The 2013 Nike Free Range Review

Nike Frees have been a regular part of my shoe collection for a few years now and we often recommend their use as part of a holistic training strategy. I’m always a bit wary when new iterations of good shoes are released as there’s often the temptation to mess with a winning formula.

A few recent missteps by Nike in the design of the upper material in the previous Free 4.0 and 3.0 are a case in point. We recently had the opportunity to test the 2013 Nike Free range of running shoes and it was with some relief we concluded that previous issues in this range have been resolved.

Video discussion, test and review

To learn more about out the latest models please check out the video above where I review the Free 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 with coach and shoe guru Mark Gorski. There’s also some video of Mark testing the shoes sliced into the discussion. The article below summarises the main points explained in the video.

Nike Free 5.0+

The Nike Free 5.0 is a lightweight, flexible and relatively robust trainer built on a 8mm heel-to-toe ramp drop. The cushioning is relatively un-cushy compared to conventional running shoes, so if you’re a first timer in Frees it’s sensible to start with a very short jogs on natural surfaces.

Mark’s verdict on the Free 5.0 was a thumbs up and given this is his Free of choice it’s unsuprising he described them as “being like putting on an old friend.”

Naming conventions have been cleaned up to bring this shoe into alignment with the rest of the Free range – helping avoid massive amounts of confusion. This shoe model was previously known as the Free Run Version 3.

Free Review 3.0

Purpose

The Free 5.0 is the most likely place to start if you’ve never run in Frees before. In most cases we don’t recommend runners do all of the mileage in Frees – rotate with your existing shoes and think about the purpose for which they’re most appropriate. Depending on who you are this might include:

  • warm-ups and cool-downs
  • easy short run shoe
  • walking and gym only
  • easy longer runs up to 90 minutes (only for those experienced with Frees)

We generally wouldn’t suggest using Frees for faster running and/or races although we know some runners who have done this successfully.

Midsole and cushioning shape

The Free 5.0 has some shape underfoot – by this we mean if you like your foot to feel hugged by the midsole cushioning then the Free 5.0 is probably the Free model you’ll enjoy the most. When you pull these on you will feel your arch contact the midsole whereas in the 4.0 it’s more of a flat ramp.

Flywire feature added

Nike have added their Flywire feature into this Free for the first time. As we explain in the video the little crisscrossing wires you can see near the lace holes in the picture below are intended to hug the foot and provide a bit more stability in the shoe.

We’re interested to hear of feedback from runners as to wether they think the Flywire makes much difference to the shoe (good or bad). We didn’t notice much change in shoe performance, but Mark did feel that the shoe did have a firmer lock-down style fit. He didn’t mind it but I’m not sure it’s something I’d enjoy as much.

Free 5.0

Upper material

The upper material is quite soft and could possibly by worn sock-less, although it’d be worth testing to see if the Flywire feature causes any rubbing – this might be the case for runners with higher arches that take-up a bit more volume in the shoe.

Tongue

The tongue is sewn into the upper partway down to stop it lolling off to the side – a complaint often made by wearers of the previous iteration of the Free 5.0. It’s a good compromise that still makes it easy to get your foot into the shoe.

Nike Free 4.0 version 3

The 6mm heel-to-toe drop Free 4.0 is the intermediate Free. There is not much shape in the midsole of this shoe, it feels quite flat underfoot which many runners may like. If you’re familiar with racing flats or lower drop shoes then the Free 4.0 could be your default choice if you’re wanting to try out the Free range.

Usually the advice we offer to runners about whether to buy the 5.0 or 4.0 is to to try on each and go with the one that feels best underfoot. The 2mm differential 8mm to 6mm heel-to-toe ramp drop doesn’t seem to feel vastly different on the run.

The upper is much improved with no bleed through of rough material to rub against your toes. Overall the volume isn’t huge through the mid-foot; so be aware of this if you’re like me and have an arch like the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Free 4.0

Nike Free 3.0 version 5

The Free 3.0 version 4 took the prize as possibly the worst running upper of 2012. Now that the intractable, tight plastic upper has been replaced with a softer, flexible and breathable material this shoe is back in favour.

Be aware that there is less shape in the mid-sole than in the Free 3.0 version 3 so underfoot they feel relatively flat which to me makes them feel quite a flat 4mm.

For this reason you’ll need to be familiar with lower drop shoes to take these on, and/or be quite conservative on how you approach introducing them into your running regime. Alternatively, use this shoe for gym based training.

Free 3.0

Conclusion

On balance the Free 2013 range is very good and they continue to be a useful tool in our running coaching and personal running endeavors. The key is to remember the purpose you have in mind for using your Frees before you make your purchasing decision.

Disclosure: shoe samples were provided by and then returned to Nike Australia after our test.

