Freedom is as Freedom does: Saucony Freedom ISO Review

Published on 19 April 2018 by The Shoe Wizard 

 

The Shoe Wizard is an independent shoe reviewer, who has found a way to connect his love of running and writing. He recently gave the Freedom ISO a whirl and penned a few words. Enjoy! 

 

So, I’m not a shoe designer. Don’t know what may have given that away but it might be due to the fact that I don’t work as one. That being said I’m still more than happy to put design decisions under the microscope and dissect them over the course of 4,000 words. Having done this a few times you start to get an idea of where a shoe sits in the running shoe order of things. You have you support shoes which normally have an arch wedge and generous cushioning. Then there’s racing flats which are supposed to be light and have minimal padding etc etc. Either way, shoe designers usually have a bit of a template that they can stick to when it comes to making a certain style of shoe, certain points that they need to hit when it comes to combining all of the elements that bring a shoe together.

 

 

Pow, along comes the category bending Freedom.

 

With this in mind I can only imagine what was going through the heads of the shoe design team at Saucony (pronounced Sock-A-Knee) when they were given the design brief for the Freedom ISO. The only reason I say this is due to the Freedom being a shoe that doesn’t really fit into any predefined mold that exists in the running shoe hierarchy. It’s got the Mid-Sole dimensions of a serious racing flat with the cushioning of a luxurious neutral shoe with an upper that can be either dialed in for a fast 5k or a lazy Sunday marathon. It does all of this while not stepping on the toes of already established Saucony shoe lines such as the fast Kinvara or the generously padded Triumph. Even more impressively it manages to do all of this while being Saucony’s first shoe to have a full Everun Mid-Sole which is a feat within itself as it seems that Saucony have hit the nail on the head with their first try. A bit of a rarity in the running shoe world if I’m honest. How did they hit the nail on the head exactly? Well that’s what the next 3,600 words are for so brew a tea and read on, you’ve already made it this far.

 

 

The Upper:

 You know what I like in a shoe upper? Simple. You know what the Freedom ISO’s upper is? Simple. It’s that simple.

 

 

Simple clean and efficient.

 

Starting from the front of the shoe you get a welded toe guard and then after that you are immediately hit with a huge swath of stretchy mesh. This stretchy mesh runs over the forefoot in a nice ventilated fashion where it continues to run uninterrupted all of the way down to the shoes heel with the only break in the design being a plastic “Support Frame” on the heel. Either way from the outside it’s a really simple uncomplicated upper which has minimal fusing and stitching over it barring the small amount of fused tapering over the rough edges. The mesh itself while quite light is also quite luxurious feeling as well, I’m not sure if that’s due to the actual feel of the mesh itself or the small amount of elastane running through it which makes it feel soft and stretchy. From the outside the shoe feels and looks good which is a theme that is thankfully carried on within the shoe as well.

 

 

Don’t be fooled. The ‘Support Frame’ isn’t all the supportive.

 

The first thing you’ll notice about the inside of the Freedom is the incredibly plush and padded heel collar made from moisture wicking Run Dry material which then runs down into a tongue which is welded into the internal jacket within the shoe. The tongue of the shoe itself is an interesting prospect as it actually has no padding to it at all. Unlike most other running shoes there is absolutely nothing in the tongue of the Freedom but the designers got a little crafty and placed some ribbed paneling on the top of the ridiculously thin tongue which has a two-fold effect: It locks the laces in place which prevents the tongue slipping all over the inside of the shoe while also providing a little barrier between the top of your foot and the pressure that the laces will place on your foot. The edging of the tongue itself is made of a fluffy knit like material which while being abrasion free can get a little irritating while wearing short socks.

 

 

Ribbing over the barely padded tongue to lock the laces in. Smart.

 

Finally the upper of the Freedom is brought together by Saucony’s ISO fit system which is their way of saying fancy bootie like upper construction. Saucony has been playing around with the ISO fit system for some time now and it’s had a few different incarnations from a fully paneled cage running up the whole shoe, to two straps sitting far up the shoes upper in order to lock the shoe over the ankle. Either way all incarnations of it have worked well and the Freedoms ISO upper is no exception. Instead of having an external cage the Freedoms ISO system is built over the welded tongue which creates a much more consistent experience in the shoe rather than having a few panels or a cage shifting and slipping up and down your foot. The ISO fit does a great job of spreading out of lacing pressure on the sides of your feet while also giving a high level of adjustment when it comes to the fit and feel of the shoe. If you’re going for a longer run you can loosen the sides up and while the shoe won’t feel loose, it will definitely give you enough freedom and room around the foot for a comfortable run while also having the ability to be tightened up to not quite a racing flat fit but close enough. The ISO system is good because it provides a high level of flexibility both quite literally to the shoes upper but also from a use standpoint as well which is important with a shoe like the Freedom which blurs the line of what exact style of shoe it is. It can be used for a short fast run or it can be loosened up and taken on a Marathon without any issues at all. You have the Freedom to choose.

