Jordan 1 High, Mid, and Dunk High: What’s the Difference?
Updated August 21, 2021
The Air Jordan 1 and the Nike Dunk High are closer to twins separated at birth than two completely different shoes. They share the same dad (Peter Moore), the same birth year (1985), and, unless you grew up with them in your life, you probably have a hard time telling them apart.
Despite their resemblance, the Air Jordan 1 has traditionally been the favorite twin. It was designed to convince the greatest of all time not to sign with his preferred brand. The Dunk, on the other hand, was originally designed as a shoe for college players. A big selling feature was that they could match their uniform. It was the cheaper alternative for those not lucky enough to get a signature sneaker just a few months after their first legal drink.
Adding even more confusion, both of these shoes have several variants – each coming in high, mid, and low top models. The dunk mid is a rare sight, and has several features that make it stand out – such as a strap – and the lows are different enough that they deserve their own comparison. The Jordan 1 mid, however, looks very similar to the high and, like the Dunk before it, was designed as a shoe similar to the Jordan 1 High for slightly less money.
Ultimately, what makes them different? Why does a Jordan 1 high cost so much more than the dunk? Which is right for you? Let’s find out.
First, it’s important to know that there are asterisks for just about everything in this article. Each of these shoes have seen countless releases. Occasionally Nike and Jordan Brand will change something up on one model to build up some hype. This will focus on the standard model of each shoe.
Starting on the bottom, the 1s are identical, and you could be forgiven to think the dunks are as well. The dunk features a significant hourglass shape. The sole sweeps inward near the arch of the foot, compared to the squarer Jordan 1. This is most notably seen around the Nike logo, it’s thin on the 1 but square on the Dunk. Elsewhere, the Jordan 1 sole features small details throughout such as a pattern behind the Nike logo and on the heel area and additional definition in the star on the front.
Moving onto the midsole, again the Dunks are the odd man out. It’s pretty clear why so many Mids give their life for sole swaps as it’s identical to the high. The Jordan 1 features a flat seem between the outsole and the midsole, where as the Dunk has a bit of variation where the two meet, raising at the toe, heel, and in the middle. The midsole is also far more textured on the Jordan 1. It has a distinct pattern, compared to the Dunk which is just a slightly bumpy rubber. The Dunk does feature a few areas that stand out a bit more near the flex point and heel.
On the upper, the toe box for all three are extremely similar in looks. Each has a perforated panel that dips down at the flex point surrounded by a toe guard. However, as you move back you can see that the Dunk has the toe panel that is uninterrupted all the way to the laces, while the Jordans have a separate panel for the bottom three laces that runs down to the midsole.
The mid-panels all feature a Nike Swoosh running from the rear to half way up the shoe. Dunk’s almost always use the primary color of the shoe, where Jordans traditionally feature a contrasting swoosh. The Mid’s and the High’s start to separate themselves just slightly here. The Mid’s swoosh runs very close to the midsole, where the High sits much closer to the laces.
On the heel, the Dunk features a panel that runs from the heel through the swoosh and then sits loose against the ankle of the shoe. If you feel like reliving the early 2000’s you can skip lacing this section and let them hang off the side of the shoe. Bleached tips optional. This is in contrast to the Jordan 1s, which have a separate heel cap and top area on the back, each being slightly smaller on the Mid. One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a mid and a high Jordan 1 the lace holes. The highs will have nine lace holes, including one where the shoe turns up on your ankle, where the mid’s 8 lace holes skip this one.
Other small details around the shoe are different as well. The Dunks feature a small loop on the back of the shoe as well as some ridging. The Jordan 1s will have a wings logo on the exterior flap.
Fit & Comfort:
While you’ll probably be the same size in all three, they each fit a little bit different. The Dunk features the most generous shape. It’s wider throughout, but especially in the toe box where it is also significantly taller. The Jordan 1 is designed to be a closer fitting shoe, being narrower and tighter throughout.
From a comfort perspective, the biggest difference is that Jordan 1s have air in the heel, and Dunks don’t. The only thing between your foot and the ground is a hunk of rubber. With no real room to expand, the air unit in the Jordans doesn’t make them feel like a modern shoe, but it is a big difference compared to nothing.
