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Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit 2015 Review: Flexible Sole, Sock-Like Upper, and Solid Cushioning in a Lightweight Package

Nike Free 3.0 2015 FeaturedThe Nike Free line of running shoes was originally designed to mimic barefoot running on grass. All shoes in the line are characterized by an extremely flexible sole, and the three models vary in upper construction and the amount of sole cushioning.

The Free 5.0 has the highest heel-forefoot drop and a more traditional, though still fairly minimal, upper. The Free 4.0 has a Flyknit upper with a tongue and it occupies the middle ground with regard to amount of cushion and structure. The Free 3.0 is the most minimal  (lower number = more minimal) of the three shoes with the thinnest sole and a Flyknit upper with no tongue. It’s basically a sock with a sole attached.

I’ve long been a fan of the Free 3.0 line. The original 3.0 remains one of my all-time favorite shoes, and I’ve run in several of the subsequent iterations. However, I passed on the 2014 version of the Free 3.0, which was the first version to incorporate the Flyknit upper. I’d heard that the upper was pretty tight (it needs to be somewhat tight since it is what secures the foot to the sole – the laces do very little), and the $140 price tag was a bit much to swallow. However, it’s one of those shoes that readers have asked about a lot, and several have suggested that I try it.

I was recently contacted by Nike about the new Free line, and they sent along a pairs of the 2015 Free 3.0 and 4.0 for me to test out. I’ve now been running in the 3.0 for several weeks, and it’s time for a review. (Disclosure: The shoes reviewed here are media samples provided free of charge by the manufacturer.)

Nike Free 3.0 2015 Side

Specs

Per Running Warehouse, the Free 3.0 Flyknit weighs in at 7.1 oz in men’s size 9. Sole stack heights are 21 mm heel, 17 mm forefoot for a drop of 4mm.

Nike Free 3.0 2015 Top

Upper and Fit

The upper of the Free 3.0 is about as minimal as you can get. It’s a single piece, knit upper with Flywire extending from the sole to the lace attachments. There are only three lace loops on each side, and the laces are very thin. That’s about it!

Nike Free 3.0 2015 Medial

In terms of function and fit, I’ve come to love the upper on this shoe. It isn’t nearly as tight-fitting as I anticipated, and it does a great job of securing my foot against the sole. My guess is that fit and security will be highly dependent on foot shape – if you have a particularly wide foot it may feel a bit restricting, if you have a narrow foot you may have some lack of security, though in the latter case the laces may help a bit. Personally, I haven’t cinched the laces at all and tension in the upper weave is pretty much solely responsible for keeping the shoe on my foot.

Given that it is essentially a sock with a sole, sockless wear is a perfectly viable option with this shoe (though removal of the tag from the insole might help avoid some friction).

My favorite thing about the upper of this shoe is the fact that it is super easy to slip on without messing with the laces. In fact, I haven’t touched the laces since the first time I put the shoes on my feet. You can simply grab the upper behind the heel, stretch it back, then slide your foot in. Love this, and makes it a super easy shoe to get on and off for casual wear.

Nike Free 3.0 2015 Toe Spring

One final comment on fit – you will probably notice from the images of this shoe that it appears to have a pretty substantial amount of toe spring. The reason for this is the tension in the knit upper combined with the flexiblity of the sole. It flattens out once your foot is in the shoe  – the foot stretches the upper and weight pushes the sole flat. I have not had any issues with this aspect of the shoe.

Nike Free 3.0 2015 Sole

Sole

The first thing I noticed about the sole of this shoe was that the forefoot felt surprisingly cushy. Despite having the thinnest sole of the three running shoes in the Free line, I feel like the 3.0 has the best forefoot cushioning of the group, and it remains noticeable when running in the shoes. In contrast, the heel has a firmer feel, and this makes for a unique ride – it’s more common for the reverse to be the case. Combined with the extreme flexibility of the siped sole, the unique feel of the cushioning has made for enjoyable ride  runs up to 9 miles so far. I actually think I prefer the 3.0 for longer runs over it’s more structured sibling the 5.0 – the 3.0 is one of those shoes that just disappears on my feet.

One concern present with every Free shoe is that the grooves in the sole tend to pick up rocks and other small road debris. I’ve certainly picked up my share of pebbles in the 3.0, but no huge rocks that have forced me to stop for a clean-up during a run. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend taking these off-road if you are worried about picking up debris.

Nike Free 3.0 5.0 Heel Compare

Nike Free 3.0 (left) and 5.0 (right). Note the more rounded heel of the 3.0.

As for durability, there is not a lot of rubber on the sole of this shoe – just a few small patches around the heel and under the big toe. Wear after about 30 miles of running and considerable casual use has been minimal so far. Interestingly, I saw a fair amount of wear on the heel rubber of the 5.0 after similar mileage. This has not happened in the 3.0, and I think it may be due to the more rounded sole in the heel region of this shoe (see photo above) – it doesn’t catch the ground as easily as that of the 5.0 (I tend to scuff a bit on the outer heel).

Nike Free 3.0 2015 Laces

Conclusion

If you want a minimally structured shoe that feels like an extension of your foot but retains solid cushioning, the Free 3.0 would be one of my top recommendations. If you are new to this type of shoe, I would recommend a slow transition due to the extreme flexibility and minimal structure of the upper.

The 3.0 is also a great choice as part of a shoe rotation if you want something to force you foot to do a bit more work on occasional workouts. My only real concern with this shoe is the price tag – $140 is pretty steep, and the slightly cheaper 4.0 offers a similar ride and a more traditional Flyknit upper. If you can afford it though, the Free 3.0 Flyknit is worth a try!

The Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit is available for purchase at Running Warehouse US, Nike.com, and Wiggle (UK).

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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. So, which do you like better? the new 3.0 or the latest 4.0? Is there that much of a difference?

    • Haven’t run in the new 4.0 yet, but it’s only an upper update so ride should be similar to last year’s model. My guess is the 4.0 will be more versatile in terms of fit, but if the 3.0 fits your foot well it’s a really nice shoe. Both are fun to run in, 4.0 has a wider toebox.

  2. Hey thanks for the review!

    I am wondering how’s the fit of the upper of this iteration compared to the very first generation of Flyknit Free (the one with 5.0 sole)?

    My D-2E, moderate mass feet suffered numbness during my first and only two runs in them insofar I ended up holding them in my hand and carry on the runs literally barefooted.

  3. Pete, according to the specs at Running Warehouse, the forefoot of the 3.0 has more cushioning than the 5.0 (17mm vs 15mm). That may be why you felt it has the most cushioning of the 3 models, although they have the 4.0 at 18mm for the forefoot.

  4. Jean Lachapelle says:

    Thanks for the very interesting review. I’m now interested in trying out the Free 3.0. I’m currently alternating between the Saucony Kinvara 5 and the Nike Free 4 (2014). It seems to me the ideal shoe would be one having the same kind of cushioning as the Kinvara, while having the same kind of upper fit/comfort as the Nike Free 4.0. I doubt the Free 3.0 fits that description. Would you happen to have any other suggestion? Thanks.
    Voir la traduction

    • That would be a great combo, but not sure it exists yet. Have you tried the Skechers GoRun 4? That might be the closest that I can come up with, though it does not have a knit upper. New Balance Zante is another that might be worth a look.

  5. Phillip says:

    I have a narrow foot and the 4.0 flyknit fits perfect. Does the 3.0 flyknit fit looser than the 4.0?

  6. Hey Pete!

    been a reader for about a year now read your book very well written and great read.

    currently i do 100% of my running in super minimal sandals such as lunas and xero running sandals and love them because of the response and flexibility and lightness of minimal running, but when the millage hits somewhere in the ball park of 17 miles a bit of cushion would go a long way. Would you recommend the nike 3.0? I am mainly concerned with the stack height and the drop (i prefer 0) for reference i did not like the altra instinct 2.0, they were far too soft and rigid for my taste. I know some popular ones come to mind with regards to the Kinvira or maybe the Saucony A6.

    • MY guess is the Free 3.0 will have too much sole for you. Check out the Saucony Endorphin Racer or the Mizuno Universe 5. The latter is roomier, the former is zero drop but a snugger fit.

  7. Hi there,

    Thinking about these and wondering your thoughts on how minimal they really are (vis-a-vis feeling road feedback). Right now I’m switching between the Inov-8 226 Trailbloc and the Kinvara 5. Let me say, the Kinvara 5 is WAY too much shoe for me. Bulky, big, too much cushion, too soft (can’t feel the road at all–zero feedback). However I like/need them when I am going distances on roads, as it helps with foot impact over a longer time (and they are still pretty minimal in drop and super light). But I’m pretty close to being overwhelmed in that shoe–like they are wearing me rather than the other way around. Love the zero drop of the Inov-8s and how responsive it is, the thinner sole, but the lugs make the sole a bit too inflexible for me on longer runs (also, not great on harder surfaces, but they are trail shoes). So thinking these may be a great go between? Lightness, minimal-ness of the Inov-8s, but with more flexibility in the sole plus enough cushion (ala Kinvara) to handle some longer miles on asphalt (wouldn’t go off road in these)? Or do you think it’s still way too much sole? I thought the 4.0s look more closely comparable to the Kinvara’s.

    • I realized after posting this, I should probably clarify my question: given my preferences above, is the 3.0 a good compromise between a zero drop, low stack (like the Inov-8) and a super cushy ride (like the Kinvara 5) for shorter runs (5 miles) on road surfaces (when one ultimately prefers very minimal, but not barefoot style)?

      Thanks much! :)

      • I’d say the 3.0 is a reasonable compromise that probably fits what you are looking for. It’s a super flexible shoe with an upper that fits like a sock, but I find the Free midsole to be a bit firmer than that of the Kinvara. The 4.0 fits a bit wider in the forefoot, but does have a bit more sole thickness.

  8. very late to the party on this one, peter – but could you tell me if the 3.0 fits true to size? i usually go 1/2 size up in nike.

    my friend evangelizes constantly about this shoe, so i feel like i ought to try a pair. interestingly, too, vis-a-vis off-road wear, he recently competed his first ultra (fairly mountainous, 50k), in these shoes, and finished 5th!

    finally – thanks so much for the runblogger discount code at sportswarehouse – just got the distance on the european website on my new running watch, which i’m very happy with.

    cheers!

    ross

  9. runningwarehouse*!!!

    😀

  10. What is the 2016 version of the Free 3.0? It seems like they stopped making it some time ago. Most places have extremely limited stock at this point and of course none in my size. Why cant they just go back to the original 3.0 or v5! My last pair of v5s is finally becoming unusable. Is there a comparable shoe that is still available?

  11. I’m a big Nike Free fan, wore the 5.0 for years. I appreciate this review of 3.0 and would have loved to have try them. Have you tried the new Free RN- any style of them? I’m not excited about extra cushioning, seems less “minimal” to me. What do you think?

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