Guest review by Dan C.
When I first started moving in the direction of minimal footwear, the one aspect of life I struggled with was outdoor sports like football. I play flag football regularly, yet I just can't stand cleats. Let's be honest...for the most part, they are terrible. However, most of my minimal shoes, even "trail" shoes, just wouldn't cut it. Football is obviously a game that involves sprinting and quick changes in direction, and it's played on varying surfaces due to weather.
So I wanted something with good grip, but also something that wasn't as stiff and restrictive as the cleats I'd been wearing all my life. I started a journey to find a pair of minimal shoes that could replace football cleats. I searched high and low for user opinions on "minimal cleats" or "minimalist football shoes". Needless to say, there wasn't much out there to help me in this search. So after looking at endless websites and fighting with my indecisive self, I finally settled on a pair that looked to be up to the challenge. What I ended up with was a pair of Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200's.
How did they fare? Read on!
What seems to be a strange combination however, is the fact that these shoes also have no midsole. This made me wonder how they'd feel, but honestly, the combination works great. When walking over pavement or hard surfaces, you can feel the lugs, but it's not even remotely annoying.
In addition to the lack of midsole, the upper portion of the shoe is very thin and flexible. It's super thin, yet has ample reinforcement where you'd expect. I've found that this minimal upper actually benefits the user in two ways. First and most obvious is that they are super light and allow the foot to move naturally. The second benefit is that when they get wet, as is often the case in outdoor sports, they do not hold much water. So they stay rather light, even in the worst conditions.
Another aspect that lends itself to a sport like football, is that you can really tie these shoes tight to your feet. The upper really conforms nicely to the foot to the point where it's almost unnoticeable. Now, I do understand that most people, when looking for minimal footwear, appreciate a large toe box to allow the toes room to splay naturally. However, I think in cases like the Bare Grip 200, it's nice to have a more snug fit that doesn't shift around when making abrupt movements. These shoes are almost like a spiked extension of your own foot (what a coincidence since this is what was pictured on the box).
Minimalist shoes for football
This combination of thin, light, and flexible materials really benefit a football player (even a mediocre on like myself). When I am pushing off from the line of scrimmage, they grip nicely. When I'm moving sideline to sideline, there is never a chance of rolling over and they plant firmly in most conditions. When in full stride, they are light and unnoticeable. These shoes are inspiring in that you really feel the playing field in ways normal cleats just don't allow.
However, with the extra feel there comes a bit of sacrifice. First of all, if you step on a rock or other similar object, you will feel it. The lack of midsole allows you to feel the ground...and anything on it! The other downside is that there is very little protection to the top of the foot. Occasionally, another player will step on my foot and it's definitely a bit worse than if I was wearing standard cleats. However, I have yet to experience anything bad enough to make me want to switch back. I'll gladly sacrifice the extra bulk for a natural, minimal football "cleat".
I've been wearing these shoes for about six months now and I honestly couldn't be more happy with them. They are very comfortable, and they feel light and quick. They have also been very durable. I wear them a couple times a week for various activities, and aside from getting dirty, they don't show any signs of wear and tear yet.
At full price ($110 @ Zappos), they could be a bit expensive for a shoe you might only wear for one flag football game a week. But I'll remind any prospective buyer that they are technically a trail running shoe. So, don't forget to factor that into the equation. Also, they only come in green...so you can use them for yard work as well!
I would recommend the Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200's to any "weekend warrior" who wants a light and comfortable, minimal cleat-like shoe.
If you can catch them on sale, they are truly a bargain.