Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3 Review

[Check out our Nike Kiger 7 review for the latest from the Nike Kiger line of trail shoes.]

I find it very rare that a trail running shoe fits my foot so well, with absolute comfort devoid of irritation, that I forget what I am wearing and simply become lost in the trail. Admittedly, I spend more time thinking about running shoes than just about anyone, so these rare occasions become sought after, and as my feet become more finicky I find this is happening less and less. While I have been a fan of every iteration of the Nike Terra Kiger (review of the first model, review of the Terra Kiger 2), this third version is absolutely my favorite trail shoe of the past two years. Since Nike sent out a pair about a month ago, I’ve worn nothing else for my daily routine regardless of the terrain and conditions.

The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3 ($125) is a fairly major departure from the first two versions of this shoe. When I first saw Zach Miller wearing it on a local run back in April, I was fairly appalled, deciding upon the visual that Nike had ruined the shoe. It looked cumbersome, overbuilt, and heavy. As positive feedback for the shoe began to surface, it rekindled my interest and belief in the Kiger as an ultra-distance shoe. While I really enjoyed the Kiger 2, I couldn’t wear it past 50k on anything more technical than the most buttery singletrack.

While subjectivity reigns, consider that I have reserved this type of praise for very few shoes over the years.

Nike Terra Kiger 3

The Nike Terra Kiger 3. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Nike adds structure and durability to an already glove-like fit with additional welded overlays and tougher mesh. I’ve heard some complain that this mesh becomes hot in warm temperatures, and honestly I can’t confirm or deny this. The majority of my running in the Kiger 3 has taken place in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and on a lot of snowy trails. Additional improvements include a reinforced heel cup, which adds some structure to the sloppy versions in the past. The Flywire lacing system is a bit more accommodating and I no longer have to cut the Flywire closest to the toe box to decrease pressure. A 5mm-wider toe box is also deeper and generally allows more movement in the forefoot without feeling sloppy on technical sections or downhills. The wider toe box also makes the Kiger 3 feel more stable on cambered or technical trails.

Nike keeps the burrito-wrap tongue and locked-in fit courtesy of the Flywire, but this shoe doesn’t feel confining in the least. I find that I can wear my thickest winter socks and alternate with thin summer racing socks and the feel is still dialed in. The Kiger 3 will definitely accommodate foot swelling from an ultra, and the general feel here is soft but durable, stable but pliable, snug but stretchy.

Nike Terra Kiger 3 - lateral upper

The Nike Terra Kiger 3’s lateral upper.

Here we find that the stack height of the Phylon midsole material was increased about 3mm and the stack heights now measure out at 20mm and 24 mm for forefoot to heel. Phylon is a higher-durometer, firmer, midsole material which does create a rigid ride, but the increased thickness was an appropriate addition in my opinion. First of all, it alleviates the need for a rock plate completely, and it also gives the wearer more confidence on rocky sections of trail. Secondly, the balance between the Zoom Air units in the forefoot and heel make this shoe a mid/forefoot striker’s dream. I felt like I could bomb down technical sections without stabbing my metatarsals. The Kiger 3 still maintains a decent amount of flexibility, but more in line here with the Pearl Izumi N1 rather than the New Balance MT110.

The additional Phylon adds a bit of weight, and the Kiger 3 is close to 10 ounces for my men’s size 10. Normally, this would bother me a great deal and I would consider it a deal breaker. However, the Kiger 3 feels agile and fast. This sounds ridiculous, but the stack height feels closer to that of my Salomon Sense Ultra and the platform of this shoe feels very stable. An added bonus is the fact that the Kiger 3 feels like it has the protection and durability I need to run for 50 to 100 miles.

Nike Terra Kiger 3 - medial upper

The Nike Terra Kiger 3’s medial upper.

Nike adds high-abrasion carbon rubber around the outside of the outsole which is extremely durable. This helps with edging and cornering in turns, while the softer rubber of the rest of the outsole continues to feel grippy on rocks. Nike deepened the lugs just a bit and added more lugs which improve confidence on loose terrain. There isn’t a lot of ‘float’ here for those who like a bit of downhill slide, as the Kiger 3 really sticks to the terrain unless it is loose or muddy. In those circumstances, the Kiger 3 struggles with shedding mud and clay, but it is certainly not a ‘soft ground’ trail shoe. I enjoyed how the Kiger 3 runs on the roads as well, and the smooth transition makes this an ideal door-to-trail option.

