Inov-8 F-Lite 235v3 Review

Over the years, Inov-8’s F-Lite line-up has continued to evolve from being minimalist running shoes that you can train in, to minimalist training shoes that you can run in. In the training world, we see shifts every year in the flexibility to stability ratio in shoes. With Inov-8, those shifts aren’t quite as apparent, but there are changes being made to keep their shoes competitive because people just keep getting stronger and faster.

In 2019, the 235v3’s receive an almost complete overhaul from the shoes of the past. New design, new materials, and an updated platform, all combine into what I like to think of as a new direction for Inov-8 as a brand. I never really thought Inov-8 cared to appeal to the masses the way that Nike or Reebok did, but I think that’s all changed this year.

With that said, are the changes they’ve made enough to keep the shoe competitive with the newly released Nano 9 and soon to be launched, Metcon 5?

Construction:

It seems like every time Inov-8 drops a new shoe, they get better and better in the design department. Their styling hasn’t always been the main factor you’d buy their shoes, but now I can honestly say that they’ve transcended the niche market for a broader appeal visually. There’s no denying it, the 235v3 are a good looking pair of shoes. They’re not overdone, not chunky, have clean lines, and come in two massively popular colorways: white/black and gum. I’m over the gum thing, but at least they spiced it up a little by using a darker shade of brown. You could that it’s both a safe move and a smart move by Inov-8 by picking those as the launch colors.

Construction of the upper is comprised of a coupling of mesh and stretchy knit materials with protective overlays on top to not only hide where they’re joined together, but to add structure to the upper. Adding a stretch element to the 235v3’s upper makes the shoe feel of higher quality than it’s past iterations that while flexible overall, felt kind of cheap and plastic-y. The shoe feels like it has a more customized fit, without totally feeling like you’re wearing a sock. Not to mention, the shoes are extremely breathable so extended sessions on those hot days are comfortable!

The removable sockliner is a little thicker at 6mm (previous 3mm) and provides good underfoot cushioning without taking away much feedback from the ground. Quite possibly the biggest change to the new 235 is that the drop has increased from the traditional 0mm to 4mm. Some barefoot purists might dislike this change, but for all around training, 4mm has been proven as the most ideal offset and is still what I’d consider a “flat” shoe. Stack height also had to change from the straight 10.5mm throughout to 11mm to 7mm. I don’t have my 235v2’s to compare, but the change in height is noticeable if my memory serves me right. Though they still feel more low to the ground than most training shoes do, including the G290’s.

One thing that didn’t seem to get much of a change is the outsole of the shoe – it actually sports the same exact features and pattern. Meta-Flex grooves expand when your forefoot hits the ground for a more natural feel while the Dynamic Fascia Band midfoot shank smooths out the transition from heel to toe. According to the website, the compound went from “sticky” to “Inov-8 Rubber”, whatever that means, I’m not seeing a whole lot of difference in traction. Not a big deal, because I don’t recall that ever being a problem from before. The Rope-Pro guard also remains the same, so expect the same excellent grip and durability against rope abrasion in this area.

The midsole material is Inov-8’s new Powerflow+ is supposed to offer 10% better shock absorption and provide 25% better energy return than standard midsoles. I really can’t quantify that but what I can tell you is that the shoes feel a lot more forgiving on your feet than the v2’s did. Now the 235’s feel more in line with the likes of Nano 8′ and are softer than Inov-8’s own 260’s. They’re a lot more plush and forgiving on your feet than the previous versions, but never do you feel like you’re at a lack of response or stability. These old joints can appreciate that.

Inov-8 names their shoes by how much they weigh in grams so these shoes should be 235grams/8.225oz, but I believe that’s from a size 9US. For my size 10US, I weighed the shoes in at 285g/10oz. Still a featherweight shoe compared to the competition.

