Barefoot training/running had a huge surge at the start of the decade. The premise is simple enough, training barefoot should lead to stronger foot muscles, tendons and ligaments. Things like midsoles and insoles lead to power degradation and instability when lifting weights. Zero drop was ideal because it promoted better running technique versus having a cushy heel to strike. There’s was a lot of taboo behind the benefits and disadvantages, but it still managed to garner a cult following, especially in the world of CrossFit.
Before purchasing barefoot shoes, you should know what you’re getting into. Training in barefoot shoes is suppose to mimic exactly what the name says, being barefoot. If you’ve never done barefoot training before, it’s going to take a little bit of getting used to, especially if you’re coming from cushy running shoes. You might end up with sore feet for a little bit, but at the end of the day, your feet will be better off for it. The allure of having stronger feet, better balance, and more power output got me into barefoot training early on, long before I even started CrossFit.
One of the best options was Inov-8’s Bare XF 210, it had everything you would want in a barefoot shoe (nothing). Zero drop, no midsole, it was form fitting and extremely light, but best of all, didn’t have individual toes. Still, barefoot training isn’t for everyone and the durability of the shoe wasn’t as good as some of it’s in box competitors. Inov-8 has been going on a tirade releasing updated models for their training shoes in 2017, one of them being the beloved 210v2, now sporting heftier construction to keep up with the big dogs. Barefoot fans, rejoice.
Upon first glance, you probably wouldn’t be able to distinguish the newer model 210 from the previous; they look almost identical. Apart from differences in the Rope-Tec protection, lacing scheme and some material changes, the silhouette is basically the same exact thing. They’re not terrible looking shoes, but they’re definitely something you’d only want to be seen wearing in your athletic pursuits. Currently, the only colorway for men is black and grey with a touch of neon green (red for women), which will probably change but is pretty unoffensive for a single colorway option right now.
While extremely light, I remember the original 210’s also being a little bit on the flimsy side. The entire upper was mainly just fabric with a little bit of PU overlay on the middle part of the upper to give it a bit of structure, but otherwise it was basically a sock. The new 210 feels much more beefed up from the original, though that didn’t take much, but how they managed to keep the V2 at 210 grams is a mystery, The biggest changes to the construction of the shoe lie at the back and middle areas of the shoe. Where the previous model had the same mesh throughout the shoe, the new V2 has a tougher nylon ripstop fabric that extends from the heel to the beginning of the toebox. Rather than being just an overlay on the shoe, the new Rope-Tec is a piece of armor that protects the lateral and medial sides of the shoe on top of the ripstop fabric. At the heel of the shoe there is the new Y-Heel lock counter that Inov-8 has been using recently to keep your heel locked into place and does a rather good job doing so.
Since this is the Bare-XF line, there is really no midsole of which to speak. All you get between your foot and the ground is a combined 6mm between the insole and outsole combination. The latter sees really no change, same skeletal tread patern and 1.5mm lug depth. If you want barefoot shoes without having to wear Vibram’s, this is as good as you’re going to get.
Though the shoe feels more sturdy, it still retains it’s sock-like feel. The new lacing system is one of the best upgrades Inov-8 made on the 210v2. Rather than having to go under the upper to lace your shoes, there is a “Flywire” type lacing system that brings the new Rope-Tec cage together on top of the upper. Also gone are the flimsy rope laces, replaced with much beefier flat laces that do have some issues staying tied. With the new lacing system, you can get an even more locked down fit in the middle of the shoe, giving the 210v2’s a second skin like feel.
The mesh at the toebox is actually more plush and breathable than the original’s, not to mention extremely flexible and fairly wide. I’d love the new toebox if it weren’t for the unforgiving “Italian blown rubber toe bumper”, which my Morton’s toe just ends up jamming up into. This probably won’t happen to most people, but it’s worth noting. I made the mistake of getting a 9.5, where I should have gotten a 10 like all my other training shoes, so that’s what I’m going to recommend you do. Size like your normal training shoe size, you don’t want your toes anywhere close to the front of the shoe with these.
Here are mine for reference:.
