If you didn’t already know, March 26 is Nike Air Max Day — the day we celebrate all things Air Max. This year, Nike is celebrating 36 years since it first debuted the original Air Max sneaker. And just like other Air Max Days, Nike plans to release a new model (dubbed Nike Air Max Pulse) to celebrate.
To honor the occasion, let’s take a look at the history of Nike Air Max shoes, including the brand’s most popular collections to date.
While the first actual Air Max shoe came out in the late ’80s, Nike started using the Air technology almost 10 years earlier with the ’78 Air Tailwind. With a bit of genius from NASA engineer Frank Rudy, Nike incorporated cushioning air technology in the midsole and revolutionized the sneaker world.
The Original Air Max
After several years of perfecting the design, the first official Air Max 1 shoe debuted in 1987. There was one huge distinction between the Nike Air Max 1 and the precursor Air Tailwind: the window in the sole that makes the air technology visible to all. This inside-out design has become a staple for all subsequent Air Max shoes.
The Air Max 1 was an incredible success — so much so that Nike incorporated that cushioning technology into a walking shoe in 1988 and numerous running shoe designs throughout the ’90s. With each iteration, Nike worked to create a lighter, more comfortable, and more innovative design.
Nike Air Max in The ’90s
The decade started with Nike’s iconic air technology window showing only inside the heel of its shoes. But as the years passed, it expanded along the entire length of the shoe, creating a streamlined look. To ring in the new century, Nike released the 1999 Air Max Deluxe, with bold colorways, captivating prints, and a Foamposite heel.
The Early 2000s Air Max Shoes
After at least one new release yearly for over a decade, Nike slowed its Air Max production in the 2000s. It released the Air Max 2003 and the Air Max 360 three years apart. Both were calmer versions of the vibrant, colorful sneakers of the ’90s and offered a sleek silhouette. True to its name, the Nike Air Max 360 featured an air unit with visibility from every angle. It even had a strip of red, paying homage to the OG Air Max 1.
Air Max in 2010s
After an eight-year pause, Nike returned with a bang, presenting the Nike Flyknit Air Max in 2014. (This is also the year we started celebrating Air Max Day!) The design brought back some color with its vibrant orange and green fluorescent touches. And the breathable flyknit material offered ultra comfort.
Then came 2017 and the rise of the ever-popular Nike Air VaporMax. With its holistic design, the air unit acts as the shoe’s entire sole. Nike dubbed it the pinnacle of Air — and rightly so.
Nike finished the decade strong with models like the Air Max 270 and 720.
Air Max Shoes in 2020-Present
Nike chose to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its Air Max 90 model with a new-and-improved version: the Air Max 2090. It has the same DNA as its predecessor — like the mudguard and heel logo — but the 2090 model has 200% more air.
The 2021 and 2022 Air Max releases also pushed limits while drawing inspiration from past designs. And the trend seems like it will continue into 2023.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Nike’s 2023 release, called the Nike Air Max 1 ’86 Big Bubble. Since the Air Max 1 came out in 1987, not 1986, this design is actually a recreation of one of the early Air Max 1 iterations. As you can imagine, we are quite excited about this new version — which is even more original than the iconic Air Max 1.
Nike Air Max Technology
So, what exactly is this revolutionary air technology inspired by NASA engineering? It’s pressurized air stored within a flexible pouch in the shoe’s sole.
While it’s a fairly simple idea, it absolutely revolutionized modern-day sneakers. The air cushion keeps the shoe lightweight while also providing uncompromised comfort. And it provides next-level energy absorption. So with every step you take, the Air cushion absorbs the impact, so you get continued support and extra comfort — even if you’re running a marathon.
The original Nike Air Max 1 was marketed as a running shoe with an innovative air pocket meant to cushion the constant impact when running. But comfort and support aren’t just for running shoes — your feet need support whenever you’re in motion.
So that’s why Nike immediately released the first Air walking shoe in 1988 and continued to design both casual and running shoes. And now, you can get either Air Max style — or maybe one pair of each!
Air Max Running Shoes
There have been plenty of different Air Max running shoes over the past four decades, but one running shoe stands out from the rest: the pinnacle of Air, Nike Air VaporMax.
Nike Air VaporMax
After its initial release in 2017, the Air VaporMax has undergone several variations. But each one has the innovative rubber-pod sole filled with Air technology specifically designed for ultimate impact absorption when running.
It’s been six years since the Air VaporMax came out, and this sneaker is still topping the charts as one of the top sneakers. One of the favorite styles is the VaporMax Flyknit, which incorporates stretchy, breathable, and lightweight material. And not only is it comfortable, but these sneakers are eco-friendly. They are made from 40% recycled materials, and Nike even used post-consumer waste to create the rubber details.
There’s also the Air VaporMax Plus, which doesn’t have the flyknit material, but it has something just as good: a compression-molded form for increased durability when running. And this running shoe looks awesome, with the floating cage wrapping around the shoe, giving retro vibes. The best part? Plenty of colorways for men and women. The Air VaporMax Flyknit running shoe is also available in big kid sizes.
Casual Air Max Shoes
A popular 2023 fashion trend — with both shoes and clothes — is bringing back a bit of retro. And the Air Max casual shoes are no exception.
Nike Air Max 90
Nike originally released the now-trending Air Max 90 in 1990. But with its iconic silhouette and classic colorways, the Air Max 90 has been a favorite since its conception. Over the years, it’s made a few appearances in different iterations, most recently with the 2020 and 2022 releases.
Instead of having the visible air units all along the sole, the Air Max 90s just have the traditional three windows in the heel. And that gives it the iconic look we know and love. And for all the ladies out there, you can get the traditional women’s Air Max 90 casual. Or you can select the comfy-chic Air Max 90 SE Mama, complete with a detachable charm.
Nike Air Max 97
Keeping with the retro theme, the Nike Air Max 97 is currently trending — again. Its unique wave pattern on the side of the casual shoe makes it look like you’re constantly in motion. And the full-length air unit adds a subtle but chic touch.
This lightweight shoe comes in several neutral tones — like black, white, and beige. But there are options with some color, like the Air Max 97 Terrascape, which even has color specs in the air unit. And did we mention it was made from 20% recycled materials?
Nike Air Max 270
Another popular casual sneaker is the Air Max 270, released just a few years ago. It has a unique and voluminous air unit on the heel that looks almost like a foot pillow, giving 270 degrees of visibility (hence the name). With the extra cushioning and breathable mesh fabric, it makes for comfortable wear.
Nike Air Max: The Shoe That Just Keeps Getting Better
With 35-plus years of history, Nike Air Max has solidified itself as the sneaker to have. Whether you’re an athlete or someone just looking for an ultra-chic and comfortable shoe, there’s a perfect Air Max shoe for you.