Fit:

Inov-8 uses a scale 1-5 to determine their shoe’s width and the 235v3’s fall at the end of it with a 5 rating, making them the widest shoe that they make. To be honest, they don’t feel nearly as wide as the v2’s, which were only at a 3. It could have something to do with the new upper construction giving you a more customized (not compression) fit v.s. the looser upper from before. Either way, the shoe doesn’t feel narrow at all, but they’re not wide by any stretch of the word (maybe I’m just used to my Nano 9). Though I will admit, they are wider than the 260’s(5), 290’s(4) and 230’s(2) I more recently reviewed.

What I really appreciate, is the more squarish toebox design, as it gives the digits more room to splay comfortably without being overly wide and clown shoe-ish. All of the aforementioned Inov-8’s moved to a more pointed toe design that wasn’t bad, but I like a little more room to breathe in my shoes.

Even with their more basic lacing set-up, you can get a great fit around the ankle/midfoot of the 235v3’s with absolutely no heel slip. If you wanted to take things a little further just in case, there are eyelets so that you can lace lock your shoes as well. It’s worth noting that although the tongue looks similar to the 290’s, it doesn’t actually wrap around your foot the same way; it’s detached from the side of the shoe but doesn’t slide around.

My 235v3’s in size 10US fit me dead on, I have absolutely no complaints about the way the shoe fits my feet this year. When I reviewed the v2’s, the toebox felt way too big with the length being right so I couldn’t size down. The 290’s fit me a little tight and the 230’s fit a little big (length). Nano’s are right on the money there and Metcon’s are a little snug but fit well in a size 10. I’d say these shoes fit true, so just get your normal size.

Flexibility & Running:

What would an Inov-8 shoe be without best in class flexibility?

Let’s be real, the reason people love and are loyal to Inov-8 is because they make such flexible training shoes that don’t suck for lifting either. At least that’s what I’ve come to know the brand for and I’ve never had a pair from them disappoint in the flexibility department. If you’ve ever felt like your feet were trapped in your training shoes, then you should probably check out what Inov-8 has to offer (but chances are you’ve already tried them out before because you’re reading this review).

The magic is in the way Inov-8 designs their shoes without any clunkiness or wasted materials. Since the upper is mainly just a combination of mesh or knit materials, there’s nothing to get in the way of your feet doing what they need to do. Moving around in the 235v3’s feels natural, effortless and with the addition of the new Powerflow+ midsole, they’re more comfortable than ever. There’s ample underfoot cushioning when you land from jumps or repeated bounding movements, also aided by the thicker insole.

I like to always say that the outsole design on Inov-8’s looks like a skeletal view of your foot, but those open grooves (Meta-Flex) actually serve a purpose. They’re cut in a way that allows them to expand upon foot strike, giving you a more natural underfoot feel. The outsole gum material never has a loss of grip and in all honesty, works just as good if not better than the Graphene on the G290’s.

Inov-8 ditches any kind of midfoot shank and opts to use their “Dynamic Fascia Band” technology to help smooth out transition and keep your foot in motion. The great thing about this is that while it’s designed around heel striking, it actually works fairly well for a mid-foot strike too. Compared to running shoes, the 235v3’s still feel a little harsh, but compared to training shoes, they feel like (minimalist) running shoes. Their midsole is responsive yet cushioned enough and they welcome any kind of foot strike without feeling clunky. If there was any training shoe that I would want to run in at the moment, it would be the 235v3’s.

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Stability:

Being able to make a flexible training shoe is one thing, but making a flexible shoe that you can also lift in is another. As the sport of fitness has evolved, so has the shoes that Inov-8 has put out. People are starting to lift heavier and heavier, but they’re also in need a shoe capable of handling such weights. The G290’s were Inov-8’s biggest reach towards making a more stable shoe, but they did have to sacrifice weight and some flexibility to get there. They were good, but they weren’t what I needed to pick them over Nano’s or Metcons. Even though the 235v3’s are lighter and more flexible than the 290’s, are they enough?

