Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit Review: The Best Nike Free Yet?

Nike Free 4.0 FlyknitI’m going to start this review with a bold statement: the Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit is the best Nike Free shoe I have ever worn.

Writing that opening line is a big deal for me because the original Nike Free 3.0 remains one of my favorite shoes of all time. That shoe was lightweight, ultra-flexible, ran silent, and had a sock-like upper that was about as near perfection as a minimal shoe upper can get. My only complaint about the 3.0 v1 was that it was a bit narrow. The new 4.0 Flyknit matches the original 3.0 on all of the positives, and improves on it by having a much wider toebox. It’s an amazingly good shoe.

Interestingly, I almost passed on trying the Free 4.0 Flyknit. Several weeks ago I purchased the new 2014 model of the Nike Free 5.0. I hated it. It had a tight band around the forefoot that dug into my skin, and quite honestly it felt and looked a bit cheaply made. I wasn’t impressed and it went back to the store unworn. However, I’d heard from some fellow shoe geeks that the 4.0 was going to be the big winner among the 2014 Free models, so I spent the $100+ to buy a pair (MSRP is $120). This might be one of the few times where I feel that the relatively high cost might be justifiable – I like the shoe that much.

So what is it that makes the Free 4.0 Flyknit so special? Well, pretty much the entire package. The shoe simply feels like an extension of my foot. It gives me everything I need, and almost nothing that I don’t, and that is exactly what I want in a shoe.

Shoe Stats

Weight: 7.4 oz in men’s size 9; 6.3 oz in women’s size 8 (per Running Warehouse)
Stack Height: 20mm heel, 14mm forefoot (per Running Warehouse)
Sizing: I went a half size up as I typically do in Nike shoes, might have been unnecessary

Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit side

Upper Construction

The Flyknit upper of the Free 4.0 is minimally structured. No overlays, no heel counter, just a stretchy woven mesh with a few Flywire bands on either side of the lace rows to lock the foot down. It feels like a sock, and it hugs my foot in all of the right ways. Not too tight, not too loose. Just perfect. The heel and midfoot are snugged in tightly, and the forefoot opens up so that the tight weave does not constrict or squeeze the toes. The entire upper flexes and moves with the foot in a way I have rarely experienced in a running shoe.

2014-05-08 15.13.09

The upper mesh is open in the midfoot and forefoot to provide for some air flow. Unlike the new Free 3.0 Flyknit, which I have heard fits fairly tightly, the 4.0 has a traditional tongue, and I think this allows for better customization of fit. I’ve run sockless in the shoes a few times and have had a bit of abrasion on one run near the midfoot/arch (maybe from one of the Flywire bands?), but this has been inconsistent. May have just been a hot day with more sweat leading to chafe. No issues at all while wearing socks (side note – these shoes seem to hold a stink when you use them sockless).

Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit sole

Sole Construction

Like the upper, the sole of the Free 4.0 Flyknit is super flexible and moves really well with the foot. The sole is typical of other Nike Free shoes in having individual pods separated by deep grooves to maximize flexibility. The drawback of the grooved sole is that the grooves do tend to collect rocks and pebbles, but this has never really bothered me in any of the Frees and they are easy enough to get out by taking the shoe off and flexing the sole around after a run.

The majority of the sole is exposed midsole cushion, so you can barely hear your footfalls while running in them – I love a silent shoe! The tradeoff to this design is that there is minimal outsole coverage – rubber pods are only present at the back outer heel and under the big toe. As such, sole durability is something to keep an eye on if you tend to be a scuffer. Interestingly, my wear pattern only seems to be from the anteriormost heel pod forward through the midfoot – much more of a midfoot landing wear pattern than I tend to observe in most other shoes that I run in.

You can see that after 40 miles I’ve ground down the protruding portions of the white pods directly above and to the right the 4.0 in the image below:

Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit side sole

I’m wondering if the slightly rounded heel, curved sole, and flexibility of the shoe have something to do with this more anterior wear pattern?

Performance

I’ve honestly found it really hard to not pull these shoes out for most of my recent runs (though the Saucony Kinvara 5 is giving them a run for the money as current favorites). I’ve run just over 40 miles in them so far, with a max long run of 14 miles. I’ve run from easy pace down to 5K pace. They’ve worked well for just about everything. I’d have no hesitation in taking them beyond 14 miles in a single run, I might even consider them for a marathon. They are a bit too flexible for my taste for speed or a 5K, and the sole grooves would probably collect too much debris for off-road use, but they are versatile enough to handle just about anything else I could throw at them.

I’m really hard-pressed to come up with anything negative about this shoe – I think the only issue I’ve had was with the fact that the size tag is stitched to the underside of the insole and I can feel the stitching under my heel. It wasn’t bad with socks, but it was noticeable when I went barefoot in them. It might be possible to cut the tag and remove the stitching, but I was lazy and just swapped the insoles out for an identical one from an older pair of Free 5.0s.

