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Nike Free Running Shoes Explained

January 3rd, 2013

Nike Free 3.0 v4, Free 4.0 v2, and Free Run 3

In the world of athletic footwear, there have been few models in recent years as iconic as the Nike Free. The first mainstream running shoe built around the idea of allowing the foot to move freely, the Nike Free was a precursor to the “minimalist” movement (it’s development got a shout out in Born to Run). The Free line also has been influential in the design of many footwear offerings today, while remaining a staple training tool for countless athletes.

What Makes the Nike Free Different?
A cornerstone of the Nike Free running shoe concept is the deep cuts (known as “sipes”) covering a grid-like pattern throughout the sole of the shoe. These sipes allow for flexible movement in almost any direction, while the platform still provides some underfoot protection. To encourage a mid- to forefoot strike, the Nike Free platforms have lower heel-to-toe offsets compared to traditional running shoes.

In the upper, the focus is on keeping structure to a minimum. A Nike Free shoe fits closer to the foot compared to a traditional running shoe, but still allows the foot to flex naturally throughout the gait cycle. Lightweight construction keeps runners from feeling weighted down.

Nike’s design intent with the Free collection is to encourage greater activation of the muscles of the foot. This in turn, according to Nike’s research, should result in a stronger and healthier foot.

What Do the Numbers Mean?
Nike Free models are delineated by numbers following the name. Somewhat confusingly, the numbers can mean one of two things – the version number of the shoe or the shoe’s position in the Free family. Bear with us a second here and all will become clear.

Any number with a decimal (x.0) in the shoe’s name is a rating of the shoe’s structure and flexibility. A 10.0 would be a traditional running shoe, and on the other end of the spectrum, 0.0 is completely barefoot. A model’s rating is stamped on the lateral rear of the platform for easy reference. A number without a decimal or with a “v” in front of it is the version number of the shoe. Here are some examples:

  • The Free 3.0 v4 is as near barefoot as the Free running collection gets, since there are no Free shoes with a 1.0 or 2.0 rating. The v4 indicates that there were three prior versions of this shoe.
  • The Free Run 3 is the third version of the Free Run model. It’s not stated in the name, but this shoe is rated as a 5.0, making it more like a traditional running shoe than the Free 3.0.

Another Naming Wrinkle
Just when you thought you were starting to figure it out, Nike wants to throw you for one more loop. The shoe currently called the Free Run was previously known as the Free 5.0. It went through four versions before the name change. The latest version of the Free Run, the Free Run 3, is being updated in April 2013. So it will be the Free Run 4, right?

Nope. Nike has decided to return to the Free 5.0 name for this shoe. And as we said, there were four prior versions of the Free 5.0. So, you’re thinking, that would make this upcoming model the Free 5.0 v5. Nice try, but wrong again. To avoid the confusion of having two fives in the name, Nike is simply calling this new model the Free 5.0, with no version number.

Summing Up
Here’s where we stand right now with the Nike Free running collection:

Which Nike Free Is Best for Me?
This depends on the type of footwear you are accustomed to and the type of running experience you want. For runners currently in a conventional shoe, the Nike Free Run 3 offers the easiest transition into the Free lineup. For runners with more experience in lower profile shoes, the Free 4.0 v2 offers a nice balance of protection and ground feel. Those seeking the lightest weight, lowest to the ground experience of the Free collection will appreciate the Free 3.0 v4, with its sock-like fit and extreme flexibility.

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Nike Free 4.0 v2 – Our Take

May 10th, 2012

Our Tweet

Nike Free 4.0 v2 may be the Goldilocks of the Free family – it strikes a balance between the Free Run 3 and Free 3.0 v4 for great runnability.
(View Men’s Free 4.0 v2 and Women’s 4.0 v2)

Big Features

  • 6mm Offset: The Free 4.0 slots in between the Free 3.0 (4mm heel-to-toe offset) and the Free Run 3 (8mm heel-to-toe offset).
  • Lightweight, Durable Platform: The midsole material is designed to provide a bit of padding with enough durability to double as an outsole.
  • Increased Flexibility: Diagonal flex grooves in the midfoot and deep cuts (sipes) throughout the platform allow for ultimate flexibility.
  • New Upper: The NanoPly overlay material is used where extra structure is needed in the shoe, while still permitting the upper to breathe and stretch. The upper also features asymmetrical lacing for a more comfortable midfoot and a fold-under tongue for easy entry and exit.

Road Test

Even if you’re a big fan of the Nike Free concept, chances are good the Free 4.0 v2 might not be on your radar. The original Free 4.0, appearing briefly in 2006, had a laceless upper that wasn’t a big hit with runners. After 6 years in limbo, the Free 4.0 reappears as a thoroughly re-envisioned model that received wide praise from our testers.

The Free 4.0 sports a 6mm heel-to-toe offset. Testers found the shoe to feel very level, and the platform cradles the foot. And while every shoe in the Free collection offers a very smooth and flexible ride, testers repeatedly commented that the Free 4.0 struck a nice balance of protection, flex and responsiveness. One tester noted that the shoe felt less padded toward the very front, forward of the metatarsals. All testers noticed a fairly high arch in this shoe, which actually helped them feel a bit more anchored in place.

The attractive upper of the Free 4.0 strategically uses Nike’s new NanoPly overlay technology. Our testers are mixed on the NanoPly material in general – some like the huggy fit it gives, others feel it’s a bit too restrictive – but the 4.0 strikes a good balance of using NanoPly and traditional mesh. Testers noted some crinkling of the fabric up front during toe off, due to the use of NanoPly by the big toe, which doesn’t allow the mesh in the toebox to fold freely. The crinkling did not cause hotspots, but may be a bigger concern for sockless runners. On the plus side, all testers felt the Free 4.0 offers a bit more toebox height than either the Free 3.0 v4 or Free Run 3.

Overall, we found the Free 4.0 v2 to be an adaptable shoe that could do duty as a foot strengthening tool, daily trainer or race-day shoe, depending on a person’s needs and running style.

Runners Say

“I think the tongue that’s stitched only one side is the perfect design for the Free. It’s easier to slip the shoe on and there’s a really snug fit once you’re laced up.” – Matt

“Even though it doesn’t have the Dynamic Fit system that is being added to many Nike shoes, the Free 4.0 feels very secure in the midfoot without ever feeling too tight or pinching my foot.” – Daniel

“I would have liked a little more room in the midfoot. I didn’t get a hotspot or anything because the interior is nice and soft.” – Lauren

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