Sneakerhead Must-Owns: The 8 Best Nike Sneaker Models For Men

When it comes to sneakers, there is no brand bigger, better or more influential than Nike. Not only is the American sportswear behemoth responsible for some of the most iconic kicks ever made, it’s also behind many of the pivotal technological developments that have driven sneaker design forwards over the last 60+ years.

Nike is also largely responsible for birthing sneaker culture as we know it today. The label’s Air Jordan line gave the world its first taste of sneaker hype, whipping consumers into a frenzy with each new release. It also introduced the world to high-profile athlete endorsements in footwear, turning Nike from a relatively small running shoe brand into the biggest name in sportswear.

Some of the brand’s footwear designers are borderline celebrities in their own right. Tinker Hatfield, for example, is a household name to anyone with so much as a passing interest in sneakers, having been responsible for major design milestones such as visible air cushioning systems and best-selling models including the Air Max 1, numerous Air Jordans, and even the fictitious Air Mag from the Back to the Future movies.

To call Nike’s sneaker back catalogue impressive would be a serious understatement. It’s home to some of the most influential, popular and instantly recognisable shoes of all time, and to prove it, we’ve showcased a few of our favourites below. Each one deserves its spot in any self-respecting sneakerhead’s collection.

Air Max 1

Designed by Tinker Hatfield, the Nike Air Max 1 was the first Nike sneaker to feature a ‘window’ in the midsole, showcasing the patented Air cushioning system. The revolutionary design ruffled feathers at the brand when it was first suggested, with Hatfield claiming that other employees were trying to get him and his team fired because of it. However, once it hit the shelves, the numbers spoke for themselves.

Now in its third decade, the Air Max 1 is as popular as ever, remaining one of the Swoosh’s best-selling styles. It also served as a launchpad for other top-selling models like the Air Max 90, the Air Max Plus and the Vapormax, all featuring visible cushioning systems in the midsole.

The idea may not have been well received to begin with, but has since become a core part of Nike’s DNA and a key visual signature.

Air Jordan 1

The first-ever shoe in the Air Jordan line laid the template for the most important sneaker brand in history. It may not look too advanced by today’s standards, but it was the height of technology when it launched in 1985, featuring an Air cushioning unit in the heel to help MJ bounce around the court.

Despite being almost 40 years old, the Air Jordan 1 is still as relevant as ever. Sure, the technology is long outdated, but in terms of looks it’s a timeless silhouette that works with almost anything. We’d suggest keeping it casual with straight-leg jeans, a hoodie and a light jacket.


The Dunk is another Nike model with roots on the basketball court. Released in 1985, it was originally a high-top sneaker that took direct inspiration from the Air Jordan 1 and the Air Force 1. It was an immediate success, but it found a new audience a couple of decades later when it was reimagined for skateboarding as the Nike SB Dunk.

These days, the Dunk is experiencing a major surge in popularity, with the black and white low-top versions (referred to as ‘pandas’) seeing record sales since the early 2020s. Love them or hate them, they’re some of the simplest, most versatile and classic kicks out there.


This early Nike running shoe shares its DNA with Onitsuka Tiger’s Aztec model. It’s essentially the same shoe rebadged, which is the result of an international wholesale partnership and ensuing legal battle between the two brands several decades ago. Without going into the details, suffice to say the Cortez has become a staple in the Nike sneaker universe, unchanged for over 50 years and still as popular as ever.

With the Adidas Samba and Nike Dunk madness dying down, those in fashion circles are trying to figure out what the next ‘It’ shoe could be. Due to its simplicity, versatility and timeless looks, our money is on the Cortez.

Air Max Plus

Released in 1998, the intricately detailed Air Max Plus was way ahead of its time in terms of aesthetics. For a start, it took the visible air cushioning to a new level with small air bubbles running through the entire midsole. Secondly, it was a bit of a precursor to the ugly sneaker trend, with its chunky sole, rubberised details and often pretty wild colour schemes. You may also have heard this shoe referred to as the Nike ‘TN’, thanks to the ‘Tuned Air’ tech it debuted.

The Air Max Plus’ design was inspired by the palm trees of Florida, with the rubber ‘branches’ running up to the lace loops to help cinch everything down and hold the foot in place. This distinctive look has made the shoe a cultural phenomenon – particularly in Australia where it has long been one of the country’s most popular Nike silhouettes.

Zoom Vomero 5

The Zoom Vomero 5 has proven highly popular since its re-release in 2019. The shoe initially launched in 2011 to a poor reception, but it turns out the world just wasn’t ready for it yet.

Fast forward to 2018 and the archive silhouette was chosen by A-Cold-Wall as the canvas for its latest Nike collab, which saw an enormous block added to the heel. When people started chopping these blocks off in order to wear the shoe, it became obvious to Nike that fans were crying out for a general release, so that’s what they gave them.

The shoe launched properly in 2019 and was a hit immediately, with hype fuelled by the somewhat limited nature of the release. Resale prices started to soar, and then Nike dropped the shoe again in 2022, helping to cement the Vomero’s place as one of the most popular Nike shoes in recent years.

Air Force 1

The Air Force 1 is nothing short of ubiquitous today, with its chunky flat sole, perforated toe box and uncluttered leather upper. Head into your city and your sure to spot several pairs at any given moment, which isn’t bad for a shoe that has remained almost unchanged for over 40 years.

The Air Force 1 may look simple by today’s sneaker standards, but it was groundbreaking when it first landed. This was the first shoe to carry Nike’s now-iconic Air cushioning technology, which revolutionised performance in the basketball shoe arena and made it a must-cop for early sneakerheads.

Killshot 2

Sometimes shoes don’t have to have a head-turning design and incorporate boundary pushing tech to become icons. The Killshot 2 is a testament to that.

It’s probably one of Nike’s blandest models from an aesthetic standpoint, but that’s also its greatest strength and why it has become so sought-after. This simple court sneaker was initially launched in 1979 but was re-released in 2009 as part of a J.Crew partnership, selling out almost immediately.

Today the shoe is more widely available, but its still managed to retain that ‘if you know, you know’ appeal that first made it popular. We love it because it’s incredibly versatile, with a simple pared-back look that means it can be worn with anything from shorts and a tee to tailored pants and knitwear.

Paddy Maddison

Paddy Maddison is Ape's Style Editor. His work has been published in Esquire, Men’s Health, ShortList, The Independent and more. An outerwear and sneaker fanatic, his finger is firmly on the pulse for the latest trends, while always maintaining an interest in classic style.