Nike Air Force 1 Versus Dunk: Breaking Down the Differences
The Nike Air Force 1 and Dunk are very different shoes – but not everybody may realise that. Of course, you, dear Sneaker Freaker reader, can probably identify them blindfolded. But remember that everybody has to start somewhere on their sneaker journey, and one of the steps is knowing the differences between two of the Swoosh’s most iconic designs. So, whether you’re new to the sneaker game or a veteran needing a refresh, here’s the most straightforward guide to the major physical differences between the AF-1 and Dunk.
Air, No Air
The Air Force 1 is called such because it has Nike Air encapsulated inside its rubber midsoles. In fact, it was Nike’s first basketball shoe to use the technology. This happened in 1982, about three years after the Air Tailwind runner debuted the new cushioning system to the world. The AF-1’s signature tech is a fact proudly called out on the lateral heel, reading ‘AIR’ in all caps. Additionally, the tongue label and ankle tab of standard editions across its Low, Mid and High versions all read ‘Nike Air’.
Dunks, on the other hand, simply have a slab of foam for the midsoles. More specifically, it’s believed to be EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate), which is considerably less prone to crumbling and can subsequently be worn for longer than AF-1s. However, the soles can stiffen and yellow if the shoes are poorly kept or exposed to the elements for prolonged periods. Because of the lack of Air, the Dunk’s midsole stack height is lower than the AF-1 (though original 1985 pairs had considerably taller soles than today’s examples).
The toe box of the Air Force 1 and Dunk is likely where a lot of newcomers and non-sneakerheads get caught out thinking they’re the same shoes. At a distance, they both exhibit rounded toe bumpers and perforated vent holes. Take a closer look: the differences become notably more apparent.
The sides of the AF-1’s toe bumper meet the eyestays, connecting to the U-throat at the rearward toe box edge, and this fixed edge results in more volume at the forefoot. The toe box also has fewer perforations per row, and the central holes don’t quite reach the front edge of the panel.
As for the Dunk, the sides of the toe bumper feature a pronounced notch where the foot bends in the toe box. The sides connect to the eyestays at the forefoot, but these parallel panels don’t join at the throat like the AF-1. Therefore, the Dunk’s toe box runs further back into the tongue, giving it a slightly slimmer forefoot volume. The toe box also features more perforations arranged in a different manner, running closer to the panel edges.
There is a remarkably different level of ankle support between the AF-1 and Dunk, especially when it comes to their high-top versions. One of the former’s distinct features is its removable ankle strap, which was originally referred to as a ‘proprioceptive belt’. The most famous proponent of this piece of hardware was NBA player Rasheed Wallace, who often wore the straps dangling behind the shoe, or removed them completely. Meanwhile, the mid-cut Air Force 1’s strap is built into the ankle collar and is secured via a flap on the lateral side. Lows obviously don’t have any additional ankle support.
The Dunk, on the other hand, features considerably less ankle support hardware. High versions have two flapped ‘wings’ reinforcing the second and third eyelets from the top, which help cinch the ankle. However, stylistic preferences have seen these flaps left to flutter – a look that was particularly prevalent in the 2000s. Similarly, the very rarely seen Mid model, which was last revived for the Social Status collaboration, uses the same flap system. As an aside, the Nike SB Dunk Mid features a fixed strap system similar to the AF-1 Mid. Finally, the Dunk Low’s flaps are fixed, simply to follow the lines of its high-top equivalent.
The outsole patterns between AF-1s and Dunks are fairly different, though there are some design similarities. The former features a series of concentric curves of broadening radius centred at the forefoot ball and heel pivot points. There’s a small notch on the medial arch, bordered by latitudinal rows on the lateral edge. Siped edging runs along the sides of the outsole, stopping at the tip of the toe and the rear heel rim. At these ends is a fine raised star pattern.
Meanwhile, the Dunk’s outsole can be divided into its forefoot and heel sections. It’s been covered in detail previously, but there are some resemblances to the AF-1, particularly in the forefoot. The concentric curve design is a modified variety with additional angled flex grooves cut along the forefoot. The heel features slanted tread lines that meet at the midline, acting as a ‘brake’. Except for the coarse star pattern at the toe bumper and medial forefoot, all grooves cut in the tread reach the edges.
So, dear Sneaker Freaker reader, you now have no excuse not to know the major differences between the Nike Air Force 1 and Dunk. Happy shoegazing!
Want to learn more about the differences between iconic sneakers? Check out what sets the Dunk and Air Jordan 1 apart here.