The first time I ever tried CrossFit back in summer 2012 I just wore a pair of running shoes. I had no idea what to expect, and didn’t have trainers specific for lifting… all I did then was run and go to the gym. But by the time a box opened up near me and I started going more regularly I’d become the proud owner of a pair of Reebok CrossFit Nano 2 trainers through a Twitter competition. Since then, I’ve worn nothing but CrossFit-specific trainers, and I wouldn’t go back.
Most people think that the Nano was the first CrossFit-specific shoe to come out, but actually inov-8 beat Reebok to the mark with the first functional shoe designed for lifting, running, jumping and climbing. Reebok then struck up a partnership with CrossFit in 2011 and the first official CrossFit shoe was launched and dominated the scene right up until Nike came in to claim their piece of the pie in 2014.
Other functional footwear has entered the market, but these three remain to be the main stakeholders in the CrossFit world… and I’m going to compare them for you.
CrossFit Trainers – Compared
First up, I need to set some criteria to judge each of these shoes against. The criteria I’ve chosen are:
- Stability (how the sole feels for lifting)
- Comfort (how the shoe feels on my feet)
- Grip (for rope climbs, running and jumping)
- Durability (how they last against the elements)
I’ve chosen to leave style and price out of this. All of these shoes are in a similar price bracket and, let’s be honest… style is a pretty personal thing, and matters to people in varying degrees! Something to note on price, however, is that Reebok offer a pretty sweet 25% discount to fitness professionals through their Reebok One system – just sign up and you’ll get the discount online automatically. It can also be used in store by showing them your account info.
Inov-8 F-Lite 219
I was lucky to win these in an Instagram competition through Active in Style back in 2013 and I wore them for the first time on a trip to Paris. I walked for more than three hours in them and my feet have honestly never felt more comfortable. The F-Lites are, by name, light weight and the fabric is so soft is barely feels like you’re wearing shoes.
Of the three, this shoe has the most minimal drop (the difference in height between the heel and the ball of the foot). In fact, it’s a 0mm drop, i.e. completely level. This is good for some things, like deadlifts for example, and not so good for others, i.e. squatting and the Olympic lifts, but it does make for a really “barefoot” feel.
The sole is flexible and fairly narrow, following the shape of your foot – a true minimal shoe. I personally find this great for almost everything about CrossFit, meaning my feet can move super-naturally, with the only exception being the heavy lifts. For these movements, I prefer to feel more stable with a more rigid sole. You can pick up an external heel for lifting, which you can strap on to the back of your inov-8 shoes, transforming them into pseudo lifters – I haven’t tested this myself, but for just over a tenner I’m willing to give it a shot.
The F-Lites have markings on the inner and outer foot for rope climbs, which are effective for grip, if a little narrow, and protect the shoe from damage. Bearing in mind these are the shoes I’ve owned for the longest*, I think they’ve lasted very well.
- Stability: 3
- Comfort: 5
- Grip: 4
- Durability: 4
Overall Score: 16
* It’s probably not wholly fair me reviewing an older model of the inov-8 functional range, but from what I’ve seen they’ve stuck to a similar style for their newer shoes.
Reebok CrossFit Nano 5.0
On to the Nanos. These have been extremely popular over the years, and with good reason – they are a very good all-rounder for CrossFit. The difference between the 4.0 and the 5.0 is quite significant, with Reebok moving away from the wider base and rubber outsole to a more narrow toe-box and Kevlar (aka “bullet proof”) fabric.
The sole is super flat and fairly rigid and, combined with the Kevlar, makes the shoe feel a bit stiff at first. This does ease off though, and the shoes start to feel a little more comfortable with wear. The heel drop is 3mm; still a minimal feel, but giving a very slight lift in the heel to help you keep your back a bit more upright in squats, for example. Because of the flat and relatively wide sole, I quite like these shoes for lifting and, unless you have mobility problems like I do, they are perfectly reasonable for WODs even with fairly heavy lifts in.
Another big change that Reebok made for the Nano 5.0 was in the tongue – it’s now thinner and attached to the shoe upper at the sides, reducing the “tongue creep” you used to get with the 3.0s and 4.0s. This makes for an all-round more comfortable feel to the shoe.
Again, the Nanos have markings for rope climbs, which are pretty functional. Though I have to admit that I’ve found these shoes to shoe wear and tear more than I’d have expected for a shoe with Kevlar – I think my 4.0s still look newer than my 5.0s, I think because of the old cage structure on the 4.0.
- Stability: 4.5
- Comfort: 4
- Grip: 4.5
- Durability: 4
Overall Score: 17
Where to buy: Reebok or Whatever it Takes
Nike Metcon 2
These are the newest addition to my CrossFit shoe haul. I’d been meaning to get hold of a pair of the first Metcon since they were first announced, but for one reason or another, never bought a pair and actually, I’m glad I waited. From what I’ve heard the Metcon 2 is definitely new and improved!
What surprised me is just how sturdy the sole was, as I’d heard the Metcon 1 was a bit… “squishy”. But, Nike have listened to their buyers and hardened the sole, making for a really good stable base for lifting. I’ve even found them to be much more stable for movements like wall balls and lunges too. And even with this sturdy sole, the shoe itself is really comfortable! If you have high arches, like me, then the Nike is a much more comfortable trainer than the Nano, though still just pipped to the post by the inov8 (purely because of the minimal feel).
I’ve worn these for heavy front squats, as well as Olympic lifting WODs, and have found them to be ideal for the job, second only to my dedicated lifting shoes. The 4mm heel drop is the highest of the three shoes, so good for those who have reduced ankle mobility.
The fabric seems super-robust, I think with a plastic element to it, and the upper of the shoe, as well as the laces and tongue, sit nice and flat. Nike have even added a ridge to the back of the heel, helping to reduce drag for handstand push ups. Nice! The Metcons also have markings for rope climbs, though I haven’t tested these yet.
- Stability: 5
- Comfort: 4.5
- Grip: 4.5
- Durability: 4.5
Overall Score: 18.5
Where to buy: Nike or Whatever it Takes
CrossFit Shoes In Summary
I think overall It’s pretty clear which of the three shoes is my favourite – the Nike Metcon 2 surprised me with its superior design over CrossFit professionals, Reebok. Of course, comfort is a personal feel, and some may prefer the more flat-footed nature of the Nano, but for me the Metcon has too many advantages over the Nano and inov8 offerings and could well be a favourite in the boxes, even if not at the Games*!
Have you tried these or any other CrossFit trainers? What are your favourites? Are there any other criteria you would like to see included? Comment below!
* Reebok banned the Nike Metcon from appearing at the CrossFit Games, with even Nike sponsored athletes having to wear Reebok shoes to compete. Nike hit back with this billboard. Reebok 1 – 1 Nike.
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