- 235v2/215/195v2 – 10
- Nano – 10
- Metcon – 10
- NoBull – 10
- New Balance – 9.5
If you ever find yourself thinking that Nano’s or Metcon’s are too bulky, you’ll probably want to look into the 210v2’s. As barefoot shoes should be, the 210’s are as stripped back as possible as you can get, while not being a sock. The upper fits close to your foot and feels like a second skin. One of the first things you’ll notice is just how low you sit to the ground and how the outsole conforms to the bottom of your foot. You’ll be able to feel even the smallest of rocks through the bottom of the shoe. Which is great for power delivery inside the gym, but isn’t so good if you plan on taking these shoes up to the trails. Response is instant, when you push, you actually push; there is virtually nothing in the way of your foot to ground. Power delivery is limited to what your standing on top of instead of what you’re wearing.
Conventional deadlifting is probably the best movement you could do in the 210v2’s, just grip it and rip it. Sumo is slightly a different story, depending on how mobile you are. These shoes were made for free movement, so laterally they might not as stable as something with a flatter base (i.e. Chucks), but that depends on how strong your glutes and hamstrings are. The 210’s could easily be your squatting shoe of choice, but that once again depends on mobility. I think zero drop shoes favor low bar squatting, though I personally squat high bar just fine in these shoes. If you get your feet planted, these shoes are solid as a rock.
For the fast Olympic Weightlifting movements in a CrossFit WOD, I think the 210’s are excellent. Power delivery is snappy and your feet move extremely well. That being said, there’s a level of lateral stability that I’d want if I were to go for 1 rep max that I don’t quite trust the 210’s for. I was still able to lift fairly confidently but if it came down to it, I’d rather do my Oly in shoes that have a bit more width. While the material of the outsole grips rougher surfaces well, it doesn’t do so great on smooth rubber flooring. There are virtually no lugs, so smooth on top of smooth doesn’t work so well. I’ve had a few close incidents where my feet have slid catching a lift, another reason to stick to shoes with more structure for Oly.
When it comes to rope climbs, the 210v2’s do fairly decent job holding the rope despite the slick outsole. The added Rope-Tec protection shields your feet from getting too beat up from the rope, but due to the thin upper, you’re still going to feel it. Durability is yet to be determined, unless you plan on doing rope climbs every day, they seem like they’ll hold up just fine.
The area the 210’s most excel at are during lighter metcons. Your feet are free to move as you do – Movement feels unhindered and transitioning between movements feels like you don’t even have anything on your feet. The feather light 210v2’s are flexible for plyometrics and gymnastics but stable kettlebells and most weightlifting you’ll find in a WOD. Running is a matter of preference, you’ll either love or hate it in the 210’s. Like previously mentioned, there’s nothing between your feet and the ground, so everything is a little bit more high impact. Things like arch support or midsole cushioning are no where to be found, forcing you into better running technique. If you’re a heel striker, you’ll quickly find out why it’s discouraged to do so. Also, if you’re new to the barefoot thing, you’re going to end up with sore feet for a few weeks. Make sure you ease yourself into running distances in the 210v2’s, but like I said earlier, I believe you’ll be better off for learning how to run in barefoot shoes.
The Bare-XF 210v2’s retail at $110 and while I don’t think they’re going to pull the masses away from the big names, they’ll definitely entice seasoned barefoot enthusiasts. If you’re looking to take the plunge into barefoot training, I can’t think of any better shoes to do it with. Are the 210v2’s going to be for everyone? Nope, that’s what the 195’s or 235’s are for. They definitely have their pro’s and con’s but at the end of the day, they’re the best you’re gonna find in barefoot training shoes and most of the cons just come down to barefoot training as a whole, not necessarily this particular shoe.
Having spent a long time away from barefoot training, it feels nice to go back to it, and at the end of the day I feel more comfortable training in minimalist shoes, but not exactly barefoot. I’ve come to like certain aspects of how training shoes are made and while I respect barefoot shoes, they’re just not for me anymore. That’s not to take anything away from the Inov-8 Bare-XF 210v2’s though, they’re excellent shoes, just as long as you know what you’re getting into.
- Extremely responsive
- Lightweight & Flexible
- Increased durability
- Grip isn’t great on rubber flooring
- Toe cap is too stiff
- Barefoot might not be for everyone
- Only one colorway for now