the top ten

Nike Air Force 1s

As chosen by top AF1 collectors

Sneaker culture as we know it started with the Air Jordan 1 in 1985, but it was already beginning to take shape in the years prior. One of the most important pre-Jordan designs is 1982's Nike Air Force 1, the brand's first basketball sneaker to use Air technology. Designed by Bruce Kilgore (who also designed the infamous Air Ship worn by Michael Jordan and was the co-creator of the Air Jordan 2, along with Peter Moore), the Air Force 1 wasn't supposed to turn into a mainstream phenomenon. It wasn't even supposed to make it far beyond the one-year mark, as retros just weren't really a thing at the time.

As the story goes, Nike was convinced to keep the AF1 in production at the urging of a handful of Baltimore retailers. Touting the city's admiration for the would-have-been discontinued sneaker, the owners of Cinderella Shoes and Charley Rudo Sports (and later Downtown Locker Room) put together a "color of the month" program where each retailer stocked its own exclusive styles of the sneaker. As the decade progressed, the Air Force 1's appeal would captivate cities like New York (where the sneakers earned the “Uptowns” nickname) and Philadelphia before going worldwide. A favorite of hustlers, ball players, style-savvy youth, and seemingly everyone in between, the AF1 was here to stay.

Through the years, the sneaker has seen countless color-up, material, and technology alterations, yet the enduring silhouette is still as popular as ever. As it approaches the 40-year mark, we decided to poll some of the Air Force 1's most passionate collectors to find out what they think the best pairs of all time are. Getting a diverse group of sneakerheads to come to a consensus is no small task, but we crunched the numbers and settled on a ranking that even the most die-hard fans should be able to agree with.

These are the Top 10 Nike Air Force 1s of All Time.


  • DJ Clark Kent

    DJ Clark Kent

    Legendary New York DJ Clark Kent had a hand in launching the careers of rappers like the Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. Just as in hip hop, Clark is an authoritative voice in the sneaker discussion, even dabbling into the media side of things at times.

  • Fat Joe

    Fat Joe

    Fat Joe is widely regarded as the rapper with the best sneaker collection. Known as an Air Force 1 connoisseur, Joe worked on pairs in association with his group and record label Terror Squad in the mid-2000s, before AF1 collaborations became the norm.

  • Mayor


    Mark “Mayor” Farese is a Bronx-born sneaker collector who's boasted about having the best collection in the world. Mayor is known for his deep appreciation of the Air Force 1, particularly the high-end Bespoke one-offs that Nike used to offer at its 21 Mercer store in New York City.

  • Bobbito


    Bobbito Garcia is the man responsible for creating sneaker media, when he penned “Confessions of a Sneaker Addict” for The Source in May 1991. He’d later go on to author Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987.

  • Abdul


    Abdul hails from Baltimore, the city that kept the Air Force 1 alive in the 1980s and helped turn it into a global icon. His daughters probably have a better sneaker collection than you.

  • @afrokix


    Known to his 30K+ Instagram followers as @afrokix, Hassan is an African immigrant from Morocco and Senegal. He currently lives in Los Angeles, specializes in Air Force 1s, and has been into sneakers for over two decades.

  • @digglahhh


    A student of the game specializing in Nike sneakers and Polo Ralph Lauren gear, Derek Ambrosino approaches his hobbies with a self-described academic rigor. “I particularly loved getting into niches of these hobbies that had deep, but lightly documented archives,” Ambrosino said.

  • @ervinshoes


    Ryan Ervin is a 42-year-old Air Force 1 collector from Kentucky who’s been following the sneaker since the mid-’90s. A graphic specialist by day, Ervin has one of the more thorough AF1 collections you’ll find online.

  • @pgknows


    Paul Givelekian is an Armenian-American Air Force 1 collector, who was raised in New York. He’s become one of the largest collectors and resellers of vintage and rare Air Force 1 sneakers.

  • @solecuts


    Solecuts is a South Korean Air Force 1 enthusiast who focuses primarily on vintage pairs from the '80s and '90s.

  • @yusuke_airforce1


    Yusuke Takei is a writer and Air Force 1 collector hailing from Japan. While attending college in 1995, he fell in love with the Air Force 1 and has since amassed more than 600 pairs.

