I have to admit, my experience with plate carriers is (was) somewhat limited as this is the first one I’ve ever owned. Over the years, I’ve used different kinds of weighted vests for workouts, but never a real plate carrier. In my defense, it never really became a popular thing until they did “Murph” at the 2015 CrossFit Games. Who really needs a plate carrier instead of a weight vest anyways? Isn’t it technically the same thing?
Well…yes and no.
To say that weight vests and plate carriers are the same thing is like saying oranges and apples are the same thing. The latter are both fruits, they’re both round, but when you eat them, they taste much different. The same things can be said about plate carriers v.s. weighted vests; except I don’t recommend trying to eat either of them.
All of the weighted vests I’ve used in the past have been bulky, cumbersome, didn’t fit well, got too hot, were uncomfortable after some time, or all of the above. Sure, most the ones I used don’t typically cost as much as a plate carrier does either, so I guess you get what you pay for. Plate carriers were designed for practical use, and other than looking really tacticool, they’re meant to be equipped in the most realest of scenarios, the ones where people live and die. When so much is on the line, you’re going to want something comfortable, and that you can move around pretty well in.
There are no options for sizing, but there are plenty of adjustments on the Invest carrier. The cummerbund is elastic, totally removable, and is accompanied by two buckles that are adjustable. If you feel like the carrier is too high or low, the shoulder straps are two adjustable buckles that are covered with some nice removable pads. I don’t foresee being comfortable doing “Murph” in this carrier, or any carrier or weight vest for that matter. Its just part of the workout I guess, but for the most part, I found the Invest carrier pretty breathable. Inside the vest, there are ventilated and padded sections that keep you as comfortable as you possibly could be wearing a plate carrier. Since it is a real world plate carrier, the sides have two pouches for side armor, but in the future I would like to see these removed for a little more ventilation. Also, some more color options would be nice! Maybe ACU or OD Green?
The plates that come inside of the Invest Fitness carrier aren’t designed to stop bullets, but they’re the same 11×10″ sized ones you’d typically find in a normal plate carrier. Normal weight vests have weight cartridges in various locations on the vest or bunched up in one spot, whereas the Invest Fitness carrier has just two plates that are pretty evenly balanced across your frame on the back and on the front. Each plate weighs 8.75lbs and the vest weighs 2.5lbs, totaling out at 20lbs for the male’s variant.
Most movements with the Invest plate carrier are fairly comfortable to do, as much as they can be while wearing a weight vest. Strapped down, the vest doesn’t bobble too much when you run, but in the future I would like to see an internal lockdown system to hold the plates in place better. When it came to doing gymnastics movements, wearing the Invest carrier didn’t hinder any of my movements; there’s a lot of range of movement for your arms to be dynamic. The only movement I really struggled with was bar muscle-ups, because of the inability to “wrap” yourself around the bar; you really have to pull close to your hips. Surprisingly, I could also do a few kipping handstand push-ups before gravity kicked in and the carrier clocked me in the chin.
Now the real reason I never bothered with a plate carrier in the past was because they’re fairly expensive, and typically don’t come with the plates included or shipping. Invest Fitness sells theirs altogether with carrier and plates for either $170/14lb or $180/20lb, with free shipping and a t-shirt! If you’re looking for a plate carrier, there is not even remotely close to this price point. Sure you can get a cheaper weight vest, but then you wouldn’t be reading this review either.
I’ve since gotten the 5.11 Tactec plate carrier, which is what they use in the CrossFit Games and probably is the standard (I had to compare to something). It’s definitely a little nicer, mainly because it’s smaller, but fully loaded from Rogue plus tax and shipping costs $280…and it doesn’t perform $100 better than the Invest Fitness one does. The Invest Fitness plate carriers are high performing and definitely the best value of all the plate carriers available. Unless you’re a Games athlete (in which case, you have a 5.11 already), I highly recommend Invest Fitness.
