Color: Black/Blue-lagoon/Ice-cube blue/white
Nike's marketing pitch: Made light to go long.
Surfaces tested on: Road, 24° C/75° F
Upper: Single piece knit fabric, Flywire cord based lacing. Non-gusseted tongue.
Midsole: Soft Lunarlon foam topped over a firmer EVA base. 10 mm heel to toe drop.
Outsole: Carbon rubber pieces under heel and forefoot.
Weight: 249 gms/ 8.8 Oz for a half pair of US11/UK10/EUR 45/ CM 29
Widths available: Single - medium (reviewed). Wide fit available only as a Nike iD option.
(Disclaimer: For this review, Solereview bought the shoe at full US retail price.)
At times, running shoe evolution feels like computer OS upgrades. A brand new version gets released – a repository of powerful tech efforts, but comes with potential areas of can-do-better. Brand loyalists and tech geeks are likely to opt for immediate adoption, while conservative types might choose to camp it out. They wait for the ‘stable’ release, all bugs ironed out and the rough edges polished. Closer to perfection. At least that’s the idea.
The Nike Flyknit Lunar’s progression suits that analogy well. 2013 saw the launch of the first model based off the Flyknit Lunar platform, yet packed niggles like excessive tongue slide. The second update arrived with noteworthy improvements, such as a sleeved tongue construction and a new, more responsive sole stack. But it had its Gremlins too, like the hard heel counter bearing down on the Achilles and pushing the foot further into the toe box.
But this year is different. The Nike Flyknit Lunar 3 is here, and for the most part, exorcises unwanted ghosts of the past. This is the version which people will miss in 2016 if Nike decides to get heavy handed on the design in the name of innovation. If that happens, comment boards and forums will be replete with feedback like, ‘Nike should bring back the Flyknit Lunar 3’, or ‘I’m going to stock up on four pairs of the Flyknit Lunar 3’, or negative shouts like ‘Nike ruined it with the Flyknit Lunar 4’.
Of course, this is purely a hypothetical and imagined scenario, and we have high hopes that none of this will ever come to pass. And that Nike will uphold the well proportioned standards of the Lunar 3 by pursuing an incremental evolution approach. Updating a well polished product such as this is best handled with kid gloves.
So hopping back on the time machine into the present; what makes the new Flyknit Lunar 3 significantly better than before? Let’s start by saying that the newest model is more complete than it has ever been. In the process, it sheds a significant amount of slab. A lightweight reading of 249 gms/8.8 oz blips on the scale, compared to 272/9.6 of the Lunar 2 and 262/9.2 of the Flyknit Lunar 1. That’s nearly an ounce of reduction compared to last year, and for an under-10 oz shoe, that’s a quite few rungs up the ladder of improvement.
But hang on a sec, if the new shoe and last year’s model share the same midsole and outsole, what’s behind the weight drop? For that, we’ll need to look towards the heel, which does much more than just reduce weight.
If you recall (if you don’t, read our FKL 2 review), one of the things we highlighted on the Lunar 2 was its hard heel counter.
The upper rearfoot used a full sized counter stiffener, one which caused the collar to close in tenaciously around the foot. The Achilles dip was curved aggressively inwards, and the side collar edges also made their somewhat intruding presence felt.
No more of that. The full size cupping is replaced with a smaller (internal) heel counter, one which extends only till half-way up. Even the thickness of the internal molding feels thinner, and hence more pliable. This part swap seems the logical reason behind the Lunar 3 losing flab this spring.
There are other probable causes like changes in upper design and tweaking of midsole densities over last year, but we don’t think they amount to much. Except on the Flyknit Lunar 1, which had a Nike+ cavity in its left midsole, a feature no longer part of the shoe for the past couple of years. That would be have upped the original Lunar’s weight by a few grams, and hence makes a like-to-like comparison unfair.
Besides helping shed bulk, the new heel molding achieves another important thing. With the backend no longer bearing down on the Achilles, the foot is allowed to be positioned a little rearwards compared to Flyknit Lunar 2. When that happens, the big toe distances itself from the front. The outcome, quite predictably, is more forefoot room, and a fit which is more relaxed than the Lunar 2.