Air Force 1 Mid

Independence Day

(released 1997)
Air Force 1 Mid Independence Day sneaker

"The 'Independence Day' Mids are my favorite jewel Air Force 1s for a few reasons. It was the first time Nike used pearlized leather on an AF1. That red, white, and blue just stood out from the rest, and of course it matched with all my Polo, Hilfiger, and Nautica. Almost all of the pairs were worn into the ground, as most general releases were in the '90s. I would see collectors post their fresh pairs on Niketalk back in the mid-2000s and I had to have them again." - @pgknows

Air Force 1 Mids are a controversial sneaker, to say the least. There's a generation that loves them, mainly due to Highs not being in steady production at the time and the black-and-white pairs being available everywhere. There are very mid-cut Air Force 1s that make the top lists of collectors, but there are some exceptions, like the “Independence Day” Mid from 1997. Its two-tone (and two leather) upper sets it apart from a lot of Mids from that era; so does its Jewel Swoosh, which would later on get popularized by the likes of Puff Daddy and Mase in the "Mo Money Mo Problems" video, due to them matching it with their shiny suits. They didn't wear the “Independence Day” Air Force 1s in that video, but the impact of the sneaker remains on collectors who came of age in the '90s.

Matt Welty

Air Force 1 Low


(released 2006)
Air Force 1 Low Entourage sneaker

"These were a no-brainer. I was a fan of the show, and I am a huge fan of Mark Smith, who once again made a masterpiece. Simple but very efficient color blocking, tumbled leather, patent Swoosh, laser print, and the lining is sick too. Instant classic." -@afrokix

Truly a sneakerhead's sneaker, the "Entourage" Air Force 1, or "Fukijama," was the subject of a 2006 episode of HBO's Entourage. After months of anticipation, Jerry Ferrara's character Sal "Turtle" Assante attempted to secure the limited-edition release at Undefeated Santa Monica, only to have the last pair in his size swiped by the late DJ AM. Turtle's friend Vince pulled some strings to land him a different pair of 1-of-1s by the fictional artist Fukijama, but the original remains a coveted piece of television and sneaker history. In reality, the shoe was created and lasered by longtime Nike designer Mark Smith specifically for the show. Though not released at retail, a rumored 100 pairs were produced, most distributed to cast and crew. In 2009, DJ AM's personal pair from the set was auctioned off to raise money for the DJ AM Fund, selling to ShoeZeum for more than $3,000.

Brandon Richard

Air Force 1 Low

Cocoa Snake

(released 2001, 2006 & 2018)
Air Force 1 Low Cocoa Snake sneaker

"I remember seeing the original Cocoas for the first time on Japanese websites that I couldn't buy because I lived in the US. It killed me. Loved them at first sight. The snake thing had been done before on AF1s, but not this much snake print coverage. The colors and snake print blended well and were executed perfectly. Resale after the release was crazy back then. One of the best ever." - @ervinshoes

Part of what made the Air Force 1's early 2000s golden age special were true regional and international exclusive releases, which gave many locales across the world distinctive flair and fueled the chase. In 2001, the "Cocoa Snake" Air Force was made available exclusively in Japan, much to the chagrin of foreign enthusiasts, particularly those in the United States. Consumers outside of Japan not only had to be uniquely informed about sneakers that were being released there, but also needed a plug capable of delivering the goods if they wanted to acquire a pair. A lot of things can and often do go wrong with snakeskin-accented sneakers, but the tasteful execution of the "Cocoa Snake" quickly endeared the shoe to anyone who caught a glimpse of it. Its refined look and scarcity made it one of the most coveted Air Force 1s until 2018, when a limited edition re-release finally went down—this time exclusively at ComplexCon.

Brandon Richard

Air Force 1 Low

Cashmere Laser

(released 2003)
Air Force 1 Low Cashmere Laser sneaker

"This shoe was part of the laser pack designed by Mark Smith. Seamless Air Force 1, fully lasered. I don't know if the upper of this shoe is really cashmere, but it feels luxurious enough to be cashmere. That clean, all-white midsole and outsole with the tannish upper is a dope combo." - Abdul

Laser etching has become a common sight in the sneaker world, from small details like individual numbering on friends and family exclusives, to covering entire Air Jordan uppers in all-over Air Jordan sneaker prints. The technique on sneakers was conceptualized by longtime Nike innovator Mark Smith, who at the time was working in the brand's Innovation Kitchen. It was introduced on a series of Air Force 1, Dunk, and Cortez silhouettes, and featured designs by artists including Stephan Maze Georges and Chris Lundy. The standout of that first set was a Cashmere-colored AF1 with tribal graphics by Smith himself. It utilized a one-piece premium leather upper with the model's iconic panels lasered in, came in a slider box, and was limited to just 200 pairs. A follow-up version saw a wider release—2,500 pairs, and featured a darker brown upper and matching outsole. The "Cashmere" is still the most coveted of that original series, and stands out in Air Force 1 history for its innovation, design, and rarity.

