An Illustrated Review of Brooks PureFlow 3, 2 and 1 Running Shoes
For months I have waited curiously for the launch of the new Brooks PureFlow 3, hoping that this product might be the answer to my running shoe dilemma. I fell in love with the PureFlow 1, and ran my pair into the ground- only to discover that finding a replacement pair was problematic. Reviews for the PureFlow 2 on Zappos.com and Brooksrunning.com were alarmingly negative, and after trying a few comparable shoes from other brands, I began having issues with foot pain that only running in my PureFlows seemed to solve. I held on to and ran in these long after the tread had gone to glory and my running partner, mother, doctor, pastor- you name it, told me to throw them away before I slipped and broke something important.
Plan B was to comb the web for PureFlow 1s and buy as many pairs as I could get my hands on: pairs in my size totaled 0 items. Such is life with large feet in a half size. So here I present to you the fruits of plan C: purchase a pair of PureFlow 2s and the new PureFlow 3s, and evaluate each pair individually and against the PureFlow 1 to make an informed buying decision. What follows are my observations on all three generations of the PureFlow (skip straight to the bottom if you would just like information on the PureFlow 3.)
I have been running for four years, am in my mid 20s, have completed 3 half marathons and am currently training for my first marathon. I am a normal pronator with a mid-foot strike, as you can see from the wear pattern on the soles of my PureFlow 1s. My feet are narrow with high arches and I am a size 10.5. My 5k pace is about 8 min/mile, and my half marathon pace is closer to 10 min/mile. I run 75% on road and 25% on trail.
Brooks PureFlow 1
The features which make the PureFlow 1 a good fit for me are the light weight of the shoe, the cushion and arch support, 4 mm heel drop, and the wide toe box. It is the perfect shoe for a mid-foot striking distance runner or runner with planar, ankle or knee issues, because
A. It weighs in at an airy 7-ish ounces, and the lower heel drop encourages a mid-foot strike.
B. It’s “Nav Band” hugs the arches for great planar support and the wide toe box lets your toes spread as wide as they need to when toeing off, giving the toe flexors a lovely freedom.
C. And yet it manages to make you feel as though you are running on two down pillows strapped to your feet, with downy cushioning that minimizing impact on your joints and tendons.
Essentially, this shoe provides many of the benefits of a minimalist shoe while providing the comfort of a cushy stability Brooks trainer. That being said, the PureFlow is not a minimalist shoe. In addition to a >0 heel drop, the sole is stiff from mid-foot to heel, providing less foot flexibility than a true minimalist shoe. There is also much less groundfeel available in these than in a minimalist trainer, though more groundfeel than in a traditional stability shoe.
Other Pros: The material of the upper is soft and flexible for comfort and breathability, yet retains its shape around the toe box so that toe blistering and bruising is minimized. The oval laces that come with the shoes are comfortable, easy to lace and strong.
Other Cons: The tread. These shoes wear quickly; apparently the lightweight material of the sole is not as wear-resistant as traditional soles, or even other lightweight and minimalist alternatives. You’ll see in the picture above that my tread wore off completely where I strike- that happened within 6 months putting in anywhere from 5-25 miles per week.
Brooks PureFlow 2
This upgrade certainly had mixed reviews, which gave me pause. Most of the negative reviews were from PureFlow 1 lovers like myself and were peevish and disappointed in tone; a glance at the changed features left me peevish as well, because why fix something that isn’t broken? I was prejudiced against these shoes going in. But when the 2 went on sale in the wake of the launch of PureFlow 3, I figured why not give them a shot. I did a 3 mile and a 5 mile run in these.
Let’s start with the way the 2s noticeably deviate from the PureFlow 1 design:
- The upper material has been modified. It seems lighter and a little more breathable, but is far less comfortable; it feels brittle and canvasy compared to the upper of the 1. The major drawback of this is the way the new material behaves around the toe box. It bunches up behind the toe box where your feet flex, rubbing on your toes in a way the PureFlow 1 did not.
- The tongue is attached at its outer edge to the upper of the shoe. Since I pronate normally this was not an issue for me, but I can see how this would be an annoyance for overpronators- the tongue could be prone to drift towards the outside of the shoe during runs and bunch there.
- The toe box is made differently; the upper is constructed with less width at the top of the foot, making it seem narrower (when coupled with the upper material’s bunching issue) even though the sole of the toe box is still as wide as the PureFlow 1 design. However, it is still roomy and worked nicely with my gait.
