Nike Free 3.0 v5 Review: Redemption For One Of My Favorite Shoe Lineages!

Nike Free 3.0 v5

Update 3/14/2014: Nike has just announced the release of the Nike Free 3.0 v6. For details, visit this post.

After a phenomenal debut, the Nike Free 3.0 line entered a steady downward spiral, culminating in one of the worst shoes I have worn since I started reviewing running shoes back in 2009. The Free 3.0 v4 had a nice, updated sole, but the NanoPly upper felt like it had been made from remnants of a ziploc freezer bag. It didn’t have any give, leading to a very tight fit, and it didn’t breathe. At all. It was a shoe built for fashion, not function.

I’m happy to announce that Nike has redeemed themselves with the Free 3.0 v5. It’s a shoe worthy of the lineage to which it belongs, and is probably the best Nike Free of any flavor that I’ve worn since the original Free 3.0 (Disclosure: the shoes reviewed here were provided free-of-charge for review purposes by Running Warehouse).

Nike Free 3.0 v5 side

Nike Free 3.0 v5 Upper

The big change from Free 3.0 v4 to v5 is the upper. Nike wisely ditched the NanoPly disaster and replaced it with a stretchy mesh. The result is an upper that has a ton of give and one that allows what is otherwise still a fairly narrow shoe to accommodate my average width feet quite comfortably. No longer do my feet feel like frozen steaks in shrink wrap!

The mesh is stretchy enough that I can wiggle and spread out my toes easily, which makes for a much more enjoyable experience when wearing them for a long period of time (e.g., all day at work). I took the photo below while attempting to spread my toes as widely as possible, you can see them pushing the mesh out easily on both sides:

IMG_2108[1]

Forefoot Mesh is Very Stretchy!

In the photo below of my well-worn pair, it almost looks as if the upper has molded to my foot shape a bit:

IMG_2103[1]

The upper mesh consists of two layers, the outer layer is very open and stretchy, and the inner layer is a closed mesh that effectively keeps debris out of the shoe (a potential problem with a shoe that has very open mesh). Given the form-fitting yet stretchy nature of the upper, the inner closed mesh does make the shoe run a bit warm on a hot day, but breathability is massively improved from v4.

Comfort is excellent both with and without socks, though I do get a bit of abrasion near the base of the outer lace row. It has not resulted in a blister, and only occurs when I don’t have socks on. I’m ambivalent about the bootie design of the shoe – generally I prefer a more traditional tongue since it allows for better adjustment of fit and lacing, but the bootie in the v5 has not caused me any trouble. There is minimal structure to the upper – no heel counter, no hard overlays, etc. Internally, arch support is present, but is mostly due to the sockliner angling up under the arch.

Nike Free 3.0 v5 top

Nike Free 3.0 v5 Sole

The sole of the Nike Free 3.0 v5 is unchanged from v4. It has the typical grooves/siping found in all Nike Free shoes, which allow for excellent flexibility. Rubber outsole pods are only placed under the lateral heel and the big toe, though wear of the exposed midsole does not appear excessive – I have about 45 miles of running on mine, and wear them casually frequently (often all day). The soles are a bit discolored, but are holding up well so far:

Nike Free 3.0 v5 sole

Nike Free 3.0 v5 Sole

IMG_2106[1]

Nike Free 3.0 v5 Sole After 45+ Miles of Running and Extensive Casual Wear

The lack of extensive outsole makes for a lightweight shoe, and my size 10’s come in right around 8oz. Sole dimensions reported by Running Warehouse are 21mm heel, 17mm forefoot, making it a 4mm drop shoe.

The Free 3.0 v5 is a pretty soft shoe. One of my favorite things about the original Free 3.0 was that it made me feel like a ninja – the soft sole and lack of rubber silenced my footfalls. This shoe has this same property – if I’m coming up behind someone walking their dog on the sidewalk I often have to make some noise to let them know I’m about to pass. I’ve startled enough people in my time to realize that most don’t like to have someone running fast overtake them without some warning that they’re there (it’s a challenge when they’re wearing headphones and I can’t jump into the road due to traffic…).

I’ve enjoyed running in the Free 3.0 v5 so much that I briefly considered wearing them for my Spring marathon (coming up this weekend – still undecided on shoes…). I wore them for a 16.5 mile long run over hills as a test, and wound up developing a knot in my soleus about 9 miles into the run. Not sure if the shoes were the culprit, but it scared me off of trying to use them in a long race. I can typically handle zero drop shoes just fine for longer than 10 miles, so I’m wondering if the low drop combined with an extremely flexible, soft sole might be the problem. Don’t know. May have to give them another try on a moderate-length long run and see if it was just a fluke.

Conclusion

For me, the Nike Free 3.0 v5 is a fantastic shoe for easy runs and distances up to about 10 miles. They’re also great as a casual, low-drop shoe (which is what the vast majority of people buying them will be using them for). In my opinion, they’re too soft and lack responsiveness for speed work. Be aware that despite the stretchy upper, it is a fairly narrow shoe (I went up a half size), so those with wide feet should look elsewhere.