That’s basically the gist of the structural change, but we’d like to go through a lot more, because there is more to talk about. So what would you rather have us begin with? The ride quality or the upper? A coin toss would be in order. Heads for upper, tails for the midsole/outsole. (We did toss a coin. Really)
Tails it is, so time to bring up the subject of the Lunar 3’s ride, then. The 2015 shoe carries over the same stack of foam layers which helped separate your foot from Terra firma on the Flyknit Lunar 2. So if nothing has changed in design, could the ride be any different?
We’ll admit, it was a bit of a puzzle, trying to decode the ride difference between the two Flyknit Lunar versions. Because while the Flyknit Lunar 3 feels a little more firmer and slightly less responsive than the Lunar 2, the materials seem to suggest otherwise. Usually, things like these tend to be fairly uncomplicated to decipher. Like a firmer density of foam resulting in a firmer ride. Except that the Flyknit Lunar 3 doesn’t fall in line with that thinking.
When it comes to actual midsole densities, the Flyknit Lunar 3’s firmer EVA base feels unchanged from where Lunar 3 left it at. The upper bedding, which happens to be Lunarlon foam, is softer than last year. So the outcome should be a predictably softer Lunar 3, correct?
It might be so, but certainly doesn’t feel that way when running. The Lunar 2 felt more a mite more responsive and cushioned. That was puzzling, so we decided to give both the shoes a few more runs, and see what turned the situation thus.
In the end, we could think of two reasons why the Lunar 3 feels the way (firmer) it does. First is the removable insole, which though unchanged in shape and overall design, is easier to compress (softer) than that of Lunar 2.
On the other hand, the FKL-2’s insole felt as it had a little more resilience to it. It makes sense, as the firmer insole will tend to retain responsive cushioning traits better under weight instead of bottoming out. Having said that, our opinion is that the insole’s contribution to the shift in ride behavior isn’t as significant as the second reason. And which is what?
The real ride influencer is the revised heel collar area. Because of the way in which the newly redesigned upper heel allows the foot to move its position further towards the rear. When that happens, the alignment of the foot in relation to the outsole changes – in the context of Flyknit Lunar 2 vs. Lunar 3. A little more explaining is in order, so we’ll get to it without further ado.
If you look at the Lunar outsole (same design for V2 and V3), the layout includes rubber rings arranged in a concentric fashion under the forefoot, an exposed foam midfoot and then a few rubber slabs grouped together under the heel.
Depending on where weight loading happens, the midsole could feel soft, firm or responsive under that area.
Since the Flyknit Lunar 2’s heel area pushed the foot forward, the ball of the foot was typically aligned over the forefoot rubber rings, and in the rear, a little further away from the heel edge. This allowed the forefoot to feel a lot more responsive either during footstrike or transition (for forefoot strikers), as the weight loading produced a piston-like effect from the ‘pressure mapped’ forefoot design.
A similar thing happened under the heel outsole when running in last year’s Lunar 2. The forward biased placement of the foot had the tendency to apply loading not on the heel edge – where there is more rubber – but a bit towards the front, where the midsole turned softer with more exposed foam (and less rubber).
Now picture this: when the relaxed collar (of the Lunar 3) moves the foot backwards, forefoot weight loading misses the center of the concentric rubber ring set-up. Back in the heel, weight ends up being applied on the harder part (edge) of the outsole.
This net result is a firmer ride, slightly less responsive than Flyknit Lunar 2. None of this is a lesser aspect, but we thought to make sense of all this if you felt the difference.
Line up all the three Flyknit Lunar versions, and the Lunar 3 rides the firmest of all. The variance isn’t as pronounced when V2 and V3 are compared, but if you jump straight from Lunar 1 to Lunar 3, the difference will be surely noticed.
The 2013 Flyknit Lunar 1 was much softer owing to the outsole design. The V1’s forefoot had a cluster of independent rubber pods mounted on exposed EVA foam, each producing their own ‘pistoning’ effect as they retracted inwards under weight or impact.
The change in midsole behavior aside, the Flyknit Lunar 3 continues to deliver a cushioned and smooth ride. The melding of Lunarlon (top) and EVA (bottom) helps deliver cushioning minus the mushiness which can cramp your pace and the level of support.
