Hey there gym hackers, I’ve been locked into Shaun T’s Insanity Training sessions for the last five weeks now and have just come out of recovery week. During this cardio workout frenzy I’ve been bashing the hell out of a pair of Bare-XF 260 training shoes from Inov-8 to see how they perform. I’m pretty sure I’ve now spent enough time working them to provide you with this review. Could these be the best workout shoes you can buy for Insanity training, the gym and cross fit?
So what’s the lowdown?
Based in the UK, in the north of England, the Inov-8 company has been going since 2003, with a focus on creating natural lightweight footwear to handle demanding terrain. The XF-260 (XF being a nod to CrossFit) is a lightweight synthetic and mesh training shoe that veers away from the company’s usual all-terrain running products and stands squarely in the gym.
Out of the box
When I bought these shoes and got them out of the box, two things struck me about them straight away. Number one, dang, these shoes look gooood, like something that you’d see on a futuristic no-nonsense workout cyborg machine. No shoelaces here. The wrap-around Velcro claws complete the impression of cold determination. Number two, they are light. Hella light. At 260g they are lighter than any other gym shoe I’ve worn. I got them delivered to work and handed them to my work buddy who’s a serious long distance runner and the first thing she said was how light they are, but also mentioned the criss cross mesh effect on the fabric, designed to marry breathability with strength and flexibility.
Another cool trick is the skeletal design on the soul, which approximates the bones of the foot. They have also used a very sticky rubber tread as these suckers really do feel like they will grip the floor of any gym or carpet. They also feature the trademark Meta-Flex band across the ball of the foot, designed to make the sole more flexible and allow it to work with rather than against you when you’re up on your toes for those spiderman planks and suicide drills.
And the tech?
If you’re already familiar with Inov-8 and its approach to elite fitness and minimal design, then you’ll know that they remove as much bulk and weight from the design as possible, while still maintaining foot support. Kinda like being barefoot, but still resilient. There’s a removable breathable insole in these bad boys too, so they give you the extra spring when you’re hitting the circuit and you don’t have to worry about bruising the soles of your feet from those endless power burpees either.
- Super-lightweight, 260g
- Zero drop
- Removable breathable insole
- Mesh fabric for breathability and strength
- Meta-Flex flexible sole
So let’s get them working
Velcro can be a bad idea and I’ve had some bad times with it in the past. The fit can be frustrating and the range of adjustment can be limited. Also, wear and tear can be an issue, with the hook and eye giving up and popping out mid-exercise. The Velcro on the Bare-XF 260 has been well thought out, I’m able to strap in and adjust to my liking. I’m feeling secure and in touch with the ground as I launch into Shaun T’s Insanity warm up.
These shoes are minimalistic. One of the reasons I bought them was for that 0mm differential between heel and toe. With no drop I can feel the floor as I hit out on the carpet. Also, the toe box feels nice and large, allowing for ample spread to absorb impact. Down on the ground for some moving press ups and that Meta-Flex band on the sole is allowing the shoe to bend around my foot nicely. Hitting some lateral movement with some quick sideways sprints and I can feel the support and grip as I change direction.
I’ve heard some people have had problems with the middle Velcro popping off, but in the five weeks I’ve been exercising these bad boys – at least 45 minutes of maximum intensity workouts six days every week – they have never let me down. They have all the typical features of a minimalistic shoe and offer great protection, style, lateral movement and support.
And the bad points?
Not much to report here, although I do have some pairs of super light and thin running socks, which didn’t work too well with this shoe. I found that my feet didn’t feel fully locked into place and were ‘squirming’ a bit. I dialed up the Velcro, which seemed to help a bit, but I didn’t use those socks again. Any other socks were fine – and the shoes were particularly kickass with the Feetures merino wool training socks.
Not a bad point as such, just a bit weird, but the shoes have a rope climb function on the middle Velcro strap, to stop the shoe ripping up when you put it through a rope climb. Now, I don’t know anyone who climbs ropes in a gym and I suspect it’s a pretty niche requirement from a shoe. Still, it looks cool and maybe this ‘Ropetec’ addition will be of relevance to some people.
So what’s the verdict?
After five weeks of really putting these workout shoes to the test, the majority of the time on carpet, they are still looking like new. I have really hammered them with my Insanity workouts and sweated into them copiously. Anyone who has undergone the Insanity programme from Beach Body will now that it is a grueling experience. These shoes have handled the abuse and are still looking great.
All the photos I have taken are after five weeks of use, not new out of the box. You can see they are still looking purposeful, with little sign of collapse. Check out the inspirational slogans on the inside of the Velcro straps too – a bit cheesy, but a nice touch nonetheless.
If you’re looking for a great pair of Insanity shoes or cross fit wear for the gym, then look no further. No drop, lightweight and the look is awesome. Also, they are a UK company and they are ethical – or at least claim to be. For me, it’s great to work out and have the kit that will help me perform to the max, but it’s worth thinking about how the product got to be made as well. If I’m wearing something that’s getting me fit, but has managed to maim or kill a bunch of people in a third world country somewhere along the way then what the hell kinda world am I creating for myself?
Epilogue: So where are the ethics?
Inov8 says that it prides itself on the quality of all its products and has an ethical approach to production. They have invested significantly in supporting the factory in China with technical knowledge, manufacturing techniques and other support. It says the factory is one of the largest employers in the local area and contributes to developing the local economy.
They claim that the factory adheres to:
- No employees under 18 years of age
- Internal training and development opportunities
- Very low staff turnover
- Good working conditions in a safe working environment
- Excellent extraction facilities, “better than any factory we have seen in Europe”
- Above average salaries for the area
- Employee accommodation where possible
- Canteen with menu
- Sports facilities
- Recycling of water, metal, rubber, paper and some upper materials where possible
I haven’t researched this through third party sources at all, so can only take Inov-8 at its word at this stage, though this looks like another reason to buy into the Inov-8 brand. Great footwear and it even seems to have a societal conscience.
Post update: I’ve also been using these trainers for the Body Beast workout system and they are great for that too. I’ve owned these shoes for around 18 months now and they are still going strong.
To reiterate, if you’re a Beach Body convert, cross-fitter or circuit training fiend, then you can do a lot worse than bagging yourself a pair of Inov-8 Bare-XF 260s.