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 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:
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:
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 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 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.
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.