As a disclaimer, I haven’t owned a pair of Nike running shoes that I’ve enjoyed in about a year. My first pair was the Mens’ Nike Lunaracer 1, which I wore to bits. I rotated them with my first pair of Kinvara 2s, and the Kinvaras outlived them by several months. This set me up for disappointment when this year, I bought a pair of the Nike Free Run+, seduced by their usage of the word “run.” I hated them, and they are now banished to a world of squats in the gym. I’m not sure how I psyched myself up so hard to get these babies, but when I read initial reviews comparing them to my golden shoe (the kinvara), I was set.
Alongside this pair, Nike has released two other new “Free” shoes, the Free 4.0 and the Free Run 3. This is the most “barefoot” of the three (lowest heel-toe drop, most minimal upper), and the hardest to find. Most sporting stores will carry the new Free Run and some carry the 4.0, but these are rarely in stock (even online). They are also unavailable on Amazon (unless you want to pay $140, more than on Nike’s running website).
Initial Thoughts: While marketed as a barefoot-like shoe, I would not call them that. These are at best minimalist shoes (and I’m a minimalist junkie!). Running across trail and road alike, there is not much difference. The thin sole removes a lot of the road feel, but allows a lot of flexibility, so you don’t feel roots and rocks or too much of the pavement. Unlike vibrams and the merrell “gloves,” you are removed from the ground in these shoes. While thin and simply constructed, the heel-toe drop is 4mm, same as the Kinvara and comparable Cortana. My feet moved however they damned pleased, and the upper flowed perfectly with them. For other shoe junkies, they are more flexible than any of the Brooks Pure line or Kinvaras, and have less road-feel than the PureConnect. They are lower to the ground than all of these comparable shoes, and the cushion is therefore firmer than the Kinvara and certainly the PureFlow.
Upper: The upper has diamond-shaped perforations designed to help the upper move with the foot. They looked kind of corny, but were actually very nice. There is no heel-counter in the back (it is soft like a sock), leaving the entire upper one continuous “sock” attached to a cushioned platform. Surprisingly, it wrapped my foot snuggly and did not feel nearly as sloppy as the Free Run+ did. Kudos to Nike for figuring out a successful upper that doesn’t require their “flywire” that never lays well on my foot. For the lack of additional arch stability given by extensively worked uppers, this minimal design provided any light support I might need to keep the shoe anchored to my foot.
The Sole: Compared to previous Nike Free models, this one has a distinctive design of the sole-sipes that has not been seen before. The cuts are thinner, allowing a great range of motion for your foot, but also removing the issue many Free owners have discovered, where rocks become lodged in your shoe. Furthermore, there is a major cut down the middle of the foot that is shallow enough not to collect rocks. I didn’t particularly feel it while running, but it is a nice addition. See below for pictures of the sole and it’s flexibility:
At $100 ($130 if you get it customized), these shoes aren’t bad for the price. I got a nice hotspot on my right big toe, but I’m attributing that to my poor job lacing than anything else. To top it off, I got a nice PR in a 5k race yesterday, that I had not warmed up for or really prepared for. The shoes hugged my feet and felt like I was really running “free,” not to be confused with barefoot. I do not feel barefoot in these kicks, but they are quite thin and low to the ground. If you are looking for a slightly more built up Hattori, I’d consider these shoes.
Also, these shoes run rather small. I wear a 9 womens in Saucony, 8 mens for Brooks, and I had to order a 9.5 womens in these and they still feel rather snug. The forefoot is much wider than the PureConnect and racing-flat style shoes, but not as wide as the Kinvara, Ghost 4, or most Asics shoes. As always, Nike usually runs narrow and small.
Type: Minimalist, “barefoot-like” (but not really).
Weight/Heel-toe Drop: 7.0 oz (mens), 4mm drop.
Price: $100, $130 customized
Pros: Very flexible with a comfortable upper. Simple design with the quality Nike colorways. Shoe feels anchored without strangling your feet.
Cons: Not sure how long they will last with very little rubber on the sole; depending on lacing you could get some hotspots. NO arch support or guidance. Made for narrow feet, will have to go up a size. VERY HARD to find in stores, will most likely have to order online or find a reliable Local Running Store (LRS).
Comments: For a Nike shoe, not bad. I am slightly biased against Nike, but I only have positive things to say about this shoe. The cushioning is firm and the flexibility of the sole has been greatly improved from other versions of the Nike Free. If you are looking for a fast, snug shoe that looks flashy, give it a try.