 

 

Hard to take a picture of the inside of a black shoe but when I say there’s a welded tongue and a plush heel collar in there you’ll just have to trust me.

 

However it’s the blurring of the line’s that also causes the Freedoms upper to have a few issues as well. While made of great materials and having a great feel the fit of the upper is almost a little too lose for what the shoe is capable of speed-wise. What I’m trying to say is that the Freedom is capable of being a quick shoe and in order to run quick in it I want it locked to my feet which means I really have to abuse the ISO system and pull the laces real tight on the upper so the shoe doesn’t feel clumsy on my feet when I run fast. It’s a bit of a moot point as the shoe technically isn’t a racing flat but I feel like the upper fit is maybe just a little too generous for what the shoe is. That being said I do have narrowish feet so this is what might also be a part of the issue here. So really it just depends on how you find the shoe fit.

 

 

The Mid-Sole:

 The most exciting part of the Freedom ISO: Its full Everun Mid-Sole.

 

 

Relatively low riding shoes with an even lower drop. Not a hint of support in sight either.

 

Just to give you a little background of Sauconys Everun; it’s Sauconys version of a Poly Urethane Mid-Sole material. Like Boost? Yep, exactly like Boost. In fact both Boost and Everun are made by the same German materials research company called BASF whose tagline goes something like ‘We figure out how to make it and you figure out how to use it.’ Anyways, Poly Urethane (PU) makes a pretty awesome Mid-Sole material when you compare it to Ethyl Vinyl Actuate (EVA) which is what most shoe companies still use. PU is denser than EVA meaning that it has a much better energy return than EVA while also retaining its padding a hell of a lot longer than traditional EVA as well. The only drawback is that due to the density of PU it weighs more than EVA and can become unstable if you put massive chunks of it on the bottom of a shoe without tempering it with some stiffer materials.

 

 

You can see how the team at Adidas put some plastic paneling in their Adios Boost in order to give some rigidity and form to their PU Mid-Sole.

 

That being said when Adidas released Boost it seemed like overnight that they went from a manufacturer of mediocre shoes to one of the best shoe makers on the market. Everything that Adidas was making was being put on the Boost train and it was fantastic. Normal running shoes that had a majority EVA Mid-Sole were having bits thoughtfully replaced with PU and the results were fantastic. So imagine my surprise when at the time our local Saucony rep revealed to me that they were using the PU based Everun technology in their shoes. I was really excited as Saucony was one of the first brands behind Adidas to start using PU. I was even more blown away when I found out how they were going to use it in their shoes as well, with a 1mm thick slither of the Everun material under the shoes insole with the rest of the Mid-Sole being completely comprised of EVA padding. This was kind of the running shoe equivalent of a cheese toasty that was made only using a ¼ of a Kraft Single slice. It was justified one way or another but I couldn’t help but be disappointed that Saucony had this great tech and just decided that they weren’t going to use it to its full capabilities. This disappointment was taken away when we were initially shown the Freedom ISO which had a full Everun Mid-Sole. No EVA rims or torsion systems like you’ll find in the equivalent Adidas either, just a full chunk of Everun with a 4mm drop. Well is it any good? Yes, and then some.

 

 

Remove the Inner-Sole of the shoe and hey presto: Pure Everun goodness for your foot to sink into.

 

For those of us that have worn Adidas Boost before I’ll say that Everun gives a similar sensation but it’s also different at the same time. Boost is what I’d call light and ‘bouncy’ while Everun is frim and ‘springy’ which makes sense as it’s a firmer compound. This firmness is needed as there is only 19mm and 15mm of foam under the heel and forefoot of the shoe. Meaning that this is an incredibly low riding shoe that runs fairly flat.

