Comparing Barefoot Running Shoes – Nike Free vs. Xero Shoes

I bought my first pair of Nike Free about 6 years ago, soon after they came out.

I LOVED them. The flexible sole really let me feel the ground in a whole new way and they quickly became the only shoe I wore. Once I had the chance, I went to NikeID and made a custom pair that were all black… my “dress” Frees 😉

On the one hand, I’m glad I did that because earlier this week I needed to appear for a legal arbitration hearing and the only pair of “real” shoes I owned were those all-black Frees. For the last 3.5 years, all I’ve worn are Xero Shoes running sandals or my sprinting spikes (I’m a sprinter, not a “runner”).

On the other hand, I could barely remember why I used to be such a Free fan.

Compared to huaraches, where the only thing between you and the ground is a few millimeters of rubber, the sole on the Free felt a mile thick.

But the weirder thing was how quickly my stride changed. With the big, cushy, heel on the Free, I was almost instantly reaching out with my foot and landing hard on my heel, using the padding. In fact, with the elevated heel, I couldn’t even find a way to land on my mid-foot as I was walking… no matter what I did, my heel struck the ground first.

Let me back up a bit and add one fact: I removed the insole from the shoe. The insole — at least the 5mm one that comes with it — has 2 rubber “bumpers”. One under your heel, and one under the ball of your foot. Without those shock absorbers in place, I noticed something else about the Free… the sole offers some cushioning at first, but once you’ve fully compressed the foam, it’s really solid. Jarringly solid.

I could feel the jolt of force run from my heel to the back of my head. After just 5 minutes of walking, I had a mild headache!

After 2 days of wearing them, my right knee is out of whack and I’m writing this post during a time I’m usually out on the track, training.

It’s been so long since I’ve worn any of the “barefoot” style running shoes that I forgot how un-barefoot most of them truly are.