If you head to Amazon and search “CrossFit Grips”, you’ll be bombarded with a TON of brands that are usually just all the same ones with different branding on them. The problem about the sport of fitness growing is that everyone wants a piece of pie and it just over saturates the market. Another problem is that it confuses the shopper and leaves you with a sub-par item.
Vulcan Strength’s supplier for gymnastics grips is a company that specializes in gymnastics equipment, Bailie. Their grips are also made in the United States, so you can rest assured they’re not a cheap import rebrand and they’ve been used in serious gymnastics competitions (read: Olympics). Vulcan is a company I’ve worked with for a long time and if there’s anything I know about them, it’s that they don’t stock junk.
Right out of the box, you’re going to notice that the leather on these grips is extremely stiff while thickness is pretty much on par with any other gymnastics grips. The break in process is not for the faint of heart, the edges of the grips are pretty sharp initially and it takes a few workouts for that to go away. Instructions per Vulcan’s website say that you should roll the grips around before you use them, which I did and made the grips much more pliable.
Another difference between the Vulcan grips is that they taper in the middle of the grip, which is actually pretty nice as it sheds some of the bulkiness away of having grips on, though I think the top of the grip could be slightly narrower. I still would not use these grips for any kind of barbell movement because they’re just a bit stiff. Fortunately it’s really easy to just take them off and flip them over when you head to the barbell. The velcro strap isn’t too out of the ordinary and has enough to go over a set of wrist wraps.
Once you get past the strenuous break-in process, the Vulcan grips provide some of the best holding power to be found on any set of grips. Put a light dusting of chalk on your hands and these things keep you locked down to the bar, coated, bare steel or even wood gymnastics rings. I usually have issues with too much leather bunching up in the middle of my palm with grips for ring muscle ups, but since these taper, that isn’t an issue I’ve had with the Vulcan grips.
The best thing about the Vulcan grips is that they’re also one of the best deals when it comes to grips. You don’t have to sacrifice performance for price because a pair of grips will only set you back a cool $20 shipped; which is pretty much in line with the junk you’re going to find on Amazon. They’re a bitch and a half to break in, but the performance for the price is unbeatable and based on that alone, I recommend the Vulcan grips.
We’ve been at a standstill in training shoes for quite some time now, not a ton of technology has really changed. Not that the formula didn’t work, but we’ve really just had the same shoes with different brands on it. It’s just the beginning of the year but 2017 is looking to change all of that. As the sport of fitness evolves, so does the footwear we require. Interestingly enough, we’re starting to see a departure from the rigid, flat soled shoes into shoes that are a little more geared towards all around performance, with running included. Not that you couldn’t run in flat shoes of old, but they were a little clunky and athletes nowadays are required to be more agile than ever.
Late last year, I reviewed the Inov-8 F-Lite 235v2, which I loved. It has all the makings of a great training shoe: zero drop, flexibility, lightweight, and dense midsole. I don’t mind running in them, but like all wide and rigid trainers, they can be a little choppy to run in. Leave it to the masterminds at Inov-8 to shake up the formula with the All-Train 215 by fusing their roots in all-terrain running shoes and training shoes to make one of the best all around trainers of the year.
Honestly, Inov-8 trainers have never been my favorite shoes to look at since the 195. While the 235 and 250 are great performing shoes, their blocky aesthetic and choice of color combinations are probably the biggest reasons why they haven’t really taken off with the mainstream. I don’t really think they care that much to appeal to everyone, but having attractive shoes isn’t a bad thing. The All-Train 215’s are the best looking shoe silhouette that Inov-8 has come up with, period. They look like the spiritual successor to the ever so popular 195 – not overdone, sleek with a little bit of tactical badassery. Most of the colorways fit the design of the shoe and aren’t really outlandish, but this is still an area I think Inov-8 could work on a little bit. When in doubt, just get black.