 

First impressions when you put the shoe on are quite good. First you feel yourself sink into the Everun for what feels like a couple of mm then the foam just firms up right under your foot letting you know that you aren’t at risk of bottoming out the padding. Then you start to walk around in the shoe and you’ll begin to notice the springy feeling of the dense PU rebounding against the energy that you’re putting into it. As you begin to break into a light jog you’ll still feel that springy characteristic from the shoes Mid-Sole which feels really wonderful and responsive at a slow to medium pace. Once you begin to break into a tempo pace jog the Everun continues to keep up and while it doesn’t have racing flat levels of responsiveness the Mid-Sole manages to feel relatively natural under foot. Now this is impressive as there are other shoes out there that just have a pure EVA Mid-Sole which either feel good at slow or fast speeds but never both. One such example of this is the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante which feels okay at medium speed but lacking padding at low speed and clumsy at high speed. The Freedom however just feels as if it has the answer to every pace question you can ask of it.

 

 

Fresh Foam Zantes. Same kind of deal as the Freedoms but they just don’t feel nearly as good under foot due to their EVA Mid-Sole.

 

The thing that really impresses me about the Mid-Sole is that it is just a pure slab of PU material without any EVA curating which is what almost all other shoe manufacturers using a PU based material do. An example of this is early Adidas Boost models where Adidas would put an EVA rim right on top of their Boost foam in order to bring some rigidity to the shoe. Or, they would run a plastic torsion bar throughout the whole Mid-Sole in order to bring a little structure to the shoe. The reason for doing this is that PU foam when left in a massive slab while comfortable can also be massively unstable as well. Think of it like walking on jelly or something. It’s so spongey and wobbly that while it does feel great to walk on it isn’t necessarily stable or great to run in when you need a level of consistency from your shoe. Adidas made this mistake when they released their original Pure Boost which was just a bootie on top of a rather sizeable slab of Boost which was terrible to run in as the shoe just flipped and flopped everywhere.

Saucony, despite having a full Everun Mid-Sole have managed to avoid the whole unstable jelly thing with two smart design ideas. First, the overall stack height of the shoe is quite low which means that there’s less of it to bounce around. Secondly, due to Everun being a slightly denser and firmer compound that Boost is a little more stable which helps them get away with it.

 

 

Hard to see in this picture and this colourway but Saucony even spell out Everun on the side of the Freedom just in case you forget it.

 

So with that little bit of geeking out said and done it must be said that the Freedom is an incredibly neutral shoe. There’s no real focus or direction given by the Freedoms Mid-Sole, just a bunch of consistent Everun cushioning which will flex and move with your feet. For the most part this works really well. The flexibility combined with the softness of the Everun makes the Freedom really easy to run in over a variety of distances at a variety of paces as well. Sure, it can feel a little too free form when you’re trying to do a balls to the wall tempo effort but it’s more of a feeling rather than the shoe flat out being unable to do the quick stuff. Another bonus of having this pure Everun construction as well is the increased durability of the Mid-Sole. Due to PU being a denser foam you will be able to extract a much higher number of K’s from the Freedom without losing any of its responsiveness or cushioning when compared to other EVA based runners. In other words the Mid-Sole will feel good no matter the amount of K’s you put into it which is a very good thing.

 

While the Everun Mid-Sole is great there are a few drawbacks. Because Everun is a heavier compound when compared to most other Mid-Sole materials you’ll realise fairly quickly that the majority of the weight distribution sits low in the shoe. It’s not exactly a bad thing but if you run in lighter runners with a fairly even weight distribution like myself you can feel that the heavy bottom of the Freedom can be a little bit clunky when running at pace. You do get used to it after a few KM’s running in the shoe but it is something to be aware of, especially if you’re used to doing the majority of your training in lighter style running shoes. It’s also worth mentioning that the Freedom’s Mid-Sole also provides very little in the way of support. If you are a runner that needs some support from their shoes then I’d recommend that you stay away from the Freedom and look at the Liberty ISO instead which is a Freedom with some mild stability elements. The Freedoms Mid-Sole has a ton of flex in it and it isn’t rigid. This combined with a 4mm drop means that if you’re used to running in a more stable shoe then the Freedom might take some getting used to or maybe isn’t your bag anyways.

 

Overall the Mid-Sole of the Freedom is an incredibly well thought out element of the shoe in-spite of it being Saucony’s first stab at a pure Everun Mid-Sole. Due to the springy and relaxed nature of pure Everun the Freedom becomes a shoe that can really be used for any number of occasions. It makes a comfortable long distance every day trainer, it makes a padded yet responsive effort training shoe while also having a low enough profile and drop to not feel overly clumsy when you’re really trying to put the boot down and get a good tempo effort in. All of this is provided while having insane levels of durability which is just another tick on the long line of ticks that that the Freedom has against its name.

 

 

The Out-Sole:

There’s not a lot to be said about the Freedoms Out-Sole so I’ll keep this part short and sweet.

