New Balance 550 and Nike Air Force 1: Breaking Down the Differences

New Balance 550 Nike Air Force 1

The 1980s gave us the Walkman, Ghostbusters and some of the greatest sneakers of all time – the Reebok Pump, Nike Air Ship and Air Jordan 1! Two of the current most popular hardwood heroes from that era include the Air Force 1 and New Balance 550. While visually vastly different, both are in the basketball-turned-lifestyle category, sharing plenty of similarities.

If you’re struggling to decide whether your next cop should be an Air Force 1 or a 550, we’ve got you covered with a buyers guide breaking down the differences!

New Balance 550 Nike Air Force 1

History and Hype

When comparing the history of each silhouette, the Air Force 1 and New Balance 550 both have their success stories. Designed by Bruce Kilgore, Nike’s premier AF-1 debuted in 1982 and was the first basketball shoe to feature Air technology. Despite being discontinued briefly, they’ve remained a mainstay within the Swoosh arsenal for forty years. The New Balance 550 was released in 1989, designed by Steven Smith and initially never took off. This 80s hoop sneaker remained dormant in the NB archive, until its triumphant resurrection in 2020, taking the zeitgeist by storm.

The hype factor of each silhouette is hard to gauge. The Air Force 1 is a bonafide classic, however the 550 is somewhat an underdog. Thanks to an on-going Aimé Leon Dore collaboration, and relative scarcity, the latter has had its popularity bolstered among younger audiences. It’s unclear at this point whether the silhouette will be a flash in the pan trend, or continue its reign until it reaches icon status.

New Balance 550 Nike Air Force 1

Technical Specs and Sizing

If a wider, taller, chunkier option is what you’re after, the Air Force 1 is the perfect choice. Comparing two sized US 11 pairs, the NB550 is 1 cm short in width and the Air Force 1 is almost 3 cm taller than its counterpart! If you’ve ever held a 550, it’s quite heavy, and feels heavier than the Air Force 1. Interestingly, it weighs in at 525 grams, approximately 10 grams heavier than the Air Force 1 (515 grams).

If you’re planning to play basketball in 2022, we suggest you choose neither the AF-1 or 550, as they won’t compare to the basketball sneakers of the modern day. As a lifestyle option, go for it! They both house plenty of performance-geared technical details. Obviously, the Air Force 1 rocks Nike’s Air unit in the midsole, whereas the NB550 just has a simplistic foam sole. The modern 550 does actually come with supportive Ortholite insoles! In terms of sizing, if you have a wider foot and are looking to purchase 550s, opt for a half size up, they’re on the narrower side.,

New Balance 550 Nike Air Force 1


Visually, the Nike Air Force 1 and New Balance 550 are different however, they do share some similarities that are synonymous with other 80s hoop sneakers. The Air Force 1 boasts a singular-layered underlay panel, overlay panels wrapping the toebox and heel, with accompanying extra layer housing the Swoosh, heel tab and eyestays. Traditionally, most of the upper, aside from the nylon tongue, will be composed with leather, alongside complementary rubber sole unit.

The NB550 however, has a more complex upper design, rocking a mix of leather and mesh for the underlays, with a multi-panelled overlay approach. The NB550 toe box and heel overlays are similar to that of its cohort, where they aren’t connected by a singular panel. Both pairs feature perforations, the AF-1 has them across the toe, while the 550 opts for holes across its medial and lateral. More OG-esque iterations usually boast full-white looks with a singular pop of colour, usually reserved for the branding.

Do you want to know the difference between the Air Jordan 1 and the Dunk High? Head here!

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