Free 5.0 v4
The Nike Free 5.0 experience is, on a scale of 0 to 10, halfway between running barefoot and running in built-up trainers. The Frees fit like a soft glove. The shoe provides the flexibility of being barefoot, half the midsole of running in trainers, and all the sole protection needed to run over pointy things. The fourth iteration of the 5.0 presents a more durable segue into the minimal experience.
The Nike Free midsole/sole is strangely resistant to wear. Friction with surfaces tends to smooth out the bottom of the shoe, but it doesn’t lose its waffle-like pattern and can still grip surfaces. The featured “BRS 1000” rubber shows wear more quickly than the generic sole. The BRS 1000 is strategically placed in high-wear areas, but don’t be surprised if the BRS 1000 rubber and the rest of the sole show an even wear that transcends their differences.
The soft glove-like covering is protected at the toe by a small bit of harder rubber (plastic?) to protect the toenails from objects and excessive toe roll-off.
The standard issue insole flattens out or sinks quickly. Some may prefer to replace it with their own insert or to simply run without the presence of any.
The deep flex grooves in the sole of the shoe pick up rocks and debris. If you run over rocks or debris, you will have something to remember the run by. The shoe sole is flexible enough to pick up these little friends without altering the shoe materials much, but an occasional large rock may work its way up and press into the heart of the midsole. This is generally not a problem as long as major debris gets removed from the shoe after a run.
The Nike Free 5.0 v4 does not have a traditional tongue. Instead, the whole medial side of the shoe wraps up over the foot and tucks into the lateral side. The laces tie just the same as on any other shoe, but hold the upper to the foot like a glove. The shoe contains few stitches and no overlays to prod or chafe where they hold the shoe together.
The midsole/sole is flexible; it does not restrict the foot from moving how it pleases. The terms “soft” and “firm” somehow don’t seem applicable to the midsole/sole of the Nike Frees. It’s kind of like the skin padding of a human foot, as in the experience of soft or firm will mostly depend on the surface underfoot and the runner’s subjective perspective of how their footstrike dampened the impact. The Free’s midsole lets your footstrike determine the experience (and Nike offers the 3.0, Run, 5.0, and 7.0 for more customization).
The Free 5.0 v4 hovers in a neutral zone between minimal and standard features that contribute to its performance. The flexibility, thanks to large flex grooves in the sole and pliable materials, clearly allows for movement heel-to-toe and side-to-side. This is mitigated from going out of control in a couple of ways. Primarily, the midsole height of the shoe puts it somewhere between racing flats and trainers. The sole of the shoe, though deeply grooved, is still one piece and, combined with a hybrid heel-to-toe ratio, therefore accommodates heel, midfoot, and forefoot striking. Although the shoe flexes side-to-side, the medial side of the shoe has a more built up midsole to provide a touch of stability while the body’s weight transitions over the arch of the foot.
The shoe is slightly narrow, as may be the case with most Nike running shoes. The last is slightly curved or at least doesn’t stop itself from being curved. The soft mesh upper helps provide a comfortable fit to feet that otherwise might cry out in an equally narrow shoe. The shoes effectively fit close to true to size. It’s like asking a person if their socks are tight—maybe, but they’re going to hug your feet anyway, so it’s hard to tell.
The softness of the Nike Free 5.0 v4 upper may appeal to runners who do not have a status quo foot shape. Keep in mind the shoe is a bit narrow, but otherwise it is gentle to a bony heel or gigantic toe knuckle.
