We’re up to number five! Here’s my Harden Vol. 5 review – I’ll break down James Harden’s 5th signature basketball sneaker from adidas. While the designs might look unique and the variety in colorways is no short of fantastic, the general perception from others seems to be overwhelmingly bad so far.
Why’s that? Well, after about 4 months of outdoor play, let me give you some valuable insight into how the shoe performs after an extended period of time, directly compare it to the previous two Harden shoes I’ve played in, and also explain why some of the design choices just didn’t work for most people.
You’re here for a good one!
I. SPEC SHEET
click for a full-sized image
II. 1-MIN REVIEW
For those in a hurry: it seems as the designers behind Harden’s 5th shoe tried to innovate and create a groundbreaking product.
However, for the general hooper on the blacktop or on a weary gym floor – the shoe was not a lot more than a failed experiment.
The Harden Vol. 5 fit me weird and even though they can fit a wide foot in there – you’ll likely end up with space length-wise. Regular/narrow footers should try these in-store or go down 1/2 a size.
Traction was acceptable on concrete but I was definitely slipping more than I expected on a softer rubber court outside. You WILL need to wipe the outsoles down. Frequently.
While the Boost + Lighstrike drop-in midsole sounds cool, the actual experience wasn’t. There’s some cushion to be felt underfoot, yes, but it’s quite dramatically limited by all the TPU caging all around it.
Security is the shoe’s strongest area since it’s built like a tank with TPU everywhere. Stability and foot containment are excellent but comes at a cost of discomfort, stiffness, bulkiness.
The shoe just felt HEAVY.
Pair all that with heel slippage and this became more of a chore than a shoe I enjoyed playing in. If you’re hunting for a good Harden hoop shoe – stick with the 3 or the 4.
III. FIT & COMFORT
Do they fit true to size or should you go up/down? How comfortable are they? Anything else to know fit-wise?
Let’s start with sizing. I’m sure some of you are familiar with adidas’s ultra-inconsistent sizing throughout not just basketball shoes but their athletic footwear in general. The 5th Harden model reminds us there’s no stopping the Three Stripes from playing with us.
The shoe runs long. Period. MOST of you should feel some extra room at the toebox if you go true to your usual size. Is that a bad thing? It depends. It also heavily depends on your foot shape as everyone’s is different. But based on the people’s feedback, expect some volume up at the front.
The tricky thing is, the shoe is near-perfect width-wise. So if you prefer a looser fit with some wiggle room – stick with your true size. If you want to ensure you’ll be getting a snug, near one-to-one experience, you definitely want to go down 1/2 a size like there’s no tomorrow.
Me being a prominent wide footer, I stuck with my true size.
I don’t fully appreciate the dead space at the front making the shoe feel like a boat loafer on-court. But I’m much better off actually being able to play in it for a longer period of time before needing to take ’em off since my feet are taking a beating from the suffocation width-wise.
So fellow wide footers, stick to your true size or skip the shoe entirely. I’m fairly okay with the way these fit me but it’s still far from perfect. There’s some annoying pressure at the lateral side for my pinky at times and don’t get me started on the stiff materials. More on that later.
Regular/narrow footers – I’d HIGHLY recommend trying these in store if you can. If you can’t yet, a half-size-down should be the safest option.
BE AWARE OF HEEL SLIPPAGE
And just like most people, I had annoying heel slippage that just refused to go away. While I’m pretty convinced it’s the curvature of the midsole and the fact that my heel simply can’t sit completely flat and at the very back of the shoe, the stiff material setup might’ve had a part in this as well.
Grabbing a pair of grippy socks and pulling down on your laces HARD will be required to keep the heel slippage to a tolerable level. I also encourage you to check out my heel slippage guide in case you’ll be grabbing a pair.
Oh boy. There’s been a lot of talk about how uncomfortable these proved to be for a lot of people but knowing that I stayed patient and gave these plenty of time to hopefully break in and start feeling like a proper basketball shoe in 2022.
Well, it never did.
These were one of the longest 4 months of testing a shoe for me personally. As much as I wanted to like these, examine why some of the stuff feels like it does, and ultimately give these as big of a chance as I can, I just didn’t enjoy playing in these. Probably not for a single day.
Internally, these are fine on paper. The fabric around the ankle is the only portion that’s not backed with plastic and it’s stretchy, so putting the shoe on isn’t an issue. There are also plenty of properly sculpted achilles pillows that sat very comfortably against my achilles too.
And despite having extra room length-wise, they felt secure and sturdy due to the build. Mostly.
But the material choices and the way they’re implemented, the incredibly stiff midsole, the sheer weight of it all, and the oversaturation of, well, stuff on the shoe is just too much. It all feels like a distraction rather than an experience where you forget you’ve got a shoe on while banging it out on the blacktop.
Could I still continue playing in the shoe? Sure. I surely didn’t enjoy it but I could’ve still carried on and played the way I play in these. But if you’re constantly thinking about the shoes and how weird it all feels while trying to focus on the game or even while just shooting some hoops, something’s not right.