Nike Terra Kiger 3 - outsole

The Nike Terra Kiger 3’s outsole.

Overall Impressions
While I trend toward minimalist models, I have struggled in recent years to find a shoe that combines a minimalist, agile feel with the type of protection needed for a long ultra. The Kiger 3 fills this gap and I’ve found that it’s the type of shoe that fits my foot so well I don’t need to think about it. This shoe feels simple on your foot and I think that the fit will impress many people who are craving a wide toe box with a locked-down feel.

There are times when I become overly concerned with cushioning as the singular aspect of comfort for trail shoes during an ultra. However, just as Bryon Powell proved by running the Hardrock 100 in New Balance 1400s, the most important aspect to any trail shoe is how they feel on your foot. For me, the Kiger 3 represents the ideal foot feel, combining adequate proprioception with just enough cushioning to feel protective.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What are your impressions of the Nike Terra Kiger 3?
  • For those who have run in either of the previous iterations of the Terra Kiger, how do you feel about the changes made to this third model?
  • Do you struggle, like Tom, in finding a shoe that feels minimal-ish but can still pull your feet through a long ultramarathon? What other shoes have you found to meet these requirements for you?
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 13 comments

  1. Allan

    Kiger 3 under 9 ozs for size 9. Ice skates on smooth wet surfaces. Toe box low and tight. Require break in to expand toe box from strangulation to wearable. 125 plus miles testing on technical, single track, roads, ice, snow and grass. Temps 15 to 80 f z. AZ and NV.

    1. Tom Caughlan

      I’m at between 200-250 miles, and my pair still feel fairly springy. I have also been using them as screw shoes, and I was a bit concerned that I punctured the forefoot zoom air pocket. However, they still feel nice and responsive, but there has been a little EVA deadening.

  2. Kaci

    These are my absolute favorite trail shoe. I have used them for all my 2015 ultra races. I wore them for WS100 and never had one blister or issue with my feet. They drained great after the river crossing. They do slide on muddy surfaces, but then again pretty much every shoe will. I wear them on the snow and gravel roads too, when the surface isn’t fitting for a road shoe. So, if you like a lighter weight trail shoe this is the one!

    1. Jack Turner

      Nice review…I’m leaning to the Wildhorse 3 lately. The Kigers are more built up now compared to previous years, that if you are going with a heaver shoe (+9oz or so) might as well go with the Wildhorse. Held my foot better and upper fit better for me. BTW…keep the reviews coming, no one seems to be up on reviews lately.

      1. Stephen

        Yes, she is sponsored by Nike. But to her credit (and the reviewer’s credit, and many other commenters’ credit), this is a damn good trail shoe.

          1. Ron

            I really dont see how this is a Boom! Moment. Its tough to accept any praise for a product from biased paid representatives. If thats the case I suppose some sort of soda is the best because Lebron says so.

  3. Andy

    Great review, as always! Have put quite a few miles on an older pair of Kigers (forgive me but as I sit here I’m not sure if they are 1s or 2s) and have loved the fit and feel. I agree they are not quite enough shoe for me at distances beyond 50k.

    The only real issue I’ve had is in the snow and slush: the outer mesh layer in the upper lets in snow and ice which then can’t drain because it’s too cold and forms an increasing layer of snow/ice that gets trapped between the inner layer/sock liner and the outer mesh. On my first snow run in them a year or two ago I was amazed when I had to stop mid-run and extract snow/ice balls from my shoes! Sounds like you’ve put plenty of snow miles on the 3s — problem fixed?

    1. Tom Caughlan

      I’ve only encountered a little bit of slush in the Kiger 3s and have not had a problem. I’ve run in a lot of snow, but here in CO its been mostly dry and powder-like. I have not had issues with cold feet which was something I struggled with in the Kiger 2s which largely had to do with the fact that I could only wear thinner socks with them. In the Kiger 3s I can put on fairly thick wool and not feel restricted in the toebox. Overall, this is just a much better engineered shoe for all conditions in my opinion.

  4. Anna

    Love this shoe!!! I have run on all 3 versions now. This shoe is snug but has a nice roomy toe box so your feet don’t feel constricted. The shoe also very “grippy” on the trails, especially on rainy days. Another benefit of this shoe is that it can be worn on the road too. Nike has done a great job with this one!

