Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V2 Review
Cons: Oversized, not very versatile, outsole loses grip when dirty
Our Analysis and Test Results
The inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V2 is a gym-specific shoe designed with indoor training in-mind. The highlight of this, and many of inov-8's shoes, is the incredibly sticky rubber compound used in the otherwise thin, 3mm outsole. Additionally, the "Rope-Tec" protective TPU-wrap beefs up the diamond ripstop quarter panels, and extra padding underlies the mesh toe box and tongue for added support and comfort.
As a gym — and more specifically, Crossfit-designed trainer — the Bare-XF incorporates design features that are functional for this purpose and otherwise omitted from other barefoot running shoes we tested. Most of the upper, and particularly the tongue, includes padding sandwiched in between two layers of mesh. Not only does this extra loft improve thermoregulation and breathability, but it allows you to really cinch these shoes down to aid in agility.
The thin outsole allows for flexibility of the foot but doesn't quite provide the ideal natural feel. While the Meta-Flex design uses specialized cuts in the rubber to improve upward and torsional flexion, the Bare-XF does not as readily flex downward. This translates to enhanced dexterity and stability in off-balance situations, but not necessarily a powerful toe-spring.
Please don't be thrown off by the overbuilt appearance of the Bare-XF — this is through-and-through a barefoot shoe. At a mere 4.5mm, this beefy-looking shoe surprisingly has one of the lowest stack heights of any we tested. The outsole is only supported by a 3mm footbed — if you decide to remove that, you have a sheer 1.5mm of flexible rubber between your feet and the ground. The zero-drop design better suits wide feet, with both a toe box and midfoot that allow for plenty of splay (and increased stability) under weight.
When directly compared to other barefoot shoes we tested, the only place we could really find fault is in the beefier design of the upper. Extra padding across the entire upper adds a few extra ounces, and the bulk created by the padding is certainly noticeable. inov-8 made its name on creating Crossfit-specific shoes, and the seemingly superfluous design features of the Bare-XF do exist for a reason.
The thick, double-layer padded mesh on the tongue means you can really cinch down the cradled lacing system, holding this shoe tight to your foot. Combined with the uber-thin, ultra-flexible outsole, you can jump, climb, push, and lift your way through any workout without being even slightly hindered by this shoe.
Tipping the scales at 7.5 ounces per shoe, this is not the lightest barefoot trainer we tested. But then again, the Bare-XF is not intended to be a nimble running shoe. We appreciate the sacrifice of a few ounces for extra foot protection, including a padded tongue, rubber toe rand, and abrasion-resistant quarter panels.
Particularly after lacing up, we certainly did not notice any appreciable differences between these and other lightweight, barefoot runners. In fact, we found them quite nimble for box jumps and for running sprints. While you may notice the extra volume, we doubt that you'll notice any extra weight on your feet.
Besides the wild appearance, the first thing that we really noticed about the Bare-XF was the exceptional traction of the outsole. inov-8 markets their patented compound as STICKY rubber, and it is in fact super sticky — the first time we put these on indoors, they actually stuck to our tiled kitchen floor.
Very slight, 1.5mm lugs are more like slight grooves intended to increase flexibility — for all intents and purposes, the 3mm outsole of the Bare-XF is completely flat. Additionally, the wide stance of this shoe allows your toes to splay out naturally, improving control and stability. Sticking to its barefoot design (pun-intended), the zero-drop stack outsole offers the ultimate in natural grip.
This shoe is designed as a gym-specific trainer and, typically, gym shoes are supposed to deliver support and stability. Barefoot trainers, on the other hand, encourage you to develop that support and stability from the musculature of your own foot, without relying on the structure of a shoe. The Bare-XF does just that, providing the support structure for you to become a stronger athlete.
But beyond the gym, the Bare-XF will likely leave you wanting for the same performance you experienced in your last training session. As a road runner, this shoe performs admirably in delivering the expected feedback directly from the ground. But the grip we revere on the parquet panels of a gym floor vanishes completely at the first sign of dirt or debris — we didn't dare to take these out on more than one trail run. If you plan on running in these to the gym, just make sure you give the outsoles a good wipe-down before stepping up to your first box jump.
Aside from its exceptionally flexible barefoot structure, the Bare-XF is designed to be a nearly indestructible trainer. At every turn of the shoe, there is supportive padding, abrasion-resistant fabric, or redundant reinforcement.
The outsole extends forward to meet an additional rubber rand that serves to protect both your toes and the front of the shoe. While the toe box is primarily mesh (albeit thick multi-layer mesh), the rest of the upper is wrapped in a diamond ripstop fabric. Since there is no midsole in the picture, the entire upper is set into and glued directly to the outsole, eliminating any seams that could potentially split or fray.
If the 1000-denier fabric of the upper didn't already provide enough durability, the quarter panels are reinforced with a thin TPU wrap. Dubbed Rope-Tec, this extra layer of protection is designed for increased durability on rope climbs. All of this adds up to a bomber shoe ready to tackle the toughest workouts.
As one of the more expensive shoes in this review, you can expect to pay the price up-front for the Bare-XF. But unlike many other barefoot shoes we tested, we have no doubts that with its extra-durable design, this shoe will stand up to the test of time. If the majority of your training takes place in the gym, consider these shoes to be a worthy investment in your performance.
Foot strength is directly related to overall athletic performance. The inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V2 is only padded where it counts, providing you raw feedback to help you work directly on full-body strength, starting with your feet. Designed specifically for the gym but suitable for road running, this outstanding barefoot shoe is sure to help you train to your full potential.
— Aaron Rice