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Hands-on Gear Review
Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4 Review
Cons: No rock plate, minimal upper foot protection, hard outsole rubber isn’t super sticky on rocks
Bottom line: This sleek, supremely comfortable shoe was our favorite trail runner and a no-brainer selection as our Editors’ Choice Award winner.
The new and improved upper of the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4 vaults it into the top spot in our rankings and easily endeared it to our testers enough to win our coveted Editors' Choice Award. This shoe is a perfect blend of minimal heel-toe drop, a low profile, an incredibly comfortable and lightweight upper, and the optimal balance of underfoot protection and sensitivity. Since we already considered the last version of this shoe to be our Top Pick for Light and Fast running, we are thrilled that Nike left all of the best elements of this shoe intact, and with this update improved the upper that we didn't even think needed improvement. The result is a shoe that allows one to nimbly dance over the tops of the sharpest and most jagged rocks equally as well as it thrives when opening up the stride on flowy terrain or grinding away at endless uphills. If you want a shoe that will make you feel lighter and faster on your feet, while still offering the stability and protection needed for ultra distances, this is an excellent choice for you. We are happy to recommend it as the best shoe we tested in 2017.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Trail Running Shoes of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3 was one of our favorite shoes of last year, and luckily Nike chose to retain all of the best elements of this shoe almost unchanged. They made some significant modifications to the construction of the upper that we feel an improvement to an already great product. The research and design process at Nike is absolutely top notch, as we feel in their fourth iteration both of their trail shoes — the Terra Kiger 4 as well as the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 — are among the best shoes available on the market today. Read on below for a complete rundown of the changes made to this newest version.
Compared to the rest of the competition, we feel that the Terra Kiger 4 manages to hit home runs on most of the attributes we look for in a trail shoe. While it is not as protective underfoot as the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 or as sensitive as the Altra Superior 3.0, it instead strikes a nearly perfect balance between being both protective and sensitive - two attributes that are often at odds with each other. It is certainly on the lighter end of the spectrum, almost the same weight as the Saucony Peregrine 7.
Compared to the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4, which uses many similar design elements, it is lower riding to the ground, with a smaller heel-toe drop, and is noticeably more flexible underfoot. What this shoe certainly lacks is the loads of EVA foam cushioning underfoot that has become quite trendy in the trail shoe market these days, but Nike's air cushioned ride doesn't disappoint, and likely won't compress out nearly as fast. For those who want supreme comfort without paying the price in clunkiness, this is the shoe for you.
Here is a short rundown of the changes made to the Terra Kiger 4 for 2017. The lace system is upgraded as part of the Dynamic Fit technology, providing midfoot support and lockdown with fewer Flywire cables but a new inner sleeve that assimilates a sock-like fit. These augmentations contribute positively to the comfort factor, which is always a good thing in our books! There are also snazzy new color options available for the spring season. The weight remains virtually the same, as do the heel-toe offset and list price.
We gave this shoe 6 out of a possible 10 points for foot protection. It feels stiff underfoot, due to the combination of the Phylon foam material and the Nike Air pods in both the heel and forefoot. Despite this stiff feel, it does not have a rock plate, and surprisingly retains a decent amount of sensitivity, not cutting the runner off from his connection to the trail. We appreciated this stiff and supportive underfoot feel, which is in direct contrast to the cushy and springy ride that one feels on shoes that have a lot of EVA foam in the midsole, like the Hoka Challenger ATR 3 or the Brooks Caldera. Check out the chart below for an idea of how it stacks up to the competition.
While the underfoot protection is nearly ideal in our mind, the lightweight mesh upper remains vulnerable, even after all the new upgrades. The new toe bumper is a thin rubberized overlay, replacing the minimal TPU overlays of the Terra Kiger 3. The entirely mesh upper is sufficient only for slight abrasion resistance, as it does nothing to protect the sides or top of the foot from branches, roots, or rocks should your foot slip off a wet rock or a muddy embankment. It does not have the heavier rubber protection found on the new Nike Zoom Air Wildhorse 4.
The "waffle" patterned outsole on this shoe remains the same from previous iterations. It is made of a combination of high-abrasion rubber around the edges that is very durable combined with the sticky waffle patterned middle made at least partially of recycled material. The lug pattern does look like it was pressed out of a waffle iron, but therefore offers a ton of deep, aggressively incut square lugs that cover the entire sole. The rubber initially feels very hard to the touch, limiting it slightly when it comes to scrambling over rocks.
