differences between a few nike running shoes

Nike free 3.0 photo by flickr user edtrigger

I found myself looking for running shoes and found myself a little overwhelmed by all of the choices out there.  My goal was to find a semi-minimalist shoe – basically a cross between a flat, minimal shoe with no heel-toe drop (difference in height between the heel and the toe) and a traditional running shoe that typically has a bunch of heel cushioning. I realize that the minimal shoes are already a cross between shoes and barefoot running, but my legs and calves aren’t quite ready for that yet.

I focused solely on Nike shoes.  Nike’s website, while pretty, sucks for obtaining any technical information.  Luckily, Running Warehouse has a lot of good information.   They have a neat shoe fit predictor (“shoefitr”) and good information about the amount of support running shoes provide as well as measurements of heel to toe drop.

Nike Free series:

I like the Nike Free series because they allow your foot to flex naturally, which allows you to build up strength in your foot muscles when training.  There are a ton of different variations out there and it’s hard to tell what the differences are.

  • Nike Free 3.0 – most barefoot-like with a super flexy sole
  • Nike Free 4.0 – a little more support, this is in between the 3.0 and the 5.0.
  • Nike Free 5.0 – flexy sole like the 3.0 but with about 4mm more cushioning throughout. This is ideal for runners new to the “Free” series.

Nike Free Run+ by flickr user Yoshihuang

Anything with “TR” in the model name is for cross training.  This isn’t always obvious.  There’s also a Nike Free Walk walking shoe. The Nike Free Xilla is a cross training shoe. I don’t know what the Nike Free Waffle AC is exactly other than it uses the Nike Free sole with an old school upper. I think it’d function as more of a cross training shoe.  There are other versions, such as the N7 and Livestrong which are pretty much the same shoes with different colorways.

Nike Flex series:

What’s the difference between the Nike Free and the Nike Flex series of shoes?  The stack height of the Flex looks higher, and also, there appears to be a larger heel to toe drop.   It appears that the Nike Flex shoes are more flexible than a traditional shoe, but not as “free” as a Nike Free.  So if you are considering a Nike Flex and a Nike Free and want a bit more support, then I would go with the Nike Flex.  If you are looking for something closer to minimal, go with the Nike Free.

Nike Lunar series (and others):

The Nike Lunar series contains more lightweight cushioning than most of their other shoes.  I did a lot of research on the Nike Lunar series (I purposely focused mostly on these to make my decision easier) and here’s what I’ve found for heel-toe drop.  Once again, Running Warehouse was a great resource.  Since creating the original table, I’ve added the heel-toe drop numbers for New Balance and Brooks shoes for comparison.

Ok, this is only sort of related, but what does the “MSL” in a Nike shoe name mean?

MSL stands for “Mesh/Synthetic Leather” upper.  I got that straight from Nike’s customer support.

Heel-Toe drop table:

