Air Force 1 vs New Balance 550

Someone in black socks wearing black Air Force 1 Lows with blue Swooshes on the left. On the right, someone in white New Balance 550s featuring red branding and black details.
Credit: Nike & New Balance

Someone in black socks wearing black Air Force 1 Lows with blue Swooshes on the left. On the right, someone in white New Balance 550s featuring red branding and black details.
Credit: Nike & New Balance

The Air Force 1 and New Balance 550 are two iconic sneakers that have garnered significant attention and admiration in the world of footwear. This begs the question though - Air Force 1 vs New Balance 550, which is best?

There's no doubt they're two of the best sneakers ever made, both starting life as basketball shoes before later transitioning into everyday streetwear icons. The two are so closely linked, in fact, that the New Balance 550 is often a go-to option for those looking for a shoe like the Air Force 1, but don't want to actually buy an Air Force 1 for whatever reason.

However, when it comes to choosing between the two, it's not overly clear how the two compare. Fortunately, we've rounded up everything you need to know about their histories, designs, and prices to help you pick. Whether you're after some of the best Air Force 1s or one of the greatest New Balance shoes ever made, we've got you covered. Let's dive in...


The history of the Air Force 1 is an all-time classic sneaker story. It all began in 1982 when Bruce Kilgore was tasked with creating a shoe to rival some of the best basketball shoes at the time from the likes of Converse and adidas. The result was the first ever Air Force 1 high-top, which Nike promoted in its "Original Six" campaign featuring six of the brand's top NBA stars.

Nike 1983 Air Force 1 campaign with six NBA players dressed in white with the original Air Force 1s on feet.
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Credit: Nike

However, despite Nike's best efforts at promoting the shoe, the original #4190 design was ultimately phased out and Nike went off in a different direction. Nonetheless, it's been said that there was a demand for the shoes to return at the time, which definitely carries some weight as three notable stores in Baltimore lobbied for Nike to reintroduce the Air Force 1 so they could stock the sneaker on their shelves.

With these stores taking a keen interest, Nike gave the Air Force 1 another shot, agreeing to send the stores 1,200 pairs of the two initial colourways - the Royal Blue and Chocolate Brown designs.

The Air Force 1 was back on shelves once again and, this time around, they completely sold out, thus kicking off what would go on to be known as the "Colour of the Month", aka the colourways which saved one of the best Nike shoes (at least today) from extinction.

Nike Air Force 1 Highs in red, brown, white, black, and blue on a table next to their original drawings.
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Credit: Nike

In many ways, the New Balance 550 had a similar upbringing to the Air Force 1. Designed by legendary sneaker architect Steven Smith, the 550 also debuted in the '80s (1989), serving as an alternative to the 650 at the time, before eventually falling into obscurity for decades thereafter.

According to reports, it was priced at $45 and adhered to all the NBA's strict uniform rules, something Nike wasn't adhering to at the time following the introduction of the game-changing Air Jordan 1. One of its biggest issues though is it lacked any marketable technology. Nike had Air, but the 550 showed little in the way of innovation.

Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 550 “International Friendship Through Basketball” promotional image featuring four white 550 sneakers with either red, green, black, or grey accents.
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Credit: Aimé Leon Dore

All was not lost for the 500, however, as it relaunched in 2021 when Teddy Santis and his Aimé Leon Dore label chose the 550 as the brand's next sneaker release in collaboration with New Balance.

After finding an undisclosed collector who owned an original pair of 550s, the Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 550 “International Friendship Through Basketball” pack was created, thus reinstating the 550 to the world for the first time since 1989.

Nowadays, the sneaker continues to be made, with new colourways dropping on a regular basis. It's even still a hub for collaboration, featuring among many of the best sneaker collabs released over the last few years, meaning it's now carving out its own brand new path in sneaker history.


As both are a product of the '80s, the Air Force 1 and New Balance 550 feature very similar designs visually speaking, but there are some key differences underfoot.

The biggest difference is that Air Force 1s feature Nike Air bubbles in the midsole. First debuted in 1979, Air uses pressurised air within a resilient and pliable membrane to deliver lightweight cushioning. When subjected to impact, the bubbles compress and rebound to their initial form and size, thus providing excellent cushioning that continues to perform all day long.

Nike Air technology graphic of Air bubbles disconnected from a white Nike shoe.
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Credit: Nike

New Balance 550s rely on foam instead. While you should still find this provides adequate support and comfort, you may not find it as comfortable as Nike's Air.

Aside from that, choosing which design is best is a matter of personal preference. You could argue the 550 has a slightly 'busier' exterior than a typical Air Force 1, featuring several overlaying panels, hits of mesh, and both the "N" logo and 550 branding on the side. By contrast, the Air Force 1 features a much simpler look, featuring an oversized Swoosh down either side and "Air" branding on the midsole. Which one you prefer ultimately comes down to you.

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With the history and design covered, it's time to think about which model is the cheapest. Fortunately, this question has an easy answer.

Put simply, Air Force 1s and New Balance 550s are pretty much equally priced. Scrolling through Nike's list of Air Force 1, you'll notice the majority of colourways cost around the same as most of the 550s currently available.

Close-up of someone in brown trousers wearing a pair of white New Balance 550s featuring red and black details.
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Credit: New Balance

At the time of writing, Air Force 1s generally cost between $110 to $130, with a few exceptions for special edition releases. By comparison, New Balance 550s retail between $109.99 to $119.99, although there are some colourways which cost more.

Ultimately, there's next to nothing between them on the price front, which makes picking which to buy simply a matter of personal preference.

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Air Force 1 vs New Balance 550: Which is best?

The Air Force 1 and the New Balance 550 are both popular sneakers, but they have different features and cater to different preferences. As they are similarly priced, the "best" option really depends on individual preferences, style, and intended use.

However, it's worth noting that the Air Force 1 is the older of the two, and has been around longer since its resurgence. Therefore, Nike has a much deeper back catalogue of Air Force 1s to explore compared to the 550, which means there's a great variety of designs to choose from.

What's more, the Air Force 1 features Nike's iconic Air bubbles in the midsole to improve comfort and cushioning. By contrast, the 550 doesn't really have the same innovative technology, instead utilising foam for comfort (although this should still be comfortable).

Style-wise, the two are closely matched, and picking between them is purely a matter of personal preference. Personally, the Air Force 1 just edges it, although that's not to say the 550 isn't equally as great. It all comes down to what you prefer. If you're unsure though, we'd suggest trying them on and considering your own preferences, style, and the specific use you have in mind to decide which to buy.

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