A Light-weight, Grip-galore, Minimal Off Trail Shoe
This is my first review for the UK-based shoe company inov-8. The Bare-Grip 200 is designed as an off trail shoe, meaning across hills and mountains where there is no beaten path. It is a true zero drop shoe with no midsole. What has been lacking in the minimalist shoe market until now has been a shoe that provides ultimate traction in slick conditions and this shoe delivers! I have previously been fearful of losing grip on snow, slush, and mud and landing on my behind (which has embarrassingly occurred) while wearing other trail-specific minimalist footwear products lacking in the traction department. I am happy to report that in the Bare-Grip 200, there is no need to fear gnarly trails, muddy puddles, or snowy slopes.
I wouldn’t say the Bare-Grip 200s are exceptionally comfortable or uncomfortable; they are somewhere in between. My comfort issues with this shoe are with the narrow fit and the abrupt material edges on the inside of the upper. I’ll explain both of these issues further in the following sections. However, I have worn these shoes for over 45-minute runs (with socks) without any discomfort or a wish for more width.
The Bare-Grip 200 is definitely not a sockless-friendly foot product. After less than 20 minutes of running without socks, I had acquired three separate blisters on the top edges of my big toes and two bleeding holes in my medial arches. The holes in my feet were caused by excessive rubbing of the edge of the black lining material in the middle of the midfoot area where it abruptly ends on the inside of the shoe. I was profoundly disappointed as this was my first ever run in them. I was sceptical about wearing them again but decided to give them a try with socks on and am so glad that I did because I did not experience any of these issues while wearing socks and these shoes quickly became a staple in my running shoe toolbox. It’s been a wet, snowy, rainy, spring here and I’m surrounded by muddy trails. I have had absolutely no blister or hotspot issues in these shoes as long as I’m wearing socks, even if they’re soaked through from wet ground or puddles.
The Bare-Grip 200 is built on the inov-8 performance last, which is on the narrower side in order to offer a precise fit ensuring minimal internal movement when running at any angle, which is usually the case when running off trail. As long as the shoe is laced at its widest, I haven’t felt like I needed more room. My toes don’t have wiggle room in the toe box but the sole and upper are flexible enough that they do not feel constricted. There is enough room in the middle of the shoe for my arch. If you have a narrow or average width foot, these should fit well. If you have a wide foot, you will probably feel like you need more room.
The Bare-Grip 200 sole is specifically designed for loose, soft ground and not hard-packed, solid ground. It has aggressive lugs that dig into soft ground and stick there. While it rained for a full week I was unable to find mud that was too slick for this sole. It is made out of inov-8’s ‘sticky’ compound which is designed to maximize grip in wet conditions and last approximately 600 miles for an average lifespan. If you were to run that 600 miles on the road, however, expect a reduced lifespan. Although you can feel the lugs underfoot when running on concrete, it’s not annoying for short distances.
This sole is amazingly flexible. It easily flexes in every direction as there is no rigid plating designed in the outsole. The sole easily flexes around ground contours while the height of the lugs protects your foot from small sharp rocks. Running on gravel was neither uncomfortable nor painful.
inov-8 has a very unsubtle way of advertising the weight of their shoes: it’s in their names. The Bare-Grip 200s weigh 200 grams (7 ounces) for a men’s U.S. size 9 (UK size 8) shoe. My women’s U.S. 8 (UK size 5.5) weigh about the same according to my scale that weighs all the Living Barefoot review shoes.
Support / Insole
Although the rubber outsole of the shoe hugs the medial arch of my foot, I wouldn’t call it supportive. It is no more supportive than the same design feature in the Vibram FiveFingers Trek shoe. It protects the arch from stone bruising or other sharp objects but doesn’t hold the arch up.
The 3 mm insole is removable for easy washing. It is perforated to allow water to run out of the shoe easily. If you needed extra internal volume, you could probably run in this shoe without the insole but I haven’t tried it. I appreciate the modicum of cushioning it provides. The footbed of the shoe without the insole is flat and while wearing socks, you probably wouldn’t feel the seam between the footbed and the upper.
Although you wouldn’t think it based on the height of the lugs, these shoes do have decent ground feel due to the extreme flexibility of the outsole. You will not feel every rock you step on, which is a good thing considering the intended purpose of this shoe, but you will feel every minute ground contour angle because the shoe easily wraps around them giving you a good sense of what you’re stepping on.
This is where this shoe shines! The grip on these is indescribably amazing. I’ve had trouble in the past trusting the grip of the shoes I have tested on snow, slush and mud, and traction on these soft, slippery surfaces are what these shoes were designed for and excel at. I have not been able to slide on any of these surfaces while wearing these shoes and I have tried! The lugs bite into soft surfaces and hold you there, no matter your speed.
The green mesh upper is quite breathable and allows both air and water to pass through easily. The black lining, which covers about half of the inside of the shoe, is not as breathable as it has a closer weave.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
The quality of the manufacturing is excellent, there are no flaws in the build of this shoe. The quality of the materials is great as well: the outsole is amazing and the upper is showing no wear at all after 2 months of running in snow and mud.
This shoe is designed to let water in and let it pass right out again. As is often the case while running on trails (or off of them) there can be a lot of water so this is an intended design feature to reduce weight while running in wet conditions.
The Bare-Grip 200s seem to fit true to size; I usually fit a women’s size 8 and these fit well in the length although a little narrow in the width by design. inov-8 shoes come in full and half-sizes and I found there’s quite a difference between the half sizes: the women’s 7 ½ was much too small but the 8 fits well.
The MSRP on the Bare-Grip 200s is $110 USD. These have a very specific purpose intended: off trail running shoes. They are priced similarly to other shoes in their category but at the moment, they are the only minimal, zero drop shoes with this kind of aggressive tread.
In terms of style, these shoes are loud. At the moment, they only come in lime and black for both men and women. If you’re running on terrain that requires a tread as aggressive as these, however, you probably care less about looks than you do about traction.
There is no break-in period required for these shoes, the upper is extremely soft and flexible. However, I do recommend wearing socks as described above.
These shoes are easily washed in the sink with water and soap if necessary. The insole is removable so there’s no worry about dirt getting trapped underneath.
There is a very specific intended purpose to these shoes: off trail running. These are not casual nor road running shoes and if you wear them too often on hard surfaces you will most likely ruin the lugs for the softer, slippery terrains for which they are intended. You definitely can run on concrete and asphalt (to get to the softer surfaces) and, although I notice the lugs underfoot, they aren’t annoyingly obvious.
There is finally a minimal shoe that is perfect for extreme trail terrains full of snow, slush, mud and anything soft and slippery. Although they are a little on the narrow side, the Bare-Grip 200 performs effortlessly with amazing traction on these surfaces. If you are a trail enthusiast and haven’t found a minimal shoe with enough grip for your favourite extreme trails, this new shoe by inov-8 might be just what you’ve been looking for.
For more information about the Bare-Grip 200 shoes, take a look at the inov-8 website. They also have an extensive research section on their website that shares current and past research on the role of minimal shoes in running.
Originally posted on LivingBarefoot.info