There is an unmissable neutrality of transition; the EVA midsole wall design keeps away from playing the leaning game. Either sides have a balanced presence of accordion-esque lines running around the circumference, eliminating potential duality of midsole character.
We have a feeling that many will take to the minor adjustment of ride pretty well. For the third iteration of Flyknit Lunar 2 feels a lot more linear, as opposed to the ‘responsive-in-the-heel-and-responsive-in-the-front’ character of the Flyknit Lunar 2. Agreed, the ride experience isn’t as sensory and reactive as it once was, yet this new-found aloofness has an appeal of its own.
You can coax a lot out of the Lunar 3 midsole, as the latter is capable of performing under a wide range of operating requirements. The lightness and nimble footedness of the Lunarlon platform makes it suitable for shorter runs under 10k, and if you want to run longer, the cushioning will keep you going as long as your breath and lactate threshold don’t unfriend you.
Transitions are kept smooth and efficient, both by the unbroken bedding of Lunarlon and a forefoot which strikes the right chord between being stiff and flexible. Midsole design also comes into play here, as the medial side swoops nicely under-arch and stops any potential pressure point from rearing its ugly head.
While the Flyknit Lunar 3 wouldn’t be our weapon of choice for race-day, it fills in as a comfortable daily pacer rather well. The cushioning sits in an optimal place between soft and firm, and it performs without sacrificing ground feel.
For those whom the Flyknit Lunar is completely uncharted waters, know that the upper fits and feels very differently from other knitted variants such as the Free Flyknit.
It does not have the compressive elasticity of either Free 3.0 or 4.0, and instead offers a fit experience with a relaxed and spacious feel. In simpler words, this is a far more affable, everyday version of Nike’s Free Flyknit upper.
And if you’re fresh off the Flyknit Lunar 2 boat, then we must most certainly point out that the refreshed upper opens up a larger amount of relative space inside. In that sense, the Flyknit Lunar 3 is closer to the original Lunar 1 rather than its preceding design.
Though we’d like to reinforce the fact that the revised heel collar helps create more forefoot room by keeping the foot further behind, there’s a broader suite of changes which lends the FKL-3 a liberal nature of upper fit.
For example, not only does the lacing increase its gap by a full 10 mm from the tip, but the tongue also begins two lacing rows later.
That implies a couple of things, namely that the forefoot ceiling becomes relaxed due to lower lacing pressure and reduced layering, and the other being the insides feeling smoother than before.
The Flyknit mesh’s structure is engineered (open in some areas and closed in others), albeit with a difference. The closer knit areas are not as densely packed as the Lunar 2’s mesh, making for a more easygoing drape over the foot.
When these factors combine, it ends up in a sizing which is nearly half bigger than the Lunar 2. The empty space left over ahead of big toe is substantial, and most should manage with settling for a half-downsize. You still need to end up doing due diligence with a physical shoe fitting, as the results may vary based on individual foot shape.
Providing more foot-room appears Nike’s new mantra now, the signs of which are evident in the relatively cavernous inside of the revamped Vomero 10, and latest versions of Flyknit 3.0 and 4.0. We haven’t laid our hands on the Pegasus 32, but we bet that’s going the same way too.
Now only if domestic airlines could take a cue.
Tongue design reverts back to the non-sleeved type last seen on the Flyknit Lunar 1, but with a few notable tweaks. It doesn’t extend all the way up to the first row of lacing, so it ends up being shorter – yet with a paradoxically longer flap at the end.
Though it lacks the seamless feel of the Flyknit Lunar 2’s sleeve, tongue slide is surprisingly minimal. A typical cause and effect put into practice, a description of which follows.
The lace loop – the one on the tongue – is placed closer to the top compared to Lunar 1. When you combine that with narrow lacing, the tongue is held securely in place as the knitted loop fills the gap between eyelet panels.
The smooth sizing label does not occupy the tongue underside (on Lunar 2 as well), which gives the tongue flap more grip over the foot. Add these happenings up, and you have an anti-tongue slide formula which works. Ok, not in the same league as a gusseted tongue, but fares much better than the Flyknit Lunar 1.
