In this, our third shoe review, we explore the capabilities of the Bare XF-210 from Inov8. The Bare XF-210 is a “functional fitness” shoe, meaning that it was designed for Crossfit- with special reinforcing on the side for climbing ropes- yet I have found it to be a useful shoe for light parkour training and everyday wear. Inov8 call it:
“Our most stripped back and closest to the ground shoe, offering a natural fit and unsurpassed rope protection. Designed for functional fitness, 0mm differential and no midsole offer an authentic barefoot feel. The one piece TPU lacing support provides durability on the shoe when climbing ropes. A 3mm sticky rubber outsole offers a stable platform for performance when running or lifting weights.”
Length of Testing: 6+ months light training only
Weight: Inov8 name their shoes by weight, hence all versions of this shoe weigh 210 grams.
Differential: 0mm drop (this is the height of your heel from the ground in comparison to your forefoot). A full-on barefoot-style setup.
Sizing: Mens 5 – 13 and Womens 6.5 – 11 (US sizing). Half sizes available.
Colours: Completely black, black and purple with highlighter green, black with yellow, grey/black with red, blue with highlighter green. Note: Not all colours are available for every size or fit.
Around $190 – $200 NZD if you can find them in this country, or more if you have them shipped in.
Design and Construction:
The almost-completely-mesh-upper sports a little bit of kangaroo leather fore and aft and the TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) rope protection in the middle of each side, all intelligently placed features that provide robustness without excess bulk. It has a foam rubbery insole which I took out, leaving only a sort of light canvas-type material separating my foot from the 3mm rubber: a sensation not unlike actually being barefoot. The sole itself is unusual, a bit like a slick racing tire, and has a pleasingly subtle pattern of foot bones etched into it (I assume they’re anatomically correct!). You have options from garish bright colours through to completely black, so something for all tastes: I liked the relatively low-key profile of the ones I tried, when compared to a lot of sports shoes out there. Although, with their thin sole and mesh upper they leave your feet open to any water you might come across.
Flexibility and Fit:
To show off their flexibility I usually take one shoe off and crush it in my hands: it will fold and twist in any direction and moulds to my foot beautifully. But perhaps the cleverest feature in my mind is the area around the toe box, which has an ingenious detail that prevents the mesh tearing away from the sole at that point:
These shoes will twist, bend, flex, and generally do anything your foot does, which is exactly what you want from a barefoot shoe. They don’t fight the flex of your feet: there’s a small amount of cushioning around the ankle joint and in the tongue, and everywhere else is a single layer. They are moulded snug and low around the ankle, dipping down under my ankle bones then up to a little peak at the very back which grabs the top of my heel and stops the shoe slipping off. That extra hold means I can wear them very loose, and even with the insole removed I find they hold the shape of my foot extremely well, being neither too tight around the toebox nor giving any room for my foot to drift around inside them. To me they feel like a second skin.
The Bare-X™ sole is an interesting experience to say the least! It’s smooth and has essentially no tread, just aesthetic moulding, relying instead on the tackiness of the rubber and its surface area- like a racing slick- and as a result it has a crazy grippiness in the right situation. It’s the only shoe I’ve ever worn that will grip to a painted wall that’s had water splashed on it! I actually found it oddly difficult to predict where this shoe would grip (or not grip- obviously no shoe will do well in every situation) but ultimately you can be pretty confident that it will stick to most flat, smooth surfaces. They are currently my shoe of choice when I’m at work climbing around roof trusses and wet plywood. I wouldn’t wear them for a big arm jump to a rough stone landing, but that’s as much about their durability as their grip. Also, while they’re surprisingly grippy in the wet, they’re not the kind of shoe you’d take out in the rain if you wanted to keep your feet dry.
This is, of course, where these shoes fall down. They’re not going to take an epic beating, but that was never the point. The day I got mine, I went to an indoor facility and did some training there, and within minutes I could see the effect those big sliding stresses had on the surface of the rubber, coming away in tiny flakes. Since then I’ve restricted myself only to light activity and they have performed well. That said, though the soles are fairly light, the actual construction of the shoe seems to hold up fairly well. The only real wear is the rubber at the toe starting to pull away from the mesh on one shoe (you can see it the top picture), and the sole as mentioned is pretty worn down. Another big issue is I made the mistake of leaving my pair in the back of my car over part of summer, and the long exposure to heat somehow altered the rubber. Because these shoes rely on their tackiness for grip, it turned out I had completely ruined their glorious grip! For a while they were like hard plastic, and they’ve never quite been the same since. So make sure you store them someplace cool. I haven’t tried washing them, but they do dry very quickly.
Score: 1.5/5, so don’t push them too hard.
Another strength of this shoe. Especially with the insole removed (and they breathe well enough that you can even wear them without socks if you like) they allow every little bump and stone to be felt. I’ve even managed to hurt the sole of my foot on a sharp rock while wearing these shoes. So yes, very sensitive, allowing a great deal of valuable ground reaction feedback. Coupled with the flexibility of the rubber this amounts to allowing your foot to detect and adapt to the ground beneath it, while keeping out the worst of the nastiness you might step on. Score: 5/5
It probably wouldn’t be too difficult to resole these shoes, and by the looks of Inov8’s wider line-up they seem to favour modular construction so that bodes well for someone wanting new parts. You can get this same shoe with a different sole, or the same sole on a different upper, for example. At any rate I think that might be something for me to look into, considering I altered the rubber of the sole by leaving them in back of my car in the sun.
- These are proper barefoot shoes with 0mm drop and so not for the faint-ankled. If you’re coming straight out of high heels make sure you take it easy: these shoes will certainly help your continue to train your joints and muscles when your skin is getting hurt by being bare, but your knees will not forgive you if you overdo it.
- As someone who would be barefoot all the time if he could, I find these to be really good comfy everyday shoes, and I wear them to work and anywhere I can get away with it.
- That said, I’d think twice about wearing them to a parkour jam, unless- and this is a key point- unless I specifically wanted to limit myself to light training. There are many reasons to want to avoid high-impact training or big moves for a time, and simply putting these mitts on is a decision to take it fairly easy. Indeed, these days I turn up to training with a pair of Bare XFs on my feet and Feiyues in my bag. I can always switch if I see something big that I want to hit.
- I am sore tempted to buy another pair when my current ones get too worn. If I’m going to drop two hundie on shoes, these do well as everyday wear as well as being perfect for light training. For heavier training, you can still get a pair of Feiyues for under forty bucks, but these don’t pinch my wide, splayed-out kiwi-boy toes together like Feiyues do so they’re more comfortable to be worn for long periods.
- I like ’em!
Overall Score: 3.8/5
Thanks to Richard and Natalie at www.highbeam.co.nz for providing us with the XF-210 to test for our review.