So, expect a secure shoe due to the overwhelming amount of structure throughout the build. But also expect the shoe to feel unusually heavy (bottom-heavy in particular), stiff and just, off.
You’d have to try these on for yourself to fully get what I mean but there’s a good chance you won’t. And for good reason. There are much better options comfort-wise out there.
Does it grip various surfaces well? Is dust/debris a factor? How long will the outsoles last outdoors?
A similar traction pattern along with a very similar rubber compound to the previous Harden Vol. 4 is being utilized throughout the outsoles of the Vol. 5. I don’t know why the traction isn’t as good as on the 4th shoe but I felt the difference right away.
Even taking all the occasional slips on dirtier spots away, the base level of bite wasn’t as strong as it was on ALL of Harden’s other shoes in the line.
I did feel like this base level of grip was still enough for me to play confidently but sometimes, especially torsionally, I’d slide out or noticeably feel the delay on stops. I’ve heard the traction’s great on a pristine court but I don’t have such a luxury at the moment, so things were always chippy for me.
The overall experience was fairly decent but that’s mostly due to concrete or rubber being the primary options for me to play on, and those are much more abrasive surfaces. Multiple reviewers are reporting that these perform downright awful on dirty/dusty indoor courts, so be aware of that.
But all of this would’ve still been acceptable for the situation I’m in, don’t get me wrong there.
But when these outsoles are complete dust magnets that fail to push the dust out through the pattern, it’s almost game over. This wasn’t as noticeable on concrete for me but stepping into a synthetic rubber court, I’d get very mad if I skip a wipe or two.
So, prepare to frequently wipe the outsoles down to maintain acceptable traction and think twice about taking these on a weary court. Harden himself looks fine in these though, but that’s because he’s playing on a top-level, pristine NBA hardwood. For us regular guys, things can get tough with these.
If you’ll be getting these, I’d encourage regularly cleaning the outsoles before taking ’em to the court. Check out my guide on how to maintain good traction for additional tips.
Just like most adidas shoes, some really tacky rubber is being used here so while it will attract a lot of dust & debris in there, you can expect these to last a long time outdoors. 4 months in, no degraded performance, no additional issues, and the pattern is still all there.
If you can deal with the subpar traction to begin with, you should be good to go for multiple seasons in the Harden Vol. 5. Even on the blacktop.
How’s the impact protection? What about step comfort and energy return of the foam? Is it stable?
adidas introduced a drop-in midsole for the cushioning system for the first time in a basketball shoe and the Harden Vol. 5 sports a beefy setup. On paper.
The removable midsole packs Lightstrike as the carrier and a very conservative, thin layer of Boost in the middle portion, basically acting as an insole.
The idea sounds great, sure. But I just don’t get the reasoning behind this. The stuff that’s heavily marketed by adidas (which is the implementation of this cushion) is what literally keeps the ride from feeling how it should.
One, the midsole is a drop-in but it’s surrounded by a thick shell of plastic all around it. I just don’t think this is a good idea when you’ve got your two flagship cushions that are supposed to do what they do best: expand to absorb impact, spring back to return energy, and keep you comfortable.
But when you encase it in a heavy, tank-like TPU shell in a 360-degree fashion, that becomes the main thing you can feel while playing. Boost does need some form of caging since it is fairly unstable by itself, yes, but I really do think this is overkill and what hinders the shoe.
Two, Boost needs room to expand. This is a fact and it’s even been explained by adidas. Foam in general needs volume and enough space to properly compress to do its job.
The high sidewalls of the midsole definitely help with stability but again, it’s just too much in my opinion. It adds weight and prevents Boost from fully expanding.
Take a look at any shoe that has Boost. There’s a reason you always see it exposed at least in one or two areas of the midsole. While here, there’s not enough of it, to begin with, and stuffing it to a drop-in with thick walls results in severely limited compression potential.
And then there’s the carrier. If any of you have tried the shoe and can actually feel any form of Lightstrike here, let me know because I didn’t. Now, I do understand that this carrier is supposed to provide stability and rigidity for the midsole but then why market the shoe in such a way?
Boost + Lightstrike? So many people will and likely had believed in the hype and the actual experience turned to be much bleaker than what the tech specs show you.
While there’s a good amount of impact protection here because Boost is still Boost, I barely felt any of it. You can expect a little bit of compression if you’re heavier and possess some athleticism while riding fairly low to the ground.
But then again, I don’t even think it’s that good of a “low-profile” setup. It’s fast and firm, sure, so you won’t be feeling any delays upon contact with the ground but the plastic frame around the midsole kind of defeats the purpose. I wasn’t THAT low to the ground, nor was I riding elevated.
It’s just a bizarre setup that could’ve been great. Pure performance-wise, you’ll be getting some impact protection and you’ll definitely be stable due to the rigid midsole, its sidewalls, and the shoe’s flat platform.