Words and image by

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26 Responses to The 2013 Nike Free Range Review

  1. anand July 15, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

    have a question?

    how are these Nike 5.0 suited for hard trail runs (like on the river banks etc)?

  2. Meredith June 10, 2014 at 1:04 am #

    I’m in high school and I run in ascics but I wanted to try out the nike frees. I don’t know which one would be best though. I have a fairly high arch and I like a tight fitting shoe but I also like my shoes to be as light as possible. Any recommendations?

  3. Donald May 23, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    Are Nike Free Runs suitable for wide feet? If not what shoes are. I focus on long distance running and prefer Nike, Adidas or Asics shoes. Thanks!

  4. David January 18, 2014 at 8:40 pm #

    Hi

    Have been running in Asics since before they were called Asics! (+/- 35 years). After a break from running I started again & have had Plantar Fasciitus for over three years now. Was give a pair of Nike Free 5’s for Christmas – went out & did a 15 km run with NO PAIN!. I am totally hooked on these shoes. When the PF started I tried New Balance, Saucony, Addidas, Misuno and various styles of Asics with no joy. Would recommend the Nike Free 5 to anyone!

    • Brian January 18, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

      Glad to hear you’re running well!

  5. Wero January 14, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    Hey Brian!
    I’m very new into running and a bit overweight but I have been running for about 5 months and managed to lose 10kg. I am 175cm tall and weigh 80kg. So my first concern is: Should I choose shoes with more cushioning because of the weight? Another issue is: I want to run my first Marathon in November and of course by that time my weigh will be “normal”. Is Nike Free 3.0+ a good option for a marathon or for rather shorter runs? I loved the way the shoe felt on my foot in the store. What other options should I consider?

    • Brian January 18, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

      Very hard to make an individual recommendation. Go with what works for you best in training, but try at least two difference models.

  6. Shriram October 20, 2013 at 3:44 am #

    Hey Brian,

    I have been running on a pair of Free 3.0 version 5 for the last six months. I have completed a half-marathon using the same and it was pretty comfortable. But i’m a little a skeptical on using the 3.0 for a full marathon, which I intend to run in Jan 2014. Also, I have a flat foot and had a ligament tear in my right ankle a couple of years back (injury wasn’t related to running but a freak accident). So my right foot tends to swell up at times.

    Is it advisable to go for the Nike Lunar Glide and alternate training with the frees? And finally use the lunar glide for the full marathon?

    • Brian October 20, 2013 at 7:39 am #

      Hi Shriram,it’s probably best to visit a good local running store so you can try on some shoes and get some advice. You could use a Lunar Glide but there are plenty of other shoes that might fit and suit you as a pair to rotate with the Free 3.0 others to consider: Adidas Boston, Mizuno Sayonara, NB 890, Saucony Kinvara/Mirage, Nike Zoom Elite 6 etc

  7. Christian October 3, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    Considering we need less ankleROM when we walk compared to run would you suggest 4mm heel is more appropriate for a casual shoe than 10mm?

    Many people are jacked up through the ankle complex and whilst it’s my personal hunch that it’s mostly a consequence of hip function would you think that a 6mm variance would make a difference to long term tissue quality and length? Simply throwing a pair of heels on a girl and watching the hip position adjust to ones centre of mass is obviously illustrates the effect I am talking about (albeit acknowledging its a far cry between say a free 5.0 and a pair of stilleto’s)

    • Brian October 3, 2013 at 10:56 am #

      I wouldn’t like to dictate what people choose but it probably depends on the individual. I tend to walk more in the flatter shoes and need a little heel raise in running 4mm+ usually but that’s just me. Marathon world record broken in 10mm Adios 2.

  8. Saurabh Khuranas October 1, 2013 at 5:53 am #

    Hi
    I am a rookie runner. Just started off two months back. I run 10kms successfully each time without any injury. But should I go for Nike Free 5.0+ or Should I make a move on the Nike Pegasus 30. I am training for mileage. Please advice me. Thanks a bundle.

    • Brian October 1, 2013 at 7:51 am #

      Two ideas for you to consider. Don’t build mileage too quickly since you’re new to running. Secondly have 2 or 3 different shoe models to rotate through. So you could buy Frees and Pegs and get something from another brand to mix it up

  9. Johnny August 29, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    Hi guys. I’ve a very simple question for you “experts” (i’m a rookie in running). I got some problem with my left knee, which shoe among 5.0 and 3.0 you wuold suggest me in order not to stress my knee too much? I’d go for 5.0…

    • Brian August 30, 2013 at 7:47 am #

      Hi Johnny, the 5.0 is probably the best idea. But it would be much better to try and find out what is the cause of your knee pain. No shoe can ‘fix’ these kind of problems.

  10. Paul July 29, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    Hi Brian! Thanks a lot for this article, great info. I’m wondering if you could possibly share some insights on the following?

