The new 2012 Nike Free range has been eagerly anticipated by runners, but now that it has arrived it presents a slightly confusing picture for runners and retailers to understand, and depending on your preferences and foot shape, a mixed bag in terms of wear-ability. In this article I take a quick look at the 2012 Nike Free 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0. My coaching partner and specialty running retailer Mark Gorksi and I also put together a video that explains how we see the new range fitting together.
Nike Free 3.0 version 4
The Free 3.0 version 4 upgrade moves the Free away from the sock-like feel of the previous upper and into a more plastic type material that isn’t nearly as comfortably to touch and on first impressions I wonder about the breathability of this denser material.
The sole design looks great with flexibility maintained but the flex grooves vary in depth and have narrower gaps between which should help reduce rock collection when wearing the Free 3.0 off road. The shoe also continues with a no tongue design, which combined with a reduction in mid-foot and forefoot volume makes the shoe pretty difficult to put on if you have a higher arch as I do.
The forefoot width also seems much narrower and/or the more unforgiving material of the upper doesn’t give as much. When I put these on I had pressure on the top of my foot as well as the sides. So unfortunately what has been one of my favorite running shoes won’t be featuring in my future running programs. Although I do have a spare pair of Free 3.0 Version 3 to tide me over in the short to medium term. If you’re a bit wide of foot or have a high arch maybe try and track down a version 3 Free 3.0 while you can. For the narrow and low volume foot these should remain a great choice.
For the uninitiated the Free 3.0 is a 4mm heel-to-toe drop shoe.
Nike Free 4.0 version 2
I can’t recall seeing a Nike Free 4.0 in years past, but it may never have made it to Australia. As you’d expect the Free 4.0 fits between the 3.0 and the 5.0 (Free Run 3 – confused? I’ll get to that). The Free 4.0 has a 6mm heel-to-toe drop and in most respects is pretty similar to the 3.0. The material is slightly different and the shoe has a half tongue, making it a bit easier to get your foot in. However, for me it was a bit too narrow and also lacked volume through the mid-foot. I also found the designer sprayed on finish on the upper had bled through the material making a rough surface not suitable for wearing the shoe sockless.
While unfortunately this shoe won’t suit the shape of my foot it has sat pretty well on a few customers that have purchased it in the last few weeks and looks a good choice for someone heading minimal, but not quite ready for the Free 3.0.
Nike Free 5.0 also known as the Free Run version 3
Just to muddy the waters a little Nike have started the process of renaming the Free Run in line with the numbering system used for the Free 3.0 and Free 4.0. Getting there sooner rather than later will help eliminate some confusion for runners and retailers, especially in an era where minimalist transition is becoming a focus. So the Free 5.0 or Free Run 3 is an 8mm heel-to-toe drop shoe and in my opinion is the pick of the updated Free range.
It feels a little more grounded and streamlined than the Free Run 2 which had an almost bulky feel to it (relatively speaking). The fit is generous enough to cater for wide feet such as mine and the return of a full tongue and regular lacing system means it will fit a wide range of foot shapes and sizes.
The sole redesign looks good and should catch less rocks without compromising flexibility and feel and to my relief the upper is made of relatively friendly material. This will be the Free model that I will be wearing when my last pair of Free 3.0 version 3 dies a horrible squashed up death!
Conclusion and video discussion
The Nike Free range remains a great tool for runners looking to strengthen their feet and calves as well as practice better running technique. For those of you interested in watching Mark and I embarrass ourselves on video, you can see us chatting about the new range of 2012 Nike Frees below.
Words, video and images by Brian Martin