It takes a special mind to notice a trend towards barefoot running and design shoes for it. Launched in 2004, the Nike Free series is a product of that thinking, seeking to combine the best of shoe-free athletics with some of the protection and enhancement that shoes can provide. (If you don’t know, there is a lot of evidence that padded shoes change our gait in a way that means heavier heel strikes while running—something that could increase the chance of leg injury. The argument of barefoot running is that we evolved to run without shoes, so shoes that change our gait are probably doing more harm than good.)
Nike Free Gym+ is the newest addition to the women’s line. Nike describes them as a shoe, but it’s perhaps better to think of it as a high-performance slipper. With the split-toe design, my years of childhood martial arts fandom make me think "this is a ninja’s slipper."
The shoes are designed to be used in a gym setting, for "dynamic yoga and other mind-body classes typically taken barefoot." They are very light, weighing in at under 5 oz. The treads are designed to give extra traction over a bare foot, along with some protection against whatever’s on your gym’s floor, while still offering close to natural movement thanks to a network of strategic grooves in the sole.
Are they effective? I don’t know. Nike is walking a fine line between embracing barefoot athletics and convincing us that we need some kind of shoe to protect our feet—thus positioning itself well in case this barefoot thing really takes off.
The Nike Free Gym is $110 and available online.