All in all, I’m quite impressed with the Free 3.0 v5. It’s one of the best shoes I’ve worn so far this year, and a pleasant surprise given my experience with the previous iteration. Big thumbs up!

The Nike Free 3.0 v5 is available for purchase in a variety of men’s and women’s colors at Running Warehouse. Outside of the US, the Nike Free 3.0 can be purchased at Wiggle.com and Sportsshoes.com.

Update 3/14/2014: Nike has just announced the release of the Nike Free 3.0 v6. For details, visit this post.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Daniel C says:

    Thanks for the review Peter.

    Like you I’ve been running in Frees since the first 3.0 release (still have them). Upgraded at every turn. The v3 were a brilliant shoe and still are my triathlon race day choice. The V4 is a horrible shoe. Here in Australian summer (tri season) that lack of breathability in the upper is just unbearable. The fit was horrible and was getting blisters where never had them before.

    Read your review and since been running in the v5 (volt colourway) and love them. Smooth upper. Like the newer style sole with a lot less twigs making the trip home with with me.

    I still think the v3 was the best feeling Free 3.0 to run in for my foot but do like this v5 a lot.

    DC

  2. Parrott says:

    Good luck in the marathon. What shoes have you decided to run in?

  3. iebmarket says:

    Nike’s been using that particular colorway even before Sketchers started making the Go series. http://www.iebmarket.com

  4. Kevin Kwong says:

    I think that right now, nike is making a better upper in the flyknit, and paired with the nike free sole would be my dream shoe

  5. Zedric Dimalanta says:

    The development times probably won’t support the theory, but does anybody else think that Nike took some inspiration from Skechers’ GoBionic aesthetic and design with this latest update? The resemblance of the above model to the black version of the GoBionic (right down to the neon green sockliner) is a little uncanny.

    • Smash Lampjaw says:

      Hardly, Nike’s been using that particular colorway even before Sketchers started making the Go series.

      link to 4.bp.blogspot.com

      • Zedric Dimalanta says:

        Ah, so much for that theory :D

        I really do like the sleek and understated look of the Nike Free (especially in the black upper/white sole colorway), but I just can’t convince myself to pull the trigger on a purchase when there are cheaper alternatives that have many of the aesthetic features I look for in a shoe and also have better reputations as functional, minimal-ish training tools among the running blog cognoscenti.

  6. Brian Hazard says:

    I ordered it a half size up, and it was still too narrow. You can get wide at the Nike web site by ordering it Custom ID, but that’s $135.

  7. Lisa Galfand Trudler says:

    I just ran a 100km off-road race in my Nike free 3.0…..
    I wear them without socks. Had no blisters or rubbing throughout training and the race.

  8. Would you say that the sole is softer than the Free 3.0 v2? I’ve had a great time running on that shoe for a couple of years, and it’s just now starting to fall apart. I’m in dire need of a replacement.

  9. I recently bought a pair of Virratas and i’m satisfied except for them being a bit on the narrow side and lacking sole rubber in the midfoot (Saucony really could have spared the heel “shockpad” for some lateral rubber pods). I’ve found that all i really need from a running shoe is a flexible sole with some cushioning and as little upper features as possible.
    Anyone who has been running in both want to give a quick comparison?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Virrata upper has less give, and it’s not as flexible as the Free. Virrata has better forefoot cushioning, and doesn’t feel quite a s soft underfoot to me. Both are great shoes.
      Sent from my iPad

      • Thanks for the comparision!
        Definitely need to try these out. Kind of a shame Nike charges so much for so “little” shoe. The profits from the Free line must be insane.( In Sweden they seemed to have replaced Converse as the most common everyday/streetwear/hipster shoe ).

        Good luck in the marathon!

  10. Corre Natural México says:

    What about the breathability? We hated that topic in last years Nike Free models.

  11. OK, it’s time to move on…

    I had a pair of the originals in blue back in ’04 or ’05, whenever that was- When I sucked so bad and I would hobble around every few months and hurt my knees. That’s the kind of people I associate with these shoes. Shouldn’t cool kids like you wear Sauconys or something like that now?

  12. D.M. Stern says:

    How is the current sole when it comes to picking up dirt? I stopped using my V2s because during a run their weight would double from all the gravel, small twigs and unfortunate bugs that got stuck in the grooves.

  13. I just got a pair of these and it’s definitely tighter along the top than my other runners. There’s plenty of room in the toe box though. How tight should the shoe be along the top? I’m worried that if I go half a size up there’ll be too much room for toes (and even still be tight along the top).