The other major item for comfort is the padding around the ankle. The padding in the Jordans is about half the thickness of the Dunks, but much denser. It provides more support while at the same time not feeling as bulky. The padding on the Dunks looks more impressive, but gives basically no support at all. This is reversed on the tongue, where the 1s have around twice the padding as the Dunks, again using better materials. Combined, the 1s give even support all around, and the Dunks do not.
Finally, while it doesn’t seem as important, the Highs will have a greater impact on your every day life. It doesn’t matter if you wear them tight or loose, both the Mid and the Dunk are shoes that you can slip on easily in the morning and kick off at night. The 1 High isn’t exactly a chore to put on, but it might involve loosening them up a little bit. For much the same reason, when driving in the Mids and the Dunks you don’t feel them there, where the Jordan 1 takes some time to soften up and can lead to some pretty bad creasing on the heel if you’re not careful.
In general, you’re going to find that the Mids have the worst materials of the bunch. Jordan Brand specifically designs the Mids as a lower cost alternative to the Highs. They have to cut costs somewhere. Even for Jordan brand standards, most Mids use plasticky fake leather or bottom of the barrel vinal coated leather. This cost cutting is also apparent on the tongue and lining that look very similar to the highs, but feel a bit cheaper.
The Dunk will generally fall in the middle, though it has the greatest variation between models. Most use real leather, even if it is a bit thin and a bit plasticky. Further, the Dunk’s design uses much more vinal on the back of the shoe compared to the Jordan 1, which generally only uses vinal on the black section near the ankle. The padding on the collar of this shoe starts to lose it’s life after just a few days, and the lining on top of it – while true to the original – is clearly thinner and more likely to wear through compared to the other two. Of course, as mentioned above, the sole also lacks an air unit.
Finally, the Jordan 1 High will typically feature the best materials of the three. Though, with Jordan brand, that often isn’t anything to get too excited about. This leather will generally be the thickest and have the top coat of plastic will be the thinnest. Almost all the Jordans have a plastic coating, it’s the only cost-effective way to get the bright colors they are known for. This features the better padding, and more of it throughout the shoe compared to the Mid.
Of all the categories, materials will be the one that varies the most among colorways. The Jordan 1 Mids in the pictures (the Blue-the-Greats) feature some of the nicest materials on any Jordan I’ve owned. Once the SB guys get a hold of the Dunk, they could have just about any material you could think of. And, as anyone who has had a few knows, the Jordan 1 High can definitely disappoint on some releases.
Ignoring any SE releases – and focusing on retail – the Dunk Highs come in at $110, the Mids are price at $115, and a distant third is the Jordan 1 with a price of $175.
These prices can change a lot once if you don’t grab them on drop day. In general, Jordan 1 Mids used to sit. If you were OK with some out-there colorways you can often find these for significantly under retail at the footsites (footlocker, champs, etc.). Today, many colorways do end up reselling, though often stick close to retail pricing. Popular colorways can occasionally go for way over retail, but generally don’t go that high unless it was a collaboration or extremely close to a hyped up Jordan 1 High colorway.
Dunks used to be extremely cheap. Most colorways that came out sat at outlets and you could pick them up for $50 or less. Those days are way behind us in 2020. As of writing, most Dunk Highs are reselling for between $200 and $400, but some of them are going for way, way more.
Jordan 1 Highs generally sell out, though there are some exceptions. Apart from the OG colorways and some collaborations, most of them have not been going for crazy money on the resell market, and generally fall in the same price range as the Dunk high between $200 and $400 dollars.
You can’t go wrong with any of these shoes. The Mids are a great way to get the Jordan 1 look, and for a reasonable price. Even better, you normally don’t need to deal with SNKRs. The Dunks are something a little bit different from the now-ubiquitous Jordan 1 that comes in everything from the most classic colorways to the most out there.
However, if you want that classic look – at the expense of some comfort – the Jordan 1 Highs “just hit different” as a lot of people will tell you. For many collectors, they won’t accept anything less.