 

 

A well thought out piece of kit this Out-Sole. Although I kind of feel like Saucony is trying to tell me that it’s made of something.

 

The Freedoms Out-Sole is a dense crystal rubber that has been cut into a semi-aggressive tread which covers the whole bottom of the shoe. There’s no bells or whistles here just a solid slab of hard wearing rubber and I love it. The thing is that most running brands will try to put soft slabs of blown rubber under their shoes without much of a tread worked into them. The reason they do this is that the soft rubber makes the shoe feel a little softer under foot and the soft rubber grips onto surfaces. The only downside with this is that the soft blown rubber wears out quite quickly. Saucony has changed this around with the Freedom and has used an incredibly hard compound with a decently aggressive tread to make up for it. What you end up with is an incredibly hard wearing Out-Sole that can be used in all conditions and feels great while doing it. Thanks to the dense Everun Mid-Sole Saucony was able to get away with putting such a dense and heavily treaded Out-Sole on the shoe without compromising its ride and the Freedom is much better for it. There hasn’t been a situation yet where I’ve worn the shoe and have felt like I wasn’t getting enough grip. While I also don’t know how many KM’s have been put in the current pair that I’m testing I can say that I can barely notice any wear in the Out-Sole after my time running in the Freedom and I’ve heard reports of people extracting more than 1,000km from the shoe before running into any major issues.

 

 

I swear Saucony is trying to tell me that the Mid-Sole is made from something. I can’t quite put my finger on it though.

 

If there was one downside about the Out-Sole it would be that due to its density it probably adds to the previously mentioned issue of the Freedom’s weight distribution being centered very low within the shoe which can cause the shoe to feel clunky at speed. Once again this is a nit-pick as the Freedom isn’t strictly a speedster shoe and I’d rather have a slightly heavier long lasting shoe as compared to a slightly lighter shoe that falls apart.

 

Overall it’s a fantastic Out-Sole and I wish more running companies would follow these design cues and make proper all-purpose Out-Soles that last. So Saucony, I salute you for making this great Out-Sole.

 

All Up:

All up the Freedom is a fantastic shoe that somehow manages to tick a lot of boxes from a lot of different categories. While the phrase “Jack of all trades and master of none” may apply to the Freedom is gets pretty damn close to hitting a lot of goals that most other focused shoes just can’t seem to do.

 

The Upper is well made, light, and relatively plush for what it is. It also provides a lot of flexibility with how the shoe is used as the Upper materials allow it to be used as a comfortable and easy fitting every day trainer, while the ISOfit system can be manipulated to bring the shoe into a fairly focused fit for when the pace needs to pick up. The Everun Mid-Sole has been expertly executed by the team at Saucony, providing a ride that can be used for any number of distances at almost any pace that you require. It does this while still being incredibly free-form in its design which makes it feel natural when running at pace or even just walking down the street. Finally there’s the Out-Sole with its thick cut crystal rubber which provides a consistent feel under foot and great levels of grip while also being incredibly hard wearing.

 

 

For one pair of shoes to tick this many boxes is a great thing and a testament to the team that designed it.

 

The only main downside with the Freedom is that the heavy Mid-Sole and Out-Sole can be a little bit of an issue if you’re used to running in a lighter style of shoe where the weight balance is spread out. In all honesty it’s not much of an issue unless you’re really trying to run sub 4 minute k’s in the Freedom and even then the Freedom isn’t really marketed as a racing flat so it’s not like the shoe is failing at its intended design. It’s just more of a bias on my part as someone who typically runs in faster style running shoes.

 

Overall the Freedom is a very well made shoe which quite effectively fills the role of three different styles of shoe. It’s a plush long distance shoe, a responsive daily trainer and a firm tempo shoe. You get all of this while also having a Mid-Sole and Out-Sole that are incredibly hard wearing and almost goading you to try and extract 1,000 km’s out of them. Sure, the $250 price tag on the Freedoms is pretty steep, but when you think about the value that you’re getting from the shoe in regards to both usability and durability, it’s actually pretty decent value.

 

So there you have it. If you’ve been looking for a very neutral, free-form shoe that will do anything you ask of it then the Freedom is the shoe for you. Just slip them on, strap them up, and go for it. You won’t regret it.

 

(Disclaimer: These shoes were kindly provided to me to test by the team at Saucony Australia. That being, said I’ve been as unbiased as I usually am and have done what I always do and given these shoes the objective review that they deserve.)

 

To learn more about the Freedom ISO or the try them for yourself, click here.

 

All images courtesy of The Shoe Wizard.

This article was originally published on 19 April 2018 by The Shoe Wizard.

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