The Nike Free RN 5.0 Returns to Its Roots as a Foot-Strengthening Tool

Highly flexible and firm, it’s best used for speedwork and drills.

The RW Takeaway: The Free RN 5.0 has an extremely flexible sole that lets you move freely, but forces your feet and leg muscles to work more than traditional footwear.

  • Grooves in the sole don’t trap as many rocks as earlier models.
  • The stretchy upper has a roomy, comfortable forefoot.
  • The asymmetrical lacing didn’t give testers quite enough confidence.

Price: $170
Type: Training
206g (M), 167g (W)

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When the Nike Free was introduced in 2005 (we first saw it on Meb Keflezighi’s feet on the cover of the September issue of Runner’s World that year), the shoe wasn’t really designed to be a running shoe. “A few biomechanically blessed runners will be able to train in this shoe every day, but most of you will need a more substantial trainer,” we wrote about the Free 5.0 in 2006, saying the shoe should be used “for speedwork only, or to walk in as a training tool to help build up the muscles in your feet and lower legs.”

A few years later, the barefoot movement took root and the Free was more broadly adopted for jogging on blacktop. Nearly every manufacturer turned out exceptionally thin and flexible shoes at the time. That didn’t end well, as a lot of runners got injured and shoe soles got thick soles again, quickly.

The Free is still around, however, and is once again being positioned as a training tool. When showing us early samples of the new Free RN 5.0, Nike’s product team said the shoe is really intended for foot strengthening—it can be used for runs up to 5 km’s.

This new model, however, vaguely resembles the insanely flexible models of the barefoot days, with a radical new shaping to the foam midsole.



Super-Bendy Sole

The DNA of any Free shoe is its ability to be rolled up, nearly into a ball. The Free RN 5.0 has a new groove system, with lots of cuts through the foam across the foot and just two running the length of the shoe. But each slice is curved and angled to maximise the shoe’s flexibility. To deliver some structure and stability, however, the sole has a pod-like, bulbous design—it’s thicker and more stable in areas where you’re prone to wobble.

To ensure the shoe remains as light as possible and not inhibit flexibility, there’s nearly no rubber on the bottom. A tiny pod on the heel, where your foot first makes contact, and one under the big toe provide the slightest bit of abrasion resistance. Testers appreciated the mix of flexibility and support the design offers. “The Nike Free has been my go-to shoe since the 3.0,” said one tester. “The new design is really nice and in many ways completely different from past versions. It has a ton more stability and a lot fewer rocks get caught on the sole of the shoe.”


The lacing system left our test team wanting a little more support.

Barely-There Upper

The super-stretchy mesh and synthetic suede overlays got mixed reviews from our test team. Most felt they didn’t offer nearly enough structure to stabilise your foot—especially on turns or in form drills. That could be due to the novel lacing system. We found the four attachment points troubling. There’s little option for adjustability and the laces cover a smaller section of your midfoot, leading some to feel insecure.

We all loved the roomy toe box, however, as it felt like a slipper and, without any seams, could be worn sockless during drills.


Wear Tester Feedback

Scott B., tester since 2017
Arch: Medium | Pronation: Neutral | Footstrike: Midfoot

“I have always liked the Nike Free RN for their great flexibility and fast ride. These shoes, while still super flexible, seem to offer a bit more stability than ones in the past. I think that feature only will make them attractive to a broader spectrum of runners. I didn’t seem to notice the road as much in these as I do in my previous Frees. Compared to the Hoka One One Evo Rehi, these are a quieter shoe, but both offer great flexibility and a fast ride with ample support for those that are used to a less structured shoe.”


Free RN 5.0

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