Thursday, October 26, 2017

Saucony Liberty ISO Review: Bouncy, Soft Fun with a Dash of Welcome Support

Article by Sam Winebaum and Peter Stuart

Saucony Liberty ISO
Weight: 10 oz.275 g M9, 8.7 oz/245 g W8
Our sample M9 weighed 10 oz/283 g
Stack Height: 22mm heel/ 18mm forefoot, 4mm drop
Price: $160. Available in run speciality stores Early November 2017.
The Liberty ISO joins its wild, fun and hard to tame sibling the Freedom ISO as a more stable, and we are finding far more versatile option. It is targeted at runners seeking a low drop, energetic, softer ride across a wide variety of paces. The energetic ride is supposed to come from the use of high energy return TPU based Everun in the midsole (similar to adidas Boost), but a bit firmer.

It is described with support/stability type shoe terms by Saucony: "we added a a touch of medial guidance for just enough stability for those miles you are putting in." The "touch of medial guidance" is comprised of
  • a thin vertical plate on the medial side
  • a denser outsole pattern on the medial side of the same rubber as the rest of the outsole 
  • somewhat denser more supportive mid foot to heel upper
  • more Support Frame external heel support elements at the heel than Freedom as Liberty has no internal heel counter.
Those who usually run in light stability shoes and those who found the Freedom too "free and natural" will find Liberty ISO to be more practical alternative to the Freedom which has a bouncy, soft somewhat unstable Everun midsole and soft Crystal rubber outsole, unstructured construction and very little medial support from heel to toe, so a really lousy goose hard to tame shoe for many.

Sam: Many of us who loved the fun ride of the Freedom found them somewhat unstable at heel, thin and tiring at the forefoot as well as overly snug at the metatarsals as the the miles piled up.  While I found Freedom not really practical as a frequently run trainer, the Liberty is a more supportive and still a fun and energetic trainer with guidance features not that uncommon on many neutral trainers. Not to be fooled though this is still a softer, more unstructured ride than a typical lighter trainer.

First Impressions and Fit

Sam: The steely blue gray Liberty ISO continues the sophisticated "lifestyle" useful look of the Freedom, my Freedom being all black. At a stout $160, one expects quality construction and top notch aesthetics and the Liberty delivers for me. The various shades of blue gray subtly call out the features of the upper without screaming them out. The medial TPU plate not so much in terms of subtlety as while thin and even flexible it looks scarily supportive and rigid which it is not. In fact it disappears on the run and aesthetically and visually it should disappear as well as well but doesn't.

My sample 9 is half size up from my true to size as was my Freedom. Liberty ISO fits correctly at that size if a bit loose with medium socks with less pressure over the metatarsals than the Freedom, Saucony widened the Liberty ISO a a bit in that area but there is still a distinct "grip" on the medial side there but no unusual pressure as the upper has no significant overlays there beyond the end of the logo and is soft and somewhat stretchy.  The heel hold or more accurately stabilization side to side with the additional external Support Frame pieces is improved but i still think the Liberty ISO would be yet improved more with a real heel counter.

Peter: These fit true to size for me. My first impressions were good. I liked certain things about the Freedom and hoped that some of them would be improved upon in the Liberty. Fit is good, the lacing system works nicely and it’s nice to have an actual heel counter. It’s a good looking shoe too, I like the move of the Saucony logo to the front of the outside of the shoe.


The upper is essentially split between an engineered mesh front section which is softer, less rough to the touch and more foot confirming than Freedom's which then transitions at the third ISOFIT band to a mid foot to rear more conventional mesh which includes the ISOFIT bands,. This mesh is denser and clearly more supportive than Freedom's without going all the way to being stiff and overbuilt. The Freedom's upper was made of a single density of engineered mesh.  The depth of the spaces between the ISOFIT bands is slightly deeper in the Liberty ISO.

The upper retains the full bootie construction of the Freedom with the entire length of the tongue part of a stretch bootie wrapping the foot and attaching below the Everun top sole below the sock liner.

The bootie itself is softer, stretchier, lighter more aerated mesh than the Freedom's. The tongue top, a molded 3D profile while having no padding per say beyond the molded element is dense but springy and super comfortable while thin. There is no lace bite from the thin stretchy flat laces and a comfortable yet snug overall wrap from the combination of bootie, tongue and exterior ISOFIT bands. The photo above really illustrates how foot conforming and customizable the fit can be made for a variety of foot shapes.
I wish Saucony would use the same upper approach in the Kinvara making the ISOFIT and outer rear upper a bit more rigid in the K shoe for fast racing  purposes. 