Brand/ModelHeel HeightToe HeightHeel to Toe DropImage and notes - Clicking on name or image opens Amazon link.
Nike Lunar Racer27mm21mm6mm~~Image via Amazon~~~~I bought a pair of these.  Sort of.  They were actually the Nike Lunar Vengeance which has the same sole but a different upper.  They are ok - I think I bought half a size too small and my forefoot feels a little cramped.  They have a firmer feel (less flexible sole) than the Nike Free.
Altra Instinct16mm16mm0mm'~~I just bought a pair of these.  They are being phased out for the newer models so there may not be a lot of availability.  First impressions: these shoes are pretty damn ugly.  They look goofy on my feet.  But they feel pretty good.  The build quality and finish of the Altra Instinct doesn''t seem to be up to that of other running shoes that I wear but I like the fit.  The roomy toe box is wonderful for my wide feet, and I was happy with the level of cushioning.  I started forefoot running almost two years ago, but in the 10mm drop Nike Lunar Fly or the 6mm (I think?) drop Nike Free 5.0s.  Not wanting to have sore calves for a week, I cut my first run short after 2 miles or so to ease into these shoes.  So far, so good.  This model has since been replaced by the Instinct 1.5.'
Altra Instinct 3.017mm17mm0mm~~Image via Amazon. No offense to Altra, I like their shoes but wish they looked better.
Brooks PureConnect20mm15mm5mm.
Brooks PureConnect 420mm16mm4mm~~Image via Amazon
New Balance Minimus 10 MR1019mm15mm4mm~~Image via Amazon
New Balance Minimus MR0012mm12mm0mm~~Image via Amazon
New Balance Minimus MR00 v211mm11mm0mm~~Image via Amazon
New Balance Minimus Trail MT1015mm11mm4mm~~Image via Amazon
New Balance Minimus Trail MT10 v316mm12mm4mm~~Image via Amazon
New Balance Minimus Zero Trail MT0012mm12mm0mm~~Image via Amazon
New Balance NB 101 Trail26mm16mm10mm~~Image via Amazon
New Balance NB M140021mm11mm10mm.
New Balance NB M1400 v323mm13mm10mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Air Max+ 201334mm20mm14mm~~(traditional running shoe for reference)~~~~Image via Amazon
Nike Air Max+ 201534mm22mm12mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Air Pegasus33mm21mm10mm~~(traditional running shoe for reference)~~~~Image via Amazon
Nike Flex Run????7mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Flyknit Lunar1+26mm16mm10mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Flyknit+ Volt23mm14mm9mm~~Image via Amazon~~This looks to have a Free 5.0 style sole for flexibility.
Nike Free 3.0 v421mm14mm7mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Free 3.0 v521mm17mm4mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Free 4.0 flyknit24mm18mm6mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit20mm14mm6mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Free 4.0 v222mm16mm6mm~~Image via Amazon
'Nike Free 5.0 ''14 '21mm14mm7mm
'Nike Free 5.0 ''15 '23mm15mm8mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Free Run+25mm18mm7mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Lunar Spider22mm16mm6mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike LunarEclipse (Nike Lunar Eclipse)30mm18mm12mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike LunarElite (Nike Lunar Elite)31mm20mm11mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Lunarfly (Nike Lunar Fly)29mm19mm10mm~~Image via Amazon~~~~I bought a pair of these also.  These have been my main running shoe for a while.  The heel feels giant but it is still possible to run with a forefoot strike with these shoes.  I have to admit that the cushioning feels nice and the shoe is more comfortable to run in than my Nike Frees or my Nike Lunar Racer/Vengeance.
Nike Lunarglide (Nike Lunar Glide)30mm18mm12mm~~has more pronation support~~~~Image via Amazon
Nike Lunarswift (Nike Lunar Swift)26mm16mm10mm~~has more pronation support (which I did not want)~~Image via Amazon
'Nike Men''s Lunarspeed Lite+'28mm18mm10mm~~Image via Amazon
Nike Zoom Elite+ 627mm18mm9mm~~ (traditional running shoe for reference)~~~~Image via Amazon
Nike Zoom Elite+ 725mm18mm7mm~~ (traditional running shoe for reference)~~~~Image via Amazon
Nike Zoom Elite+ 827mm19mm8mm~~(traditional running shoe for reference)~~~~Image via Amazon
Nike Tanjun???
Nike Revolution 5 FlyEase24.5mm14.5mm10mm
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38??10mm
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2??8mm


don’t see what you’re looking for here? leave a comment at the bottom of the page and I’ll try to add it. thanks.


24 thoughts on “differences between a few nike running shoes

  1. Hi,

    I was looking for a pair of running shoes. Your collection was of great help. Which shoe did you finally buy?

    I would like a minimal heel to toe drop. Is the nike free 4.0 v2 good enough ?


    1. hey, I’m glad this was useful to you, Lan! I ended up buying 2 pairs – the LunarFly 2 and the Lunar Racer. I got the LunarFly because I wanted something that would not make my calves too sore on longer runs. I got the Lunar Racer because I still wanted a pair of shoes that I could use to “train” my legs and calves.

      The Free 4.0 has a 6mm drop, which I think is fairly minimal. What’s weird is that I’ve tried the NB 101, and it has a 10mm drop but FEELS more minimal. I think it might be because it has a really hard sole, which forces your foot and leg to run in a way that absorbs the impact. But back to the free 4.0 – Which shoes do you currently run in? I think that compared to a traditional shoe, it has a minimal feel because of the smaller heel to toe drop and because of the flex grooves. I have a much older pair of Frees and running in them took some getting used to.

