(I tried to be as complete as possible in this review. The tl;dr version is that the G290’s are the best shoe that Inov-8 has ever made and they’re in my Top 3 training shoes currently)
“Graphene has many uncommon properties. It is the strongest material ever tested, efficiently conducts heat and electricity, and is nearly transparent. Graphene shows a large and nonlinear diamagnetism, greater than that of graphite, and can be levitated by neodymium magnets.” -Wikipedia
The strongest material ever tested sounds pretty damn serious. To be 100% honest, I pretty much knew nothing about graphene when I heard about Inov-8 bringing out a shoe that would be featuring it. I might have heard about it early on in the 2000’s when there was a big craze about it, but I was young and dumb. Apparently while I was out partying, scientists were out crafting this wonder material (priorities, y’know). Fast forward to 2018 and they’re putting it on shoes, who woulda thunk (again, priorities).
“50% Stronger. 50% More elastic. 50% Harder wearing.”
When you think of all the properties of graphene, it’s really a wonder why it’s taken anyone so long to use it in a shoe. I guess the harder wearing part kind of makes it difficult to turn units, if old shoes aren’t dying out, but there are other parts of a shoe that could wear out too – which is kind of Inov-8’s Achilles heel. Unfortunately, there’s no use of graphene in the entire upper of the G290’s, but that doesn’t stop the G290’s from feeling like the most robust shoe they’ve ever made – both structurally and performance-wise.
The upper features some kind of polyurethane overlay on top of softer mesh materials, similar to what we’ve seen in the past from Inov-8, but areas of high wear seem to be doubled up in material. Along the toe-box, lateral, and medial parts of the shoe there are “squares” of thicker material to give the shoe a bit more structure and presumably durability; they’re broken up so that the shoe will remain flexible. The ankle collar is fully reinforced in the same way, but also with a thick TPU heel counter surrounding it to further lock you down.
In the past, the mesh in the toe-box is usually the first to go, but Inov-8 decided to take it up a notch with the addition of Kevlar. To the touch it almost feels like neoprene, it looks impermeable and it flexes like any other mesh material would, but it’s reinforced with Kevlar and seems like it’s holding up well. The only problem I have with it is that it’s not breathable. The fact that it’s California summer and the days being 90+ degrees aren’t helping, but my feet get annoyingly hot in the G290’s. This isn’t an issue that normally bothers me, so when it does, I notice it. I even took a can of compressed air to it and could barely feel anything through the mesh.
Typical to Inov-8’s more “serious” training shoes, the G290’s feature a dual density midsole. The forefoot of the shoe features the new Exteroflow (who names these?) cushioning while the heel features the 70% more dense Powerheel; of which is barely raised with the heel-toe drop being only 4mm. Both of the foams feel dense like a compression molded EVA, but the heel is noticeably harder as you would expect. It’s also worth noting that the 4mm drop of the G290’s feels flatter than it is, so neutral fans should rejoice.
Last but not least, the star of the show is the graphene enhanced rubber outsole. The underside of the shoe shares the same tread design as most other Inov-8 training shoes with a skeleton-like pattern. Next generation Meta-Flex grooves are not only for mulit-directional movement, but also expand as your toes splay. Patented Dynamic Fascia Band extends from the heel of the shoe out through the mid-foot is designed to take the load off of your plantar fascia. And of course, Rope-Tec guard in the middle of the outsole for both grip and protection against the rope, which the G290’s easily handle.
Styling is typical Inov-8, but I think these shoes have more of a mean look to them, which I like. Maybe it’s the colorway, since most Inov-8 shoes come in some crazy colorways compared to the G290’s no nonsense black and green. The heel counter actually adds some character to the shoe, making them look almost robotic or futuristic.
Surprisingly, my size 10’s weighed in at a whopping 12.13oz/344g. A number pretty far off from the name, 290. That’s heavier than both the Metcon 4 and Nano 8. Not by much, but still a lot for Inov-8.
Inov-8’s shoes have a history of almost all of them fitting me a differently; I’ve worn from a size 9, all the way to a 10.5. Lately, I’ve been wearing a size 10 and they’ve usually fit a little big in the toe-box, but I’ve never sized down in fear that my toes might end up cramped up in the front. Of all the Inov-8’s I’ve tried, the G290’s fit my feet the best and in my opinion are the most “true to size” compared to the other models.