Zac Dubasik

Air Force 1 Low


(released 2006)
Air Force 1 Low Playstation sneaker

"Being an avid gamer at that time, to be able to get a pair and meet the guy, Ron Eagle, who was responsible for doing the whole Playstation x Nike thing. I thought he didn't like me. Then I saw him at an event and he gave me a pair of Playstation Air Force 1s, and I was the happiest guy in the world. I cherished them ever since. What more can you say about one of the greatest AF1s ever made?" - Mayor

In 2006, the PlayStation console turned 10 years old. To celebrate the occasion, Nike and PlayStation made one of the most hyped sneakers of all time. The Playstation Air Force 1 was the perfect sneaker for its era: a patent leather sneaker, made in limited numbers (150 pairs), and one that had its own viral moment before that was a thing. Chris Vidal, then the manager of Flight Club, brought the sneakers onto The Tyra Banks Show in a moment that spread across forums like ISS and NikeTalk. Kobe Bryant co-signed the sneakers, too. This was one of the first sneakers where they truly were a status symbol, an instant, "How the fuck did you get those sneakers?" Or simply, "How much did you pay for them?" Nike would do another batch of the sneakers in 2009, that time making them only slightly more available than the first version. The PlayStation motif would go on to be added to another Jewel-Swooshed Air Force 1 and even Paul George's sneakers, but the first remains the best.

Matt Welty

Air Force 1 High


(released 1983)
Air Force 1 High White/Silver sneaker

"The white/silver had an all leather upper, plus a slight variation on the contour, compared to the original AF1 (which my crew wound up calling the 'Zeros'), which had nylon mesh, a narrower shape, and a skinnier Swoosh. The 'Zeros' were straight ballplayer shoes. The second AF1 version though, repped by the White/Silver that was at the beginning, would become the end-all-be-all for ballplayers in the '80s and even '90s, which then impacted hip-hop heads, then sneakerheads, and everyone else and their moms." - Bobbito

This is the foundation. Before the Air Force 1 became iconic, before it donned countless colorways in its retro life, before becoming a consensus marker of footwear taste, it was a basketball sneaker. "Straight ballplayer shoes," says Bobbito Garcia, the legendary DJ who was the first person to write about sneakers in cultural terms. He actually recalls the sneakers shifting near immediately, from the first all-leather build to this iteration that introduced mesh paneling. Garcia believes that those slight variations made the sneaker more wearable for ballplayers and more palatable for people who just wanted to look fresh. It came in a not-so-flashy colorway that used silver on the Swoosh and kept the rest white, perhaps embedding in the minds of the first generation of Air Force 1 lovers that those kinds of clean colorways represented the most tasteful executions of the shoe. The model has been plenty of places since, but this is where it started.

Brendan Dunne

Air Force 1 Low

Courir Black/Gum

(released 2002)
Air Force 1 Low Courir Black/Gum sneaker

"The epitome of 'less is more.' Timeless colorway with quality materials and good shape. Gum sole is almost always a winner." - @digglahhh

Like the untouchable white/white, the "Courir" makeup accentuates just how strong the Air Force 1 silhouette is with a plain yet beloved colorway. The 2002 release mixed a plush black leather upper with a white Swoosh and a gum sole for a combination that was so good, it's a wonder it took them so long to come up with it. Unlike the ubiquitous white-on-white, this pair was much harder to come by, releasing only in France at chain retailer Courir. And despite its enduring appeal, this is one that has slipped through the cracks in terms of retros, leaving fans of this colorway with no choice but to fork over a premium at resale or settle for a similarly designed NIKEiD custom. Though it was an exclusive, what really made this pair so great was that it didn't need to rely on any gimmicks or novelty features—it was simply a well-designed, high quality sneaker. With no reissue in sight, this nearly 20-year-old pair remains one of the most coveted Air Force 1 colorways of all time.