In addition to running in them, I’ve also found the Free 4.0 Flyknit to be a fantastic casual shoe. I bought a pair in black since I like to have a few conservative looking shoes for casual wear, and I’m typically sockless in them while walking around. They are amazingly comfortable.

Conclusion

The Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit is a fantastic shoe, easily one of my favorites so far this year. If you want something with a minimal upper, a flexible sole, and a roomy toebox these should be at the top of your list of options to try.

Purchasing Options

The Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit is available in a variety of colors at Running Warehouse and Road Runner Sports. Outside of the US they can be purchased at Wiggle.co.uk. Purchases made via these retailer links help to support this site – thanks!

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. I really like the feel of the Free as well, but I also find them a little too flexible for some workouts. My solution has been the Terra Kiger. I am using new ones for trails and after they sole is a bit worn, 200 miles or so, I move them to road use for the second half of their life. I then buy a new pair for trail use. They have the comfort of the Free with a slightly more substantial sole.

    • I really want to try the Kigers!

      • David Henry says:

        I think you would really like the Kigers Pete. I’ve run in them for 20 miles or so and, while a little soft for me (probably a good thing for you since I like firm shoes), they have a great upper and nice overall feel for smooth trails and road. Nike has definitely got my attention with the Kiger, hopefully they can continue to refine and improve it.

  2. Hey Pete,

    Quick question. I used to run in Kinvara’s in v1-3, then switched exclusively to Virrata’s and A5 for racing. I’m kind of itching to try the new Kinvara 5 – if I’m in zero drop’s right now, do you have any inclination on if you’d rather go from a Virrata back to the Kinvara 5 or these new flyknits? Hope that makes sense.

    Thanks.

    • Both are great shoes so tough call. The Kinvara is a bit cushier underfoot, more similar in feel to the Virrata. The Free is by no means a firm shoe, but the sole has a different feel to it – it’s tough to describe. I think the Kinvara will feel more familiar to you since it is a more traditionally styled shoe.

  3. I just bought the Nike Free 3.0 and absolutely love them. I agree that the fit is tight, but I don’t notice it at all when I’m running. The one thing I noticed with the specs is that the 3.0 actually has more forefoot cushioning (I think it’s 17mm) than the 4.0 and 5.0. This is the main reason I bought the 3.0 over the others (being a mid/forfoot striker). The sole does tend to gather small pebbles, but I’ve tried them on trails and love the flexibility of them. It’s going to be hard going back to normal shoes after these!

    • Hey Arlina,

      Thank you for your interesting comment. I was wondering if you noticed any difficulties with the heel really low cut?

      I tried some 3.0 on a threadmill in nike town but not quite sure yet if it’s a big difference compared to the v5.

      thanks

  4. Have you tried the Free 3.0 2014 yet? Any input on the comparison between the two?

  5. michael says:

    in any way similar or comparable to pearl izumi N0?

  6. Jeremy Willis says:

    I ordered these the other day. When they came in they seem a little long even though ordered the same size I always do in Nike.
    I haven’t ran in them yet. Has this been an issue or do they fit fine once you start running in them?

    • I thought the same at first, almost sent them back for a size smaller, but wound up keeping them. Have not had a problem so glad I kept the 10.5s.

    • I thought the opposite. I’m usually a 10/10.5 but decided on the 10.5 from the fitting chart and they looked like they’d be nice and snug out of the box. But they just form fitted to my foot with minimal stretch and have been the comfiest shoes I’ve even run in. I’d recomend getting a snug fit as a slightly loose fit may lead to your foot slipping back in the heal (as I found out trying on the 11′s).

  7. Hi Pete,

    While I really like the feel of the 4.0s as well, i experienced top of the foot pain on my left foot a day after a 7km run in the shoes. This may have been likely due to the tight midfoot. I’ve removed the insole, and found the shoes to be far more spacious and comfortable for my feet, al beit while walking. Have not tried running yet. Do you recommend that i run in the shoes without an insole, something which im really keen on doing?

    • I felt that once after wearing them all day casually. I think I had the lacing a bit too tight and the tongue has no padding. I have removed the insoles in other shoes and as long as there s no abrasion from stitching see no reason why it would be a problem. You could also try swapping in a thinner insole from another shoe if you have one available.

  8. Kevin Schell says:

    This is my favorite “Free” model to date. Exchanged the 5.0′s for the 4.0′s after the 5′s tore my little toe apart. Great shoe. Best flyknit she IMO.

  9. Jim Mullahy says:

    Hi Pete. Great coverage as always. How did you like Free 4.0 in comparison to the Kinvara 5? I unfortunately don’t like the Kinvara 5s, for me, they are significantly wider in the forefoot and midfoot and don’t have the racing shoe fit like the 3s or 4s. I found my feet sliding some what and the shoe just felt more boxy. I liked the Kinvara 3s the best; not as narrow as the 4s.

  10. David Henry says:

    These do look really nice. I’ve only run in the 3.0v2 and wasn’t crazy about them but the looks of the new sole and the flyknit upper look really nice. Might need to add them to my list to try.

