What does vapor mean?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people buying and talking about player issue shirts. For various reasons (which we’ll get into more in this piece), player issue shirts are starting to offer considerably more than their replica counterparts, and despite the significant price differences the plethora of sales we see during any given season has helped bridge the gap.

A lot of people are understandably confused when it comes to the terminology surrounding player issue shirts though. I wanted to dig deeper into the topic for this edition of Collectors Club Encyclopedia, and help answer some questions I’ve seen regarding vapor shirts in particular.

What does vapor mean?

The term “vapor” relates exclusively to Nike fabric technology, utilised on player issue football shirts and other products across Nike’s wider range.

“Vapor” was first used as a term in the world of football back in 2016, when Nike launched their range of football shirts to be used at Euro 2016 and beyond. At the time, the shirts were described as “Vapor kits” which used “Aeroswift technology”, though the “Aeroswift” name was later dropped in favour of a more succinct “VaporKnit” label, which is still used today.

Nike VaporKnit label

When shopping on certain retail sites, you’ll see Nike player issue shirts listed as “Vapor” shirts, although this has started to change which I’ll get onto shortly. “Vapor” in this instance is just short for “VaporKnit”.

In terms of what a vapor shirt actually is, the most notable difference comes from the makeup of the material itself. Unlike typical replica football shirts, VaporKnit shirts feature an array of ventilated panels which are created as part of the base of the shirt itself, rather than through additions or alterations to an existing base. 

The exact makeup of this VaporKnit construction has varied over time, with the latest iteration featuring an almost fingerprint like pattern across multiple areas of the kit. Back in 2018, the focus was more on the sleeves of the shirt, with France’s World Cup winning home shirt providing one of the most memorable examples of the Vaporknit technology of the time.

Netherlands 2020 home

Though many iterations of Vaporknit have been associated with particular graphics or patterns, like the glitchy sleeves of the 2018 Nike kits, Vaporknit shirts relate to the technology and construction of the shirt rather than any specific pattern. In some instances there have been different ventilation patterns in the same season, like last year where you could see different Vaporknit looks across, for example, the Liverpool home or third kits. The current Netherlands home shirt is a good example of a Vapor shirt where the ventilation patterns directly matches the pattern of the shirt itself, as opposed to being the typical ‘fingerprint’ style seen on most other Nike player issue shirts.

Are all Nike player issue shirts vapor?

Up until this season’s new shirts (2021/22), the majority of Nike player issue shirts were using VaporKnit technology. Indeed, this had been the case since 2016, but in 2021 we’re seeing the debut of a new generation of Nike fabric technology; “Dri-FIT ADV”.

PSG 2021 home

You can essentially replace the word “VaporKnit” with “Dri-FIT ADV” for the purposes of understanding what is going on. Though the ventilation panels and fabric makeup have changed significantly, you’ll still be getting the same sort of football shirt for a similar price.

Confusingly, Nike have been referring to “Dri-FIT” in the context of their replica shirts for several years now. Look at any Nike replica shirt from the past few years and it’ll most likely have a “Dri-FIT” label, but the new “Dri-FIT ADV” shirts of 2021 are much more like their VaporKnit predecessors, despite the similar naming to the replica tier shirts.

For the purposes of this article, I will include Dri-FIT ADV shirts under the term Vapor, so as not to clutter things too much (as if it wasn’t already getting a bit busy!).

A quick note to say that you’ll usually see the same player issue technology across Men’s, Women’s and even Kid’s shirts. It’s quite enjoyable to see vapor detailing in small scale on kids shirts in particular!

Why do some Nike teams not wear vapor shirts?

The vast majority of Nike clubs and nations do not receive Vapor shirts at all. Outside of a select group of clubs who have landed inside the coveted “elite” bracket, and some choice national teams, the majority of Nike shirts will be produced and sold at the standard replica level. Sometimes this will be at an off-the-shelf, teamwear level, whereas other times a design will feature bespoke elements whilst still being restricted to replica (Dri-FIT) technology. For more on teamwear, read our piece on teamwear and templates.

What are some other names for player issue technology?

As already discussed, we’ve seen a range of terms both historically and currently when it comes to Nike player issue shirts, be it “Aeroswift” or “VaporKnit”.

Zooming out, other brands will have their names for the technology they use across their player issue shirts. Popular examples include adidas’ “HEAT.RDY” tech and Puma’s “evoKNIT”. Though there are technical differences between the two, and often major sizing differences (see our blog on shirt sizing for more on this area), these terms are an exercise in branding more than anything else.

Terms like “authentic” are also widely used to talk about player issue shirts in general, although this can be quite confusing and gives the impression that replica shirts are somehow “inauthentic” in some way.

Why are vapor football kits more expensive?

Vapor football shirts fall into the same category as other player issue shirts in that they are more expensive than replica shirts. Most player issue shirts will be over £100 at release, and if you’re wondering why they are so expensive you only have to look at the fact some player issue shirts actually sell out quite early, proving that people are willing to fork out a lot of money for the good stuff.

Netherlands 2020 away

Having said that; a word of warning. The majority of player issue shirts will be available later in the season for much cheaper. We’ve got a blog about that (of course), but in short good things come to those who wait. If there’s a shirt you really want to have though, be sure to monitor proceedings because player issue stocks are smaller than replicas.

Are vapor football kits worth it?

In many ways this is an impossible question to answer. Putting aside the high price of football shirts in general, vapor football kits or other player issue kits do have a premium feel and look which can elevate virtually any design. I was sceptical before handling a VaporKnit shirt in person for the first time, but now I’m sold on the quality (even if the price is extortionate).

Vapor shirts in particular are in a great place at the moment, with the fingerprint ventilation standing out from an aesthetic point of view. I’m really happy to own a couple of vapor shirts, but I wouldn’t have the money to always buy player issue due to their cost, even when factoring in sales.

My advice would be to look out for maybe one or two player issue kits, but to be as selective as you can.

I’ve already plugged a number of our other Collectors Club blogs, but do check out the various pieces we have for more on player issue shirts. The world of football shirt collecting can be quite daunting, but you should never be afraid to ask questions or look around for tips and tricks before jumping into a big purchase.

Phil Delves

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