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Nike Zoom Air – What Is It?

April 3rd, 2013

Forefoot Zoom Air Unit

Air is to Nike what DNA is to Brooks, Gel is to Asics, Grid is to Saucony, and the Wave Plate is to Mizuno. When it was released in the 1979 (in the Tailwind), Air technology made Nike a powerhouse in running footwear. Since then, the company has introduced several updates to Air, with the goal of providing lightweight, long-lasting cushioning. The version currently used in many Nike running shoes is called Zoom Air.

So What Exactly Is Zoom Air?

Released in the late 90’s, Zoom Air went by a few names at first and some are still used as nicknames. One of these names is Tensile Air. All you engineers out there are probably scratching your collective heads over that one – how can a gas have a property associated with solids? We answered that riddle by chiseling out a Zoom Air unit from the midsole of a Nike Pegasus 29.

Cross Section of Heel Zoom Air Unit

What We Found

On the surface, a Zoom Air unit looks a lot like any other Air unit released by Nike over the years, except maybe a bit cloudier. That cloudy look actually is from a fabric piece glued inside the unit. These units are relatively lightweight for the volume they take up in the midsole. The Zoom Air unit is certainly not as pretty as its Air Max brother, which is probably one of the main reasons why Nike hides it away deep in the recesses of the midsole.

Attaching one side of the Zoom Air unit to the other is an army of thin fabric strings held in tension from the pressure inside. Like the cables on a suspension bridge, the strings appear to reinforce the exterior shell of the Air Unit. This allows the Air Unit to be pressurized to ideal levels without the worry of shape deformation over time.

The tension that holds the unit together permits the low profile that makes it possible to hide within a shoe but still offer seemingly endless cushioning. By lashing two ends of what is in essence a balloon, Nike has made Air tensile and a way to provide long lasting cushioning while remaining light. It’s actually a pretty accomplished piece of engineering.

Talk to Us: What shoe should we hack at next to see the technology inside?

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