Besides the Metcons earlier in the year, I think the next most asked about shoe of 2015 is/was the NoBull Surplus Trainer. Backed by Ben Bergeron with some big named athletes sponsored such as Brooke Ence, Sam Dancer, and Brooke Wells; NoBull burst on to the functional fitness scene right about the time of regionals and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down. I actually held off for a while because I was asked to do a review, but they sold out of the inventory so the shoes never made it out. Impatience got the best of me and here we are, months down the line and the shoes still continue to be sold out in most sizes, leaving me the only option to go with the Ence Trainer. I’d happily support Brooke Ence just because she’s so awesome, but I definitely had some reservations about the all white colorway. Other than aesthetics, I don’t believe the Ence trainer is any different than the Surplus, so you can take this mainly as a review of that.
Appearance and Build Quality:
Visually, the NoBull Surplus separates itself from the pack with it’s seamless SuperFabric upper. When I first saw the Surplus trainers, I thought the upper would feel a little bit more plush, but in reality the texture is reminiscent of a rubber basketball. There is for sure, no other training shoe on the market like it. SuperFabric or Kevlar, I’m happy to see manufacturers push the envelope on developing more robust shoes. SuperFabric touts such benefits as being water repellent, abrasion resistant, while still being breathable and flexible. The Surplus trainers seem exceptionally well made, so far. There’s not a single loose stitch or overspray of glue anywhere to be found on the shoe. the Build wise, the shoe feels as nice as Nike’s Metcon 1’s.
It’s true when they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it took me a few months to warm up to the appearance of the NoBull’s. After I came around, I found the no-BS (pun intended) style much more appealing than Reebok’s gaudiness. I could do with a smaller logo, but the reflective font is functional as it’s reflective for those night missions. For the most part, I think all the colorways are good looking (with the exception of the original blue camo LE model) and personally I’d go with the Berry color if I had the choice. There’s definitely room for improvement in the color department and I think a grey upper/red outsole would sell pretty damn well.
According to NoBull’s website, they say that the Surplus trainers run true to size (whatever that is), but if you’re in between sizes you should size up. My normal shoe size is 9.5 but sometimes I wear a size 9; which would put me probably back at a size 9.5. Based off of NoBull’s sizing chart, I ordered a men’s size 9.5. Upon first putting the Surplus trainers on, I thought they were too small and was going to return them. Unfortunately they didn’t have any Ence trainers in size 10 and I just didn’t feel like waiting for another pair to get shipped in. When I started moving around, I found them to be okay, but still a little on the snug side. Extended amounts of wear could get uncomfortable, but I can deal with it for a couple hours of working out. For sizing, I would recommend that you go up half a size no matter what.
The last is a mix of Nike Metcon’s and Nano 4.0’s. From the rear up until the forefoot area, the shoe is shaped near identically to Nano 4.0’s with the NoBull’s being slightly wider at the heel and midfoot. Only when you get to the front toe area of the shoe does it switch over to how the Metcon’s are shaped. The front toe area accommodates my Morton’s toe, unlike my size 9.5 Nano 4.0’s, but still with the sizing issues, my toes are basically right at the front of the shoe.
The similarities don’t end there…
You’ll find the same 4mm heel-to-toe drop on the NoBull’s as you would the 4.0’s and Metcons (5.0’s are now 3mm). The insoles are really cool looking on the Ence trainers, are roughly 2mm thicker than what you’ll find on Nano’s. The insole makes the shoes more comfortable, but don’t be expecting any house slippers here, they’re still training shoes. The height and density of the outsole makes for a solid minimalist training shoe and you won’t ever question the power delivery here, even with the slightly thicker insole. The outsole at the front is sloped upwards which allows for a more natural toe-off. While the SuperFabric upper flexes easily, the way the toebox bends in creates a ridge that digs into your toes. It’s not awful and I was still able to do short runs and double unders in them just fine; albeit a little uncomfortably. Another thing to note, is that while the outsole is mostly flat, I found myself rocking back and forth quite a bit while trying to position my feet to squat due to the sloped toe. Squatting was fine once I found my spot, but you’ve really got to think dig your heels into the ground.
O-lifting didn’t give me any such problems; I didn’t think twice about anything other than the lift at hand, which is what you want from a good training shoe. Catching the barbell felt stable and I was able to move my feet easily to pull under. The outsole of the shoe grips as much as you’d want it to on rubber gym flooring; a nice blend of agility and stability. Plyometrics such as burpees and rebounding box jumps felt good due to the flexibility of the upper. Rope climbs were just fine, not much fussing around with your feet in order to get a hold of the rope. Another plus is that the upper is actually water repellant! I dumped water all over my shoe to test and it literally just rolls right off. Your workouts are already tough, cleaning the NoBulls shouldn’t have to be. Even after doing rope climbs, the Surplus trainers don’t have a single mark on the upper or anything I couldn’t just wipe off.
Rounding off the benefits of the SuperFabric is the weight of the NoBulls. All the shoes I weighed and wear are mens size 9.5.
- NoBull Surplus Trainer – 10.2 oz
- Reebok CrossFit Nano 4.0 – 10.3 oz
- Reebok CrossFit Nano 5.0 – 10.8 oz
- Nike Metcon 1 – 11.4 oz
- Inov-8 F-Lite 195 – 7.5 oz
In real life you’d be hard pressed to tell the weight difference between most of these shoes when they’re on your feet in anything besides running or double-unders; besides the Inov-8’s or Metcons, which are much lighter/heavier than the rest. Numbers are numbers, and the NoBull trainers win this one by narrowly edging out the Nano 4.0.
Value and Conclusion:
Starting at $129 for the normal Surplus and getting all the way up to $159. The NoBull’s are not a cheap shoe, but they are a solid trainer thats quality built. From a durability standpoint, the NoBull’s are designed to take snake bites, last you through the zombie apocalypse and still keep kicking. From a character standpoint, the NoBull’s are the underdogs in a battle between two giants; so you can’t help but to root for the little guys. If you want something that performs differently, then you better check your sport because the NoBull’s don’t do anything extraordinarily better or worse than the rest of the pack. Not necessarily a bad thing, because the rest of the pack do training shoes very well.
With the Ence trainers, you’ll be greeted with the quote “Dare to be different”, every time you lace up your shoes. You can really only be so different when it comes to making a good training shoe and at this point everyone is incorporating the same basic features in their shoes. If not functionally different, they’re still very aesthetically different, which gives you another option; and options are a good thing. You can set yourself apart from the crowd, at least visually with the NoBull Surplus trainers and still have a perfectly functioning fitness shoe.