Riley Jones

Air Force 1 Low


(released 2001 & 2016)
Air Force 1 Low Linen sneaker

"They've been my favorite. That cream and baby pink. I was pleasantly surprised when Kith brought them back." - Fat Joe

From the Air Jordan 1 to the Dunk, Nike's series was the stuff of legend to collectors in the early 2000s. The range, which gets its name from the domain designation for Japanese websites and also functions as the nickname "Concept Japan,", comprises several exclusives that fans in the States would diligently track down. On the Air Force 1 side, the lineup included undeniable classics like the "Wheat Mocha" and "3M Snake," but it's 2001's "Linen" that takes one of the top spots. Formally labeled "Linen/Atmosphere," Nike credits this very pair for popularizing shorthand colorway call outs and nicknames after collectors made the abbreviated “Linen” name take off. With its khaki colored upper, the standout feature was the shoe's soft accents which came just before the height of pink-mania—let the record show that Cam'ron's Fashion Week outfit was a year after the original "Linen" AF1s.

In 2016, Ronnie Fieg's Kith store celebrated its arrival in Miami with an exclusive retro of the sneakers during Art Basel. "The 'Linen' is my favorite shoe, period," Fieg said at the time. They were raffled off, making the retro arguably just as hard to come by as the 2001 Japan version. Despite this retro coming out during a period when Air Force 1 interest was in something of a lull, the “Linen” still managed to create a good amount of interest.

Riley Jones

Air Force 1 Low

Ueno Sakura

(released 2005)
Air Force 1 Low Ueno Sakura sneaker

"Some of the early 2000s AF1s from are said to be masterpieces. This is representative of Japan. It seems to be difficult to make a better design of AF1." - @yusuke_airforce1

The Nike Air Force 1 "Ueno" has a laundry list of things going for it. First, there's the rarity. It’s rumored to be limited to just 500 pairs and was released exclusively in Japan, an integral city in sneaker culture that’s home to thousands of rabid collectors. Then, there's the packaging. Long before Ben & Jerry's put their SB Dunk collab in an oversized ice cream tub, the "Ueno" Forces came housed inside a straw-filled wooden box, covered on the inside with the same Sakura blossom graphics lasered on the upper. And about that lasering—the concept was introduced a few years earlier on Air Force 1s, but was still a welcome novelty and one of the very few sneakers to have featured it at the time. The "Uenos" even had a true pop culture moment, immortalized on the small screen by Fat Joe in his "Make It Rain" video with Lil Wayne. Above all though, it's stood the test of time because it's simply a great-looking shoe. The Light Bone's premium leather is set off beautifully by the Watermelon sole, capturing the essence of the Sakura theme without being too literal in its execution.

Zac Dubasik

Air Force 1 Low


(released 1994)
Air Force 1 Low White/White sneaker

"Best AF1 ever. Not up for debate." - DJ Clark Kent

Ask sneakerheads of a certain age—those old enough to remember when the Air Force 1 came out in 1982—when they first became obsessed with footwear, and you will get a consistent correction. Back then, the goal wasn't explicitly to hunt and hoard rare styles of new shoes. The objective was getting fresh. No shoe advanced its wearer toward this goal better than the white-on-white Air Force 1 Low. It is the most pristine expression of basketball footwear there is, the crispy apotheosis. It achieves all this without playing the sneaker industry game of limiting supply to increase demand; walk into any Foot Locker right now and you should be able to pick up a pair. The origins of this most ubiquitous Uptown style are, fittingly, disputed and difficult to confirm.

It may have arrived as late as 1997, but there are shreds of evidence suggesting that all-white leather low versions of the Air Force 1 were available in Baltimore in 1994. The point here is that the shoe is immune to the whims of any given time frame, indelible in the way that few sneakers are. It debuted in the 1990s, cemented its iconic status at the turn of the millennium as hip-hop became obsessed with white-on-whites, remained a staple in the 2010s even as sneakers got progressively more lurid, and stands today as a shining, pure marker of fresh.

It needs no colorway story or design brief—the sneaker is already maxed out on cultural cache through the moments it's been a part of for the past three decades. Jay-Z paired his with black guns. His Roc-A-Fella partner Dame Dash encouraged the practice of wearing a pair one time and then tossing them. DJ Clark Kent, who was also in the clique, was a consistent champion of the shoe. Nelly helped the Air Force 1 crossover, explaining its importance to a pop audience on his 2002 track "Air Force Ones." And as much as that song was about the hunt, the bragging rights that come with rare pairs possibly sourced through a personal genie, Nelly began both of his verses—one at the start of the song and one as its closer—with reference to the white-on-white. His situating of the shoe places it in the same spaces it occupies in the canon of Air Force 1: the alpha and omega.

Brendan Dunne

  • EDITOR Riley Jones
    Zac Dubasik Brendan Dunne Brandon Richard Matt Welty
  • DESIGN DIRECTOR Nick Sultana
  • DEVELOPER Michael Karaim