The new 2012 Nike Free range explained

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

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27 Responses to The new 2012 Nike Free range explained

  1. Marc June 24, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    Nice article, I’ve started running with Nike Free 5.0 + in the last 3 months, I alternate it with Lunarglide. Running just with them it’s too much for me, I am not a long mile runner.

  2. Melvin July 9, 2013 at 12:43 am #

    Hi Brian,

    I’m planning to replace my Adizero Aegis and am considering either the Boston, Ace 4 or Nike Free. Which would you suggest? I do like the feel of my Aegis but am thinking of trying either the Free 3.0 or 5.0. Was actually considering going minimalist but decided against it. Looking forward to hearing your views. Thanks!

    • Brian July 9, 2013 at 7:30 am #

      Hi Melvin, a swap for the Boston 3 or Tempo 5 is more of a like for like swap in terms of the purpose the shoes designed for. Probably skip the Ace 4 and pick either the Boston or Tempo as your light weight trainer / tempo / road racing shoe and rotate with a Free 5.0 for some short easy running days on natural surfaces to begin. Let me know how you go

  3. Rahul June 27, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    I have been using the Nike structure 16+ for last 3 -4 months and pretty sure doing midfoot to forefoot running. I run around 20km in a week and plan to do more in future. To help me run better i thought to buy an extra pair NIke Free run 4.0 or 3.0 new versions …just confused about which one to buy. I do trails as well as road running …

    • Brian June 28, 2013 at 9:42 am #

      Hi Rahul, I’d think about the 5.0 as the first Free to try on some very short jogs on natural surfaces.

  4. Mickey June 10, 2013 at 5:09 am #

    hi, do you happen to know what’s the difference of nike free run and the nike flex run?

    • Brian June 10, 2013 at 9:03 am #

      Hi The Flex Run is an entry level lightweight trainer. They are similar to Frees by look and feel but I’ve not had a run in them.

  5. Andrew June 7, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    Hi Brian
    I am currently loving the 4.0s. The 5.0s got me running again but somehow don’t feel quite right any more (maybe too many kms on the clock). I moved into Kinvaras which I still love, but the 4.0s so far feel terrific. Not sure quite what it is about them, it’s early days, but they are just really easy to run in. It might just be one of those cases where they just suit the shape of my foot.
    Might have to try the 3.0s someday down the track.

    • Brian June 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

      Hi Andrew,

      That’s great the 4.0s are working out for you. Might be these are the best bet for you longer term also. Having said that one thing I like about the range is the “feel” of the cushioning is fairly similar through all Frees, the variance comes from ramp height and slightly different shape under the foot in each model.

  6. raza May 15, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    hi brian

    great website first of all. secondly, nike just came out with their new free 5.0. ive been reading alot that its a shoe for beginners who dont have experience in barefoot running, so you should work your way up to the 3.0. i would like to know what barefoot running experience actually means? ive run in the 3.0 V4 twice (borrowed from a friend) and i didnt have any problems keeping in mind that it was my first time. so now im a little confused which ones to get, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0????!??! im not a prefessional runner, i just try to run daily for 30-45 minutes, so what would you recommend? thanx alot man

    • Brian May 16, 2013 at 7:45 am #

      Hi Raza, thanks for the feedback mate, much appreciated. Firstly “what does the barefoot running experience actually mean?” Well that’s a great question and for me barefoot running is just that – running barefoot. The Free range are running shoes and while they get sometimes promoted as being barefoot like they are a long way away from this. Why? Well they have cushioning and also a modest ramp or slope from heel to toe 8, 6 & 4mm for the Free 5.0, 4.0 and 3.0 respectively. The ramp height is the main reason people talk about starting at the 5.0 and working down towards the 3.0. Traditional running shoes in recent times have been 12mm ramp.

      The main advantage of the Frees is the flexible midsole which affords better feel for the ground and makes your feet work a bit harder when you’re running.

      Given you’ve run in the 3.0 twice and had no issues I suspect you’re moving pretty well so I’d suggest just buying the pair that fits and feels the best in store – perhaps leaning towards the 4.0 or 5.0 if you’re going to do most of your running in them. See if you can have a run in each to decide. Don’t run in the them every day to begin, rotate with your existing pair (usually best to have at least 2 different shoe models to rotate). Monitor how your body reacts before doing too many miles in them.

  7. goku April 18, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    Hi, I want to start running and what do you recommend a beginner 3.0, 4.0 or 5.0 ? ( sorry for my bad english)

    • Brian April 18, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

      Go for the 5.0 unless you have experience with barefoot running. Your English is just fine

      • goku April 19, 2013 at 3:05 am #

        Thanks! I think I’ll buy the 5.0+ . I do calisthenics 3-4 times a week. Can you help me where can I put the running in my training and how I train for endurance? I want to burn fat in the begining but then I want work on my stamina.