The toe bumper is a soft rubber molded overlay which is ever so slightly firmer and higher over the center of the front than it is in the Freedom to provide we can feel some more toe height volume than Freedom has. The toe bumper sure is more sophisticated looking than Freedom's somewhat crude looking single thickness material.
There is no plastic heel counter in the Liberty ISO. Saucony uses what it calls a Support Frame of fairly thick pliable TPU overlays. While the Freedom has a single band, the Liberty has four: the upper heel band, two diagonal rear bands, and a lower band wrapping the bottom of the heel The heel support is noticeably improved over the Freedom although I still wish for some stiffening of the rear of the shoe as I found that there was still more motion than I would like.

Peter: The Liberty is feels much more refined and honed than the Freedom did. The Freedom almost felt like a prototype to me. The lacing system is as good as Saucony has done lately. They’ve gotten rid of the more complicated ISO FIT lacing and have the ISO FIT bands instead. They work well to hold the foot and adjust each area of the foot specifically. It’s nice to have more of a heel counter structure too. It helps the shoe feel more complete.

The Freedom was the first Saucony with a full Everun TPU midsole. Saucony claims its Everun differs from the customary EVA and EVA blends of most running shoe midsoles in having an 83% energy return, or more accurately less energy loss than EVA.  Everun is claimed to be 3X more durable and 3X less temperature sensitive than standard EVA's.  

Sam: In addition to the Everurn midsole, Saucony uses an Everun top sole under the sock liner of the same material to "more evenly distribute landing pressures". I think the Liberty could benefit from a denser EVA top sole instead of the Everun. While step in comfort in the store is important, an EVA layer would further stabilize the shoe and I think increase response. Alternatively, to increase response, Saucony could also use firmer  or full contact rubber in the outsole, see outsole discussion below.

On the medial side Liberty ISO has a thin, vertical TPU plate, and as described above as well,  the TPU "straps" around the heel. Yes, TPU can be made into foam as in Everun but is more commonly used for such elements in running shoes. 

The vertical plate looks a bit ominous and scary with a heavy duty stiff pronation control vibe but is actually barely felt on the run. For this neutral shoe favoring runner who can't stand any posted shoe where a plug of very firm foam "posts" is inserted on the medial side to "control" foot motion this lightweight approach works fine for me. The plate just does not feel like a "post" and is less noticeable than the adidas Tempo 9's (RTR review) similar side wall stabilization.  The plate flexes somewhat and keeps the Everun from collapsing to far to the inside providing what Saucony calls " a touch of medial guidance" and here it works well for me, taming the somewhat sloppy wild ride of the Freedom while still providing the energetic ride of Everun. 
In addition to the plate Saucony made the side walls on the Liberty ISO more vertical than the Freedom's reminding of the Kinvara to again guide the foot and prevent to much collapse to the inside on the way to toe off. 

Peter: Everun remains a ‘meh’ foam for me. The Pebax in the Nike Zoom VaporFly 4% (RTR review) is the only foam I’ve felt that has wowed me. The Everun is perfectly pleasant, but doesn’t deliver any particular bounce or excitement. I agree that the build of this shoe provides more support than the Freedom did. The ‘support’ elements are transparent. I don’t feel any particular influence from the plate.

Contributing to the medial guidance is a new version of the Crystal Rubber translucent outsole first seen on the Freedom.  
The Freedom (left below) had a single density soft outsole and except at the heel is entirely of the same Try-Flex lugs size and firmness. 
The medial side of the Liberty (right below, left side) has firmer blue rubber. Contact and surfaces are fuller there. On the rest of the outsole where we have the same lugs and firmness as the Freedom.

The outsole material in all areas is Saucony's Crystal Rubber It is relatively soft if very durable.  Firming up the Crystal Rubber and making its surfaces more continuous and fuller contact is key here to providing a far more stable ride than Freedom. In the forefoot of the Freedom I often felt the soft Everun plus the soft deflecting and bottoming out with the result my feet tiring beyond ten or so miles. 

Peter: I still have the same forefoot fatigue issue with the Liberty. I’m not sure that the Crystal Rubber isn’t part of the problem. It’s got terrific traction, but I almost feel like I’m getting additional friction from the ground--feels like the shoe wants to stay on the ground rather than let go. This mixed with the everun leads to forefoot fatigue for me.

