Well, the moment has arrived – my FIRST REAL REVIEW!!!!
… I’ll wait for your excitement to calm down. Ready? You sure? Ok…
So over the past six months, in addition to training for the 2016 Chicago marathon and the trials and tribulations and ilioTIBULATION (band) injuries (see what I did there??), I’ve also been fortunate enough to provide you with some first impressions on various pieces of gear. While first impressions are fun to do, the time has finally come for me to dive a little deeper into the world of “Gearist,” and provide you with my first full review – the Brooks Pure Flow 5!
The Pure Flow 5’s outsole is comprised of a charcoal colored rubber that extends from the mid foot through the underside of the toe box, as well as covering the posterior third of the shoe, extending further forward laterally than medially. That extension of the outsole indicates a focus on the landing of the shoe that may be aimed towards runners who incorporate some rear landing of the shoe (heel) as well as pure mid or forefoot landers. This shoe is another installment of the Brooks “Pure Project” which is aimed at focusing on the way the foot naturally functions. The sections of outsole that aren’t made of this higher abrasion charcoal rubber are Brooks’ DNA foam – a noticeably less dense, white material that gives more to the touch. This exposed white foam is the same material that forms the midsole of the shoe – an EVA compound.
I appreciate the stark contrast of colors in terms of differentiating the areas of perceived greater contact (charcoal rubber) from those of lesser (white foam). The overlap of the darker rubber on top of the white conveys the idea of precision to the consumer, and the detailed pattern seems deliberate at best, superfluous at worst; in either case – I appreciate the intentionality that went into the design.
The durability of the outsole shows the most wear in the toe box, but full disclosure – I’m a midfoot runner, and furthermore – Brandon is CONVINCED that I push off too much, so that’s on me. Consequently, the heal shows minimal wear and tear, if any, with light wear closer to the midfoot. The grid the outsole is built upon has a section of foam that extends into a horseshoe shaped pattern of rubber in the upper mid-foot portion, which surprises me a bit. As I mentioned, a mid-foot lander, I know this is an area of my shoe that gets a lot of action, so it surprised me to see it covered with foam, not the high abrasion rubber that surrounds it. But, joke’s on me… with 40 road miles on them, that area of the shoe seems to show very little wear. Well played, Brooks. Well played…
The grid design of the outsole provided more than adequate traction on slipperier surfaces, let alone dry ones. This could hypothetically (my hypothesis) be due to the outsole being broken up into individual areas of grip. While one section of the grid may fail to maintain traction, the amount of flexibility in the outsole provides just enough give and take to prevent the entire outsole from losing contact with the road surface.
The midsole of the shoe is made up of a uniform piece of white foam mentioned in the outsole description, Brooks’ DNA foam, with a star/asterisk indented pattern featured around all 360 degrees of it. EIGHT! That’s the number of laterally running flex grooves that are built into the midsole. That’s a pretty amazing amount of grooves, and it results in a shoe that provides substantial flexibility when running. Pair that with two grooves that run ¾ the length of the shoe longitudinally, and we’re talking about a midsole that moves in almost any way the wearer can ask it to. Any foot motion is likely to be replicated in the shoe – natural or otherwise.
With a 4mm drop to the heel, the shoe presents similar to a minimalistic shoe and has stack heights of 24mm in the heel and 20mm in the forefoot. An additional feature of the midsole is the rounded heal, which Brooks’ claims reduces joint stress as well as improves alignment, but again – as a midfoot lander, I’m not sure how much benefit I personally felt from this design feature. Built for an arch that is medium to high, the shoe falls in the neutral category.
In the limited (40 some) miles I’ve put on my Pure Flow 5’s so far, I haven’t experienced much of a breaking point – so far, we’re so good. In my training though, I have switched shoes mid run to get used to a lower drop, and that provided me with some biofeedback that I likely would have not noticed otherwise – namely the CRAZY amount of flexibility and feedback I get from this shoe. The flex grooves in the midsole that translate to/through the outsole aren’t just tension breaking points, but actually provide negative space from the road to the sock lining itself. When switching from a more traditional running shoe to this one, I felt substantially less rigidity and structure in the foot bed, and more of the road itself, but more on that in the ride section…
Made of single layer mesh, the 3D fit printed material provides substantial airflow to the anterior-superior portion of the foot. An additional benefit of 3D printing on running shoes, aside of design, is the relinquishing of stiches as bonding materials take the reigns. No stiches means less weight, something that is appreciated on shorter runs, and invaluable on longer ones. That extreme permeability of the mesh is fantastic for warm weather, but as you can imagine, wouldn’t be my first choice in extreme cold or a significant amount of precipitation. The tightly woven mesh, on the other hand, does an adequate job at keeping out all debris apart from dust. The lime green (lime greenish-yellow on mine) material features the same asterisk design as on the midsole, but this time created by a printed material. Sparser towards the front of the shoe, the design boldens at the midway point, very quickly providing a second material layer of rubber completely covering the mesh on the posterior portion of the upper.