At the midfoot of the shoe you’ll find Inov-8’s Adapterweb, which is another set of mesh, with a PU overlay and lace loops that are designed to expand as your foot swells to give you a more universal fit. I honestly haven’t noticed it, but that’s probably the point, so it must be working. The mesh here is the typical stuff you’ll find on Inov-8 shoes, which should lead to more breathability issue, but the tongue of the shoe just ends up blocking off the vents. I must say though I love the bootie-like design of the tongue; it stays in place and is comfortable around the middle of your foot. The lace loops are actually a better version of Nike’s Flywire since they run the whole length of their respective sides, really locking your feet down when you tighten the laces. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to double knot the included ones because they’re prone to becoming untied.
Another trick the G290’s has up it’s sleeve to improve the overall fit of the shoe is it’s “heel lock” cushioning lined inside of the ankle collar. They’re pods that fit your Achilles and heel to prevent slippage. They work great, just don’t wear thin socks because they’ll tear right through them (rip). Where you at, swoosh?
If you’ve been wearing Inov-8 for a while, pay close attention to sizing, because you might need to switch it up since the G290’s run more narrow and shorter than some previous models. You might need to go up half a size! If I had to pick a shoe from their line-up it fits most similarly to, it would be the All-Train 215, non-knit. Not from Inov-8, would be most similar in fit to Nike Metcon 4.
My sizing and how the shoes fit, for reference:
- F-Lite 235v2/275 – 10 fit me almost a half size big. Wider than G290’s.
- F-Lite 195/195v2 – 9 in original’s fit me big, 9.5 in v2’s fit length wise but were too narrow. 10’s fit slightly long but width was good. More narrow than G290’s.
- F-Lite 250 – 9.5 fit width wise but not length.
- All-Train 215/215 knit – 10 fit snug, 10.5 knit fit large. About the same width as G290’s.
- Bare XF 210v2 – 9.5 fit too small. More narrow than G290’s.
- Fastlift 335/325/370 – 9.5 fit me perfectly. Wider than G290’s.
- Nano – 10 fit’s me with a little breathing room in comparison to G290. Nano 4.0’s feel pretty similar in sizing. Wider than G290’s.
- Metcon 4 – 10 fit’s me almost identical to the G290. About the same width as G290’s.
What would an Inov-8 shoe be without their legendary flexibility? They’re a brand that likes to strip down shoes compared to others to provide a more natural, minimalist feel. That being said, the G290’s are probably the most beefed up trainer they’ve ever made, which does detract from the flexibility just a little bit. But don’t be alarmed, the trade off is worth it.
Since the panels have been beefed up in the G290’s, it feels like a bulkier shoe than we’re normally used to from Inov-8, but they still feel like socks compared to other training shoes. Inside the shoe, you’ll find only a 3mm thin sockliner that can be removed if you want to go with an even more minimal ride. The midsole stack at the forefoot is 7mm and the heel is 11mm – which compared to other trainers, is very low, giving you a next to ground feel. Inov-8 is still the king of making training shoes that feel the most natural on your feet.
Running in the G290’s is a minimalist trainer’s dream. The G290’s lead the pack (depending on what you prefer, of course) compared to pretty much every other popular flagship training shoe out there, only trailing behind Inov-8’s own 195v2 in comfort. From heel to toe, the entirety of the shoe bends and flexes in every which way your feet want to go. There isn’t a lot of “energy return” compared to the FreeXMetcon, which I think is also a great running trainer, but the G290’s have much better ground feel without feeling uncomfortable or unstable. Compared to the Nano 8’s, they feel about the same in cushioning, with more ground feel and a bit less clunkiness being that they’re not as wide as the Reebok flagship. There’s no comparison to the Metcon 4, which are just awful for running.
It’s also worth noting that I brought these on my trip to Canada as my “everything” shoe and they worked out excellent. They handled miles of walking and some lighter trails, great. They wouldn’t be my first choice of a walking shoe, but if you could only bring one shoe on a trip, the G290’s are versatile enough to be comfortable to walk around in, good to run in, and great to train in. I probably wouldn’t go out in them though.
Plyometric movements feel comfortable, yet stable and strong in the G290’s. They have just enough cushioning so workouts with repeated jumping movements don’t leave your plantar fascias fried. Keep in mind that they are a competition level training shoe, so cushioning is kept at a minimum. I still find them fairly comfortable because of the flexibility. They’re no where near as minimal as the Bare XF 210v2 and only slightly less cushioned than the 195v2. They’re about on par with the Nano 8’s, but slightly less cushioned than the FreeXMetcon.
