images // Zac Dubasik
If you are interested in barefoot running or the lightest, most minimal shoe you can find, then the line might be right up your alley. With a one-piece collar, a heavy focus on mesh on the upper and a segmented outsole, the women’s Nike Free Run + is a great combination of light, flexible and breathable, which is a prescription for not just a good minimalist running shoe, but a good cross-training shoe as well. So, if you are looking to hit the gym for a fitness class or to work on some weight training on your cross training days, you might want to consider this shoe as well. When I first took the shoe out of the box and saw the one-piece opening, I was worried. I have wide feet, and all I could think of was that part in Cinderella where the step-sisters try and shove their feet into the tiny glass slipper. But, it turns out the opening is much more elastic than a glass slipper. Thank goodness. After subsequent wearings, I don’t even have to think about it; my foot slides right in. I loved the look and feel of the glove-like opening of the shoe mainly because I was able to slide my foot in and out of the shoe without having to lace it each time. And like I said, overall this is a great shoe for many different purposes, not just running. For instance, I was able to maintain form very easily while doing strength training moves in the Free during my cross training days, and stretching was oh so very easy in this flexible shoe. Wearing this shoe around the house is also a great way to strengthen your foot, plus wearing such a light shoe during speedwork or working on your stride is also helpful. I did switch it up between this shoe and other, more padded running shoes, but this was a great way to switch up my workout and get some speed training in while wearing a lightweight shoe. I also loved to wear this shoe when running my more hilly path. TECHNOLOGY: The most important elements on a barefoot-simulating shoe is being light and flexible, and the Nike Free Run + delivers on both accounts. The outsole is segmented to increases the flexibility of the shoe, so no matter how or where your foot bends during your activity, the shoe bends with you. It’s almost like a grid or waffle pattern of foam that does not hinder foot movement. The abundance of breathable mesh on the upper surely contributes to the light weight of 7.6 ounces.
While this is a minimalist shoe, mild cushioning and support can still be found in the sculpted midsole geometry as well as thePhylite™ outsole with Waffle® piston geometry. An update to the previous iteration in the line, the Free 5.0, is the slightly offset lacing pattern, with the goal of offering a more snug fit. The shoe is almost like a glove, where the collar is one piece with no separate tongue piece, which is all part of the stitchless construction, another weight-saving decision. The shoe is also Nike + ready, hence the name, and also boasts environmentally preferred rubber in high-wear areas.
FINAL THOUGHTS: While there are a lot of amazing things about this shoe, such as it’s extreme flexibility and breathability, there were a few areas that were not so amazing. For instance, the grip was not the best. I started wearing this shoe when it was still wet and sometimes muddy outside, and the comparison to barefoot running holds true here – you’ve got about as much traction in these shoes as you would if you were taking on those muddy patches barefoot. Also, the outsole seemed to wear a lot faster than a more traditional running shoe. The waffle pattern, while amazing for flexibility, holds onto small pebbles, and I found myself sometimes having to clear those out of my shoes after a run sometimes. The offset lacing did provide a snug, glove-like fit, but there isn’t a whole lot of support in this shoe, which makes sense for a minimalist shoe. If you’re looking for the barefoot running type of experience, then you want to be in control of your stride and footstrike. But, if you’re looking for a super supportive upper on your shoe, the offset lacing might not be enough. Another important point to keep in mind is the fact that barefoot running is typically a learned experience. I don’t recommend putting on a pair of these shoes and heading out for your normal run. Starting off slow is a good idea to minimize soreness and injury.
Even with everything I said above, this is still a wonderful running shoe . In fact, it’s one of my favorite shoes to run in right now. I wore this shoe with and without socks, and due to the minimal stitching, there were no areas of rubbing or chafing that I noticed. All in all, if you want the barefoot running experience without the fear of stepping in something gross or tearing up your feet, the Nike Free Run + is a great minimalist shoe that delivers everything you would expect from a minimalist shoe, and then some. For the cross training days, this shoe is more than suitable as well. And as I’m training for the Warrior Dash, I have a feeling this might be my shoe of choice on race day.