Xero Shoes Speed Force - Women's Review
Cons: Less durable, not water resistant
Manufacturer: Xero Shoes
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Speed Force is an impressive addition to the excellent lineup of minimalist footwear from Xero Shoes. It is designed to be a racing flat, but we loved it for all of our runs.
The Speed Force is a force of nature. Or, at least it lets you use natural force. These kicks have just 4.5mm of shoe between you and the earth, giving excellent ground feel in a lightweight performance running shoe. Something Xero does remarkably well is design shoes that create minimal resistance to the natural flex and bend of the foot. The soft and supple sole is almost as soft and supple as the uppers, so no matter how you want to move your foot, the shoe goes easily with you. We particularly appreciate how easy it is to raise the toes just before landing on the foot — a critical, if nuanced, technique especially important for running in minimalist shoes (or barefoot). Lifting the toes pre-tensions the plantar fascia prior to impact with the ground, providing natural impact absorption using the design and mechanics of our feet.
Xero designed these shoes to be a performance racing shoe, and with Steven Sashen as the company's "visionary," it is no wonder they feel like our favorite old track spikes. Sashen's bio on the website notes that he is a Masters All-American sprinter, and one of the fastest men over 50. It just so happens that our lead tester has also been a competitive sprinter and hurdler in another life, so she particularly appreciates the performance fit and feel of this excellent shoe. They are so lightweight that your feet may actually feel faster, so soft you might think you're barefoot, and the fit is still so precise (due to the huarache-style heel strap system) that they'll move with you, any way you go.
To assess barefoot accuracy — a notably ironic metric in a review about shoes — we start with a checklist we assembled from researching the attributes shoes that allow your feet to move as if they were unshod.
In our heel-to-toe inspection of the Speed Force, we asked the following questions:
- Zero drop from heel-to-toe? Check.
- Sole made of one material? Check.
- Soft and flexible sole? Check.
- Thin sole, less than 10mm thick? Check.
- Non-restricting but secure lacing? Check.
- No arch support? Check.
- Breathable uppers? Check.
- No forefoot concavity? Check.
- Wide toe box? Check.
We then twisted and rolled the shoe to visually compare its suppleness to others in the review, and were impressed, yet again. Some shoes in this category have a stiffer sole (which may be good for more rocky terrain), which creates a resistance that your foot must overcome to move naturally. Consider gloves as an analogy. At rest, our hands do not lie perfectly flat; they have a slight curve. Therefore, many gloves are slightly pre-curved so that at rest, you don't have to expend any energy in those small hand muscles to resist the shape of the glove. It's subtle, but if you're looking to run a lot of miles and/or strengthen your feet to be balanced for barefoot travel, this will matter over the long haul.
What we found to be a true stand-out feature of the Speed Force is how the suppleness of the sole matches the suppleness of the upper materials. It does this so effectively that we felt minimal restriction as we lifted and flexed our toes, letting them feel free and easy. As mentioned above in the performance metric, this ease of natural toe movement is also a critical component in barefoot running technique, which uses the strength of your toes to pre-tension your plantar fascia and thus help to absorb the impact of each footfall.
And if all of this isn't already enough, there is a 2mm insert inside the shoe which can be removed for an even closer-to-ground feel.
At 12 ounces for a pair of size 10 shoes, the Speed Force is on the lighter end of shoes in this review. Putting these on feels a lot like putting on racing spikes for the main event at a track meet. We imagine this is intentional, since the shoes are designed to be a performance racing shoe, and the visionary of Xero Shoes is also a competitive sprinter. The light weight of these shoes makes us feel giddy with joy and anticipation of the thrill of the race ahead of us — or just excited for our morning run.
We are strong believers in lightweight footwear. For many years, as runners, backpackers, climbers, and mountaineers, we have intimately known the importance of minimizing the weight on our feet. It's much more important than lightening up the weight of your backpack, for example, because for every step you make, you are lifting and setting down your foot with all the weight of the shoe on it. Some estimate that for every pound of weight you put on your feet, it is as if you added between 6 to 10 pounds of weight to your backpack. That's huge. We like to run long distances, covering miles of terrain, and sometimes we like to run short distances really fast. Either way, we appreciate having as little as possible on our feet to weigh us down.
The 4.5mm thick FeelTrue rubber sole on the Speed Force has chevron-shaped lugs on the bottom for traction in all types of terrain. These are not deep lugs for maximal traction on trail, but we find that with softer, more supple shoes in the minimalist category, this is unnecessary. With thinner soles, your foot can bend to match the terrain (if you have adequately trained your foot's proprioception by easing into minimalist footwear or doing a lot of barefoot walking and some running and foot strengthening drills), which means your feet can actually grip the ground.
This not only feels great but with our carefully-trained feet, it works. The lugs on the Speed Force change direction from heel to toe to help your toes grab the earth and propel you forward, switching at the heel to help prevent you from sliding downhill on loose dirt.
The main limitation of these shoes is really rugged and/or sharp terrain. The thin soles don't tell the whole story here — some other shoes with only 5mm of rubber underfoot feature a stiffer rubber. The sole on the Speed Force shoes is so supple that it doesn't blunt sharp objects quite as well as stiffer rubber soles.
The sole is plenty for sharp (and consistent) gravel, so long as you have trained your feet adequately to handle some stimulation. But if you're launching into really rocky terrain, you're likely to find discomfort, and you may even damage the shoes. These are lightweight specialist shoes designed for gentler terrain, like a track, road, or soft dirt trail. That said, we took these on a lot of rough trails, and they still emerged in our ranking near the top of this review.
The Speed Force is designed to be a performance racing shoe, not a daily driver. The fabrics are light, breathable, and quite thin. The huarache-inspired heel strap will likely get scuffed over time if you regularly run on rugged trails. However, the shoes are also very simple, and the suppleness means minimal stress at the seams. There is little to fail, so these are most likely to wear out over time.
As a performance racing shoe, you may not turn to the Speed Force as your daily running shoe. However, we enjoyed running in them so much and on such a variety of terrain — from roads to gravel to trails — that we ended up grabbing them often for a quick trip around the block, or for a couple hours on the trails. If you love running in minimal footwear, these shoes are an excellent value and are well worth it even if they wear out a little sooner because of the lightweight materials.
The Speed Force is one of the best minimalist shoes we have tested and was the clear choice for our Editors' Choice Award. We have followed Xero Shoes since we started reviewing barefoot shoes, seeing great attention to detail and passion for footwear you'll love to wear. We did not anticipate such a step up from Xero, and we are thrilled at the inspiration behind the Speed Force. This is a shoe that is so light and soft you barely know it's there, yet reliable and secure in its fit, staying close and moving with you. This is an excellent value for a running shoe that will help your feet stay strong, and cover miles of diverse terrain — anywhere you're bold enough to take them.
— Lyra Pierotti