I have a long history with the Nike Free 3.0 line. Back in early 2009, the original Free 3.0 was my first foray away from stability shoes, and it was the shoe that convinced me that I did not need a lot of support and structure in a running shoe. I fell in love with that shoe from the moment I put it on my feet, and I still have a soft spot for it.
I next used the Free 3.0 v2 a bit as a work shoe (bought a pair in black), but it somehow lacked some of the elegance of the original, and the narrowness of the 3.0 started to bother me a bit. I subsequently passed on the v3 as it represented only a minor update from the v2. The Free 3.0 v4, just released a few weeks ago, is a completely re-designed shoe from bottom to top. I thought I’d write up a few preliminary thoughts about them now that I’ve had them for about a week.
First and foremost, be warned that the 3.0 v4 is a low-volume, relatively narrow running shoe. I initially ordered my usual size 10 from Running Warehouse, but the shoe was incredibly tight and there was no way it was going to work for me. However, it looked great and seemed like my kind of shoe in all other respects (lightweight, flexible, 4mm drop, etc.), so I decided to exchange for a 10.5 and see if that would work. The 10.5 felt a bit better, but was still tighter than I typically like. I found that removing the insole improved the fit quite a bit – it’s one of those awful memory foam (aka, sensation-robbing) style insoles that I have come to despise. I swapped in the very thin insole from a pair of Skechers Go Bionics, and the fit was improved enough that I opted to keep the shoes and give them a go on a run.
The Free 3.0 v4 is a very nicely made shoe. The interior is soft and quite suitable for sockless running, and the upper is very minimal yet seems like it will be plenty durable. There is no tongue, and the shoe has the sock-like construction of early versions of the Free Run+. The pair that I bought were a vivid orange color – probably the brightest shoes that I own! My one big concern about the upper is that it is not very breathable. I wore them around town one day and my feet definitely stayed quite moist inside the shoes – the shoe needs more open mesh regions and less of the solid overlay material. I think the rather snug fit contributes to the lack of air-flow through the shoe.
One the run the sole of the Free 3.0 retains the fantastic flexibility and soft feel of it’s predecessors in the 3.0 line (maybe a tad firmer?). The sole is 4mm drop (21mm heel, 17mm forefoot), and shoe weight is just a bit over 7oz with the insole removed. Gaps in the sole are much narrower than in previous versions which should help to prevent rock and stick collection in the gaps. I felt like the shoe stretched a bit as I ran in it, which gives me hope that a break-in period will continue to improve the fit.
I plan to put more miles on this shoe in the coming weeks, but if I had to summarize the initial pros and cons they would be as follows:
Pros – well-made, sole feels great underfoot, retains the excellent flexibility of previous versions, nice looking shoe
Cons – not very breathable, low interior volume, and narrow through the forefoot