    • Pete Larson says:

      You may have a high volume foot. Does loosening the lower laces a bit help?
      Sent from my iPad

      • I’m not sure, especially since I’ve never had this problem before with any other shoes. Loosening the laces seems to help marginally, although it’s still snug with no laces on(!). Maybe I’m just not used to the sock-like fit? Are you supposed to feel some pressure along the top of your foot or should it fit loosely?

  14. Hi Pete,
    Great review. I have been running in cushion zero drop shoes over an year. So far I have ran in Vivobarefoot Evo II, Skora Phase Core, Merrell Bare Access 2 (My GOTO shoes for long distance), Altra Instinct 1.5. Today I tried Nike 3.0 v5 and I found when I was running, my foot impact was more on lower end of the midfoot kinda towards the heel arch area. It may be a fluke as I was wearing Jeans so not sure if have you found similar experience like this? I would say they are really soft and I feel nice for every day walk over the town and easy runs. I am thinking of getting a maintenance cushion lower profile (0-4 mm drop) shoes for easy winter running as I don’t have any races planned in Dec, Jan. My top picks are Nike Free 3.0 V5, Mizuno Cursoris, Sketcher GoBionic. Wondering what would be your suggestion? Since I live in cold weather city, I won’t feel hot much with Nike’s but at the same time I would definitely like to ensure great breathability and less freezing of my toes.

    Any advice?

    • Pete Larson says:

      The Free is 4mm drop, so if you have a midfoot strike it is possible that it may cause you to contact a bit toward the heel. Probably not a big deal since I suspect it is minor. All three shoes you mention are good. The GoBionic is about to be updated, so may want to hold off on that one as the new upper is awesome. Nit sure on release date. Of the other two, Cursoris has wider forefoot, but durability of the sole may be a concern. Have also heard that it will be discontinued after this model. It also has a very open mesh so could be to cold in winter. I think I’d go with the Free.
      Sent from my iPad

  15. Fito Benitez says:

    Hi Pete! Thanks for the review. Best I read so far. Comments are great too. Couldn’t find my concern though. I run 12-14 miles a week at most, and maybe 6 months a year. Other 6 is too cold outside :D I wear Asics Kayano. Love them. Can’t complain. I don’t think it’s been the running but for the last year I have sometimes pain on the section under my fat toe and my arches get crammed. Doing some exercises from the phisio and a bit better. Anyways, wanna try a more mid-free run, and thought I’ll try the Free 3.0 v5, but I am concerned with the “too soft” comment. Doesn’t sound so “free” to me then :) Would there be any other model from Nike with that free feel but a bit more hard feeling? Again, I don’t wanna go to free, but not too soft neither. Thanks in advance!!! Fito – Finland

    • The Free is on the soft side, but not terribly squishy. I really like the shoe as is. Nike also makes the Flex line that is like a cheaper Free, but have not tried them so not sure how soft they are.

      • Fito Benitez says:

        Thanks again! Ended up going for the Free recommendation. Can’t wait for them to arrive to go out and test them :) Cheers

      • Been running on them for like 2 months now. Not much. Three times a week for 10K max. I’ve really enjoyed the change, which from my Kayano 17, I guess is quite big. Three +s for me have been the weight, the change of foot motion, and having my toes more loose. They are a bit hard on the foot, so not sure I would go for a 20k with them, but still awesome. And yeah, why not, also a stylish shoe when not running too. I’ve always wanted to try those “better” running shoes brands, but they all look soooo….. Anyways :) Thanks again for this post! And btw, yeah, the v6 seems like a big No, No!

  16. Hello Pete! I been running in the Nike Free 3.0 v5 this past year and ran a half marathon in them this past Oct. I loved the fit and feel of them with my only complaint was the toebox ran a bit narrow. I also ran in Merrell Bare Access which would make this shoe just about perfect if it had that kind of toebox. Anyway, I picked up a pair of the GoBionic Pranas to replace my Frees but they seem to be a bit TOO roomy, even going down a half size. I still will use them for shorter runs but looking for something for longer runs. I’m looking at the Altra Instinct 1.5 or the Altra Torin as that shoe. I read your reviews on each and I am torn about which one to get. Unfortunately, there isn’t a store anywhere near me in Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads area that sells them so I can’t try them on. Given that I loved the Frees minus the toebox issue, which one would you recommend that I should try to go with?

    • Have you tried the Free 5.0? A bit roomier in the forefoot but similar feel to the 3.0. The Instinct and Torin will likely be quite a bit less flexible than the Free, I don’t run much in them for that reason. If you like the feel of the Skechers but want a bit snugger fit you might check out the GoRun 3. Toebox is a bit narrower than the GoBionic, but not as narrow as the Free 3.0.

      • No, I haven’t tried the 5.0s since it’s a 9mm drop vice a 4mm drop of the 3.0s. Would it matter if my landing is mid to fore-foot? I will check out the GoRun3 too! Thanks!

  17. Super comfortable shoes but I think the sole is too soft for me. My legs don’t feel great while running in them, especially my calves. Oh well! At least they are pretty stylish!!

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