In the 30-plus years since Tinker Hatfield introduced Air Max technology to the world, countless variants and silhouettes have been created to showcase the very best of visible Air. This has naturally meant entries from the flagship Air Max line and offshoot categories alike have, over the decades, had to clamour and compete for market attention and real world wear time. While some niche Nike fans and tunnel-visioned collectors may argue the following models are actually properly revered, in the larger scheme of things, these are some of the most underrated Nike Air Max models ever.
Air Max Racer (1995)
The Air Max Racer is an intriguing unicorn in the wider Air Max family. It came and went in 1995, never to be seen again – so far. As its name suggests, it was a more slimline racing flat that happened to have a visible Air unit, as opposed to the over-engineered and supremely cushioned models in the flagship Air Max line. It also seemed to have some transitional design elements, bearing some similarity to the low-profile Air Streak Lite from the same year, plus the Air Max rubber tongue badge introduced and used on the Air Max 93 and 94.
Air Max Groove (2004-05)
The Air Max Groove was a somewhat funky take on the classic Air Max 1, but it was pretty groovy, baby. Another weird transitional model from the pre-Nike Sportswear days, this model was definitely not a performance model, nor was it an official retro. That being said, its V-Series styled panels (check that perforated toe bumper), and transplanted AM1 sole had savvy sneakerheads treading on familiar, but new territory. Pairs do pop up occasionally and, thanks to the proliferation of the AM1, plenty of donor midsoles are available to help tired examples get their Groove back!,
Air Max+ 2013 (2013)
Interest in Air Max flagships had slightly fallen by the wayside in the late 2000s as serious runners opted for newer compounds like Lunar foam. And sneakerheads were obsessed with pre-2000s designs. However, the Air Max 2009 introduced the first new Air Max midsole design since the Air Max 360, and was a promising sign of things to come. It did take a few more years before the modern AM line found its stride – and arguable peak – with the Air Max+ 2013. Just about all of Nike’s latest tech was packed into it: a tweaked full-length sole, Hyperfuse uppers, dynamic Flywire strands, and a design that still holds its own today.
Air 180 (1991)
The Air 180 has sadly experienced Middle Child Syndrome its entire life. With releases like the Air Huarache and Air Classic BW among the duxes from the Nike Running class of 1991, not to mention the huge basketball models that towered above the rest, it’s no surprise the Air 180 got lost in the mix. Its presence continued to whimper throughout the 2000s and 2010s (even the CdG colab hit sales racks in some regions), but a loyal following has formed. However, as the BW and another ’91 runner, the Air Structure Triax 91 are set to return this year, the Air 180 continues its run as the dark horse.
Air Max 360 (2006)
Nike may have achieved a full-length visible Air midsole with the Air Max 97, but it took another decade before they completely did away with foam in the Air Max 360. It hit the mainstream market in a big way with ubiquity, and two further revisions to the upper that resulted in three generations of the AM 360 co-existing on streets and shelves. Sort of like the VaporMax, which funnily enough was hybridised with the 360’s upper. But most normies and sneakerheads alike didn’t know what they had until it was gone – the once-abundant 360 is ironically now a cult model for Airheads.
Keen for more under-the-radar Air Max? Check out some Obscure Mid-2000s Nike Air Max Sneakers here.