As you can see above, this shoe ranks a notch below the best regarding traction. On all surfaces except for dry and wet rocks, we found that it performed just as well as those shoes with the most aggressive lug patterns — the Salomon Speedcross 4 and the Saucony Peregrine 7 — while also retaining seemingly more durability. Although the design is slightly different, it is made of the same material and is almost identical to the outsole found on the Wildhorse 4.
This shoe sports a low 4mm heel-toe drop and a low stack height of 20mm in the forefoot, ensuring that it runs closer to the ground than most of the shoes we tested. With similar high-end stability as the Altra Superior 3.0, we noticed that it also shares a similar forefoot design that is wide compared to the heel, allowing the forefoot to splay out to its natural width upon landing, thereby increasing stability. The chart below shows that it is one of the best when considering stability.
We loved how snugly the upper gripped our foot, holding the foot still and stable within the shoe. This is a product of the new inner mesh liner combined with the stretchy elastic of the gusseted tongue. The landing platform and secured upper foot feel every bit as stable as when running in La Sportiva Helios 2.0, one of the other top scorers for stability.
Comfort is such a subjective metric, as everyone has a different shaped foot, and therefore standardized shoes will naturally feel different to everyone. That said, this shoe is easily one of the most comfortable we have ever run in. The upper may be the best fitting of the entire group, with the multiple layers of the Dynamic Fit system perfectly and comfortably hugging the foot. Underfoot, this shoe is much firmer and stiffer than most of its foam cushioning heavy counterparts, but it still offers nice padding for a smooth ride.
Regarding its snug, form fitting upper, this shoe is most similar to the Helios 2.0, and fits more snugly than The North Face Ultra Endurance or the Altra Lone Peak 3.5. If anything, with the removal of the old burrito-style tongue, there is now less upper material, ensuring an even closer fit. While it is, unfortunately, one of the shoes that absorbed quite a bit of water in the water test after the initial dip, it helped rectify that problem by being one of the quickest to dry out.
At 21.3 ounces for a pair of size Men's 11, this is certainly a light shoe, but nowhere near as light as the lightest in our review. We awarded it 6 out of 10 points, roughly comparable to the Saucony Peregrine 7 and Brooks Caldera. While it isn't among the very lightest we tested, it runs light and doesn't project the slightest hint of heaviness or clunkiness.
While this shoe does not have a rock plate sandwiched into the midsole, at times, we found it to be stiff enough that it almost felt like it did. There is no doubt that the combination of the Phylon midsole foam with the dual Nike Air pockets feels firm. However, we still found that we were able to feel the little bumps and protrusions of the trail if we paid attention, offering an excellent balance between firmness and sensitivity. Check out this table to see how it ranked.
The underfoot protection level of this shoe was so good that we felt able to stomp right over just about anything we encountered, but was evenly balanced with an equal amount of sensitivity. There is no doubt that this shoe feels entirely different than the springy and highly cushioned shoes that many people are now used to, like the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 amongst others, but we will admit to preferring this more natural feeling ride. We also appreciated how it wasn't so sensitive that we felt like we had to be careful to protect our feet as we did with the very thin forefoot found on the New Balance Vazee Summit v2.
As our Editors' Choice Award winner as the best overall trail running shoe, we feel that there is not a running that this shoe does not excel at. While we are often limited in the distance we can run in low-profile shoes; we found this shoe to be supportive enough for ultra distances without a problem.
We will admit that the lower profile and firmer ride of this shoe will have some people looking for a more standard trainer. However, we think this is a shoe that can be run in every day, and also has real crossover potential for dirt road running. This is a shoe that will excel as a race-day specialist but is also versatile enough to be a quiver-of-one.
At $125, this shoe sits smack in the middle of the standard price range for quality trail running shoes. Since it is such an awesome shoe, we feel that it also presents a great value. This sentiment is further validated by the fact that they have been very durable for our tests, and internet reviews seem to back up this claim.
The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4 has been one of our favorite shoes for the past couple of years of testing, and the new modifications to the upper, while leaving the fantastic midsole and outsole unchanged, vaulted it to the top of our rankings. It has a nearly perfect set of attributes for a high-performing trail running shoe — comfort, stability, low weight, great traction ¬– and is also supportive and durable enough to be used as an everyday shoe. For those reasons and more we happily award it our Editors' Choice Award.
— Andy Wellman
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