Find the Best CrossFit Shoes: Your Ultimate Comparison Tool

Intro

PukieHave you caught the CrossFit bug?  If you have, you’ve probably noticed that CF folks are pretty particular about their footwear.  And, for good reason.  As you bust your butt in each WOD, striving to beat your last PR, you really put a whoopin’ on your body.

When you think about it, your feet are on the front line of every workout.  They are directly involved in almost every task.  So, if you don’t take care of them, you’re not only asking for an injury, you’re also putting your future performance at risk.

I’ve put together this website as a resource to save CrossFit athletes time and energy in their search for the best CrossFit shoes.  Is there really one best shoe?  No, not really.  But there are some great options out there that you should consider.

Scientifically, there’s not a lot of objective guidance for us to follow.  And, if you’ve read forums or asked around at your local box, you’ve probably received a lot of conflicting advice.  So much of what’s out there is opinion…strong opinion.  I think the best thing to do is to try and aggregate first person feedback from various websites and available advice from experts.  That’s my goal with this website, the couple shoe guides I’ve put together, and the blog articles I’ve written.  Hopefully you’ll find them beneficial.

Step 1: Read The CrossFit Shoe Overview Below

Exactly What Qualifies as a CrossFit Shoe?

There’s really no such thing as a “CrossFit Shoe”.  Yes, I know, Reebok makes a pretty popular shoe specifically for CrossFit called the CrossFit Nano (they’ve since come out with the Nano 2.0, Nano 3.0, Nano 4.0 and Nano Speed).  But really, barring frigid temperatures and unforgiving terrain, you could CrossFit in your bare feet.  I think CrossFit founders would say there’s no such thing as a CrossFit shoe. The whole CrossFit ethos dictates that you’re ready to do anything, anywhere, regardless of equipment and conditions.

There’s really no definition for what qualifies as a CrossFit shoe.  So, I’m going to give you my own personal criteria for what qualifies a pair of kicks as being CF-worthy:

  1. Running.  To be CF-worthy, running shoes must be designed in such a way that they assist the CrossFit endorsed POSE running method.  This likely means the shoes will be considered transitional or minimalist and that they will have less drop than their traditional, heavily cushioned counterparts.
  2. Weightlifting. To be CF-worthy, weightlifting shoes (for both powerlifting and Olympic lifting) must provide athletes with a firm heel (which minimizes dangerous and performance sapping compression), and adequate stability.  Serious lifters can’t afford to lift in shoes that allow valuable energy to dissipate through spongy running shoes or to run the risk of rolling an ankle. Whether or not they include a tall heel is up to the user.  Athletes with the right build and adequate flexibility may only require a low to moderate heel.  Others, may require conventional Oly shoes, which can have a heel that’s one inch or taller.
  3. All-Purpose.  To be CF-worthy all-purpose trainers must allow the athlete to successfully and safely perform 80% of your standard WODs.  This would exclude the rare WODs focused on endurance running or those which are Oly-centric.  Such shoes would allow for comfortable running, rope climbing, box jumps, burpees, etc.  They would also provide the stability and foundation for all but the heaviest lifting.  Options in this category could be as humble as the classic Chuck Taylor or as advanced and flashy as the latest Inov-8s or Nanos.
How To Find a Pair of Kicks That Meets Your Needs

Okay, so I’m going to assume that you’re bright enough to realize that there’s (pardon the stupid pun) no, “one size fits all” shoe out there.  Die hard barefoot advocates might try to convince you that your best option is no shoes at all.  But I have a hard time accepting that notion.  Some folks have wide feet, some narrow.  Some have short, others long.  Some have arches that make you think of St. Louis.  Others have feet that are flat as a two-by-four.

Your feet are like a snowflake (what?), they are unique.  So there’s no one best choice.  There are simply too many individual variables that must be taken into consideration.  So, how do you find a pair that meets your needs?  Your answers to the questions below can help guide you…

Are you a a beginner? If you are it’s very likely that:

  1. your feet are out of shape due to to overly cushioned shoes that inhibit your natural bio-mechanics,
  2. you’re probably a heal striker (when you run), and
  3. you’re probably not as flexible as you think.