Sam: The added stability of the firmer fuller contact rubber upfront is noticeable and my feet have been somewhat less fatigued, although it still has a relatively thin, soft stack upfront at 18mm. I am finding toe offs more decisive and smooth than Freedom's were. The Liberty runs well enough at all paces even slow but seems to shine best at moderate tempo paces on shorter runs of up to 10 miles for me. While not as responsive as I would like, particularly upfront, and still thin feeling and a bit tiring, Liberty definitely improves over Freedom without loosing the bouncy energy.

I was in no way "bothered" as I am in posted support shoes by that massive looking medial side TPU plate. The heel ride and feel, also on the soft and bouncy side is far more stable than Freedom. The heel area would benefit from a side lateral TPU plate as many adidas Boost shoes have to keep the Everun there from bottoming out as far.  I say more of the purple firmer fuller coverage outsole, maybe on both sides up front adding some flex grooves.

I would lose the Everun top sole for something a touch firmer and more stable to go with the Everun midsole. How about an EVA layer underfoot as adidas does in performance Boost shoes?  The famous "step in feel" might be impacted but the run performance might be improved. 

Peter: The ride is middle of the road for me. It’s too thin a forefoot to feel good for me at slow tempos and it doesn’t inspire exuberance when I pick up the speed. The ride is perfectly fine, but not exciting one way or another. I like the ride, but don’t love it--and the forefoot feel is just a bit too thin for me. The shoe has a decent amount of flex.

Sam: The Liberty succeeds in delivering a "natural", energetic but not particularly responsive run with a dash of support. it is a a beautiful looking and impeccably crafted shoe. It contrasts with the steady, reliable, somewhat boring and more responsive firmer feel of say the Saucony's Ride 10, Brooks Launch 4, adidas Tempo 9 or Nike Pegasus to name a few. it is a more "practical" shoe for more types of runners than its cousin the Freedom.  It is, but to a lesser extent than Freedom, low, soft and thin feeling, particularly at the forefoot under load due to its 4mm drop and its relatively soft Everun midsole and Crystal Rubber outsole. It bounces along but is not a shoe to expect decisive transitions and responsive firm pop from. For that kind of ride one might look to Saucony's own Zealot ISO 3 (RTR review).

Be forewarned, Liberty is not a traditional support type shoe or even a new age one. It is a wilder, a bit harder to tame, bouncy soft, fast fun shoe now made more supportive and stable top to bottom than its sibling Freedom.

Considerably more supportive than the louoy goosy wild riding Freedom, Liberty has been more practical than a just as a "fun" shoe, to run occasionally, which is what I relegated Freedom to be. It should work well for neutral runners seeking a low slung, energetic, softer, thinner cushion  performance trainer and as another shoe in the quiver for fast days for those who traditionally have run in lighter support/guidance shoes and want a faster yet still supportive option.

Peter: I agree with Sam, $160 is a lot for a shoe that doesn’t wow me. It’s fine, and is a pleasant ride, but there are other shoes I’d pull out of the closet for most of my runs. It’s a more refined beast than the Freedom was, but ultimately both of these shoes leave my forefoot feeling kind of beat up.

Comparisons to Liberty ISO
Saucony Freedom
Sam: Despite weighing about an ounce more I would choose the extra support and stability of the Liberty ISO any day. It is a more versatile shoe which goes beyond the fun and intriguing ride of the Freedom while losing very little of the "wild" character.
Saucony Zealot ISO 3
Peter: The Zealot succeeds in ways that the Liberty doesn’t. It’s bouncier and more fun. A little less stable overall than the Liberty.
Sam: I agree with Peter and prefer the Zealot but wouldn't exactly call the Zealot bouncier or less stable overall than the Liberty. At $130 it is a better value.
adidas Adizero Tempo 9
Sam: The Tempo is a step up in stability and support over the Liberty and $30 less. Not exactly fun and bouncy as the Liberty is, despite its similar Boost TPU in the midsole it a serious stable tempo shoe. It guidance and stability features are more noticeable but not overwhelming while its upper is not nearly as modern and comfortable as the Liberty's.
Saucony Kinvara 8
Peter: The Liberty is still more fun to run in than the Kinvara 8. It feels a little more natural through the gait cycle.
Sam: With a far superior upper for everything but all out shorter racing purposes and more fun ride I too give the nod to Liberty here.
Skechers GOmeb Razor and Run 6
Peter: The Skechers Razor is a similar shoe in a lot of ways, but has a far more lively feeling forefoot--and costs WAY less.