“The Nike Free 5.0 V4 Men’s Running Shoe emphasizes natural foot movement while delivering an extraordinary feel, combined with the cushioning, traction and underfoot protection of a shoe. Updates to this version of the Free 5.0 make it even better for runners who want to reap the benefits of barefoot training. A new tongue design reduces pressure over the top of the foot while adding support by wrapping up around the medial arch. And soft, microfiber synthetic overlays are bonded wherever possible to minimize stitching and maximize comfort. Overlays balance the fit, durability and support of a shoe with the dynamic flexibility of the foot Molded sockliner mimics the natural curve of the foot for a great fit, comfort and support Soft foam inserts under the forefoot and heel for added cushioning Phylite midsole for durability, a resilient ride and reduced overall weight Deep Nike Free sipes for enhanced flexibility and stability Wider sipes across the forefoot for muscle activation and a more barefoot-like experience Strategic placement of multiple types of rubber and Waffle traction pattern for durability, proprioceptive feedback and a smooth, sure-footed stride from heel-strike to toe-off Weight: 8.2 ounces (men’s size 9)”
Think of the 5.0 as the neutral version of the shoe, the 7.0 as the stability version, and the 3.0 as the racing flat. Some things are common among all, like the shoes are going to be flexible and accrue pebbles over the course of the run. The 5.0 is unique for its moderate heel height and touch of arch stability. These make the shoe usable to many runners and an option for a variety of runs. The 5.0 v4 require some transition due to the flexibility and heel-to-toe ratio, which will be a slight difference to somebody accustomed to standard shoes. The weight and comfort of the shoe makes it easy to prefer it over traditional shoes for every run, but the body can’t adapt without an opportunity to recover from the stresses placed on it, so exercise (pun) a bit of caution.
Heel strikers beware. The shoe does not have a heel cup and the collar does not provide a firm connection to the midsole. This can make for sloppy landings. Also, the flex grooves underneath the foot meet in a crosshair underneath the heel that makes it difficult for the shoe to absorb significant impact in the center of the heel. The standard insert in the shoe can sink down a little bit to create an experience perhaps more minimal than intended, as the foot must then come forward to the slightly built up arch, which means the heel-to-toe transition is happening close to level instead of having a drop. Aside from not absorbing as much impact or providing a firm landing, the awkward heel could provide some stress to tendons and muscles in the ankles or back of the legs if they are tight or fatigued.
Midfoot strikers will probably love the shoe. The sole provides a flat landing and bends forward without any complaint. Forefoot strikers will enjoy the shoe for similar reasons, but some may wish for less flexibility and more cushion in the ball of the foot (comes down to personal preference).
All things considered, it’s a good shoe for a neutral runner. An overpronator could get away with using it cautiously. I have no clue how a supinator would handle this shoe, because it’s hard to guess how impact and transition forces hold up if moving through only the side columns of midsole flex grooves.
I had a love/hate relationship with my Nike Free 5.0 v4. I’ve worn them for long runs and intervals. I thought they worked well for both at the time, as I liked how little fatigue my legs felt on long runs and I liked the weight and flexibility for speed. But then, at other times, I didn’t think I had enough heel protection for using them on general runs and I thought the forefoot flexed too much for use in speedwork. I might just be bipolar. Or not.
I tried wearing them sockless a few times. It generally went well. It did not go well one humid day when I was running on grass, though. My arches began to rub and I wondered what that was all about, so I took the shoes off. The shoes were always slightly narrow for my midfoot, but I enjoyed the curve of the last and never thought of this as a problem whenever I was wearing thin socks. Sockless, though, I realized that the edge of the shoe’s insert did not actually come to the edge width of my foot. This meant the coarse edge of the insert was chafing my skin above it with each step. In a fit of anger and under the delusion that maybe I run 100% neutral all of the time, I cut the medial arch out of the insert. I’ve worn socks with the shoes ever since and now regret taking out a chunk of the insole. I brought this upon myself, but anyone with a wide foot should think twice before running sockless if they’re using the standard insert. I stopped at about 120 miles on my pair, but I could probably give them a new insert and resume running on them for hundreds more.
Overall, the shoes are extremely comfortable. They can be used on any type of run depending on the runner’s preferences and tolerances for more minimal shoe design. I’m neutral, an amateur minimalist, and I enjoyed them on road and grass, but not trail or gravel. Casual and competitive runners can universally benefit from the flexibility and light weight. They provide most of the benefits of minimalism without being a risky choice. I enjoyed them well enough as a mostly heel striker with slightly wide feet. They may even be heavenly for midfoot strikers without wide feet.