Both the Nike Free shoes and the Vibram Five Fingers shoes have gotten great press lately. Both tout the benefits of running barefoot and the free movement you are allowed when being barefoot. In spite of the claims that these shoes are great for barefoot running shoes there are still significant differences when comparing the two types of shoes. Here is a detailed look at differences in style, features and functionality when going face to face with each other. Please note that there are various types of both Nike Free and Vibram Five Fingers shoes, this comparison does not compare all of the differences. If you have feed back on either of these shoes and how they compare to each other, please feel free to drop us a note and we’ll include it in the comparison.
Nike Free: The Nike Free shoes look like normal Nike branded shoes, with many variations of colors and styles. These shoes definitely don’t stand out as much as the Vibram Five Fingers. You can boast to be a barefoot style runner in these shoes, but by just looking at the shoes, people wouldn’t know it. You can wear these shoes with all types of outfits and not really stand out or bring unwanted attention to yourself.
Vibram FiveFingers: These shoes are very unique looking shoes. At the time of this writing there are no other shoes that they compete with in terms of the “five fingers” model. These shoes are attention grabbers. Good attention or bad? That’s really your own opinion. Some people avoid attention like the plague while others welcome it. With new styles coming out, Vibram is attempting to make them look more like casual walking shoes, but nothing can hide the fact that people can see all your separated toe fingers. It would be difficult to wear this out to a casual bar for a night out while the Nike Free’s look like stylish sneakers that people wear out often.
Nike Free: The consensus is that the Nike Free is generally a very lightweight and comfortable shoe. It has the benefits of encasing your entire foot while being more lightweight than usual. The soles of the shoes are the main draw as they allow your feet to move in a less constricted manner. There have been complaints about the width of the shoes in general and how they don’t come in many different sizes so for some with wider feet may feel they are a bit uncomfortable. The shoes are also very breathable compared to other sneakers because of the mesh on top.
Vibram FiveFingers: A very comfortable shoe that allows great flexibility in not only bending of your foot, but also free movement of your toes. That is something that can not be duplicated by Nike Free with their encasing of the toe section. While it is comfortable, it also may be harder to find a perfect fit. They boast a 95% success rate in finding you the right fit, that leaves 5% of you suckers out.
Nike Free: The Nike Free shoes are designed to improve your strength and balance, especially in sports like CrossFit and running. The masses have spoken and have agreed that it does increase their performance while training in these shoes, but they would not actually compete in these shoes.
Vibram FiveFingers: After wearing these shoes for the first time, you definitely notice soreness to your foot and calves. It plays a role in strenghthening these aspects of the leg and foot greatly when compared with regular shoes. It also helps in other outdoor activities such as rock climbing as you have a better grip on rocks and other items. That being said, many have noted that while running in these shoes, their race time’s have decreased slightly every mile. So great for training and outdoor sports, but not for competition in sprints and races.
Nike Free: Lasts as long as your other familiar pair of sneakers or cross trainers. The stitching is tight and supportive and endures all the typical shoe nicks and cuts you would endure while training. The soles are thick for some models and a bit thinner for models (respectively the 3.0’s versus the 5 and 7.0’s).
Vibram FiveFingers: Surprisingly durable soles. Razor siped so the grip is also strong. The soles wear out as fast as other running shoe soles. Some of the newer designs like the Moc have even less padding but were not designed for heavy outdoor activity. The material that the actual encasing of the shoe is made out of is not as durable as other sneakers as they were made to be more minimalist style. As a result some users experience tearing or holes in the shoe or the sides of the toe after using and abusing them for a couple months.
Nike Free: The Nike Free shoes were designed to be worn barefoot. This means that they get much smellier and dirty inside without proper care. The outside of the shoes can be cleaned by normal shoe cleaning processes as they were not designed for machine washing although many say they hold up well in the washing machine. That being said, you can easily slap on a pair of socks and wear these shoes as you would any other shoe, thereby only washing the socks and cleaning the shoes you would any other ordinary shoe.
Vibram FiveFingers: Promoted as being machine washable, it seems easy to wash and clean these shoes every time you do laundry but be warned, excessive machine washing can damage part of the material as some users experience. I suggest hand washing them with detergent and a toothbrush and doing it more often than you would your Nike Frees because they probably will stink up faster.
Nike Free: Made to be worn sock free but they are also sized like many other regular shoes so any normal athletic type of sock would do nicely.
Vibram FiveFingers: I enjoy wearing it sock free like how they were designed to be, but wearing socks makes the time between washing cycles less since the socks will absorb the sweat and stink of your feet more. Problem is the sock are specially designed finger socks like the ones by Injinji. These socks can add up if you plan to use them regularly.
7. CrossFit and other Outdoor Activities
Nike Free: Great for CrossFit and cross training. My friend’s CrossFit gym has almost been exclusively been taken over by Nike Free Shoes. Also a great hiking and walking shoe. As for rock climbing, to gain the extra balance and grip I would go with the Vibram Five Fingers.
Vibram FiveFingers: For certain CrossFit exercises like the dead lifts and thrusts, nothing beats the Vibram Five Fingers. I imagine they are great for the other exercises as well but you don’t gain a big competitive edge by using them. The comfort and flexibility of the shoe also make it great of yoga and any other outdoor activities including, hiking, rock climbing and stand up paddle surfing.
8. Indoor Activities
Nike Free: Comfortable and light, many can imagine using these shoes to lounge around the house, but the fact is they were designed for outdoor use so it may not be as comfortable as house slippers.
Vibram FiveFingers: The original classic and sprint models may lend itself well to being a slipper. Some use it exclusively as an indoor slipper like shoe while others love wearing it if they have to walk inside and outside the house regularly when they do gardening or other similar activites.
9. Water Sports
Nike Free: The Nike Free shoes are not recommended for water activities.
Vibram FiveFingers: Great for water activities such as paddling, surfing and lounging around the pool. The razor sipings give your shoe great gripping even in slippery environments. One recommendation is to get one size smaller when you are using the Vibram Five Fingers for water sports as this will help your feet fit more comfortably and with no extra air pockets to distract you from your water sports.
10. Overall Analysis
Both shoes have been getting rave reviews from the general public and small community of barefoot runners alike. Will these shoes hit critical mass as normal cool shoes to own and parade around the neighborhood? That was never the intention. Will they both gain popularity as more people try them on and find that they enjoy wearing these instead of their old sneakers and exercise shoes, absolutely. The growth of the popularity of Vibram Five Fingers shoes have shown this to be true.
I personaly enjoy the unique feel of the Vibram Five Fingers and the increase in strength that I have experienced while wearing these shoes. The Nike Free technology was also a very innovative creation and has their own fan base. I don’t believe that these shoes will compete head to head with each other and many love using both, so it will be interesting to see the new styles and how this barefoot running shoe revolution evolves.