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.