The Nike Zoom Pulse, built for and tested by nurses, promised to be the perfect combination for me, a nurse of 27 years, who’s spent a lifetime wearing and mostly loving Nike sneakers.
The shoes were revealed by Nike in November of 2019. Nike designers worked with the input provided by healthcare workers at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and Oregon Health & Science University. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Nike had designed a shoe in recognition of frontline health workers mere months before the horror of a global pandemic. Suddenly, the recognition of our healthcare workers was in the forefront of all our minds.
The kind folks at sneakernovel sent me a pair to try out. I’ve spent the last two weeks, roughly 85 hours, putting them through their paces.
This review is a guest contribution from Jonathan Faulkner. Jonathan is a registered general nurse currently working as a clinical education practitioner at Queens Hospital in England. He’s a long time watcher and reader of sneakernovel.
Though you would presume the most important aspect of a Nurse’s footwear is cushion, that’s actually the second consideration. The first is always materials. A shoe that’s not easy to clean, no details required, is not going to be worn in any healthcare setting.
The Nike Zoom Pulse is primarily made from a water-resistant material and features a laceless design. The upper is made of a synthetic polyurethane-coated material, with a reinforced overlay on the toe box acknowledging the need to use many medical devices operated via toe lever.
The slip-on design has two pull tabs. One of the two at the rear, linked to the elastic strap extending from the mid point of the shoe to surround the flexible heel. There is also a rubber sole, with deep grooves and what feels like a very hard and durable rubber compound. In all, the materials are deliberately and clearly functional, chosen to be easy to clean and durable, fitting the brief for the intended wearers perfectly.
The materials and blocking used also allow for a lot of flexibility in design. My pair are the Black/Teal Tint/White/Blue Hero version, where the small swoosh and asterisk insignia on the pull tabs and elastic straps are the focal points for the minimal flashes of color. The materials pattern flexibility can be seen to greater effect in some of the other more outlandish and bright colorways. Those designs are much better suited to Nurses and healthcare workers working with children.
Cushion wise, the Zoom Pulse uses a Zoom Air unit in the heel and a soft foam to provide that much needed comfort throughout the working day. I can’t find any details on the size or dimensions of the Zoom unit. I was prompted to look for specs because I could not feel the unit at all, either on the first step in or at any point during a shift. Having said that, the set up is nevertheless comfortable. There’s no denying the comfort, but there is not a feeling of having a Zoom unit underfoot at all.
The Zoom Pulse also features good arch support and the insole, which is removable, is a nice plush insert. Despite not being able to feel the advertised Zoom heel unit, the comfort of the set up maintained throughout a 12.5 hour shift. During a typical shift, I walk approximately 5 to 6 miles. Over the two weeks of testing, they felt slightly more comfortable by the end. I attributed the increase in comfort with the elastic strap at the back and the overall heel fit breaking in to better accommodate my foot. Don’t get me wrong, they were comfortable from the start, but if I were to give them an 8 out of 10 for cushion and comfort at the beginning of testing, I would give them an 8.5 by the end of the two weeks.
The rubber sole and the tacky stiff compound used in the rubber provides a great bite. The surfaces we work on are a type of linoleum. They’re maintained to be pristinely clean. The reason these shoes have such great traction is the interaction between the shoes and these particular surfaces. The sole has a pattern made primarily of varying sized circles. The central design motif consists of an ECG rhythm and an asterisk type symbol (also repeated in other elements on the shoe). The deep grooves incorporated into the pattern allow a good amount of flexibility. Though the go-to for outsole traction will always be herringbone, the pattern and the rubber used here are great.
On the occasions when there was a sudden requirement to move quickly, and especially when I inadvertently came into contact with fluids on the floor, again I won’t provide any detail, the shoes always, without exception, maintained their traction. That instilled great confidence whilst wearing them. The fact that the grooves are relatively deep also allows them, as with the rest of the shoe, to be easily cleaned.
The cut here is really low, disconcertingly so, and the low coverage around the heel and ankle is a concern. However, the construction of the shoe, fit and the midfoot arch provide a good feeling of good support.
One of the few negative elements I found in the Zoom Pulse is linked with the support. That’s the lack of laces. On one hand, the ease of a slip-on shoe that’s so easy to keep clean is absolutely great. On the other hand, the ability to adjust a shoe to a more individual degree, like laces provide, has a direct influence on feeling truly supported. I have a lot of colleagues who like using clog-like footwear but it’s not something I’m a fan of support-wise.
I normally wear a US size 9 and sometimes a 9.5 in narrower shoes. My foot is on the wide side. The Zoom Pulse I tested was a US size 9. They fit very well, definitely true to size. The elastic strap at the heel pushes your foot right into the shoe and encourages a very snug fit. This is required due to the lack of laces. There are no pinch points. Though I was worried the heel might dig into my achilles when I first unboxed the shoe, it didn’t.
If possible given current conditions, I really recommend trying these on in person. The fit is paramount as no further adjustment can be made with the slip-on design. The snug fit and waterproof materials used also make this a warm shoe to wear. There’s no ventilation whatsoever…though the low cut does provide some much needed relief.
The Nike Zoom Pulse isn’t perfect, but they’re pretty close.
The attention to detail in meeting the requirements for the medical professionals these shoes are intended for is excellent. They are easy to clean, easy to pull on and off, and are very comfortable. That’s the holy grail trifecta right there.
The pros massively outweigh the minimal cons for these shoes. Though I prefer a shoe to have laces and a higher cut and I see these omissions as a negative, I’m fully aware that having both these features in place would negate some of the main benefits of the shoe. For that reason, I’m willing to look past them. One of the greatest compliments I can give to the Nike Zoom Pulse is how quickly I forgot that I was wearing them. In other shoes, I’m often aware of how my feet feel in them throughout the shift and their weight especially. With the Zoom Pulse, that wasn’t the case. The occasional reminder I had them on came mainly as a result of colleagues asking “What are those?”
I heartily recommend these shoes. When they were first released, they sold out swiftly, but are now more widely available. My only hesitation is the current price, I think $120 is $20 higher than they should be priced. But overall, I think these will be a great purchase for healthcare workers, even if they’re a little expensive.