American sports brand Nike has released a stripped-down running shoe that is designed to allow athletes to feel and respond to the ground beneath them as they would in bare feet.
The Nike Free Hyperfeel is the latest shoe to feature Nike's Flyknit technology, where the upper is knitted in one piece and fits the foot like a sock, but has a lower profile with less cushioning than previous shoes in the Flyknit range.
The rubber outsole on the bottom of the shoe is just 0.7 millimetres thick, substantial enough to provide protection from sharp objects underfoot without reducing flexibility or responsiveness.
The raised squares on the bottom of the outsole provide grip, but are also designed to act like pistons, increasing the feedback the runner gets from variations in the surface they are running on.
"We're trying to make a shoe that is just an extension of your foot", Tony Bignell, vice president of Nike Footwear Innovation, told Dezeen at the worldwide launch of the product in Portland, Oregon. "It's designed to amplify what the foot is already doing."
The combination of the knitted upper and thin sole also make the shoe very light. A size 10 weighs just 180g.
"When you talk to athletes and say: "What do you want the shoe to feel like when it's on your foot?" Most athletes will look at you and say: "actually, I don't want it to feel like anything," said Bignell.
Cushioning is provided by an insole made from Lunarlon, the sports brand's proprietary shock-absorbing foam, which slips inside the shoe.
"The Nike Free Hyperfeel is really designed for runners that are looking for a barefoot sensation but with a comfortable ride," Bignell explained. "We're always trying to strike a balance between protection, which is important, and also sensation."
Here are some more details from Nike:
The Nike Free Hyperfeel is created to intuitively move with the foot. It is inspired by Nike’s "Nature Amplified" design ethos — an approach focused on the body in motion and fueled by scientific data and athlete insights.
Research insights informed the precise placement of cushioning and outsole traction for a low-profile shoe that provides padding and protection only where necessary. A drop-in Lunarlon insole with flex grooves allows the foot to have direct contact with the Lunarlon cushioning. The waffle outsole is ultra-thin, allowing the foot to get closer to the ground.
Scientists in the Nike Sport Research Lab carefully studied which areas of the foot come into contact with the ground and absorb pressure, and which areas require traction. They used pressure-mapping technology and high-speed film to analyze the foot in motion.
The result is Nike Free Hyperfeel, a shoe that mimics the intricate workings of the human foot: Lunarlon foam replicates cushioned pads under the foot. The outsole protects like hardened skin on the sole. Dynamic Flywire flexes and contracts, inspired by ligaments.
The Nike Free Hyperfeel ($175) will be at retail in the US, UK and Japan beginning 5 September.
Sign up for a daily roundup
of all our stories