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Nike Free 5.0 Review

Nike Free 5.0
Photo: Nike
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Price:  $100 List
Pros:  Flexible, insanely comfortable, fashionable
Cons:  Significant heel to toe drop discrepancy, heavy, not very durable
Manufacturer:   Nike
By Jimmy Elam ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 23, 2014
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  • Ground feeling - 30% 6
  • Warmth - 10% 8
  • Traction - 20% 5
  • Foot Protection - 15% 7
  • Weight - 15% 5
  • Comfort - 10% 10

Our Verdict

Nike Free Discontinued
Head over to our Barefoot Shoes Review to check out our current lineup of favorites!

The Free 5.0 are a very unique minimalist running shoe. They have some wonderful attributes, being extremely comfortable, flexible, fashionable and all-around versatile. They also don't quite fit in with our expectations of what it takes to be a top minimalist running shoe. The heel-to-toe drop is much too high, they are heavy, not very durable, and we don't get the sensitive ground feeling we want. Though because of the Free 5.0's amazing flexibility, just walking around in the Free 5.0 will strengthen your feet, giving you time to adjust to minimalist footwear while not giving you the full barefoot feeling. We give them our Best Buy award because this pair presents an economical option for those transitioning to minimal footwear and they are one of the most versatile minimal shoes that we tested, meaning a wearer could get a lot of use from them. If you're looking for a comfortable shoe that can help you transition towards minimal running shoes or you have a job with a lot of walking and standing, we recommend giving the Free 5.0 a shot. We also love the look of the Free 5.0 and rate it as the most fashionable of the group. Sorry Fivefingers Treksport, you barely missed it.

Our Analysis and Test Results

Are you fresh into minimalist running and want to take your time with transitioning? Do you just want a comfortable minimalist shoe to get you around through the day? We feel the Nike Free 5.0 are the most versatile shoe of the group, applying to the largest number of runners. This shoe can be beneficial for any minimalist runner. Though, before you even start running in a minimalist shoe we feel that it's good to spend some time just walking around in minimal shoes and to take very short runs here and there to build up strength in your feet. The Free 5.0 is perfect for just that. This shoe will give you a good taste into knowing if minimalist running shoes are for you. Being our Best Buy Award winner, you'll be happy to know you don't have to break your bank to give this shoe a run for its money.

Performance Comparison

The Free 5.0 provide unrivaled comfort, beating out the rest of the...
The Free 5.0 provide unrivaled comfort, beating out the rest of the group in that category.
Photo: Katie Vane

Ground Feeling

Compared to the rest of the minimalist running shoes in the group, we feel the Nike Free 5.0 are one of the furthest shoes away from a genuine barefoot and minimalist feel. There is so much cushion distancing us from the ground that we don't seem to get the sensation we need from a minimalist running shoe. That being said, the flexibility and high comfort of the Free 5.0 make for a perfect shoe to use for transitioning into minimalism and strengthening your feet.

Wonderful flexibility through the whole outsole on the Nike Free.
Wonderful flexibility through the whole outsole on the Nike Free.
Photo: Katie Vane

We feel a heel-to-toe drop of 9mm in the Free 5.0 is a bit much for a minimalist shoe. The average minimalist shoe generally ranges from 0 to 4mm heel to toe drop, so having a 9mm drop pretty much negates the function of a true minimalist shoe. With such a large discrepancy in the drop, we still have more of a heel strike in our stride than we want in a minimalist shoe. Though the Free 5.0 gives you that barefoot feel in the sense of flexibility, we feel it lacks in promoting a natural foot strike with such a significant heel to toe drop.


The outsole on the Free 5.0 is completely made of foam with no tread or lugs for traction, so stick to the roads! We find them to be plenty grippy on the road. The outsole foam does wear quite fast, actually quicker than any of the other minimalist running shoes in the group after logging fifty miles of runs.