Build quality is the typical, excellent quality of Inov-8 shoes though one might initially mistake them for being built cheap because they’re so lightweight weighing in at just 7.5oz/215 grams per shoe. Inov-8 keeps things flexible compared to a lot of the other brands out there with a more normal synthetic and mesh upper. One question might be long term durability, but I don’t think any of us have had these shoes long enough to comment on that. They survived a few rope climbs here and there, but who knows what they’ll look like after a hundred or so.
Inov-8 shoes run small on me, so I went with a size US10. I would always recommend just going with the EU size since I think the sizing is a little more accurate that way, in which case I wear an EU43. Compared to the 235’s, the 215’s feel a little bit more fitted since the shape is more like a running shoe, which I prefer over the more boxy toe. I wouldn’t say the 215’s are narrow shoes, but they’re more so than the 235’s just mainly at the toe. Here are my sizes for reference:
Are they running shoes or are they training shoes? They’re both.
The 215’s aren’t marketed as “cross fitness” shoes (which I’m using them for), but rather as a more general training/HIIT gym shoe. It seems that Inov-8 is trying to attract a broader/different audience with the 215’s, or even new grassroots fitness communities, since ours isn’t so much of one anymore. Either way, the 215’s still work excellent for what we do as “cross fitnessers”.
Before receiving the shoes, I was thinking that they might not be good to lift in because of the way they’re marketed. The biggest difference from the 235 is the midsole construction, in that the 215 use an injection molded Fusion EVA midsole rather than a compressed one. While it’s similar in height and drop to the F-Lite 250 (20mm heel/12mm forefoot/8mm drop), the overall feel is different since the 235 and 250 both use the stiffer CMEVA Powerheel. You’ll notice that steps in the 215 have a little bit more “bounce” and are cushioned more, which favor running and plyometric movements, but that doesn’t exactly make them running shoes, as they’re still very responsive for lifting.
One thing that takes a little bit of getting used to is the forward bias caused by having the larger drop. On the 250’s, you can anchor down more on the heel of the shoe since it doesn’t compress, where you might notice your feet sliding a little forward more in the 215’s due to the slightly more compressible midsole. Even though the majority of the cushioning is at at the heel of the shoe, it doesn’t give enough to detract from most lifts. I’d still use my 235’s for 1RM deadlifts or backsquats, but I felt comfortable enough to do all of my percentage lifting in the 215’s.
Where the 215’s shine the most is in the name: All-Train. These aren’t shoes designed just for lifting, they’re for everything in the fitness world. If you want to go on a trail run, then hit the gym for some lifting, and maybe even go on a swim – the All Train 215’s are the shoe for you. For me, they’re one of the most complete WOD shoes available. They have just enough cushioning to keep my feet comfortable for runs I’m doing in WODs, but I wouldn’t be afraid to wear them for up to a few miles. Since WOD’s don’t typically have 1RMs in them, they’ve been stable for all the lifting I’m doing in a WOD. They’re probably best suited for workouts with a fair amount of plyometric movements since they’re so flexible and most of all, lightweight. You’ll barely even feel like you have shoes on, except that the outsole lug pattern gives you excellent footing no matter what the surface is, asphalt, gravel, rubber or wood. For most people, you’ll never need another pair of training shoes!
The All-Train 215’s retail for $110, but you can usually find them slightly discounted if you shop around. At MSRP they’re a steal, but if you can get them cheaper, it’s a no brainer. The All-Train 215’s are currently one of the best deals in training shoes.
I typically favor shoes that are just rigid, flat and favor weightlifting, but it’s impossible to not like the 215’s. If you were a fan of the 195, or more so the 240/230’s, you will no doubt be a fan of the 215. These shoes return to the greatness (not that they ever left) that were the original Inov-8 cross-training shoes. There are better lifting shoes and there are better running shoes, but there are very few shoes that have combined the two as well into a training shoe like the All-Train 215’s. If you’re a cross-fitnesser looking for a WOD shoe and you do your lifting in Oly shoes, or if you’re just someone looking for a damned good pair of training shoes, this is the one.