For any emotional, spiritual, or otherwise high-energy situation, I’ve found that there’s always some token that stands out to remind me of the whole situation. When going to my grandma’s Baptist church, it was the butterscotch lifesavers she gave me to keep quiet. In my Catholic elementary school, the uniform. When I was confirmed into the United Methodist church, a medallion. (I was a bit of a problem child and I think my family figured that SOMEBODY’S god would get me straightened out.) At my latest church, there are many potential tokens. T-shirts from other regional churches that you may have visited. Hoodie sweatshirts, Reebok gear. I’m talking of course about the church of CrossFit. That “sport of fitness” that many people think of as a cult. One of the most persistent tokens are Inov-8 shoes. Crossfitters love these shoes, and Inov-8 loves them back. So much so that there’s even a “kettlebell camoflauge” pattern on some styles. I must admit that I’ve felt like somehow less of a Crossfitter for never having tried Inov-8 at all. I know, I know — materialism at its worst. But don’t pretend that you never experience such feelings no matter how intellectual and stylistically independent you consider yourself. Anyway. I finally got ahold of some Inov-8 BareX 200s via a deal on The Clymb. I took them running and Crossfitting. Let me tell you about them, brothers and sisters.

What you get

Here are some official stats:
  • Weight: 200g/7.1oz (US size 9)
  • Footbed: 3mm
  • Drop: 0
Inov-8 has a couple styles that are lighter than this, but these shoes are the lightest sneaker-style shoes I’ve personally ever run in, easily. I didn’t get any good-lighting days to snap pictures while they were perfectly clean and new before I began testing them, so my apologies for any dirt. It’s usually not a problem, but when you’re running in an all-white pair of shoes you’re quickly reminded why most people rarely buy all-white shoes and why most companies rarely make them. The dirt did help reveal an interesting tread pattern that I hadn’t noticed at first. If you look at a brand-new pair the tread isn’t particularly exciting, but after a little bit of wear the dirt helps reveal a very obvious skeletal foot pattern. Kind of cool, yes? Of course I had to take some of the pictures of them next to my fall pumpkins. The BareX 200s are extremely flexible and collapsible. As far as my full-coverage shoes go they’re second only to my Fivefingers when it comes to storing them away or packing them tightly in a bag. The forefoot is especially flexible, easily passing the popular minimalist shoe “Can they roll up?” test. Less so with the back end. The sole rolls up easily until about the midfoot area, after which it begins to feel progressively stiffer. That’s not to say that the midfoot and heel are inflexible by any means, just that they’re at least moderately less so than the forefoot. BareX 200s are significantly more breathable than other full-wrap shoes I’ve tried. When I ran in them with no socks on cool, windy fall days I almost felt like I was catching as much of a breeze as I would in huaraches.

What works

Inov-8 BareX 200s are the minimalist and basic sneaker-style shoes I’ve tried. Short of running in water shoes or Sockwas, it was almost like running in socks. (The fact that the pair I got are totally white adds to this illusion.) They run well with or without socks, though sockless longer runs did leave me with some minor hot spots on the outside of my pinky toe knuckles. But this seems to be a recurring theme with my freakishly shaped feet, so it’s easily forgiven. I love the flexibility and the lightness. They’re sturdy without being rigid. My feet felt completely secure and I felt confident in most conditions under which I tested them.

What doesn’t

The tread is very simply patterned and smooth. That, combined with the bright whiteness of this shoe means it may be one of the worst shoes to wear in rainy/slick conditions. I tried a short run in them during a drizzle and only made it to the end of the street before turning back. I was slipping slightly on my flat street and didn’t want to risk the hills that would be upcoming on my usual route. Inov-8 as a brand often gets criticized for the narrow toe box. I heard this from several of my gym-mates, even the ones who are Inov-8 devotees. I didn’t notice this during weight training, but did somewhat during runs. The issue for me, then, wasn’t so much that it was narrow all the time. Rather, it just gets a little snug when my forefoot and toes need to spread repeatedly. But it’s honestly nowhere near as bad as shoes with stiffer soles. I later tried on a pair of their more trail-ready shoes and noticed the problem even worse in those, so I think the BareX 200s are extremely forgiving of the spread by virtue of the thin sole and flexible upper. So if you like Inov-8s but typically have a problem with the narrow toe-box, BareX 200s might be the shoe you’re looking for since they’re flexible enough to alleviate the problem somewhat. The laces also appear delicate, almost threadlike. Whenever I laced up I felt as if I might break the laces by accident. They never did break, and indeed are pretty strong and wire-like, but I prefer something thicker.

For Crossfitters

Depending on who you talk to, the ideal general purpose CrossFit shoes are either Vibram Fivefingers or Inov-8s, with the NB Minimus Zero making a fair showing, too. Taking an incredibly unscientific poll of my gym mates found Inov-8s on top. In my opinion, both Fivefingers and Inov-8s perform very well and quite similarly in most exercises. The exception might be any exercise where you need a stronger base. There’s a reason that a lot of weight lifters will change their shoes before particular lifts. Fivefingers take on the shape of your foot, which is fairly curvy (hopefully). While nice for ground feel, it also means less of your base is solidly in contact with the ground. In these Inov-8s, though, there seems to be more contact between the sole and the platform. As a result, I felt ever so slightly steadier in my base during Olympic lifts. It wasn’t a huge difference, but just enough that I had to admit it was there. I say all this as a fairly devoted Vibram Fivefingers fan, especially when it comes to Crossfit. BareX 200s have easily made it into my cross training rotation.

Final thoughts

Don’t let the fact that the “What works” section of this review is shorter than the “What doesn’t” section. These shoes definitely work. Yes, Inov-8s can be a little narrow, but the flexibility of the shoes make up for that quite a bit. And the too-thin laces thing is really a minor quibble. Probably the only legit complaint is that simple sole. If it’s wet out and you’re running on smoother asphalt or a little mud, you’re going to slip some. So if you’re considering getting these for your main outdoor running shoes you need to keep that in mind. Otherwise, the BareX 200 is a great shoe. Solid, flexible, comfortable, packable, and light. They easily pull double duty as both running shoes and gym shoes.