- The laces are attached through eyelets rather than holes, however the lace pattern is asymmetrical; the outer lace eyelets are staggered in front of the inner eyelets, so that the laces sit in an inward curving pattern on top of the foot. This feature did not impede performance as far as I can see, but it also did not improve the shoe. I worry it could create pressure points during longer runs, and it seems unnecessary in a running shoe.
- The cushioning felt a bit less plush, and while it is still very comfortable, I prefer the cushioning of the 1.
Things that have not changed noticeably between the 1 and 2 include:
- Heel drop. Brooks retained a 4 mm heel drop in the design of the 2.
- Weight. It weighs about the same, perhaps a few fractions of an ounce lighter.
- “Nav Band.” This feature still provides great arch and planar support.
- Tread. Looks and feels identical to the tread of the 1.
- Laces. Seem durable, comfortable.
Overall, I had a positive response to these shoes, despite my initial prejudice against the changes. I am still not thrilled with the modifications, since none of them seem to make the shoe perform or feel better except perhaps the attached tongue. However, most of my negative observations are a result of changes made to the design of the PureFlow 1; had I never owned the 1, chances are I would love the 2.
Brooks PureFlow 3
After my oh-so-lukewarm response to the 2, I was hoping to see some improvements in the brand spankin’ new third generation of my favorite distance trainer. I did a 3 mile and a 6 mile run in these.
Let’s start with the way the PureFlow 3 noticeably deviates from the previous two designs:
- The toe box. Not only is the uppercut narrower, the sole of the toe box on this model is narrower than its predecessors. This may prove to be a deal breaker for some, since the wide toe box is a major selling point for many loyal PureFlow consumers. It was a major concern for me. When I toed off, my two smallest toes rubbed up against the side and roof of the toe box, whereas with the 1 and 2 they spread joyfully unimpeded across the cushy sole of the toe box.
- The tread has been redesigned; the tread pattern is oval and has more dimension than the previous two designs, and it is made of a more rubbery material which promises to be more durable than the tread of the first two PureFlows. This is a valuable improvement as it could extend the life of the show quite a bit. I ran in my 1s once the tread was gone and apart from slipping around a bit I was fine; the cushion, upper and sole remained intact for months after the tread was gone.
- Weight. The PureFlow 3 is a few fractions of an ounce lighter at 6.8 oz. Not really noticeable.
- The upper material. Much improved over the upper of the 2, and I found it even softer and more flexible than the material of the 1 while still retaining its breathability. I was impressed with the redesign of the upper as a whole, since
- The tongue is now attached at the inside rather than the outside. This makes a lot more sense, and
- The lace pattern is symmetrical again, and yet the lace holes are still eyelets rather than the holes of the 1. This combines the best of both worlds from the previous two models. Also, the
- “Nav Band” has been modified by integrating it across the inside and outside of the shoe rather than just the outside of the shoe, and it now hugs even more nicely all the way around the arch, providing support and keeping the shoe snugly I place.
- And last but not least, the cushioning is as plush and cushy as that of the PureFlow 1. Whatever they did to the sole of the 2, they seem to have undid it and fone back to the original downy softness of the 1.
Things that have not changed noticeably between the PureFlow 3 and other models include:
- Heel drop. Brooks retained its 4 mm heel drop here as well.
- Laces. Same.
- The heel was redesigned and has a more streamlined profile and supposedly provides better support, however I did not notice any difference to the fit and feel when running in them.
In a Nutshell
After gathering and compiling my little research project, my final decision was to keep the PureFlow 2 and return the 3 (Brooks’ return policy is fantastic, made for runners who really want to test the product they are getting before deciding to trust their feet and legs to it for the next several months). In the end, the narrower toe box on the 3 was a major concern; with longer toes and a mid-foot strike I get pain in my toe flexors if my toes do not have enough room. I did not get pain from running in these, but I also didn’t do 20 miles in them.
I can’t decide whether I am the family on House Hunters who ends up buying the fixer upper and regrets it later, or avoids impulse buying the over-budget home with the hot tub and touchscreen microwave. At any rate, I can see myself picking up a pair of the PureFlow 3 when it goes on sale, since the upper design, tread and cushioning are improved. Even with the difference across generations, the PureFlow still hits the perfect balance of weight, cushioning and heel drop for my feet; I’m looking forward to crossing the finish line of my first marathon with my 2s on my feet.
If the toe box is not an issue for you, then overall the PureFlow 3 is a better option than the 2. Whether that difference is worth $30 or not depends on how much you value cushion and upper design, or how much you dislike the lace pattern on the 2s (join the club). Feel free to chime in below; what do you think about the updated design? Do you have any helpful information or observations to add?