Minimalist shoes are all the rage right now. It is tough to go to any local running store, running blog or website, race expo, or even the starting line of a race waiting for the gun to go off and not hear about letting your feet do the work. With all the talk around getting closer to the ground and removing the features in shoes that correct that wonky left foot of yours, how does a company like Inov-8 keep… well, innovating on a practice they have been preaching for years? Enter the Bare-Grip 200 ($110). A unisex, 7 ounce (200 gram), flexible, uber-grippy, zero-drop, trail runner.
The uppers are made mostly of a lime green, open cell mesh with very little stitching. You can tell there was a fair amount of attention made to saving weight and keeping potential irritation to the foot at a minimum. However, that does not mean that this upper lack features. First up, there’s Inov-8’s Meta Cradle. The goal of the Meta Cradle is to create structure on the upper that holds the foot in place. This is done by running bands of material from the midsole (or, with the Bare-Grips, the midsole area… but more on that later) up to the eyelets on both the inner and outer sides of the shoe. The end result is when you tighten your shoes, by pulling on the laces, the bands wrap around your foot creating a cradle. This system can be found throughout a majority of the Inov-8 line. On the endurance line this feature is usually manufactured using bands of fabric sewn to the upper. The Bare-Grip and others found in the performance category use rubbery bands that appear to be laminated or glued on. The rubbery bands save weight and do not require stitching.
Next is the toe area. To add a bit of durability in the high wear areas there is a gritty feeling thin layer of rubber on top of the mesh. This section runs from the tip of the shoe to just behind where your toes start on both sides. After that we have a fairly solid toe cap that starts at the apex of the shoe and extends out to cover all of your toes. The toe cap is made from the same flexible, yet dense rubber that is used on the outsole. While this won’t save you from a major kick of a rock or root, it’s far more protective than most lightweight trail shoes out there.
The heel is very flexible as there is not a hard counter in it. While there is some flimsy plastic or something underneath the fabric to create the shape of the heel, with very little effort you can completely collapse it down. The collar of the shoe is lightly padded. The tongue is free floating and made of a soft-to-the-touch fabric that feels a lot like brushed suede. The tongue is made of two layers of this material to keep it from wrinkling up when you crank the laces down. The black heel fabric on the inside of the shoe extends down inside about a 1/4 of the way. While it does not make the inside seamless, I didn’t notice any irritation in the areas that were not covered by the black cloth when wearing the shoe without socks. Also, since the Bare-Grip has a normal toebox, you can wear socks with them. Lastly, we find a removable 3mm footbed. There is not much to it, but it will add a bit of extra cushioning. It is very thin and completely perforated to save weight and shed water.
To most people interested in this shoe, it is not going to be what the midsole has that is attractive but what it lacks. The Bare-Grip has no midsole. That’s right, none. Most Inov-8’s have an arrow system that indicates how much cushioning the shoe has in its midsole. Pick up the Bare-Grip and look for the arrows and you will find none, only the word “Zero.” In addition, there’s no heel-to-toe drop in the Bare-Grip. All this is where the “bare” in Bare-Grip comes from. Standing in these keeps your foot at the same angle as standing with no shoes on at all.
To cut down on the medial and lateral movement, the outsole extends up just a bit around the arch and the outside of the foot. This is similar to some shoes where your foot sits down into the midsole. Same concept here, except since there is no midsole.
Now on to the “grip” portion of the name. This shoe has an aggressive tread pattern. Let me say that again with caps. AGGRESSIVE. This is one of the more grippy treads I have come across that does not have carbide tips in it. The bottom of the shoe is covered by lots of flexible, deep, well-spaced, medium-sized lugs. The pattern is similar to Inov-8’s Roclite outsole. Since the rubber used on the outsole is so flexible you can also incorporate the power of your foot to to really force the lugs to bite. You just feel like you have more control over what you are doing when you step. When you move or flex your foot in any direction with these on the shoe flexes, too. The Meta Flex crease is present here to make an overall already flexible shoe even more so in the toe off position.
The options just keep increasing for the runner wanting a full-time minimal racer or the person looking to use minimal shoes as a training tool. Inov-8 is offering what has been the short fall of most of the market to date. The Bare-Grip 200 is a full on zero drop shoe that can handle the poor footing of a sloppy trail, so your minimalist pursuits don’t have to stop just because the off a little… or a lot of mud.
Call for Comments and Questions
Are you excited about the shoe? If you’ve had a chance to wear it, what did you think? If you’ve got any questions, ask away and we’ll do our best to answer it.
[Disclosure: Inov-8 provided the shoes used in this review.]