But everything else that you’d normally want from a quality cushioning system: spring back, comfort, smooth step transitions, and Boost-like shock absorption? This is just not it. Perhaps it’s a setup that Harden particularly demanded. I’d definitely believe that if it’s true.
But the general audience that’s looking for a good cushion setup will likely end up disappointed here.
How much all-around security does it offer? What about the build’s stability and foot containment? Any restrictions in result?
One thing adidas doesn’t usually screw up is security. It all starts with a proper fit, so make sure you get the size right for this one first. Too much unwanted room can compromise the whole experience, no matter how many support components are stuffed inside.
For me though, even sticking with my true size and having a bit of extra length, I didn’t feel compromised. This is an extremely beefy setup that should hold anyone’s foot in and provide protection even if you’ve got the body of a LeBron James.
There’s a hard internal heel counter to lock in your ankle & heel, the (overdone) TPU sidewalls all around the midsole portion are also there to turn the shoe into a bulletproof vest for your foot. The removable midsole is amazingly rigid too AND it’s got a built-in midfoot shank.
Torsional support is insane here and probably even too much for some. I’d normally recommend such a build for a flat footer but in this case, I’m really not sure. You might end up even more uncomfortable rather than properly supported due to the build’s lack of ability to move well with one’s foot.
And then there’s the platform. It’s almost completely flat and on the wider side, so stability is unquestionably excellent here. Unfortunately though, at the cost of comfort, mobility, and a smooth heel-to-toe stride in this case.
But even despite all this STUFF on the shoe, my heel kept wanting to pop out. I drive it to the back of the shoe, re-lace it, play for some time before needing to repeat the process. Again and again.
What’s the point of all this support bulk when the design choices fail to keep your heel in place?
Looking past that though, no matter what kind of movement I threw at these, the overwhelming amount of structure to the upper catches anything at any time. These are absolute tanks, for the better or worse.
If for some reason you’re not experiencing any heel slippage with these, you’ll be strapped in for a very supportive ride. That’s for sure.
VII. THE BUILD
What are the materials used? How well do they perform on-court? How’s the quality & reliability of the build?
Don’t let the looks fool you. adidas calls this the Futurenatural upper but it’s just marketing shenanigans. I’m sure the design team had valid reasons behind this kind of build and I’d be eager to hear ’em all. Seriously.
Looks like there’s some kind of ripstop style fabric underneath but the whole build is wrapped in super hard plastic that’s not even a normal synthetic you’d see on today’s shoes. It’s literal plastic that’s hard to the touch, it’s scratchy and it’s heavy.
The only parts that feature fully exposed fabric with no backings are the tongue and the ankle collar. There are also these felt overlays all throughout the upper that made for some really dope designs, I’ll give ’em that. They do nothing for performance though.
The whole build is actually a one-piece design, which means the midsole and the upper portions are molded together. This has been done before but here, I don’t really see a clear benefit honestly. Take a look at the lebron 19 – that’s where this type of design really shines.
But let’s not get all cynical here. Like most things in life, even such a build will have its strong suits.
PERFORMANCE & RELIABILITY
This is definitely a durable setup that should last you a LONG time, so it could be considered a good bang for your buck. Especially if you’re an outdoor hooper.
The crazy amount of structure also means support & containment are no short of stellar. Linearly, laterally, torsionally, diagonally, whatever. Your foot’s not going anywhere when there’s so much plastic all around it.
But the negatives are what make this shoe unattractive for most people. I usually don’t judge a shoe by its weight as it’s just a number. But 18+ ounces? There are heavier shoes that don’t feel heavy because they fit really well, the build moves well with your foot and each component works in-hand with each other well.
While on the Harden Vol. 5, it just doesn’t. I could clearly feel the midsole portion weighing the whole shoe down which is not something I feel often in a basketball sneaker. And then there’s the lack of flexibility, stiffness, feeling clunky and all the synonyms you could find.
You can forget about ventilation too.
All in all, the overall experience on the court was subpar. The shoe felt heavy, a little bulky, and often stiff upon a movement where other shoes would normally move along with my foot. It’s playable, sure. But what’s the point when there are much better options out there?
Rounding the Harden Vol. 5 review up: are they versatile? Who’s best suited for the shoe? Is it a good deal?
The adidas Harden Vol. 5 is the first sneaker in Harden’s main lineup that failed to impress me. I was more confused rather than let down as some of the design choices really seemed to have reasoning behind ’em. But actually playing on the court is much different from an idea on paper.
Perhaps The Beard himself prefers it this way. And we can’t blame him – he’s an elite athlete, while we’re just hoopers. But after the Harden Vol. 3 and the kyrie 8 which were both phenomenal, I’m just confused.
The shoe has its strong suits. Despite fitting long, most people will be fine stepping down half a size, while wide footers should get away with their true size. Traction’s acceptable AS LONG as you’re on a clean court or you’re wiping the outsoles down frequently.
This crazy build is also durable and undeniably supportive. Even the heaviest and highest-jumping dudes should find enough structure for protection.