For about two years, I ran in Brooks Launch 3s, but when it came time to buy a new pair this spring, The Launch 3s were such an old model that they were actually expensive. I went to my local running store hoping to check out the latest edition (Launch 5), but they didn’t have any. So began an hour of unboxing shoes and trying them out on the treadmill.
What I liked about the Launch 3 (and was looking for in new runners) was a neutral profile with light but resilient cushioning to keep me from totally destroying my feet on long runs. I tried six pairs from four brands and eventually settled on the Saucony Freedom ISO. Its successor has since hit the shelves, but the first edition is still widely available (often on discount).
Saucony dropped the Freedom ISO last spring, making great fanfare of its first neutral shoe featuring a full midsole of the company’s proprietary Everun Continuous Cushioning.
Cushioning is a fickle friend to runners who prefer a neutral shoe (like me). Shoes with little to no cushioning can lead to early fatigue or discomfort on a long run, while plusher models tend to feel heavier, at best, or, at worst, mushy. The Freedom ISO avoids both of those common pitfalls while offering a light, comfortable ride for high-mileage runners.
saucony freedom iso • specs
weight: 9oz (255g)
offset: 4mm (heel/forefoot: 19mm/15mm)
midsole: Full-length EVERUN Continuous Cushioning
outsole: TRI-FLEX crystal rubber
upper: ISO-Fit mesh
Five to seven years ago, I was very into the minimalist shoe fad. Even when the trend veered toward maximalist in 2015, I stuck with lighter shoes with little to no cushion, but runs longer than 14 miles left me with considerably sore and tired feet. I struggled to find a light shoe that was comfortable well into double-digit mileage runs and also let me feel connected to the road. After 100 miles in my Freedom ISOs with runs as long as 15 miles, and I’m happy with the balance this shoe provides.
Saucony made a big deal of the Freedom ISO’s full midsole Everun Continuous Cushioning, and it deserves the hype. The midsole is soft and springy every step of the run, even after 100 miles. It’s responsive enough to feel solid during speed training sessions and race surges, but the cushioning really shines for runs and races 10 miles or longer. Other Saucony shoes featuring the full Everun midsole fall in the “stability” category, like the Omni and the Hurricane lines.
As praiseworthy as the cushioning is, it’s the snug-yet-stretchy mesh upper that takes the comfort of this shoe to the next level. The tongue is integrated with the upper, giving it a sock-like fit; the first few times I ran in the Freedom ISO, I had the sensation that they were part of my feet. This might not appeal to someone who likes to feel the structure of their shoe, but I found the Freedom ISO to be subtly supportive—it’s there, but you’re not really aware of it.
And as far as the outsole goes, I have no complaints. It’s as durable as advertised, and the crystal rubber has barely worn down over the course of more than 100 miles. When I look at a new pair of this shoe side-by-side with my oldest pair, I can see the difference in the outsole, but it’s more superficial than substantive. When I saw the cushy midsole and hard rubber outsole, I worried about weight, but they’re pretty light. Manufacturer specs put the Freedom ISO at 9 ounces (255 grams), and my men’s size 9 weighed just above that at 261 grams.
And then there’s the look. The Freedom ISO has a really sleek design, and many of the colorways feature a nice color pop on the crystal rubber outsole, making a bold statement to the person behind you, saying “Look how snazzy my shoes are.”
I just mentioned that I’m wearing a men’s 9. At the suggestion of the salesman at my local running store, I tried the men’s version of the shoe and compared it to my usual size: a women’s 10.5. The slightly wider toe box in the men’s version persuaded me to buy it instead of the women’s design. So while I’d say most aspects of the shoe are true to size, the toe box is a little narrow in comparison to the rest of the upper. For me, going with the men’s shoe was an easy solution, but ideally, I’d find the best fit in a women’s shoe. There’s also no wide-with version of the Freedom ISO.
Going with a men’s shoe changed my design choices, but both the men’s and women’s lines have sharp options. I went with the NYC Freedom ISO, which Saucony released for the TCS New York City Marathon. It’s a cool look, sharing the color scheme of the Statue of Liberty, but the copper-colored aglet (the plastic thing on the end of a shoelace) is heavier than the aglet on the non-NYC Freedom. It noticeably bounces around, which is an annoying problem most shoes in this line thankfully don’t have. (Most shoes in the line also don’t have Lady Liberty’s torch emblazoned on the outsole, but I suppose that’s not an even tradeoff.)
Perhaps this goes without saying, but the Freedom ISO is best for long training sessions or races longer than a 10K. I did one track race and three road races in these: a 1500m, a four-miler, a 10-miler and a half marathon. While I enjoyed wearing them at all distances, I would have opted for something with less cushion in the former two races. The cushy midsole of the Freedom ISO interferes with the level of connectivity I like on the track and in shorter races.
Finally, and perhaps most noteworthy for a high-mileage runner: The Freedom ISO is expensive. I was happy to spend $160 on my first pair, but I hesitated to buy a second, even though I like to rotate my shoes. At the same time, I expect these shoes to last. They’re very durable and feel like new after 100 miles. I say this because I just bought a second pair, and they feel the same as the ones I purchased in March. Because the Freedom ISO 2 was about to come out, I got my second pair for a little over $87 at my local running store in May (the Freedom ISO 2 is now available). Pairs of the first edition are listed across the internet and on Saucony’s website for $79.99-$119.99 as of this writing, a good deal for a shoe of this quality.
I’m really happy I bought the second pair, not only because of the price point, but because I love this as a long-course triathlon shoe, too. The tongue-integrated mesh upper makes it easy to slip on (after you throw on some elastic laces), and the cushioning makes running on tired legs a little more bearable. These got me across the finish line of a very rough long-course triathlon (the run leg is a half marathon).
the bottom line
The Saucony Freedom ISO is an excellent choice for runners who prefer a neutral profile, stylish look and a light but comfortable fit—but all this comes at a hefty price. This shoe is best suited for middle to long distances on road surfaces. You can get a good deal by snagging this shoe now, but keep in mind that selection may be limited and continue to dwindle as its successor takes center stage.
A version of this review was published on Competitor Running on May 3, 2018