That being the case, don’t run out a buy the latest pair of minimalist, zero-drop shoes.  If you do, you’re just asking for an injury.  Instead, pick up a pair of shoes that has some cushioning and a drop in the 6mm+/- range.  You also want to look for a trainer (a.k.a, all-purpose) pair of shoes.  These should get you through everything from moderate running, jump roping, burpees, box jumps, rope climbs, wall-balls, kettle-bell swings, and thrusters to your powerlifting and olympic lifting.

Do you have limited ankle mobility or range of motion?If you’re performing low bar squats with proper form your heels should remain firmly planted on the ground.  While doing so you shouldn’t experience any ankle pain or discomfort.  If you do, this could be a sign that you have a weak link that needs to be addressed.  This could also be a sign that you need a pair of shoes with a higher heel (a bigger drop).  By reducing the acute angle between the top of your foot and your shin, a higher heel takes pressure off you ankle joint and also allows you to keep your trunk in an more up-right position, improving your posture for key lifts.

Are your feet particularly wide or narrow?You’ll want to take this into consideration. Certain brands, like Inov8, tend to run a bit narrow, so they may be better for you.  Bottom line, you’ll want to remember this as you’re ordering your shoes.  If your feet are too cramped, you’ll be miserable. And, if you’re slipping around in shoes that are too wide, your lifts will suffer and you’ll be at risk for injury.

Do you intend to be the next CrossFit Games champion? Well, you very well may need one or more pairs of shoes to help you with your powerlifting and olympic lifting.  Powerlifters tend to gravitate toward flat-soled shoes for the deadlift (something like the Chuck Taylor or the Risto Deadlift).  Olympic lifters tend to gravitate toward a shoes with a high, in-compressible heel.  Both powerlifters and oly lifters are looking for a shoes that provides stability, control, and a firm foundation.

Step 2: Read My Review of the Top 3 All-Purpose CrossFit Shoes

ReebokNano3.0Reebok Nano 3.0 ($12o) – With CrossFit’s meteoric rise in popularity, it was inevitable that commercial sponsors and partnerships would be on the horizon.  Then, in 2011, Reebok signed a 10 year deal with CrossFit and we had the first Reebok CrossFit Games.  Fortunately, all indications are that Reebok has truly adopted the CrossFit culture and their CrossFit branded lines are legit.

Reebok has developed a complete CF clothing line but I’m primarily concerned with their footwear.  To date, they’ve developed:

  • the Nano,
  • The Nano 2.0,
  • The Nano 3.0,
  • The Nano 4.0,
  • The Nano Speed,
  • The CrossFit Lifter, and
  • The CrossFit Lifter Plus.

This quick review will focus on the all-purpose Nano 3.0.  Reebok’s website has a promotional video with Rich Froning and Christmas Abbot.  Both speak very highly of the shoe (of course they would, it’s a promotional video!) specifically mentioning how the shoe allows them to complete most WODs without having to change shoes.

As you probably guessed, the Nano 3.0 is Reebok’s 3rd Nano iteration.  With each one they’re taking feedback from CrossFitters, and building it into the shoe.  It looks like a success at this point as the Reebok website lists an average user rating of 4.7 stars from a total of 239 reviews (as of 9/19/13).  The ratings on Eastbay are the same (4.7 stars over 231 reviews).

Overall, as the 4.7 stars would indicate, folks love their Nano 3.0s.  What specifically do they mention?  Comfort, durability, flexibilty, and stability are all on the list.  Bottom line, you can run, jump rope, box jump, burpee, and lift in these shoes.  That being said, be aware that these shoes have only a 4mm drop from heel to forefoot.  So, if you’re accustomed to cushy running shoes with a large drop, these may be too drastic of a change.  Also, if you are still working on developing flexibility, especially in your ankles, and if you’re still working on developing proper lifting form, you may want to try something with a little more drop, like the Inov-8s discussed below.

***Update – Reebok has just rolled out their latest Nano interation, the Nano 4.0.  and they are shipping this week (7/7/14)! It’s too early to have a reliable number of 3rd party reviews – but I expect these will be just as popular as their predecessors.***

FLITE240Inov-8 F-LITE 240 ($120) – This UK-based company is a relative new comer.  Founder and CEO, Wayne Edy, launched the company in 2003.  These guys are big into the minimalist movement and natural running.  Their first shoe, known as the Mudrock, won the World Mountain Running Championships within 3 months of it’s debut – impressive, to say the least.  If that’s not enough, they also won the Runner’s World Product of the Year award in the first year of their launch.