The number of Flywire cords are reduced on the Lunar 3. Whereas the FKL-2 had five cords plus one regular eyelet, the Lunar 3 works with 4+2 lacing. The last eyelet hole is really hard to see in pictures, it’s only visible at closer quarters.
On a related note, you have to be slightly cautious when lacing up. Too much pressure, and the thin tongue transmits it on the foot. Too loose, and you’ll find your foot sliding forward on downhill gradient, something which we noticed on the 2013 version too. Something to do with the thin tongue.
Barefoot use is very comfortable, as you can bank on the benefits of the lining-free upper and ample ventilation. It would be worthwhile keeping in mind that going no-socks on the Lunar 3 also ends up opening more room.
So it is ok if your sock-less usage is limited to a day or two in a month. If one plans on regularly wearing the shoe without socks, it is best to opt for the best fitting size in that state. For most, that should be a half size downwards.
Collar mesh is carried over from the Lunar 2, a soft and premium feeling fabric which is Nike’s go-to material in many of their shoes, including this year’s Zoom Vomero 10.
The upper heel edges feel even softer this year, as the full sized internal counter is shown the door and replaced with a smaller shaped one. No heel slippage here; the upper grips the rearfoot well without pressing down on the Achilles, something which was a sore point for last year’s Lunar 2.
One significant area of advancement is Nike’s use of a newly formulated reflective paint. Swoosh logos on Flyknit uppers have always been screen printed, but of late their application includes a reflective element.
In low light conditions, the printed swoosh produces an effect which can be described as high visibility. While this is nowhere as bright as a standard 3M or equivalent insert, it is certainly useful from a safety aspect.
The fact that most retailer websites (including Nike’s own) omit mentioning reflectivity evidently points out to the fact that everyone’s warming up to it. Either that, or we’re seeing things by finding semi-reflectivity where there is none.
But this would make sense as an element of substitution, as the earlier instance of reflectivity is no longer featured on the FKL-3. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, it’s the heel strap with shiny strips on top (picture above).
The couples of issues which we encountered with can be pretty subjective, but we’ll bring it up anyway. Midfoot Flyknit panels conceal the lacing cords, but if you are very sensitive to pressure, then the set of Flywire cords connecting to the second row of lacing might be an issue.
Unlike the 3rd and 4th Flywire loop which is more spread over, the 2nd one shoots straight up and localizes pressure over a narrower area.
A slight pressure is felt underneath this particular Flywire on the medial side, though not to the extent of being uncomfortable. You just feel a higher level of pressure relative to rest of the Flywire cords.
The second feedback is closely related to the first. In the first two Flyknit Lunar editions, each loop of Flywire cord was paired with its own eyelet. This meant that if you did not want the tighter wrap, you could customize the fit by simply skipping lacing through the loops.
Unfortunately, that hack is not a possibility on the first two rows of Lunar 3 lacing this year. There’s no option but to pass the laces through the Flywire loops, so you’re pretty much stuck with the standard fit without recourse.
That apart, as a complete package, the Nike Flyknit Lunar 3 is the perfect-est update so far. The upper is brilliant, matched with a seamless quality of ride.
No more expensive than what it was in 2013 and ’14, and that’s good pricing manners indeed.
Before we wrap up, a note for the select few who might be interested in knowing how the Ultra Boost and Flyknit Lunar compare. That query is a perfectly understandable one, given the fact that both shoes represent either brand’s take on mesh and foam supreme-ness.
Just know that while the comparison is theoretically warranted, both are completely different shoes. The Ultra is compressive in upper feel and soft underfoot, while the Flyknit Lunar 3 has a relaxed fit and a firmer midsole.
Looking to upgrade your older Nike Flyknit Lunar 2 to the latest version, but not sure how the 2015 model compares? We can help here. The following infographic is a ready-reckoner for what changes you might expect in the new model vs. old. To make this more fun, we’ve put in a system of percentage match, which calculates a weighted average for a set of attributes.
A higher or lower match percentage is neither good or bad. The % number just tells you how similar or distanced the new shoe is from the previous version. Total match % is a result of weighted averages.