something odd about it to me. Doesn’t convince me grip wise and wears down quickly. It’s the outsole reason alone I won’t be buying them again.

  8. chalky

    I’ll echo what everyone else has said.

    I’m onboard with the new fit — I have narrow feet — of these and the supposedly upgraded rubber. However, I still find them downright terrible in anything but dry, non-technical conditions. I never know what will happen in mud or on wet rock with these and never trust them to bomb down a trail in those conditions. I think the grip is better than the TK3’s I was last running in but after 300km or so, the lugs seemed to be quite worn down. I got about ~700km out of my first pair and I’d probably still use them for flat, fire roads now.

    I still do about 80-85% of my training in these but anytime I head to more gnarly terrain in the Alps, it’s the last shoe I’m reaching for. I’m a sucker for all the new colorways they drop and like that all my pairs aren’t identical.

  9. Tim

    All the pro and cons have been mentioned.

    What I really like is it feels/rides like a road shoe.
    It has bounce and puts energy back in your stride.
    Makes for an excellent door/trail shoe (better than the Sense Ride).
    I even ran a 100 km road ultra in them.
    If i want more grip and protection i reach for the Sense 6 SG.

  10. CJ

    I wore the old version and have given up on Nike trail shoes for two reasons- the loss of traction on wet surfaces and the fact that they smell horrible after they get sweaty, wet & dirty.

  11. Anna

    I bought those shoes because I live in a tropical region and they looked cooler than other. However, I didn’t expect how little grip they have! I have to walk very careful when is wet because they are the slippiest shoes that I’ve ever had. Not recommended at all for wet terrain.

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