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Nike Free 5.0+ Running Shoe Review

Nike Free Twist

Update 3/14/2014: Nike has officially introduced the 2014 Nike Free shoes. Click here for images and details on the Nike Free 3.0 v6, Free 4.0 v4, and Free 5.0 v2.

I have a fairly long history with the Nike Free line of shoes. My first step into more minimal footwear was with the Free 3.0 v1 back in 2009. I loved that shoe, and would rank it up with my favorite running shoes of all time (or at least since I started running seriously back in 2007).

In the past several years the Free line has expanded and has become a bit of a juggernaut in the footwear world. Nike Frees are consistently among the best selling shoes in the US, and the top-selling shoe in the line is the Free 5.0+, which I’ll review here.

The Nike Free 5.0+ is almost invariably among the top 3 selling athletic shoes in monthly sales as reported by SportsOneSource – it’s a hugely popular shoe. However, it’s popularity and dominance among athletic footwear is largely a reflection of its usage as a fashion item and casual shoe. Though people certainly run in it, more likely buy it for causal usage. In fact, I was at Disney World in Florida last week and I swear Frees were on about half the feet I saw walking around the parks (maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but they were easily among the most common shoes that I saw).

Nike Free 5.0  side blue

What is it that makes the Free so popular? Fashion trends are surely part of it. When I was working at the college I swear almost every female student had a pair, and some told me they had 4-5 pairs in different colors. But, they’d also comment to me that they loved them since they’re so comfortable. To me, the latter is why they have endured – Nike Frees are incredibly comfortable as causal shoes. They lack extensive rubber outsole so they feel soft (but not too soft) and don’t make much noise when they contact the ground. Furthermore, the extensive siping (grooves) on the sole makes them extremely flexible. The combo of softish sole and extreme flexibility makes the shoes feel almost like slippers. When you can combine fashion, comfort, and effective marketing you wind up with a bestselling shoe. Like them or not, Nike does that better than any other brand.

Nike Free 5.0  sole

The Nike Free 5.0+ is the new name for what used to be called the Free Run+, which went through 3 iterations before they changed the name. The three main shoes in the Free running line are thus now the 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0, and the numbers essentially signify a scale from more minimal to less minimal. I reviewed the Free 3.0 v5 last year, but have not tried the 4.0 yet.

I bought a pair of the Free 5.0+ sometime last summer and ran in them several times. For some reason I never got around to doing a review, but lately I’ve been pulling them out more frequently for casual use. I figured I might as well write something up after a refresher run. So, I took them out for 5 miles yesterday and wanted to share my thoughts since my guess is they will soon be on clearance with a new version (Free 5.0 v2) apparently coming soon.

Comparison of Free 3.0 and 5.0

Let’s start by going through the major differences between the 5.0 and the 3.0 v5

1. Sole dimensions. Per Running Warehouse, the Free 5.0 has a stack height of 23mm heel, 14mm forefoot for a drop of 9mm. The 3.0 has a stack height of 21mm heel, 17mm forefoot for a drop of 4mm. So the 5.0 has a bit more cushion under the heel, and a bit less under the forefoot. To be honest, the feel is not hugely different to me.

Typically not quantified, but another way in which the soles of the two shoes differ is in width. The sole of the 5.0 (bottom image below) is quite a bit broader across both the heel and forefoot.

Nike Free 3.0 v5 SoleNike Free 5.0  sole

2. Weight. Again per Running Warehouse, in men’s size 9 the Free 5.0 weighs 8.2oz, the 3.0 weighs 7.2oz. Not a huge difference and barely noticeable to me.

3. Forefoot Fit. The 5.0 has a roomier forefoot in terms of width across the ball of the foot, but the forefoot feels a bit shallower from top to bottom and the upper material has a bit less give. I prefer the shape of the 5.0, but the upper material of the 3.0. Maybe I need to make a hybrid shoe via Nike ID?

4. Midfoot Fit. In contrast, to the forefoot, the midfoot of the 5.0 is roomier and more comfortable on my foot, and that might in part be due to the fact that it has a more traditional tongue instead of the bootie-style design of the 3.0. I get a bit of pressure on the top of my foot in the 3.0 due to the integrated tongue and thus am less likely to use it as a casual shoe for long-term wear.