Training shoes are all about balance, figuratively and literally. Inov-8’s have never been known for their class leading stability, their flexibility usually just makes up for that. It’s not that they’re unstable by any means, they are the “original x-fit” shoe after all; there were just better choices for shoes to lift weights in. The G290’s with their beefed up chassis aim’s to change all that noise; they’re the most stable Inov-8 training shoe to date.
Whenever you want to increase stability, the trade off is flexibility, and vice versa. As I mentioned before, the G290’s are just slightly less flexible than most previous Inov-8’s. Long time wearers will notice this immediately, but if you’re coming from a Metcon, the G290’s will feel like socks; it’s all relative. I think the engineers over at Inov-8 did a great job balancing the shoe out by adding the right amount of structure while not sacrificing too much stability. These shoes can easily stand toe to toe with the best out there.
Laterally, the G290’s are far superior to any other Inov-8 trainer in the past. The Rope-Tec guard actually acts as lateral guard to prevent your foot from rolling over, which works really well, but the upper is flexible so your foot can slide around a bit before it gets stopped by the lateral support. Honestly, the only movement that this was an issue with was during heavy sumo deadlifts, which can cause problems for a lot of shoes. The heel counter does a great job giving your ankles a bit of support for some of the more dynamic lifts. Since it’s summer, we’ve got to break out the strongman equipment – yoke and farmer carries have been on the menu and they’ve never felt better due to the lateral stability of the G290’s.
Things on the saggital plane get a little less stable, but overall the G290’s still perform better than most. I did notice myself rocking forward a little bit whenever I’d have weight overhead (snatches/push jerks). This is usually an issue I run into with flexible training shoes but it could come down to technique, mobility, or both causing this. The issue only lies in dynamic lifts where you’re constantly jumping around with weight. When I could get my feet planted, say for squats, the G290’s felt rock solid with excellent power delivery. I would not hesitate to squat up to 100% of my maxes in the G290’s; I actually PR tied my front squat at 345 in them.
So, let’s talk graphene.
On rougher surfaces, the graphene grip outsole works insanely well. Rubber flooring, asphalt, bare wood and the rope are where it shines the brightest; the G290’s were made to perform inside of the box. Keep in mind that you’re going to need to break the outsole in because when it’s brand new, it’s actually slick and needs to be roughed up a bit. Even after a bit of break in, smoother surfaces like tile and dense carpeting give the G290’s some issue. I haven’t tried it yet, but I would be wary about finished hardwood flooring as well (i.e. studio flooring or indoor basketball courts), not that I think anyone is buying these shoes to go play pickup basketball games though.
Between enhanced polyurethane panels, lateral support walls, TPU heel counter and graphene grip; the G290’s are the most structurally sound training shoe Inov-8 has ever produced.
At $160, the Inov-8 F-Lite G 290’s are not the cheapest training shoe to grace the ever growing mountain of training shoes. In reality, they don’t cost that much more than the standard rate of training shoes. There’s actually a non-graphene shoe that costs $140, has a lot of the same construction cues besides the wonder material and kevlar. But when you’re spending that much, you might as well spring the extra $20 for the graphene sole. I think the G290’s are worth every penny of their higher price tag even if it was just for the tech that is included in the shoe, not even factoring in that they’re just one of the best training shoes available today.
That being said, I do think that you can do as good, if not better, for less money. The Nano 8’s are still my top pick for a training shoe and cost $130. The FreeXMetcon’s are also right up there with the best and cost $120, though for performance I would take the G290’s over them. That’s not to take away anything from the G290’s, they’re excellent in their own right and I would easily pick them as a serious competition shoe. They’re really good at everything and don’t have any flaws besides the breathability and price tag. If you didn’t mind spending the money and already had a pair of Nano 8’s, the G290’s are an easy choice to recommend. I’d go as far as saying that they’re probably the only training shoe that’s a real threat to the Nano 8’s crown of king
- One of the most balanced (best) training shoes available.
- Excellent for natural movement.
- One of the best designs Inov-8 has come out with.
- They can get REALLY hot.
- Shoelaces come untied pretty easily.
- Graphene doesn’t work well on smooth surfaces.
- $160 price tag looks expensive and will scare people off.