Nike Free 3.0 General Info

The Nike Free is a perennial favorite since breaking into the collective running consciousness (and, arguably, bringing minimalism along with it) back in 2004. Since then, the line has spread across various models catering to different running styles and training regimens. The Nike Free 3.0 is among the less-cushioned within the Free series, offering an unparalleled style and design that allows for a dynamic range of motion over any surface, and under any weather conditions.

Nike Free 3.0 Impressions

Having worn the Free Run 2.0 for about a year, I was familiar with the Nike Free experience and was eager to see how the 3.0 compared. Elements of the fit and ride remained the same, but I could tell the shoe had changed quite a bit from when I wore them in 2010. The checkered pattern of the outsole was completely revised, adding contoured design through the arch and heel. The midsole felt more cushioned, which was to be expected. The upper’s fit and feel, however, was where I felt the most drastic change—the 3.0 was still quite comfortable, but not as breathable and light as that of the Free Run 2.0 (which, being a slightly more cushioned version, is to be expected). All told, the Free 3.0 is a great choice for people seeking cushioning in a minimalist shoe. Though snug, the shoe offers adaptive handling and a smooth experience, along with a generally positive performance for long and short workouts.

Nike Free 3.0 Sole Unit

The Free line is known for its innovative sole design, which has set it apart from many other minimalist shoes on the market. The checkered, segmented sole offers incredible contouring on uneven surfaces which allowed me to feel the road in ways that other shoes with similar cushioning could not. The design, dubbed “sipes” in Nike’s terminology, allow for excellent surface traction. New to the design this year is the inclusion of trans-tarsal cuts through the arch, reducing unnecessary cushioning elements while attempting to promote natural motion.

For a low-profile and slim heel to toe drop (down to 4mm, a 3mm drop from the 3.0 v3), the shoes are still remarkably comfortable and appropriately cushioned. While someone accustomed to a lighter running shoe could find the Free 3.0 to be too cushioned for their tastes, the average runner will likely find them to be a good mix of comfort and heft. The Phylite midsole material doubles as an outsole, reducing material where it matters while still creating a comfortable ride.

Nike Free 3.0 Upper Unit

The mesh diamond pattern of the Nike Free 3.0 v4 is not only gorgeous, it is also built for function. The nanoply layer stretches over a comfortable material that feels similar to neoprene. The result is a sock-like fit throughout the entire shoe (as there is no heel counter) that is comfortable and reduces the likelihood of blisters. The one-piece, tongueless design also allows runners to slip the shoes off and on easily while also preventing rocks and debris from getting in between the foot and the upper material. This is an important design feature as even the smallest rock could cause irritation if stuck in the narrow space between the top of the foot and the upper. The upper is also a show-stealer, due in large part to its reflective material and bright design. While many running shoes aren’t aesthetically pleasing enough to wear outside of a training session, the Nike Free 3.0 v4 certainly is.

The downside of the upper, however, is in its very snug fit. Designed to fit snugly over the foot to prevent movement and blistering, I found the shoes to be somewhat constricting in the forefoot. This, however, could vary greatly from runner to runner; I’m used to a wide toebox and have larger-than-average feet (Men’s 12), so I am accustomed to a fit that is not as snug as that of the Free. Additionally, runners who do not enjoy thin socks may find that they have to order the next half-size up for the Free to ensure a comfortable fit.

Nike Free 3.0 Opinion

On a whole, I was very happy with the latest version of the Free 3.0. The shoes provided an excellent running experience, allowed me to feel running surfaces without feeling unprotected, and did not get in the way of my stride while doing speedwork or long, slow distance. I did find myself wishing, however, that the upper was made of either thinner material, or provided additional wiggle-room. This element of the shoe was difficult to overcome, and was a vast departure from the Free experience I was expecting based on previous models in the line. All told, the Free 3.0 v4 is a great step forward for the model, as it lowers the heel drop and overall profile of the shoe. And not for nothing, you’ll look pretty good wearing them as well.

If you want to try the Free experience but want a slightly more supportive shoe, try the Nike Free Run+ 3

We thank the nice people at Nike for sending us a pair of Nike Free 3.0 v4 for testing. This did not influence our review of the shoe, written after running more than 50 miles in them