Do I Need CrossFit Shoes? An Experts Answer.

CrossFit shoes are big business. Some CrossFitters get carried away and have far too many pairs. But do you actually need CrossFit shoes? Let’s find out.

If you do CrossFit at any level it is preferable to wear shoes that are specifically designed for the activity. The big shoe companies have invested vast sums in perfecting the shoe for the task – specifically for CrossFitters – which is optimal for the wearer’s performance and comfort. Therefore, it’s advised you should wear shoes designed for CrossFit when doing CrossFit.

NoBulls Midnight Palm
NoBulls Midnight Palm – my current shoe choice

Why they’re different to other shoes

To put it a different way, you wear running shoes when running. You wear football boots on the footy field.

Why? Because the shoe dogs that designed them did so with the consumer in mind.

Thus, CrossFit enables you to extract the most from yourself (and the shoe). So logic follows that wearing them is only beneficial to the user.

Meteoric growth

CrossFit shoes have evolved rapidly since 2011. Around this time and before, the choice of propriety CrossFit shoes was literally unheard of. The sport was still embryonic.

Brands were still finding their feet; making their way in, in fact. Nike was later on to the party.

As was NoBull, founded on the heels of CrossFit.

(I know – the puns are running away with themselves….)

Early shoes

I remember in 2010 going to a running shop nearby and spending £80 on inov8 F-Lite Trail Runners, as that was the done thing for CrossFitters to buy.

F-Lites and Classics were go-to due to their hard, flat sole and solid build. They were also light in weight.

This was suitable for the Oly lifting, Box Jumps and Pull Ups that were being made manifest in the emerging scene. They were not specialist CrossFit shoes, however.

Apart from them and Reebok Classics, there was no real ‘proper’ CrossFit shoe. All were primitive; new and emerging back then.

Fast forward 12 years and the market is awash with colour ways and brands. The good news is that the shoe dogs have had over a decade to perfect the designs and performance of these shoes. So there’s plenty out there now, with some epic designs.

A member 12 years ago in old skool Inov8’s. And before rubber flooring!

What brand should I go for?

Reebok was the original partner to CrossFit. The near decade-long partnership ended in 2020 and it was taken over by NoBull. The Reebok CrossFit Games became the NoBull CrossFit Games.

Reebok entering the market and releasing the Reebok “Nano” started turning heads. The brand of CrossFit gained quick traction, so at that point shoe giant Nike wanted a piece of the action dropping the “Nike MetCon”.

A little tittle-tattle battle then appeared to ensue as both Reebok and Nike released newer, fresher and updated versions of their shoes. Nano 1, 2, 3, 4….Nike MetCon 1, 2, 3, 4….you get the picture.

Other brands started turning an interest too. Here’s a table of the brands and their offering, from most commonly seen shoe in CrossFit gym, to least.

With all the digital noise and seductive brand marketing, it’s hard to know what you need, and what you don’t. Be sure to check out this article for the top 20 tips for any level CrossFitter.

How much will they cost me?

Here you can find an overview with average costings of the most popular and commonly used CrossFit shoe.

Inov8F-Lite Alpha G£92.00
Under ArmourTri-Base REIGN 4£89.50
VivobarefootTRACKER DECON LOW FG2 MENS£160.00

As you can see, they are not cheap. Under Armour are on the more affordable end, particularly compared to the Vivobarefoot Tracker Decon.

Those are more ‘niche’ and not seen as often in CrossFit gyms. Actually, they’re marketed as a hiking shoe, but have many similarities to a CrossFit shoe, hence their usage in CrossFit.

The Nike Metcons are the most common in CrossFit gyms. I’ve had 2 pairs of them, but have since converted to NoBulls.

What others are saying

RunRepeat has a scoring of 84 for the latest iteration of Nike Metcon 8 Mat Fraser edition; whilst the NoBull Trainer sees a cool 89. There’s something to be said for that.

RunRepeat are well known for their comprehensive testing, scoring and reviews. So take note of what they’re saying.

Converting to NoBulls from Metcons

After using Metcons for 4 years I found annoyances to be:

  • The ‘uppers’ and inners to be too hard, irritating my heel area
  • My blue Metcons make an annoying and constant squeaking sound
  • Foot ache after heavy squats or long sessions
  • Generally lacking in comfort

The low collar height has been a complaint for other people too.

For some, it feels like their heel is going to come out of the shoe! (Sounds more like operator error there, and they should learn to tie their laces…)

Despite this, the Nike designs are sensational, as you would expect.

The design choice outdoes any other brand. And it’s Nike. Phil Knight would be proud of his CrossFit design team.

By the way, make sure to read the memoirs of Phil Knight – the creator of Nike. You can find his book on this link here as a wildcard option.

For me, however, the practicality and comfort of NoBull outdo the Nike offering.