Ten years later and these guys have a very robust product line.  Those that most closely compete with the Reebok Nano line would be the Inov-8 F-LITE “Precision” and F-LITE “Natural”.  They also have a super minimalist, zero drop line called the BARE-XF and a weightlifting shoe called the FASTLIFT 335.  A review of their website shoes that they have at least 11 elite CrossFit athletes on the Inov-8 team.

A cool feature of the Inov-8 line is their “Arrow” ranking systems.  Each arrow represents 3mm in drop.  Their highest drop (in the F-LITE line) is 6mm (2 arrows).  As you improve your natural running form you can gradually decrease to their 3mm and zero-drop offerings.  Also, it took me a while to make the connection, but the number in the model name refers to the shoe weight in grams.  So, if you’re looking for a lighter shoe, look for a lower number.

The F-LITE 240 is an update of the brand’s do-anything, F-LITE 230.  Primary improvements to the 240 will help it fair better on rope climbs, protecting your feet and preventing early wear and tear.  Initial ratings on Zappos and Amazon provide 4.8 stars (from 27 reviews) and 4.5 stars (from 33 reviews), respectively.  While the number of ratings is still on the low side, its predecessor received  an astounding 4.73 stars from 590 reviews from Zappos buyers.  So, I think it’s safe to say that the 240 will be an equally popular option.

I like the F-LITE 240 because it provides that extra 2mm drop over the Nano 3.0.  That doesn’t necessarily make it a better shoe.  But, it does make it a better option for those just beginning to develop their natural running form or who need the extra drop to assist with  challenging lifts.  Finally, if you have a wider foot, go with the F-LITE “Natural” 262.  It’s manufactured on a wider last, giving your more room in the forefoot.

 

Chuck Taylors @ ZapposConverse Chuck Taylors ($35-55) – Chuck Taylors?  I can sense the incredulous look on your face.  But, yes, these are a great budget option for all-around use and particularly for weightlifting.  They come highly recommended from experts such as legendary powerlifter and Westside Barbell strength coach, Louie Simmons. Another fan is Chuck Carswell, HQ trainer and flow master for Level 1 and Level 2 CrossFit certifications.  He recommends them for general WODs.  These classic kicks provide the all-around performance you’ll need for most of your workouts.

Step 3: Check Out My Abridged Shoe Guide Below

This is an abridged version of my full shoe guide.  I’ve listed 7 shoes for your review.  The first is a the ubiquitous Chuck Taylor.  If you’re looking for a budget option, this could be the pair for you.  I’ve also provided three popular trainers (a.k.a., all purpose) and three popular weightlifting options.

Description
Brand and Model
$
Rating
Budget/All-PurposeConverse Chuck Taylors
Chuck Taylors @ Zappos
40N/A
Popular Trainer #1Reebok Nano 3.0
1204.7 (221) per Reebok.com
Popular Trainer #2Inov-8 F-LITE 240
Inov-8 F-Lite 240
1104.6 (31) per Amazon
Popular Trainer #3New Balance Minimus 20v3
New Balance Minimus 20v3 @ Zappos
754.3 (103) per Amazon
Popular Lifter #1Pendlay/Rogue Do-WinRogue Do-Win @ RogueFitness.com119N/A
Popular Lifter #2Nike Romaleos II
Nike Romaleos II @ Eastbay.com
1904.8 (23) per Eastbay.com
Popular Lifter #3Adidas AdiPower (2012)
Adidas AdiPower @ RogueFitness.com
2004.9 (56) per Eastbay.com

You’ll notice that I’ve provided two N/As, one for the Chuck Taylors and one for the Do-Wins.  The ratings for the Chuck Taylors are irrelevant as most folks rating the shoe are not using it for our intended application.  The Do-Wins received an N/A rating because there simply aren’t sufficient reviews to be of value.  However, for both shoes, expert recommendations and forum chatter indicate they are worth your consideration.

Step 4: Check Out My Full Shoe Guide by Clicking Here