Run Performance

Where all of the Nike Free models are similar is in the flexibility and feel of the sole. The Nike Free design works really well with my stride as I hate shoes that try to control my foot movement. The siping (grooves) in the sole allows my foot to contact and move into pronation very smoothly and I never feel like the shoe is controlling my movement.

The only area where I have a bit of a problem is with the medial forefoot – I’d prefer a more solid base in this area as I tend to pronate a lot and the forefoot of the Frees can tend to bend/cave a bit in this are due to the siping close to the medial margin (the most medial sipe often fills with grit/gravel during my runs). One result of this for me is that I sometimes get a hot spot along the inner ball of my foot behind the big toe when running in Frees, and the 5.0+ is no different in this regard.

Nike Free 5.0  top

The lack of extensive rubber outsole means that the shoes run really quiet, and a shoe that makes little noise on the run is usually one that works well for me. I have a hard time deciding if they feel firm or soft due to the flexibility. I guess I’d describe them as middle of the road in terms of actual sole firmness – not too firm, not too soft. But the flex makes them feel like a soft shoe.

The Ortholite insole in the Free 5.0 is pretty soft, which enhances comfort for casual wear. I don’t notice it as much while running. Swapping for a thinner, firmer insole would open up a bit of volume in the forefoot, and should make for a firmer ride.

Nike Free 5.0

The fit of the 5.0 works very well for me on the run. The heel and midfoot are locked down, and I get no abrasion from the lining of the upper. Very comfortable. I also love that the shoe has no heel counter, and this is a shoe I often recommend to people with insertional Achilles tendon issues due to this fact (no hard plastic insert to irritate the tendon from behind).

So what would I use the Free 5.0 for? For me it’s a comfortable, easy run shoe. I tend to run more minimal so the cushioning would be fine for me for up to a marathon, but I would likely not use it for much over half marathon distance since the medial forefoot instability can sometimes cause hot-spot problems. The last thing I need is a giant blister developed over long distance!

Conclusion

The Nike Free 5.0+ is a hugely popular shoe mainly for casual wear, but it doesn’t often get the credit it deserves as a running shoe. A lot of Nike shoes don’t work for me because they tend to fit narrow, but the Free 5.0 fits comfortably and I enjoy running in them.

If you like a flexible shoe that runs super quiet and feels like a slipper then these are definitely worth a look. And if they don’t work out as a running shoe for you, you have a comfortable shoe that will serve very well for walking around town. And if you don’t want them for casual wear, they retain value as well as any shoe out there and can be sold on Ebay for close to purchase price even with a few runs on them (did this a few years ago with the Free 3.0 v4).

Update 3/14/2014: Nike has officially introduced the 2014 Nike Free shoes. Click here for images and details on the Nike Free 3.0 v6, Free 4.0 v4, and Free 5.0 v2.

Purchasing Options

The Nike Free 5.0+ is available for purchase in a ton of color combinations at Running Warehouse, Amazon.com, and Zappos. Outside of the US they can be purchased at Wiggle.co.uk.

You can also customize and build your own hybrid Nike Frees via Nike ID.

Nike Free ID

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science

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. Lindsay Knake says:

    The Nike Free Run+ was the shoe that pushed me down the minimal shoe path. I bought a pair in 2010, mostly for a comfortable summer shoe to wear without socks, and I still wear them. They’ve held up far better than I could have imagined, although, of course, they smell something terrible.

    While I love my New Balance Minimus shoes for running, the Free is my favorite shoe for walking around. When my current pair fails, I may even consider another pair.

  2. Nike Free are severe stone catchers. I think they are unusable for running because of this.

  3. I had a similar problem with hotspots wearing Nike Free Flyknit+. The shoes felt great for the first miles, but then they literally ripped the skin off my both feet, on the inner side, under the big toe. I was wearing socks. I know many people are happy with these shoes, but something in their geometry didn’t agree with my feet. I wonder if we share a common problem and if so, I should simply get the same shoes that work for you, because blisters are a silly annoyance. I’m currently wearing NB 1080 v3 for long runs, which I find too clunky. For shorter runs, Kinvara 2 works for me, but I had to patch them using Engo.

    • My guess is the Frees are no providing the medial forefoot support that you need. Something with a firmer forefoot might do the trick – maybe try the NB 1400v2.

