New for 2012 the Nike Free range has been updated with a few new versions that build upon the popular features of their predecessors to offer an improved minimalist experience.
The Nike Free 4.0 (V2) is a shoe that sits in the middle of the Nike Free range as it offers a flexible ride whilst maintaining some limited stability and integrity in the upper. Nike kindly provided me with a sample pair to test and I have managed to log four separate runs over the past week.
Before I go on to detail the features of the shoe, it is worth mentioning that my Initial feedback is good. The ride is very flexible (as intended) and the sole allows for a large amount of of movement. The upper takes a little getting used to as it is more minimalist than other natural lines that I have run in such as Newtons, Asics Blur and the Saucony Kinvara but I actually preferred this due to the more natural motion that it promotes.
Deep flex grooves in the outsole give the trainer its flexibility. These cut outs allow each section of the sole to move independently in line with your foots natural motion, meaning the shoe is working with you rather than fighting against you when you run. These cut outs run vertically across the shoe and there are also three vertical cut outs that run from toe to heel, allowing for foot movement in every direction.
The outsole profile is in keeping with the minimalist view that the heel to toe height offset should be as small as possible. Conventional trainers have an offset of about 12mm due to more cushioning in the heel area. Although this cushioning can be a good thing, having this 12 mm offset actually encourages you to heel strike and therefore increases the amount of shock and vibration that passes into your lower body. The trainer encourages you to land on your mid-foot and therefore reduces the amount of shock that the shoe (and your body) has to deal with.
As the shoe has been designed to flow freely with your foot, the upper has been designed to be as least obstructing as possible. The best way to describe the upper is that is it like putting on a sock. it is not only smooth and seamless on the inside, but it also has very little integrity, making it feel light flexible as opposed to the constricting and clumpy feel of conventional running shoes.
The upper has plenty of ventilation to keep your foot dry during your run. The tongue has been constructed almost entirely of mesh ad there are several areas of courser mesh at the side of the upper as well as the toe box.
As I have already said, the Nike Free 4.0 feels like you are wearing a sock instead of a shoe. The upper is snug around the foot and the lightweight construction along with added ventilation allows for a light and airy fit whilst still holding the foot in place. The vertical and horizontal flex grooves that makeup the outsole allow the shoe to move in line with your foots natural motions throughout the gait cycle instead of working against it. Those runners with experience in natural running shouldn’t have a problem migrating to this shoe but those used to conventional trainers should ensure that you are landing on your mid-foot when you run as otherwise the lack of lateral support may take some getting used to.