The design of the 235v3’s is more stripped down than the 290’s – they dropped the external TPU heel counter/cup, heel lock pods, and even though the stack heights are the same, the 235’s feel lower. The one thing they have going for them over the 290’s is their size, they just flat out have a wider base. That by itself, makes them more stable because the footprint is literally bigger. The 290’s have more to hold your heel in place laterally, but I feel like my heel is still seated better in the 235’s because it feels lower.

Compared to the 235v2, the newer model feels leagues better for lifting, at least for me. I did love the zero drop and dense midsole, but those shoes were comically wide on me and the upper didn’t do much in the way of foot containment. The V3’s ditch the AdapterFit mid-foot cradle for an all new overlay design that spans throughout the shoe, giving you more a secure fit for your foot. Even it’s just overlays and mesh for structure, I never feel like my foot is all over the place when I’m lifting in the v3’s; especially for Oly.

Responsiveness from the Powerflow+ midsole is excellent, its a tiny bit softer to the touch than the Exteroflow found in the 290’s, but you’d never notice a difference unless you were poking at the shoes next to each other. I’ve been squatting heavy lately and since I’m coming fresh off of the Nano 9 review (one of the most stable lifting shoes you can get), I was semi-worried the 235v3’s wouldn’t be able to keep up. Boy, was I wrong about them. The 235’s have deceivingly good power delivery despite the comfortable insole and midsole combo. I was able to squat 3×3 90%/385lbs in my 235v3’s without even thinking about my Nano’s or lifters. No, I don’t think they’re more stable overall, but if you can get you feet well set, you couldn’t ask for much more in the way of response.

I never really cared much to use the 290’s for Olympic weightlifting movements because  they would allow me to rock back and forth a bit much, but I haven’t noticed that issue with the 235v3’s. I’m thinking the extra bit of width helps me grip the ground better so that I don’t get too toes-y with lifts. The platform still allows for more natural movement than either the Metcon 4 or Nano 9 so there is a little bit of lateral stability lost due to the rounded outsole design, but the outsole is generally flat and grippy enough to make landings feel secure most of the time.  The 235v3’s are good enough for most Oly movements, much better than the v2’s and better than the 290’s. For barbell cycling lighter weights, they’ll be fine, but I wouldn’t be taking these on the platform.

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Value:

At $130, the Inov-8 F-Lite 235v3’s are poised to compete directly with the likes of Metcon and Nano. In brand recognition, they’ve always been the underdogs compared to Nike or Reebok, but I’ve always believed their shoes could go toe to toe with the big dogs in performance. That’s never been more apparent than with the 235v3’s. It’s upgrades in styling, materials, cushioning, width and stability make it a solid contender for training shoe of the year. The only thing I’m unsure about at this point is durability, which has always been their Achilles heel.

2019 will be the year of alternate training shoe brands. Footwear restrictions have been removed from the CrossFit Games so we’ll be seeing a variety of companies make huge push to be seen on the big stage. With all the marquee training shoes being refreshed this year receiving some polarizing designs, the 235’s stand out without really having to stand out. They’ve got a clean, nonsensical design with colorways that everyone can get behind and this time more than ever, have the performance to stack up to the big boys.

Why wouldn’t you buy the 235v3’s? There’s really no good reason not to. Even if you’re a Nike or Reebok fanboy(girl), you’ll still stay neutral by picking up a pair of the OG box training brand. The only people disappointed by the v3’s might be minimalist die-hards that lament the 4mm drop. But if you’re looking for a high performing training shoe that’s flexible, stable, and looks great and (plus, you hate all the other shoes this year) the Inov-8 F-Lite 235v3’s are the clear choice.

Get your 235v3’s here!

The Good:

  • Best in class flexibility, natural movement, running and weight.
  • The widest shoe Inov-8 offers, also the most stable.
  • Styling that’s easy to get with.

The Bad:

  • Might not be the best training shoe for Oly lifting.
  • Some might not like the change from 0 to 4mm drop.
  • They don’t have a Swoosh or Vector on the side.

The Ugly:

  • Could use bolder colorways IMO.
  • Some people won’t spend MSRP on them, sales are rare.
  • Durability is yet to be determined.

 

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