While this is not a ‘new’ product as such, I thought it worthwhile to put pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard to give you my two cents worth on these shoes, given that a lot of our shoe reviews have been on some of the newer models that have come out recently. In short, I would regard myself as very ‘acquainted’ with these shoes, having worn them for pretty much every single trail race/run I’ve done over the last couple of years, and racking up the best part of 5,000kms in them give or take a few. I know Marcus, is also a big fan so I’m sure he’ll have some comments to make also.
I distinctly remember trying these on in Rebel sports in Glebe about six months before I actually bought them thinking, “No way am I buying these, they’re utter garbage. Where’s the bloody support? The fit is so tight!” The thing was, I tried on my actual size at the time, not knowing that I really should have gone up half a size and all would have been good. Fast forward six months, and I went back to Rebel for my usual Asics ‘toe-nail destroyer’ Kayano 14’s when I thought… hmmmm… maybe I should just try a half a size up and see what they’re like again?
And there it was… Love at second sight (for the most part anyway).
The thing I love most about this shoe is the spongy sole. For me, the Nike Free 3.0 was probably one of the first ‘barefoot’ shoes you could buy, or rather that hit the mainstream. I remember taking them out for their first spin around the Bay Run in Rozelle thinking “Whoah! I can really feel the ground with these things. My calves felt quite sore afterwards because of the shift of the running style onto more of the forefoot, but little did I know that 18 months later I’d be completing my first 100 miler in them.
For me, the Nike Free 3.0 is like a glove, and I mean a true glove fit as it moulds completely around my feet. For me, it is pretty much the perfect shoe bar one flaw which means I have to shell out time and time again for additional pairs – they’re extremely flimsy and tear pretty easily from around the sole where the upper attaches. Surely this could be rectified with a little bit of additional rubber attachments glued around this area if that makes any kind of sense.
As I kicked off mentioning the sole of the shoe, this seems like a great place to start. The real beauty of this shoe is that it delivers a very good barefoot experience, but doesn’t sacrifice on cushioning underneath with its very spongy sole. The sole features deep cuts, which according to the blurb allows the shoe to flex and move in motion with your feet, allowing for the barefoot running feel so to speak. I’m sold on this big time and love the fact that you can manipulate this shoe in any way you wish. It’s very much like the Inov8 Talon 190 in that respect and when I’m looking for a running shoe, it’s pretty much the first thing I’ll look for. The shoe, in my mind has to move and flex with the foot, not the other way round. It’s no coincidence that since shifting to the Nike Free and the Talon that I haven’t lost a toenail in two years. Previous shoes that I’ve worn that are ‘clumpy’ and non-flexible don’t mould to your feet and I personally feel that’s where a lot of issues can come into play. Others may disagree with me on this, so shoot me down and call me Willy if you feel strongly about this.
I have a lot of confidence using this shoe on trail for the most part. The only issues arise if you’re on some very technical, gnarly steep uphill or downhill. There’s very little traction or confidence to be had here. If you’ve ever ascended or descended Mount Solitary in these things, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Traction again on wet and slippery rocks is not great either, these are very much a dry weather, fast flat firetrail type of shoe – think 6ft track and you’d be pretty happy running in these.
The upper mesh is again another reason why the shoe is so flexible, but it’s also something that brings to the fore a little bug bear of mine. For some reason, I always seem to get tears along the edge of the shoe where the upper mesh meets the rubber attachments of the sole. I’m not sure if it was confined to a specific version of the shoe, as I went through a spate of 3-4 pairs where this happened, but it seems to have stopped now with version 3 of the shoe. But it is something to look out for.
However I guess the reality is that it is not really designed for trail running given how light and flimsy it is, and I use the shoe for a lot of trail running. This means that if it gets muddy and wet, the shoe is not really designed to take these types of conditions, but I will allow a little bit of slack to Nike in regards to this. To use an analogy, you wouldn’t take a Mazda RX-8 down a firetrail dirt track and expect it to come out shining on the other side. If you want to go off-roading, you’d take a Land Rover Defender. The same applies for the Nike Free shoe too. It will last for a while, but sooner or later, it’s going to breakdown. In saying that however, I’ve had pairs of Nike Free’s which have done 60% of their time on trails and lasted well over 1,000kms per pair. Much of it will come down to how well you look after it.
As I mentioned the fit is fairly tight with the Nike Free, so I’d certainly recommend going up half a size to account for this. If you’ve not done a lot of ‘barefoot running’, I’d also suggest that you start with the Nike Free Run+, which was previously the Nike Free 5.0. The 3.0 version can be a bit of a shock to the feet if you put them on for the first time and you try to do a 40km trail run in them. It certainly takes time to adjust to a different running style, which will see you calves coming into play much more than if you’ve typically wore shoes that have bucket loads of support.
The Bottom Line
Overall, I’ll give the Nike Free 3.0 4.5 stars out of five. For the most part a great and very versatile shoe, but with that one slight flaw of being just that little too flimsy for proper rough and ready trail – enter the Inov8 range at this juncture. So not quite the Summit of 5 stars, but a very close effort nonetheless. Nike, whatever you do, please do not discontinue this range at any stage in the future as I know major shoe manufacturers tend to have a habit of doing. This is a great shoe, one of the best – just keep it that way 🙂