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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Words and image by Brian Martin