Nike Free Shoes Naming Convention Explained

nike free 5.0 v4 university blue obsidian

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Nike Free shoes. People were telling me how they were Nike’s response to Vibram FiveFingers shoes and the growing amount of research that is showing that extra supportive athletic shoes have done little to help prevent foot injuries (and might even be a big cause of them). Either way I was intrigued since I’ve been a fan of VFF’s I wanted to see what the “competition” was up to.

Nike states the Free line of shoes is

….a revolutionary shoe that lets your feet move naturally. A shoe that awakens the foot’s sensors. Feet become stronger, more flexible. And ultimately perform better.

The first thing I learned about Nike Free shoes is their whole naming convention is VERY CONFUSING.  Nike launched their Free line back in July of 2004 with just one shoe, the Nike Free 5.0.  Now in 2009 they have what seems like over 15 some shoes.

The following are men’s shoes with the Nike Free in the product title (taken from the Nike Store website):

The following are women’s shoes with Nike Free in the product title:

The mixture of acronyms, decimal numbers, roman numerals, and “plus” signs makes their whole line of shoes hard to decipher (it’s like translating a foreign language).  I think it’s way too much.  I mean they are selling shoes not computer software!  They should simplify their naming system.  But I’m digressing, I’ll try to step you through what I’ve learned about Nike Free jargon.

Some Nike Terms Defined:

  • Roman Numerals (example II or IV): this normally denotes what version of the shoe they are on, so II would be the 2nd generation while IV is the 4th generation
  • V4:  Just when we figured out roman numerals are version numbers they throw in “V’s” too.  The “V” stands for “version.”  So V4 is the fourth version of the shoe.  Why they aren’t consistent and use either “V’s” or Roman numerals I have no idea.  It’s Nike they can do whatever they want apparently.
  • iD:  This is short for identification in the normal world, but in Nike world it is short for NikeID.  A system where they allow you to customize your shoes materials and colors.  So choose that have this suffix allow you to customize them.
  • +: The plus sign here doesn’t not mean “addition” like it does in the normal world (nor is it a part of an equation, Everyday + 2 = x), here it is short for the Nike + (plus) tracking system.  This means the shoe has room for you to insert their Nike + sensor into the shoe which will allow you to track how far/fast you run with your iPod.  Unfortunately, the sensor is not included with the shoe.

Nike initially launched the Nike Free shoe line with the intention of using a 0.0 to 10.0 scale to denote how “barefoot” a shoe is.   Zero (or 0.0) is technically barefoot and a 10.0 is a traditional athletic shoe.  Using this scale it makes more sense now when they have Nike Free 3.0’s, 5.0’s, and 7.0’s.  As the numbers increase the amount of traditional shoe support increases.  Nike Free shoes only come in 3.0, 5.0, and 7.0 flavors.  For people looking for a more barefoot running experience (think Vibram FiveFingers) then the Nike Free 3.0 probably makes the most sense.  For people who want to slowly transition into barefoot running by building up foot strength that where the Nike Free 5.0 or 7.0 makes sense.

What’s confusing is where the other shoes fall in the spectrum.  It’s as if Nike’s marketing department fell in love with this “Free” concept and decided to create a bunch of new shoes with the title Nike Free while abandoning the barefoot scale they created.

You can check out a the official Nike Free running page.  They have an interactive tool that allows you to “Explore the Nike Free Family.”

Nike Free Family TreeThe only problem is that this tool only shows you 3 Nike Free shoes.  And as we learned there are quite a few more Nike Free shoes than 3.  As a rule of thumb I would place the training shoes in the upper 8.0 to 9.0 on Nike’s barefoot scale.  So if you are truly looking for a barefoot running shoe/experience I would stick with the Nike 3.0’s or 5.0’s.  However, like I said I’ve read pretty good reviews for all their shoes.

Hope this helped!  It took me a while to figure all this out.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Ben October 16, 2009, 12:10 pm

    Thanks! I was looking for this kind of decoder ring for the Nike Free vocab!

  • Claire October 13, 2010, 5:35 pm

    Unfortunately after hearing all the negative press about just how bad all previous training shoes that Nike have produced over the last 30 years or so are for your feet, and how much money has been made as a consequence, I just can’t support their new ‘barefoot’ running shoe. You would have thought that with the reserach tools available to them, they would have discovered some time ago that extra padding de-sensitizes your feet and thus is likely to cause more damage not less. I prefer to support and back some of the smaller companies which prioritize their consumers health rather than the size of their bank balance.


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