  11. Pete,

    I did the exact same thing…bought the 5.0s after being thrilled with the 3.0s because I was in need and didn’t want to create my own 4.0s at the time….but when I saw a few weeks later that the 4.0a were released, I ordered a pair immediately. all I can say is wow. I absolutely love them. truly an extension of your feet and like nothing I felt before. one of the best low profile shoe I’ve ever worn. I purchased the electric yellow and dark gray. I wear them with ultra thin Nike and feetures no show tab socks. no slip ever, just comfort. much different than he 5.0s that don’t give you the feel of the road like 4.0s. o do have one chief complaint. I’ve had them for 3 weeks, been through at least 13 workouts + 25+ miles. they are covered in dirt. absolutey covered…the knit seems to attract dirt like bees to honey. its unreal. if u don’t know how to wash your frees…tie them off in pillow case and wash with detergent in short cold wash. hopefully the knitting doesn’t come apart. dont dry them!

    • I often just stick a hose inside the shoe and let the water bubble through the upper. Does a great job cleaning them out then let them dry in the sun.

  12. The hexagon shaped outsoles intrigues me. Does these make the shoes better compared to the previous outsoles?

  13. Hi Pete. I’m in Kinvara 2′s right now (I stocked up!) and I like them so I was looking at the Kinvara 4 or 5′s (I have narrow feet so a discounted 4 might still work for me). Anyways, two part question: How does the 4.0 Flyknit feel vs a Kinvara for sole flexibility when running? It looks like (cuz of the pods) it would be more flexible, which I think I might like. And 2nd, how would you compare/contrast the 4.0 Flyknit and the 3.0 v5? How would I pick one or the other from your experiences with them? Thanks!

    • The Free is far more flexible than the Kinvara. And if you have a narrow foot, the 3.0 v5 might be better, and you may be able to find them discounted.

  14. I just tried the new free 3.0 and 4.0. I run in go bionics 2 which I like. I wear size 11 in go bionics and 11 in 3.0 and 4.0. I initially liked how 4.0 felt on my feet. It had lots of room and felt comfortable. However when I took it for a run, for me I felt way too much on the heels and I felt that these could give me problems with my calves in the long term. To me the shoes didn’t quite flow well with how I run. I felt little clunky with them. Then I tried then 3.0 and I love it. I was afraid of the tightness as I felt the shoes to feel a little tight. I run sockless and when I started running, it didn’t feel tight at all. The shoes felt excellent and felt smooth as I was running. If you haven’t tried 3.0, you are missing out. Tomorrow I’m going to try running without the insoles and see if that’s even better or not.

    • Hearing that a lot about the 3.0, may need to try them when the price drops!

      • After couple more runs in, 3.0′s are the best shoes I have ever run in. I thought Go Bionics 2 are the best shoes out there, but Free 3.0 beats it. I got the size where basically there’s not much of a toe room, and these shoes really feel like part of you. It’s like what you would hope Vibrams to feel like but they obviously fall short with stiff toe pockets. I recommend running without the insoles and they haven’t given me any blisters running sockless.

  15. Peter….I have the flyknit lunar 2′s, and although I generally like them for groomed dirt trails and asphalt bike trails, I get this weird sensation when I make turns that I am sliding off the side of the shoe. I recognize that this would make a horrible technical shoe for real trails, but the shortfall of the flyknit being and advanced form of sock, is these occasions when your foot kind of moves about in it. Have you had a similar experience with the free 4.0?

    • David Henry says:

      Tom,

      I haven’t run in a pair of flyknits yet, but did try on both the Free 4.0 and 3.0 flyknits. My guess as far as the reason you might feel like you are sliding off the side of the shoe is that it seemed to me, because of the sock-like nature of the flyknit upper, you would want to size them snug and form fitting (like a sock) rather than like a more traditional shoe…the flyknit has some inherent stretch to it and gives, much like a sock. Most trail shoes that fit securely for technical terrain, don’t have a stretchy upper…this can reduce comfort if the last shape of the shoe doesn’t match your foot well, but is necessary for security IMO.

    • No, but have not taken them off road or any place that required cutting or quick turns. As David said I think it’s a limitation of a Flyknit type upper – just not snug and supportive enough for trail work.

  16. Hi, can I ask how the sizing of the shoe is like? I’m considering to get a size US 8.5 with some wiggle room but I’m not sure if it’ll fit right.
    I have a foot that is 25.5 cm (26cm with socks worn) and have a Vans Shoe size US 8.5 that fit well with little room left.
    What is your suggestion? Thanks

  17. Hi, I’ve bought Nike free 5,0 and also can’t decide which size is better 10 or 10,5. Did someone have the same problem? I can return one pair.

  18. I just bought these shoes. They felt great but when I started running with them around my neighborhood sidewalks and streets, I kept feeling like rocks were getting stuck in between the creases as they opened and closed with the flexing of my foot. I took them off and was considering returning them but I might not be able to since I wore it already. :(. I was wondering if you found that to be a continuous problem of the shoe while running outside with it over time?

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