  5. Jessica

    I love the Terra Kiger 3s. They are light weight and have just the right cushion. There is a comfortable amount of toe box space for me, more than other Nike shoes. I agree with Kaci on the shoes drying out quickly. I’ve encountered lots of river and creek crossings in the Cuyahoga Valley and within a half mile or less the shoes feel dry. They are especially nice for races or training with varied surfaces. They can handle some sticky mud but are still comfortable on pavement when needed.

  6. Weide

    i have been running in this shoe for a few weeks now on and off. i normally run in altra superior 2.0 or lonepeaks 2.5. i have been running in zero drop shoes for two years now. the only time my calves hurt are in the kiger 3s. i am wondering why that is. after 10 miles they hurt, bad. i can run 100 miles in the lonepeaks and dont get that muscle ache…

    another thing is the grip. as soon as it gets wet and a bit muddy those shoes have no traction. i can compare it very well to other models as i run my home loop twice a week. its 10 miles and bit muddy when wet. i ran it same pace as in the lonepeaks and was astonished that i slipped and slided so much. i would be worried wearing them in the alps. it would be dangerous.

    a pity, cause other than that the shoe is very fast and has a snug fit. i will continue using them, but only on dry easy trail and not for longer runs.

    1. yusrie

      Hi there Weide. Im too run in altra superior 2.0 or lonepeaks 2.5, and injury free since transitioning with them. Problem with them is that they arent buit for Borneo jungle cos our trail race that damn gnarly. so im looking for other low drop option which can go distance yet stable cos my left foot like to rooled..

  7. ShannonBats3rd

    These things are like getting a new Ferrari. They make you want to get out, have some fun, and go for a long time. Best trail shoes I’ve run in.

  8. RodP

    Thanks for this! For my background perspective, I mostly run on roads. Have always come back to Nike Pegasus (just about every release since starting, because they just fit me best.) Trail running/adventure racing have been in Solomon XC 3D ultra for rugedness, but they are too heavy to really run, plus becoming uncomfortable for me. Picked up the Kiger 3 because they fit and toe box seems right. I also got a pair of Pearl Isumi N2. Before I decide which pair to go get muddy and which to return, anyone have experience with both? I have a 50K coming up in 7 weeks and want to have miles in them prior. THANKS!

    1. John M

      I’ve run San Francisco North Face 50K in the N2 and in 2015 in the Kiger 3. I prefer the wider toe box of the Kiger 3 and the traction is superb as well. It’s one of the best shoes I’ve ever worn.

      1. John M

        Oops. I misread your post. I’ve run the NF 50K in the N1, not the N2. But I also regularly run in the N2. For racing up to 50K I still prefer the Kiger 3 over the N2. And for training I’m finding the Wildhorse 3 to be an improvement (for me) over the N2 as well.

  9. Travis

    Great review. Also read your review of the Altra Superior 2.0, and I’ve been debating between these two. I usually wear zero drop, but I’d guess 4mm is doable as well. Do you have an opinion on which is the better shoe between the two?

    1. Frankie

      I’ve been debating with myself between the kiger 3 and altra superior 2.0 as well. Would love to hear which is preferred between the two, thanks!

      1. Jared

        I absolutely loved the Superior 1.5 but the changes they made to the 2.0 were a downgrade IMO, with the exception of the tread. The tread in the 2.0 is amazing, but the overall fit isn’t great and the point of flexion in the forefoot created a weird rub for me. Plus, the durability of Altra in general is really poor. I have yet to get 300 miles out of a pair of Altras before they fall apart and I just blew out my third (and probably last) pair. I haven’t tried the Kiger 3, but I was unimpressed with the Superior 2.0. I liked the Kiger 2s, but wouldn’t wear them for much longer than a half marathon.

  10. Chris

    How do you think these would do on a Spartan Ultra Beast? I need a good trail shoe that can take the distance but also provide traction on obstacles that get wet and muddy. I need a wideish toe-box and like my Nike Flyknit and Addidas Boost for road running. cd :O)

    1. Crystal

      I’m doing the Spartan Sprint this Sunday! Unless you’re doing the SoCal beast on Saturday, I can def let you know how they do. I just got these and I honestly use them all the time. They’re the most comfortable trail shoes I have.

    1. Michael

      Agreed. I’ve had the Zoom Kiger 3 for 11 months now. My only complaint is the cushion in the sole is so firm that the it feels like there is a hard lump beneath the ball of the foot when your foot strikes the ground. Otherwise, best trail shoe I’ve ever used.

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