        • Brian April 19, 2013 at 7:56 am #

          Check out this beginner program, but otherwise I recommend buying Daniels’ Running Formula

  8. SDaniel February 20, 2013 at 2:33 am #

    Hi Brian,

    Just bought a pair of Nike Free 3 V4 and…I wanna say that I feel like I’ve rediscovered running.
    Still, don’t see myself doing even a half marathon in them, they seem so ‘fragile’ more like a sock with a sole.
    Are the Free’s suitable for long events or just for ‘learning to run better’ and ‘strength’?
    Can you recommend anything else that come sclose as a feeling but has more support in order to run over a half or a full marathon?

    Thanks again,

    • Brian February 20, 2013 at 8:31 am #

      Hi Daniel, there’s really no rules as to how you decide to use any shoe model. We have some clients who train and race for the full marathon if Free 3.0 however I wouldn’t suggest a new or inexperienced runner do this. But if you build up miles gradually and monitor how your body is responding you might surprise yourself. Personally I have trained in Frees on runs of up to about 20km. As an alternative you could try the Free 5.0 or checkout the Saucony 4mm range (Kinvara, Mirage, Cortana). There are other good minimal shoes out there from Inov8, Skechers etc but these have even less support than the Free 3.0.

  9. seda October 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Hi Brian,
    I need to buy a new running shoe for an upcoming marathon in December and I think about giving a try to Nike Free 5. I still like the Free 3 version 3 but they’re too old for another marathon and I don’t think that I’ll like the version 4 as I have very wide forefoot (BTW, Nike Lunarspider didn’ work for me, it felt too narrow too). Do you think that Free 5 feels a bit more stiff than the Free 3? At the moment I run mostly in Altra Intuition and Nike Free 3 V3 (Altra for longer runs and Free3 for faster runs).
    Many thanks!

    • Brian October 10, 2012 at 9:06 am #

      Hi Seda, The Free 5.0 would be ok, not stiff though, pretty flexible and a bit more cushion that you’re used to. Fairly roomy in the forefoot. The Saucony Type A5 might be worth a look – not a lot of volume (height) in the forefoot but could be wide enough for you – better try it on to be sure. I have a think and see if anything else springs to mind – some of the NB racing flats could be worth a look but I’m not sure how wide they are through the forefoot.

  10. Terry June 28, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    Hi Brian

    Thanks for this – love your site especially the shoe reviews and strength training tips, which I have incorporated into my training.

    I’m targeting the Sydney marathon in Sept and in a dilemma as to what shoe to buy. I’m currently running in the Saucony Mirage but these are due for replacement. I love them a lot especially the wide, full-contact outsole but find the low heel-forefoot drop fatigues my calves on my long runs so looking for something lightweight with a stable support base (wide outsole) but a slightly higher heel. I’ve struggled with adidas shoes in the past as they are so narrow, will try the Kinvaras one day but again they have a 4mm drop and I’m not convinced I want to run a marathon in Nike Frees, NB don’t bring any racing shoes int Australia (what is that about?),leaving…?

    I’m currently living in SE Asia so need to buy online without trying on first, just to add to the risk element 🙂

    Any advice appreciated


    • Brian June 28, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

      Hi Terry, thanks for the feedback, glad you’re enjoying the blog. If you get the chance to try on some shoes it’s probably a good idea, however if that’s not possible I’d bite the bullet and buy two or three different models, you’re bound to get some you like that way and have some shoes to rotate in training. Check-out the Mizuno Precision, good lightweight trainer that a few people did the Melbourne Marathon in last year, also the New New Balance 890 (8mm) could be worth a look. In the Saucony 4mm range you could add a small 4mm heel raise and experiment with how that takes some sting out of the calves? The Cortana is also 4mm shoe but has a bit more support, I’ve been liking it in training. Hope that helps. Brian

      • Terry September 9, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

        Hi Brian,

        Sorry for the late reply.
        Thanks for your advice. Got a pair if the NB890v2 and I like them a lot.
        Going through your shin splint advice now, as they have shown up 10 days out from my marathon 🙁

        Thanks again,


        • Brian September 10, 2012 at 6:34 am #

          No worries Terry, maybe get the splints checked out if they’re causing you major problems this close. A physiotherapist or other professional that does might dry needling could be worth considering to get some relief.

          • Terry September 10, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

            Thanks Brian,
            Saw the physio today. A combo of deep massage, dry needling and a lacrosse ball to roll around on and I feel quite a bit better. Should get through Sunday ok



          • Brian September 10, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

            Good stuff!

  11. Nicolai June 14, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Just read your review above. I think there is a way for you to get the shoo that you want. On you can choose a shoo with a 3.0 sole and 5.0 upper.

    • Brian June 14, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

      Now that would be awesome … thanks for the tip!