Small rocks and debris constantly gets stuck between the grooves in...
Small rocks and debris constantly gets stuck between the grooves in the sole of the Free 5.0.
Photo: Katie Vane


Wow. We thought about leaving it as that, knowing you would get the point. The comfort of the Nike Free 5.0 is unmatched compared to the other shoes we tested. The Free 5.0 have no heel counter, a gusseted tongue, and a slightly narrow but stretchy upper which promotes a truly sock-like fit. They are most comfortable for daily wear but not our favorite for higher mileage.The out-of-box comfort is silly good and the Free 5.0 are always our favorite minimalist shoe for daily wear and shorter runs on the road. We keep runs in the Free 5.0 to about 45 minutes or less on the road and stay off the trails. With 14mm of cushion, more than any of the other minimalist running shoes in the group, the Free 5.0 can feel a little too soft for some minimalist runners.

Stretchy snug and sock-like upper on the Nike Free 5.0, our highest...
Stretchy snug and sock-like upper on the Nike Free 5.0, our highest rated shoe for comfort.
Photo: Katie Vane


As the heaviest minimalist running shoe of the group at 8.9 ounces, the Free begin to feel like a typical cushioned trainer to us after around 4-5 miles. What makes the Free 5.0 so much heavier than the rest? First, we feel that Nike is going more for a fashion statement than a true minimalist ride with the Free 5.0 and has extra material that could easily be shed to cut back on weight. The Free 5.0 have a more substantial outsole than any of the other minimalist shoes we tested. It also has an upper that we feel could be stripped down to shed an ounce or more.


We rate the Free 5.0 as one of the warmer minimalist shoes of the group. This is likely from the thicker upper with a synthetic leather wrapping around the majority of it. We also feel that the Free 5.0 has horrible breathability, with our feet becoming pretty hot and sweaty after just a few miles. In turn, we also find the Free 5.0 to be the smelliest of all the shoes we tested. This is another reason we recommend you don't log the high miles in the Free 5.0.

The upper material used on the Free 5.0 seems to prevent adequate...
The upper material used on the Free 5.0 seems to prevent adequate breathability for us.
Photo: Katie Vane

Foot Protection

As far as the outsole goes, this shoe offers a reasonable amount of foot protection because of the thicker cushioning it has compared to most of the other shoes. These are intended to be road shoes, and we definitely recommend you keep to the roads. We don't feel the Free 5.0 are made to withstand much trail running. Having a full foam outsole, we notice the outsole wearing much faster than the other shoes in the group. They also seem to attract many small rocks and other "junk" between the flex grooves, which become a real pain to remove during a run. Though, this doesn't happen as often when we stick to the roads. We also notice a lack of balance when running on any uneven surfaces, with our feet not feeling completely secure in the shoe. We suspect this has to do with the stretchy upper allowing our feet to move around more than in the other shoes we tested. If you're interested in reading about the minimalist running shoe in our test with a ridiculous amount of protection, check our Top Pick Inov8 Trailroc 245 which feature a Meta-shank rock plate.

Rolling by in the Nike Free 5.0.
Rolling by in the Nike Free 5.0.
Photo: Katie Vane

Best Application

Wear the cushy Nike Free 5.0 on a daily basis to improve foot strength while walking around or take them out for some short, easy road runs. These are the ideal shoe for someone just transitioning to minimal footwear or curious about what a more flexible shoe feels like. They can be worn for more everyday wear than most of the other minimal shoes we tested.


The Free 5.0 win our Best Buy Award, being an affordable and versatile minimalist shoe. With a price of $100, the cost is not prohibitive to those wanting to try minimal footwear for the first time or for those who want an everyday minimalist shoe.


If you're looking for a comfortable and fashionable minimalist running shoe for daily wear or logging shorter runs, be pleased to know you'll be looking good while strengthening your feet in the stylish Free 5.0. With a high heel-to-toe drop, tons of cushion, and plenty of flexibility, the Free 5.0 allows for a smooth transition if you're fresh into minimalist running shoes.

Jimmy Elam