      Hope this helps!

  2. This is a great article. I have been scouring the net to find out which models of Nike are ‘AIR’. I had bought a Nike air 4 years back and i have not been able to replace it.

    I am an amateur at shoes and not a regular runner. But I would really like to get another pair of Nike air. I am looking at the following models and cant make out if any of these are air.

    My usage is running on concrete and treadmill or use it for some light court and sports once in a while (very rare). I am looking at the following models and any suggestions would be helpful. Could you also enlighten on which models are actually air and best suited for my needs.

    Air Relentless 2 Msl
    Flex 2012 Rn
    Flex Supreme Tr
    Revolution 2 Msl
    Downshifter 5 Msl
    Air Profusion

    I apologize if my questions are vague or disrespectful to any of the Nike fans or lovers.

    1. Hello Ankit, thanks for the comment. I can’t find much about the shoes you’ve listed in terms of heel-to-toe drop and minimalist feel, which was my focus. I think anything that has “Air” in the name is technically any Nike Air shoe with the air pad in the sole. Some of them like the Nike Air Max have a big visible air window. So that means just the Air Relentless 2 Msl and the Air Profusion on your list. I don’t think that any of the Flex shoes have enough space in there for an air pad.

      The Flex Supreme Tr is a cross trainer, so you can run in it, but it’s not designed as solely a running shoe.. but if you don’t run regularly, it would be fine. The rest appear to be running shoes.

    1. Between the two, for running, I personally would chose the Nike Flex because it is more minimal, and that’s the style of shoe that I prefer now. I think the Revolution or the Flex would be equally as good for just wearing around every day and other random activities.

  3. Which one is the best for long walks??
    I bought the lunarstoa 2 SE, did not like’m I want to buy the nike free 5.0.
    Is it a good choice?


    1. I think the Nike Free 5.0 will be more flexible, which might be nice for longer walks. The Lunarestoa has flexible grooves too, so it is also pretty flexible, but I think it’s not as flexy as the Free 5.0. I think the most important thing is find something that is comfortable for walking. I don’t know if I would suggest one over the other.

  4. hello Phil, this helped me a lot to find shoes for my friends a month ago but now I am confused between air relentless 6 msl and flex rn 3 and the nike free series, I run on weekly basis, on road so performance is not a criteria for me. I llike the relentless more tho. So could you please help me? thanks a lot again!

    1. Hi Ishan! It looks like the Nike Flex Rn 3 and the Nike Free series are much more similar to each other than the Relentless 6. I like how the Relentless looks better, but that shouldn’t be the only motivator. The Relentless is more of a “traditional” running shoe, while the Flex and Free will have your heel set a little lower (less heel cushioning, but encourages a more natural stride). The Flex is definitely more minimal, and weighs about 25% less than the Relentless. I guess it depends on how you run (do you land on your heel: heel strike? mid-foot strike? toe-strike?) and how much of a workout you want just your feet to get :)

  5. The Nike Flex Adapt Tr feels a lot more neutral and maybe closer to the ground than the Nike Free. Do you have any specs on heel height, toe height, etc on this shoe? It is definitely more flexible and therefore much healthier for my lower leg and foot (which has about 33 joints that need to move for greater muscle activation and optimum performance!)

    1. Hey Beth, thanks for writing in! I’m trying to locate specs for that shoe, but can’t find any, unfortunately. The flex grooves look to help allow natural foot flexibility like you said. I think that it helps strengthen your foot muscles, which relieves the potential impact that your ankles and lower leg and knee may feel. If I can find some stats on the Flex Adapt TR, then I’ll update the table!

  6. hi i am 54yrs female with high arch and love doing zumba am been wearing zoom vomero 11 due to its cushioning but want to try nike flex what do you suggest and which model will be good for me

  7. Hey sir i need ur help to buy a perfect shoes for me. As my height is longer so i feel awkward in high heel shoes. Plz suggest me some shoes which has low heel height or insole removable so i can wear upto 0.5inch heel only. I want a a shoes look like nike training shoes. So plz suggest any good shoe sir.

    1. I find nike air pernix and free 5.0 ’14 has a heel height of 20mm. Plz suggest some good looking shoes with upto 15mm heel height but stylish sporty. I’ll be very thankful for ur help sir.

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