    I’m an experienced runner and run 8,10 and 15km. I’ve started transitioning into minimal running two months ago and have worked on my technique both in my old ‘normal’ running shoes with the big heel, and in a pair of Adidas SL72. The calf-pains are not out of my system yet.

    I’ve just picked up the Free 3.0.’s (4mm) and I’m now in doubt about trading them in for the 5.0. (8mm). The reason I bought the 3.0. in the store is because it forced me to watch my technique more than the 5.0. did. I noticed I could still heel-strike in the 5.0.’s. But I now feel I might be a bit too ambitious starting with 3.0.
    On the other hand, I don’t want an extra pair of shoes that basically does the same thing that my ‘regular’ heal-strike pair can do.

    Would you say that easing into the Free 3.0. while alternating with a regular pair of running shoes could work just as well? Or is the 5.0. a crucial step to transition into the Free’s?

    Thanks a lot for your thoughts on this.

    • Brian July 29, 2013 at 8:48 am #

      Hi Paul,

      No worries, thanks for the feedback. Good questions. I don’t think there’s one single way to go about this but I’d lean towards getting the 5.0 as a transition step. Two reasons, 1. it’s not too far from where you’ve been and 2. you may find that in time that the 5.0 just becomes one of your regular trainers. You could save your 3.0 for gym or use them for some shorter (<400m reps) track work if you're not into spikes of running super fast. Final point is to not obsess about the heel striking, if you're working on elements of good technique discussed in my book then you're already on the right track. Much better to evolve your foot-strike or leave it alone. Trying to force the issue can get you into trouble.

      • Paul July 30, 2013 at 5:37 am #

        Thanks a lot for your input Brian. I’ve eventually decided to keep the 3.0.’s. Analyzing my foot strike in a mirror I noticed that the strike that the 3.0. allows me to do is exactly what I’m after. That was the most compelling argument for my decision to keep them.

        I’ll take them out to the tracks for a run of about 4-6k tomorrow, depending on how my calfs feel. The risk is that, with a couple of runs, I might conclude that the 3.0.’s were ‘too much too soon’. If that is the case then I’ll get an extra pair of 5.0.’s. I’ve tried them on in the store and as you said, both are excellent shoes so there’s no shame in owning two pair.

        Possibly “having” to purchase an additional pair a risk I’m willing ( and fortunately able) to take. I’ll be sure to share my findings here if that is the case!

  11. Michal July 22, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Hi Brian!
    Thx for this review.
    Can you tell me something about breath-ability of Nike Free 3.0 v5 compared to old Nike Free 5.0 (the Run+ 3 version)?
    I wonder how feel feet during warm/hot weather.
    I’m going to buy those most for walking but on the other side, I’m thinking about using them for some basic CrossFit (you said they’re good for gym).

    • Brian July 22, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

      Hi Michal, All the new versions will breathe well. If you’re thinking about a walking shoe the 5.0 is probably the best choice, just a comfortable shoe to kick around in. No problems using that in the gym also.

      • Michal July 22, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

        Thank you for soo quick replay:-)
        I have Free Run+3, but I don’t see any big difference in breathability between them and my first running shoes – the cheapest model from Decathlon store. I love them, thats why I used them for running, but now
        I’m thinking of trying another model from Free series – 3.0 – for other purposes.
        They look quite cool and the mesh seems to be breatable but I heard different opinions about that
        Thats why I was asking you about 3.0 v5 and your experiance with them;)

        • Brian July 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

          Hi Michal, Yep the Free 3.0 version 5 is quite breathable. The previous version 4 was a plastic type of material that did not breathe well at all.

  12. Liz July 20, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    Hi Brian,

    I’m getting ready to train for a half marathon with a lot of hill climbs, I’ve been a Nike Free 5.0 fan for years, but ran my first half in Nike Lunarglide 4 based on advice from a reputable running store (I have not worn them since) they feel like bricks on my feet. Wore the 5.0 for my second half, but with hills and pavement I’m thinking I might want a little more cushioning just not the heavy bulky kind. Brooks pure grit seem to do this for me on the trail hills. So I’m considering the Saucony Kinvara 3 any thoughts on that shoe or a completely different recommendation. Thanks for the shoe reviews.

    • Brian July 21, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      Hi Liz, Kinvara 3 could be ok but I’d consider the Nike Lunar Racer 3, more cushion than Frees and similar profile. Will go well on the hard surface.

  13. Steven June 20, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Hallelujah! Finally a Nike Free without the arch hump – I’ll be getting me some of them 4.0 critters soon. My achilles tendons will appreciate the flat inner sole.

    • Brian June 20, 2013 at 9:45 am #

      G’day Steven, yep it’s good to have some variety in the midsoles – seems more of a point of difference than the drop variations, especially between the 4.0 and 5.0!