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I’ve had two pairs of Nike Frees for over 10 years. Below is my old pair that I still love, but are looking a bit shabby now and I tend to only do the gardening and DIY in them. I wanted a pair of “minimalist” trainers to wear with shorts this summer, so splashed out (in the sale) on the updated version I’d had my eye on for a while.
Before jumping into my review, I’ll explain my purchase and why I’ll not be running (much) in the Nike Frees. At the start of the year, I’d wake up in the morning with very tight, sore feet. All my tendons in my feet felt bunched up and I’d shuffle to the bathroom so as not to flex my feet until they eased up. While I never came to a full conclusion as to why this was, the likely reasons were running regularly with little warm-up or down and that I sit at a desk all day with my feet bound up in leather work shoes. In a bid to help this and scratch my itch for a new pair of kicks, I purchased a pair of Nike Frees to use the minimalist nature of the shoes to be able to use my feet more naturally. I understand these are not full barefoot/ minimalist shoes but are a “step” in the right direction.
Nike suggests the shoes are “ideal for runs up to 3 miles”. Whilst I’m working on the flexibility in my feet; due to my weight, the way I run and how much I adore my Nike Epic Reacts, I’ll not be running in them consistently, other than for the bus. I have taken a few short runs in them to test them out on the road.
I’ve always been rather partial to a light coloured or while sole on shoes and trainers, and in that respect, the Nike Frees grab me straight away. The shoes are not dominated by the Nike swoosh; instead, 3 smaller ones are dotted around the shoe. I also like the offset lacing and the round bulbous sole that’s visible around the sides.
Upper and lacing
The upper is a bootie construction so that the tongue integrates with the shoe to provide a snug, seamless fit. The material on the upper is thin and very breathable, so good in hot weather and useless in the rain. Nike describes it as a “stretchy mesh”, and part of the breathability of the shoe comes from how thin it is. If you are hard on shoes, or like me, have a tendency to point your big toe in the air when you walk or run, you’ll need to be careful not to put a hole in them.
A synthetic suede overlay provides support to the shoe and holds the asymmetrical lacing. Not only is the lacing aesthetically pleasing, it’s designed to relieve pressure on your instep. I would see it more as a way to relieve pressure across the top of the foot. As with other bootie style shoes, the sock does the work of holding the shoe securely on your foot, so the laces are actually more for aesthetics. On the first few wears, the upper was tight across the top of my foot. This eased off, and is now firm but comfortable.
There are ridges of padding on the inside around the heel and particularly on around the Achilles tendon area. The back of the upper rolls back a long way so it doesn’t irritate your Achilles.
The sole is what the Nike Frees are all about. Providing “a natural extension of your foot”. This version is 26% more flexible than the previous year’s model. The deep grooves in the sole, both across and along the foot provide good flexibility, especially at the front. The downside to the functional grooves is that stones and even twigs can get stuck in them and have to be fished out regularly.
There are rubber pods on the forefoot and heel to enhance traction, but I will say that I hadn’t noticed them and thought they were just for design. Whilst there is not much traction/grip shown on the sole, they are grippy in the wet.
In a minimal shoe with its low-profile design, cushioning is going to be slight. Nike’s idea for the shoe is that “low foam density lets your foot feel connected to the ground”. Therefore the cushioning is nowhere near what you would find in a standard road running shoe, hence the “ideal for runs up to 3 miles” statement.
The cushioning at the front is very light to allow the shoe to flex, but there is more in the heel, which will help when it comes to wear and for the heel strikers out there.
The drop is 6mm (the difference between the forefoot and heel) that is higher than you would think but makes it “low profile” (a road shoe can be 10mm or greater). The weight is 236g approx. for a Men’s Size 9, which is light (Nike Pegasus weight 285g approx. in the same size) and there’s not much more weight that can be shaved off.
My few runs in the Nike Free 5.0s have been short and I’ve felt no immediate effects (injury, soreness). They are light, comfortable and stable. Running was not my primary reason for buying them. It was having a more natural, minimal pair of good looking trainers to allow my feet to stretch, flex and move. The soreness in my feet has subsided and whilst I can’t put that all down to the Nike Frees, I believe wearing them has helped the function of my feet.
….short/hot/dry runs, track sessions, wearing a cool sporty shoe with shorts.
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