Nike Free RN 5.0 2020 Intro
There was a time, not too long ago when minimalist shoes and barefoot running were all the rage. Every shoe brand introduced thin and flexible trainers.
Since then, the term “barefoot” has fallen out of favour with runners and maximalist shoe brands like Hoka have come into the picture.
Now, the most expensive, most advanced trainers have thick stack heights with carbon plates and plenty of cushion.
However, there are still hardcore minimalist shoe lovers today. When I was running a marathon just last year, I saw people running in sandals and even a guy who was running with bare feet.
I have never been a fan of minimalist shoes. My reasoning is that more cushioning means more protection and more protection means fewer injuries.
However, some people argue that running in highly cushioned shoes is unnatural and can cause your body damage.
My last pair of Nike Free trainers was the Free RN Flyknit 2017. I found the loose upper of them to be too relaxed which resulted in a sloppy fit and I ended up using them as a gym shoe.
Nike markets the Nike Free RN 5.0 as a trainer for short distances that give you a barefoot feel. They also say that it can be used as a strengthening tool to help promote natural motion.
There are two trainers in the Nike Free 2020 range: the Free RN Flyknit 3.0 and the Free RN 5.0. The Flyknit 3.0 is the closest to barefoot running while the 5.0 is more cushioned and doesn’t have a Flyknit upper.
The Nike Free RN 5.0 sits halfway between a minimalist shoe and a conventional daily trainer which on paper sounds like a more versatile shoe than the Free RN Flyknit 3.0.
So is the Nike Free RN 5.0 a shoe that I’ll be able to use as a daily trainer, or will I only be able to use it as a training tool to strengthen the muscles in my feet and lower legs?
Nike Free RN 5.0 2020 First Impressions
The first thing I noticed when I took them out the box was how futuristic the design looked. The sleek lines and sharp angles reminded me of one of those ultramodern concept cars that you would see at a car show.
I was surprised by how firm the midsole foam felt. It hardly had any give to it when I tried to squish it, a big difference to the Nike Free models of old.
Nike says that the Free RN 5.0 2020 is firmer than previous versions for better stability and ground feel.
When walking around in the shoe, it didn’t feel flat like previous Nike Free trainers. I could feel the raised parts of the outsole underneath my feet and it felt like I was walking on pods.
The midfoot of the Free RN 5.0 felt more narrow than most Nike trainers and I could feel the prominent arch against my feet. I assumed the sensation would disappear once I started running in the shoe and it did.
My first run in the Free RN 5.0 was a short 10km run so that I could get a feel for the shoe. At the end of my run, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have any aching knees or sore feet.
Nike Free RN 5.0 2020 Sole Unit
The midsole of the Free RN 5.0 is a single piece of dense, injection-moulded EVA. It’s much firmer than previous incarnations of the Free and in my opinion, makes the shoe better.
Before, the Free RN midsoles felt mushy and unstable but the 2020 version feels more responsive and is easier to go fast in it.
It still lacks the cushioning for marathons or even half marathons but it’s perfect for short 5 to10 kilometre form-correcting sessions.
Stability in the Free RN 5.0 is good. The low profile and firmness of the midsole helps with stability. The raised outsole pods on the heel and forefoot make the shoe slightly less stable.
The 6mm drop of the Free RN 5.0 feels lower due to there being no sink-in softness. When running, I noticed that my foot strike was towards the forefoot.
As a result of there not being much cushioning, my feet wanted to land on the more cushioned part on my feet, the forefoot.
The outsole of the Free RN 5.0 is completely exposed midsole except for two small patches of rubber: one on the lateral heel area and one on the toe area which isn’t a high wear part of the outsole unless you have a very weird foot strike.
Parts of the outsole are raised so the Free RN 5.0 doesn’t have a full ground contact outsole- as a result, ride transitions are not as smooth as previous versions of the Free 5.0.
Nike did a fantastic job with designing the slits of the outsole so that they don’t trap stones and debris between the grooves. This was a problem with some of the previous Free trainers.
The slits span the entire length of the outsole but only allows the shoe to flex in the front third of the shoe. The midfoot and rearfoot are relatively rigid.
The flexibility of the Free RN 5.0 is great but it takes away all the snappiness so the Free RN 5.0 is not a shoe for tempo runs.
Traction is great on dry surfaces but the Free RN 5.0 is very slippery on wet grass or wet pavement as a result of no protruding lugs or blown rubber on the outsole.
The Free RN 5.0 is also not a shoe that you want to take off-road on trails or gravel because every pebble and stone can be felt through the bottom of the shoe.
The durability of the Free RN 5.0 is on the lower end. The EVA midsole will lose cushioning over time and the outsole which is not covered with much rubber will wear down faster than most shoes.
Nike Free RN 5.0 2020 Upper Unit
The upper of the Free RN 5.0 is a bootie construction with the majority of it being a non-stretchy, thin matte material reminiscent of the VaporWeave on the VaporFly.
There is an overlay on the toe area for extra structure and durability and there is just the right amount of width and depth in the toe box.
The tongue area is made from a softer, stretchy material which feels like a porous sock.
There is minimal padding, except for three foam pods on the inside of the heel area to hold the heel in place.
You get a unique heel pull tab, not on the centre of the heel but on the inner, medial side of the heel which doesn’t work all that well. There’s a reason that most heel pull tabs are in the centre.
There are no last row double eyelets to do a lacing heel lock which is common on shoes with a bootie construction.
The best word to describe the Free RN 5.0’s upper is “floppy”. There is no structure in the heel or the midfoot and is one of the few Nike trainers to not have any Flywire cables or straps.
When running, my feet felt free and relaxed. It was like the shoe equivalent of not wearing underwear.
The upper of the Free RN 5.0 runs true to size and is light, breathable and provides secure lockdown.
Nike Free RN 5.0 2020 Conclusion
The Nike Free RN 5.0 2020 has a comfortable, breathable upper with an acceptable level of foot lockdown. It has just the right amount of space in the toe box and causes no chafing or hot spots.
Its firm midsole is highly flexible in the forefoot, provides good stability and just enough cushioning for distances up to 10km.
You won’t be breaking any PR’s in the Free RN 5.0, nor will you be running record distances in them but that wasn’t what the shoe was designed for.
The Free RN 5.0 is like a specialists’ tool that serves a very specific purpose. Its purpose is to strengthen the muscles and joints in your legs and to improve your running form.
After a week of running in the Free RN 5.0, I can without a doubt say that my form has improved and when I land, I land underneath my centre of gravity instead of out in front of it.
The Free RN 5.0 is not capable of replacing any of my daily trainers, tempo or long run shoes but it will be added into my shoe rotation because it does something that none of my other shoes can do: it makes me a better runner technically.
I would like the next version of the Free RN 5.0 to have the heel pull tab on the centre of the heel and the outsole to feature more rubber on the high wear areas, even if it means sacrificing its super-lightweight.
We purchased a pair of Nike Free RN 5.0 2020 from runningwarehouse using our own money. This did not influence the outcome of this review, written after running more than 50 miles in them.
Nike Free RN 5.0 2020 Price Comparison
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