The introduction of the Nike Free, with its flex-groove sole, was a significant event in the history of the natural running movement. Since the appearance of the original Free models there has been a flood of minimalist shoe options into the marketplace. Even though some of Nike’s competitors produce shoes that arguable allow for more of a barefoot-like experience, I still think the Free is a great choice for someone looking to transition away from the traditional, bulky running shoe. I recently helped a friend who was trying to decided on her next pair of trainers. She eventually ended up with the Nike Free 3.0 v4 partly based on my recommendations. The 3.o was a shoe I was considering a while back when I was looking for a minimalist running shoe. I had previously been using the Free TR2 model which were helpful in allowing me to move away from stability shoes and transition to mid-foot strike running form.
The Free 3.0 v4 is a good looking shoe and appears well made. There is no separate tongue and the inside has a very soft feel which makes it suitable to be worn either with or without socks. It has a cushioned insole which, combined with the midsole, provides more cushioning than what you find in more minimalist shoes.
My friend was primarily looking for a lightweight running shoe and I suggested she go for something with a small heel-forefoot differential. Traditional running shoes have a heel that’s higher than the front of the shoe by around 10-12 mm. This holds the ankle in plantar flexed position causing a restriction in dorsiflexion range of motion which is theoretically one of the ways traditional running shoes can contribute to injuries. Going to a completely flat shoe may be a hard adjustment for some runners so it’s nice to have options to serve as an in between step. The Free 3.0 has a 4 mm differential, the lowest in the Free line-up.
My friend also tested out the 5.0 but found that the shoe felt too bulky. In addition to the low heel height, another great feature of the 3.0 is its light weight. The women’s Free comes in at around 5.5 oz which is about 4 oz lighter than most traditional style running shoes.
What I like best about the Free’s is the flexibility of the soles. The foot is made up of 26 bones that make it a very mobile structure, so it makes sense that a shoe should be designed to accommodate these various motions.
After wearing Free’s for almost a year I eventually opted to go for a shoe with a wider toe box. The Free 3.0 is rather narrow and although it works well for transitioning to minimalist footwear, I’d rather have a more room in the front of the shoe to allow more movement of the toes. I’ve also heard some complaints that the Nanoply material used in the upper, while being lightweight, is not very breathable.
Overall the Free 3.0 v4 is my favorite out of all the Nike Free models and all the feedback about them from my friend has been positive. Any one of the Free’s though would be a good choice for someone thinking of making the switch to lighter, more flexible running shoes.