The tongue is constructed of a neoprene-esque material on the foot side, and rubber on the lace side. While there is presumably some foam between the layers, it’s lack of substance results in a thinner tongue that I’m accustomed to – no benefit or liability in that. The top layer of rubber, however, tapers to almost an edge that some runners may feel pushes or “cuts” into their ankle. I, too, experienced this when first lacing them up, but found that as soon as I began running, no discomfort was noted. That could be, however, to the tongue drift I also experienced. With no lace guide on the tongue, some runners may experience drift. I found that after a mile or two, the tongue on both shoes had drifted approximately 45 degrees and were almost off to the side of my ankle. Full disclosure that I have never experienced a pair of running shoes that did NOT have some level of tongue drift. Every runner has their cross to bear, and tongue drift appears to be mine.
The rear of the upper is one of the most structured parts of the shoe, with a perceived plastic spine providing support of the posterior facet travelling down to the heel cup, which is substantially curved. The neoprene-esque lining of the collar also extends down to the sock liner on the medial, posterior, and lateral inners of the shoe. With not a stitch in site, I found this to be one of the most comfortable parts of the Pure Flow 5 construction, and provides the wearer with an extremely comfortable barefoot experience in the rear half of the shoe, and relatively comfortable one once the material transitions to the aforementioned mesh in the front half. That changeover of materials may cause the barefoot runner some discomfort, but I would challenge those runners to provide a shoe with no stitch or material alterations on the inside. I’d imagine for the barefoot runner, a moderate amount of callous build would be adequate for this shoe.
The sock liner provides the only barrier between whatever the runner encounters and their foot in underside of the foot where the flex grooves cross, and could perceivably provide some discomfort on extremely saturated runs or possible trail runs with an excess of debris. These permeable areas of the outsole/midsole, though, do average the depth and diameter (cross shaped) of a dime, so that would have to be some pretty special debris that could really make it to the sock liner. A likelier nuisance could be the slow accumulation of pebbles and dirt (but this is a road shoe so…).
The sum of all these parts adds up to a comfortable 9.2 oz per shoe (mens size 9.) At a size 13, I felt these shoes were on the lighter size of those I’ve run in, but not drastically. While many prefer a shoe that is as light as possible, I actually enjoy having a bit of substance when I run, and I found these shoes provided a nice balance. Several other reviews I’ve read rag on the width of the toe box, saying it’s too narrow and uncomfortable on runs. I found the toe box to be ideal, providing just enough room for splay without an excess that lead to blisters or instability. While my foot is on the narrower side of average, I exclusively buy standard width shoes and have never had a “problem,” but do prefer shoes that err on the narrower side. The Pure Flow 5s provided a fit that was supportive but not confining. The support provided by the forefoot fit (say that three times fast…) was awesome in taking corners tight or wide – with no shift in the foot at the ball of the toe or lateral portion of the front, I was able to dig a little deeper with security. This supportive fit extended through the midfoot, and where with many other shoes I’ve felt the need to lace them within an inch of their lives, the tying process was much less exaggerated due to the natural fit I experienced.
While the heel of the shoe felt comfortable in walking and standing, I experienced some extra movement while running. A bit of rubbing at the collar/Achilles created a small amount of discomfort for me, but that was easily exacerbated by the personal issues I’ve been dealing with in terms of ankle injury/achilles recovery.
The Pure Flow 5 currently retail on Brooks website for an MSRP of $110.00, which I think is a pretty competitive pricing for what the right runner might reap from these shoes. Taking the factors I’ve mentioned into consideration, I’d say these shoes are a great choice for steady tempo runs – something with harder surfaces such as asphalt or track materials, a little distance to them, but enough effort to benefit from the balance Brooks strikes between comfort and active midsole response. Consequently, if you’re a looking for an all around shoe to serve you in distance runs coupled with active speed work, I think the Pure Flow 5s could be that common ground for you. When you’ve got a little more energy and want to push out a handful of good miles – give the Pure Flow 5 a try.
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Born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth (no joke,) Steve now currently resides in Chicago where he’s a graduate student in speech-language pathology at Northwestern University. Former fat kid, current runner, and future marathoner.