Rating: 4 / 5
Summary: A light moccasin with a good sole and no heel counter. The shoe encourages full use of foot and ankle, improves balance and control, and strengthens the foot and ankle. The low profile sole resists turn-overs. The sole has excellent traction on all but wet clay and loose dirt. Here, it fails, since it has neither a solid heel notch nor a heel edge.
Nike Free Trail 5.0's are not much more than a perforated leather slipper mounted on a good sole. There is no heel counter. Despite its light appearance, the sole is tough enough for backpacking over spikey rock and sticky enough to slab on wet rock.
Whatever support the Free Trail provides comes from keeping the foot properly placed on the sole. The rest is up to your feet and ankles. For most people, a period of adjustment and strengthening is needed.
My first impression upon donning a pair of Free Trails was of wearing house slippers. The next impression was a feeling of balance and control which encouraged full use of the feet and ankles. They didn't just feel good, they made my feet and ankles feel like working out. I hit the trail after wearing Free Trails for neighborhood walks. I was not disappointed; they had more than enough support for backpacking and loping on rocky trails. Then I took them on the AT. They met their match on wet clay. Lacking a heel notch or edge for digging into a steep, wet trail, the Free Trails had me doing butt slides. But that is my only complaint.