Reebok Nano’s are up there with comfort, style and durability, too.

Nike Metcon 8 By Gabriela Migala. Lovely, isn’t it.

Nike vs NoBull

Comparing the Metcons directly to NoBulls, I find the NoBulls better because:

  • The internals are softer, so better on the heel area
  • Generally more comfortable
  • Better for squat sessions and heavy Olympic lifting
  • Better on my Achilles after huge amounts of double under skips
  • Less commonly seen, with extra funky sole designs
Arctic Wild Ocean NoBulls

How long do they last?

I still have Metcons, Nanos, NoBulls and Inov8s – all of which are useable. The inov8s are 12 years old!

Being frugal, I don’t want to throw any of them away; rather they are appropriately relegated to work/gardening shoes. Sustainable fashion at its finest.

As an idea of using them solely for CrossFit (another pun well intended), they are all generally well built, as you can expect from any one of these brands. So they are still going and going.

Annoyingly, my favourite of them all – the Midnight Palm NoBulls are just starting to come away at the toe edge.

That said, I have done extensive CrossFit sessions, used them to go on holiday, plus worn them out and about like you would any trainer.

Women’s Reebok Nano X2 rocking the retro style

I didn’t do this with the Nano’s or Metcons as they did not provide the same comfort. So it’s not apples for apples.

As a rough guide, the below is what you can expect for survival and associated CrossFit sessions:

(Survival being to the point that you would happily relegate to dog walking shoes; or home plumbing footwear).

Shoe1 Session per week 3 Sessions per week 5+ sessions per week 5+ Sessions & everyday use
Nike Metcon 5+ years 4+ years 2+ years Estimated 2 years
Reebok Nano5+ years 4+ years 2+ years Estimated 2 years
NoBull Trainer 4+ years 3.5/4+ years 2 years Estimated 1.5-2 years

What this suggests

The inference from this simple table and the above experience over my 13 years wearing them is that the NoBulls are seemingly more comfortable, but less durable in the long term.

They don’t make an annoying squeaking sound though, like my blue Metcons. And they are much more comfortable.

Being more comfortable, they’re more conducive to everyday wearing – so possibly a victim of their own success, one could argue!

Can I use non-CrossFit shoes?

Using non-CrossFit shoes is of course possible. It is not advisable however, as propriety CrossFit shoes are designed for a myriad of activities you’ll be doing in class. Using non-CrossFit shoes may result in injury, underperformance, and early fatigue of the shoe. Therefore, using CrossFit shoes is preferable when doing CrossFit.

Your checklist

If you are going to use a non-CrossFit shoe, ensure the following:

  • It does not have a squishy heel or sole
  • No air bubble cushion (such as AirMax’s)
  • Does support the foot adequately
  • Has a stable, flat and hard sole

What special about a CrossFit shoe?

A good example of why CrossFit shoes are good for the sport is the improvements via each iteration.

The big hitters like Nike and Reebok have listened to feedback – like they do in all product lines – and sought to improve each newer version.

For example, the inner soles have been treated to additional layering for Rope Climbs.

Another example is the heavy emphasis on the multitude of Squats – plus their permutations and scaling often seen within CrossFit – which has borne out a specifically hard, solid flat sole.

These improvements are of significance to enhancing your performance and ability level – whatever level that may be. See here for our article on what CrossFit Level you are.

Shoebox takeaways

So bear in mind if you’re weighing up whether to purchase CrossFit shoes that they are:

  • Designed specifically for the sport
  • They last for a very respectable amount of time, given the punishment they endure
  • Design aids your progress and improvement
  • Can mitigate bad form
  • Designs are plentiful. Have fun picking
Training in squidgy AirMax’s 12 years ago! (Not advised).

Move well

Given the expansive collection of movements you’ll be doing, the shoe needs to be up to the job. Safe in the knowledge your feet and lower body are in safe hands (shoes), providing correct stability and support.

You don’t want to Overhead Squat 100kg in AirMax’s or roll your ankles lunging in running shoes.

It’s part of the kit. An important part of the kit.

Summary on Needing CrossFit Shoes

Having an appropriate shoe will help speed up learning, stamina and overall performance.

Think of it as ‘the correct tool for the job’. Because that’s what it is.

If you can afford to do so, splash out on some propriety CrossFit shoes.

Remember to check eBay if money is tight, as oftentimes you’ll find people selling very good condition shoes that are the wrong size for them; sent by mistake; or no good for their circumstances.

Many bargains to be had. And sustainable functional footwear!

Also, ask your fellow CrossFit gym members. You’ll get genuine and real-time ‘social proof’ right there. Real 1-star and 5-star reviews.

Your coach will obviously be able to advise you too.

See this article here for other essentials, including Olympic lifting shoes – that should be in your CrossFit gym bag.

Happy shopping, people!

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