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An Illustrated Review of Brooks PureFlow 3, 2 and 1 Running Shoes

Updated on March 28, 2014
Trying out the PureFlow 3
Trying out the PureFlow 3
After my first race in PureFlow 1s
After my first race in PureFlow 1s

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.)

About Me

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.

My PureFlow 1s
My PureFlow 1s
PureFlow 2
PureFlow 2
PureFlow 3
PureFlow 3

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:


PureFlow 2 toe box
PureFlow 2 toe box
Asymmetrical lace pattern
Asymmetrical lace pattern
Attached tongue
Attached tongue
  • 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:

"Nav Band" extended to wrap around both sides of the arch
"Nav Band" extended to wrap around both sides of the arch
Toe box comparison across models 1, 2 and 3
Toe box comparison across models 1, 2 and 3
PureFlow 3 toe box
PureFlow 3 toe box
PureFlow 1 toe box
PureFlow 1 toe box
Lace pattern
Lace pattern
Tongue attached on inside edge
Tongue attached on inside edge
Deeper, heavier-duty treads
Deeper, heavier-duty treads
  • 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?

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    • greenmind profile image

      FCM 9 months ago from USA

      This is a GREAT hub with tons of good information. My only question, as a fellow Hubber -- why not put in an Amazon capsule or two? I bet you'll see a little income from that.

    • profile image

      Kelly shoes 12 months ago

      Think too the purflow 1 toe box was wide all the way across the top of the foot not just at the base. But more were ur toes bend at ur foot. Ugh

    • profile image

      Julie 14 months ago

      Nothing compares to pureflow 1. Those were hands down the best running show. Brooks, please bring them back!!!

    • profile image

      Kelly 15 months ago

      This is funny I have bought five different running shoe in the last 8 months. The toe box is important..had three pair of pf1. The running shoe place I thinks I'm crazy. Try a new balance in wide width but heel slips. Tried brooks ghosts as my last pair of brooks. Tried some 'eiro' not right spelling. With wide toe but not enough cushion . I have always liked the 4 mm but hard to find

    • CMShields profile image

      CMShields 17 months ago

      Thanks Ann - These Pure Flow 1's are me and my best friends FAVORITE shoes. We both bought them and wound up with injury's that prevented us from running, so my pair is almost un-used. Now I feel so broken up about using them because I know i'm going to destroy them.

      Wish they'd go back to the 1's - BEST SNEAKERS

    • Ann Visintainer profile image
      Author

      Ann Visintainer 20 months ago

      Just a quick update- I recently did a test of the PureFlow 4, PureGrit 4 and PureConnect 4. The Flow was too narrow in the toe box for me, hands down, and the cushion felt stiff and overstuffed compared to older models. TOO much cushion for good flexibility and groundfeel. The Grit was actually awesome, with an amazingly grippy sole, cushion that cradles your feet and perfect groundfeel. However, I had an issue with the toe box on this one as well because I have longer toes, and the front of the show tapers sharply to the sides. So the width of the toebox was fine for me at the base of my toes, but the way it tapers cramped my outer toes at the tips on each side, causing foot pain. Surprisingly, the Pure Connect 4 was the best of the bunch and actually has been GREAT so far. The toe box, though more narrow than the perfect Flow 1, is less structured than other models, somehow leaving plenty of room for toes to flex despite being a little narrower. The cushion is soft and light without feeling stiff and overstuffed like the Flow 4. My only criticism is that I may end up cutting the nav band because it ends up slowing down my circulation during longer runs. And that overall, though a good shoe, it is still not as good as a Flow 1 in terms of cushion and balance. Anyways, there is my two cents on the most recent Pure models! Happy trails ya'll!

    • profile image

      David 2 years ago

      This was incredibly helpful. I run xc and have the pureflow 2 and love. I start using the pureflow 2's after dealing with shoes that had huge soles. I now have the pureflow 3's and am not sure if I like them or not. But this was amazing.

    • profile image

      Eileen 2 years ago

      My Pureflow 1's were perfect for me, I have finally run all my pairs into the ground, so disappointed they changed a great design! I'll be calling the company...

    • profile image

      Derick 2 years ago

      Sad that Brooks changed the toe box so much. I loved the 1st gen! The toe is in the 2nd gen has caused me some discomfort, so I thought about he 3rd gen, but sounds like they will be worse. Thanks for his review! It's helped me make an informed decision.