  4. These were a complete failure for me.

    The volume of the shoe is so small I can barely tie the laces down. So I tried sockless and ended up with blisters on my little toes.

    Then I tried without insoles… can’t do that because of the hard plastic for the foot pod.

    Hopefully they will do better with the next version. Still a Nike Free fan though.

  5. I love the Frees for everyday wear. They are probably the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever had for that use. Our whole family wears them.

  6. Troy Daley says:

    I got a free pair of these (haha!). They are super comfortable, I have worn them most every day as a casual shoe, but they didn’t really work for me for running. They constantly build up rocks and sticks in between the foam pods on the bottom, and I generally run on pavement. The sole has also started to separate on the inner sides of both shoes where the colored piece of foam wraps up onto the side material, so I have questions about durability (maybe it’s just me). These are however, the very best shoes for sneaking around the wood floor when the baby is asleep, like a ninja!

  7. I run up to 25K on the Asics GT2000 (anti-pronation), but I just ( a few hours ago) got a pair of Free 5.0′s for casual use because they’re very comfortable and look awesome! But after reading this, I consider taking them out for a spin :-)

  8. I love my Free’s. Put them on and forget they are on. Done long 30km runs with then and no problems. What sort of maximum distance could one do with these? I have a 90 km (road) ultra coming up in a months time. Too far for these shoes?

    My long distance shoes (Pegasus) are due for retirement and the replacement (Lunar Glide) causing sore mid foot problems (outer edge).

    My options are: A: Frees, B: New Pegasus, C: replace inner sole of old Pegasus for more cushioning, D: Glide may need more distance to “soften”, or E: open to suggestions.

    Neutral to mild supinate, wide short foot.

    Thanks

    • I’ve found the Lunarglides to be quite narrow through the midfoot, had arch paint the first time I ran in them, but that has improve. They still fit pretty snug in that region though. As for max distance, really whatever you are trained for. If you run long in them no problem, I see no reason why not to use them. But I wouldn’t run a really long race unless they have been well tested at longer distances in training.

      • Thanks,got 2 weekends to decide.
        Lunarglides feel like planks on my feet, don’t think they will loosen up in time.
        Going to do two long runs Sat and Sun each about 40 km, and if feet fine in Frees (v5.0 2013) that will be the choice.

        As for durability got 240 km on them and still look like new.

        Otherwise shoe shopping with 3 weeks to go. Not good planning on my part!
        BTW great site.

        • Decided Free’s do not offer enough mid-foot cushioning for the upcoming 90 km race. Lunarglides relegated to return or retry (much later).

          Spoke to podiatrist & shoe shop they said neutral and maximum cushioning so went with shops choice of Hokas. Bondi (V3) was the only one in my size in store.

          Done 2 runs (38 & 20 km) and my quick review is, they don’t feel too dissimilar to the Frees (surprisingly enough). I can vary my strike to either land heel or midfoot. The rocker is not noticeable when running. Especially good is the sore feet (possibly start of PF pretty much disappeared) Cons, the ankle collar rubs as it sits too high (internet searches blame the top lace eyelet but that is about 1 cm away). Also whilst it’s very cushioned I don’t quite agree that it’s like floating on pillows.

          Frees can rest for the next few months.

  9. Ryan Heavy Head says:

    Here’s my review after a test run with the Nike Free 5.0… link to youtube.com

  10. I’ve been pretty loyal to Nike Frees for running shoes since I got serious about running – I’ve owned the original “Nike Free Run+,” the Nike Free 5.0+, and my most recent pair is the Nike Free 5.0+ Flyknit (wanted to try them out).

    I never experienced any trouble with the 5.0+, and I ran/trained for half and full marathons in them. But I’ve had issues with the Flyknits when it comes to long distances – they squeeze my toes once I hit around mile 7, and for the rest of the run my last three toes experience crazy pain with every step. I got them in the same size I got the other pairs in because they’re the same sole, and I often wondered if I should go another half size up for the flyknits.

    However, in ordering a new pair of 5.0+ for distance runs, I’ve noticed the difficulty of sifting through all of Nike’s new models and styles to find what I want/need. Nike Frees have very much become a vanity shoe, and you’re right, almost every girl at my college has at least one pair and buy them for looks over function.

    Do you have any reccommendations for me for another brand/model that has similar minimalistic features, but also similar support to the Frees?

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