Earlier in the year I debated on what shoes to purchase as my main running shoes for the 2014 season. I primarily compared the Nike Free 3 Flyknit and the New Balance Minimus 10V2. I decided to go with the Nike Free based on recent history and success in those shoes. I set both a half marathon and 10K PR in my previous Nike Free’s and hoped to continue that success. After a couple hundred miles and a few races in the 2014 editions, I feel safe in providing my review of them.
I purchased my pair back in April from Road Runner Sports. I like their return policy, ability to really test the shoes in store and the generous discount programs they offer. I ran in these shoes three times, at various stores around town before buying them. I thus felt confident in my decision. I was initially attracted to the light-weight and breathable cloth material that makes up the shoe. I also loved the snug, glove-like fit along with the exciting color selection.
The shoe excels above all others in two areas, weight and fit. The Flyknit upper material and flexible grid system sole combines into an almost barely there feel. It really does feel like you are only wearing a pair of socks. At times I wanted to run in just the shoes without socks, but I wouldn’t recommend it after a couple of attempts.
Additionally, the weave of the upper helps the shoe to really hug the foot firmly. The shoe doesn’t wiggle side-to-side or back-and-forth on your foot. The shoe laces are almost unnecessary but do come in handy if you need something to secure a foot-pod to. The flexible sole also allows almost any foot type to work with the shoes.
The Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit shoes are also probably the most stylish of all the shoes I compared and tried on (see below). I really like their low-profile look and the color combinations available. They clean really easily and the black trim editions match most any running outfit. They do initially look a little funny when off your feet, since they curl up like an armadillo but that fades with use.
These are a minimalist pair of shoes, so don’t expect much in the way of cushion. They are in fact, thicker soled than the New Balance Minimus, but not by much. So, you have to enter into these with the understanding that there may be a bit of a learning curve. Also, if you like a shoe that feels more like a shoe, these are not for you. Again, they are like enhanced socks for the feet.
The major drawback for these shoes is performance, they just don’t deliver like a pair of $100+ shoes should. They are great to walk around in and for the training run here and there but they are useless when it comes to racing. They do not pivot or turn well. The lack of traction leaves you less sure-footed and holding back. They laces are somewhat obnoxious since they do not really serve a purpose. They flop around in a very flimsy way and can come easily undone.
The shoe also has an uneven foot strike initially. I think this is because of the armadillo like rolled up sole you have to break in. Speaking of which, my previous Nike Free models felt broken in with as little as 50 miles on them. I did not feel like these were really ready for use until well over 100 miles into them. Also, the grooves in the sole, are a little too open to getting rocks stuck in them. A problem I did not have with the New Balance Minimus. Lastly, the shoe, again, has no spot inside of it where it can hold a footpad. Discouraging since the soles are thick enough to do so.
After a couple of hundred miles I am pleased to say that the material and general condition of the shoes has held up very well. They have been used on rubber tracks, dirt trails, road and treadmill surfaces. Interestingly, the shoe performed least well on treadmills. On treadmills, the rubber sole, seemed to wear a little faster. Also, the shoe in general has a very slick feel on most surfaces. The tread never gave me that solid “grip” feeling I look for in shoes. I have not used them in rainy slick conditions, so I cannot speak on how well their traction holds up there.
Overall, I have to say that these shoes are sub-par, as compared to my previous Nike Free 3.0 pairs and the New Balance Minimus V2 I have owned before. They never really felt “fast” or quite right in terms of the foot strike area. I think Nike may have tinkered with the formula a little too much with this shoe. They are great walking around shoes or general training shoes, but I would not use them for racing. I would give them a 2 star rating out of 5 stars. They are a cool looking shoe, but not a good running shoe. I am going back to the New Balance Minimus.