Peter 7.5/10
I like some things about the liberty, but don’t love anything about it.
-1 for forefoot feel
-1 for firmness overall
-.5 for feel of Crystal Rubber on outsole
Sam 7.5/10
-1 for lack of pop and response particularly at the forefoot
-1.5 for combination of softness and firmness at the safe time, leading to somewhat more tired legs and especially feet than expected for efforts.

For Sam and Peter's run bios see our Reviewers Bio Page here

The Liberty ISO is available now!

The Liberty was provided at no cost.The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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Anonymous said...

A few questions. I am wondering which shoe has more response and pop between the freedom and Liberty - which do you prefer to run in overall? I noticed that you mentioned its firm and soft at the same time and it loses points for that, are you talking about one side of the shoe has the medial support the other doesn't so its a less balanced shoe than the freedom? Which is a softer shoe. You rated the liberty at 7.5 and the freedom (past review) at 9.75. On those ratings the freedom sounds far superior yet the review doesn't seem to suggest that. A bit confused. Would the new saucony triumph iso 4 be a better overall long distance shoe to run in. Thanks

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for writing and your questions and apologies for any confusion. By firm and soft I mean that while one would have to say soft overall there is a sense, but less than Freedom that it may bottom out before rebounding thus feeling somewhat firm and thus I noticed somewhat more fatigue in Liberty than in an equivalent shoe at about the same weight although less so than in Freedom. I don't think it is the medial support plate or the denser rubber covering on the medial side. Those features clearly help stabilize the soft midsole and provide a better slightly firmer outsole contact surface . The Freedom has the same Everun midsole but doesn't have the plate or the denser outsole pieces. With regards the scoring I guess I was over enthusiastic when I first ran the Freedom and reviewed! Also we are going to be scoring over a broader range to give readers a better sense strengths and weaknesses and this despite most shoes, including Freedom and Liberty being so fantastic compared to shoes from even 5 or 6 years ago, As to other choices Triumph ISO 4 is excellent. I ran them yesterday and I think due to the full dense rubber outsole the Everun and more of it in the Triumph ISO 4 is much better behaved, yet more stable than Triumph with no sense of fatigue. It is a heavier shoe 11 oz plus in a different class more heavy duty daily trainer but it is very well cushioned responsive and fast for what it is. Maybe the best in that class overall for 2017 in a close competition with the Brooks Levitate. My initial thoughts here
Also for sure look at the Zealot ISO 3 which runs quite a bit like the Triumph but with a more conventional midsole and lighter weight. Not quite as luxurious feeling under foot but a very comfortable faster light daily trainer with an upper very similar to Triumph.
Sam. Editor
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Mike said...

Thanks for the review. It is the first I have read of the Liberty and full of detail. My point of reference is the Tempo 9s which I run in and like a lot. I find the Tempo 9 perfect for marathon distance running. I was hoping the Liberty would complement the Tempos quite well, giving me a bit of variety and an alternative shoe for faster sessions (I often use the Adios 3 for this), but both of you seem dissappointed by the Liberty’s responsiveness and suitabllity for any distance. Do you have thoughts on how the Liberty compares to the Adios 3?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Mike, Thanks for reading and asking your question. If you want a bouncier softer shoe than adios Boost in your quiver the Liberty would be just great but it is not as responsive or snappy for me as are Tempo and Adios Boost. For faster sessions and for racing I would lean towards the adios Boost or the Boston and I preferred the AB1 over the softer AB3 or Boston . The AB3 is more stable at the heel for me due to that crucial lateral stabilizer piece at the heel and Continental rubber outsole which at the heel is firmer. At mid foot the Liberty is a touch more stable due to its plate. At the forefoot the Liberty is softer and not quite as responsive as AB3. As in the review I think the Liberty could use that thin layer of firmer EVA underfoot that the adios has As to upper the Liberty has for me a superior upper to any of the adidas above whose uppers are dated in comparison. Hope this helps.
Sam, Editor.

Mike said...

Thanks Sam, that is helpful. I hope there will be more developments in the light, slight support category. I think this is a neglected niche for running shoes.

Sam Winebaum said...

I agree Mike. I also like the Altra Impulse which had excellent forefoot stability. There are really 2 kinds of stability "needs". Rear of shoe to mid and forefoot. I can use the forefoot kind. The Liberty given the softness of mid and outsole is with its "stability" features really a neutral shoe. Sam