    • profile image

      Bob Stephan 2 years ago

      Ann, your article has validated my feelings, thank you. I was afraid that it was just me. I kept asking myself, why would a reputable shoe maker change a formula that works? The Pureflow 1 is by far my favorite shoe of the last 10 years. The PF2 changes had me concerned but I went with a pair hoping that 'new' meant improved. My feet and legs were told me otherwise.

      I'm also happy to know that I'm not the only runner doing periodic internet searches for PF1s. Not to brag, but I found a pair in my size recently, woohoo! Your review leads me to believe that as this new pair (my 4th) wears out, the PF3 may be a viable option.

      Thanks for the detailed info, run long and healthy.

    • profile image

      TomS 2 years ago

      Hi, just read your great article.

      I've been running with Mizuno EVO Cursoris as they're 0mm heel drop & have a great roomy toe-box. But the durability on the sole is poor. I'm therefore looking for 1) 0-4mm heel drop trainers; 2) roomy toe-box; 3) durable/work-horse long slow/easy run trainers. This seems like an impossibility - the PureFlows above appear to have cut their toe-box & aren't durable. My other possibility, Merrell Bare Access, also has reported durability issues along with the Saucony trainers in that band. Do have any advice about what should be my next trainer? I don't feel like my criteria above is a lot to ask :(

    • profile image

      Laura 3 years ago

      I really liked the 1's. The 2's give me blisters, and hurt my feet the first month of wearing them. I was annoyed because I bought 2 pairs at an outlet. Good to know that the 3's went are more like the 1's and when I finally wear through the 2 I bought the 3's will be better.

    • profile image

      Josh 3 years ago

      Thanks for the review! Honestly, I tried the PureFlow 3's on for the first time at my local running store today, and I think the answer is for me to get a half a size bigger in the 3 series. I tried on the 10 (my 1 and 2 are both size 9 1/2), and with the improvements, I got back the lost room in the toe box, but the rest of the shoe was still super snug. I ran in them for a bit and they felt like an already broken in pair of PureFlow 1's despite being a half a size bigger than what I usually get. There was no slippage or looseness.

      I couldn't agree more about the cushion. It is fantastic. The PureFlow 2 addressed some of the concerns that people had with the one, making the upper feel tighter and more secure, and making the sole a bit less "floppy". The original PureFlow lost some of its springiness and "pep" long before the shoe started to show major wear and tear. I expect the PureFlow 2 to hold together and maintain its consistent and firmer feel a little longer because of this, and so far (after over 100 miles) this is the case. The shoe is definitely proving to be durable and consistent. But unlike the PureFlow 1, I had to run at least 25 miles before they were broke in. With the PureFlow 3 they feel broken in right out of the box - provided you get a half size bigger in my case. I couldn't agree with you more on your review here. They made the toe box just a tad smaller, and I have no blitherin' idea why. Everything other than that on the 3 is improved in my opinion. Why "fix" the one thing that was already perfect?

    • Ann Visintainer profile image
      Author

      Ann Visintainer 3 years ago

      Anton- I think buying a half size up is a smart way to go... it's all about how they fit your feet, specifically. And the cushioning on the 3's is truly a delight. Enjoy!

    • profile image

      Anton 3 years ago

      Top top article! I am too in love with my BPF1 and need to find a replacement pair quite soon. Given the smaller toe box that I keep reading about I might have to go up 1/2-1 size if I buy the 3's.

      Hopefully my local dealer will get them soon so I can try them on.

      Again, great article, just what i was looking for!

    • Ann Visintainer profile image
      Author

      Ann Visintainer 3 years ago

      So glad it was helpful. I just ran a half marathon yesterday in a new pair of 1s I found on Ebay, I actually bought them half a size up for distance runs since feet tend to swell over longer distances, and they performed nicely. Good luck with your pair!

    • fangol profile image

      fangol 3 years ago from Winchester, Hampshire

      This is a great article! I got a one week trial of the Brooks pure flow 3 and I absolutely love them but I noticed that the pure flow 1's are going for 50 pounds on sport shoes. Half the price of the 3. I was wondering about the difference between the two models so I'm pleased to have found this great article! I'm going to buy a pair of the 1's!