Wondering what the best minimalist CrossFit shoes are? You’ve come to the right place! We’re going to break down the most popular shoes, as well as tell you about some of our lesser-known favorites.
What are minimalist shoes
First things first – what on earth is a minimalist shoe, anyway?
According to The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, minimalist shoes are defined as “footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.”
So, what we’re really saying is, less shoe is more shoe, in the case of minimalist shoes. It’s pretty common for a running shoe or other athletic shoes to contain an excess amount of padding, and a lot of stiffness in attempts to control the foot and ankle. But is this really what’s best for our feet?
In the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, we learn about a tribe of people who run with very very little on their feet – and they run farther than most of us ever will.
It’s an interesting study, and it might sway to you start considering a more minimalist shoe for yourself.
Why minimalist shoes for CrossFit
So why do we want to wear minimalist shoes for CrossFit or other functional fitness exercises?
It’s all in the name – functional fitness. We’re looking to use our bodies in the way they were meant to be used: functionally. This means the way they exist naturally, not with a bunch of external control from gear and – you guessed it, shoes.
Take a deadlift, for example. If you’re lifting heavy loads, and wearing workout shoes that have a big, cushioned heel, you’re going to be starting at a disadvantage. The shoe is going to push you forward into your toes before even starting the lift. But if you’re wearing cross-training shoes with a flatter sole, you’ll be at a bigger advantage to lift more weight, and push through the heel and midfoot.
Minimalist shoes aren’t just for lifting heavy weight, though. They help us in things like rope climbs, box jumps, long runs, and other functional movements.
What to look for in a minimalist shoe
When shopping for a minimalist shoe, there are a few important factors that you want to look for. Things like a wide toe box to allow your toes to splay out, a flat sole to be able to push through the entire foot, and a flexible upper to allow full movement of the foot naturally.
CrossFit workouts can be pretty dynamic – from heavy lifting to short runs to climbing ropes, you need a versatile shoe that can carry you through it all.
The best minimalist CrossFit shoes
So what are the best pair of CrossFit shoes? That’s hard to say, as each person’s feet are different. Below are the most popular minimalist CrossFit shoes, as well as our top picks that are slightly lesser known.
There’s a lot of fancy verbiage that shoes can get into regarding the materials, toe box, drop, outer, upper, and more – we’re not here to get into all of that. We’re here to provide in plain English, some options that might work for you for working out.
Arguably the OG of CrossFit shoes, the Reebok Nano has been on the scene since the beginning. While Reebok and CrossFit parted ways with the Reebok sponsorship, you’ll still find many CrossFitters that swear by the Nano as the best cross trainer shoes. The different models have changed the fit somewhat over the years, but the Nano has almost always had a very wide toe box, which some people love and others don’t.
It has a good amount of support and stabilization for rope climbs, which may or may not be something you need to worry about.
A close runner up to the Reebok Nano, Nike Metcon sneakers have been around for quite some time too, and are popular in many CrossFit gyms (also known as a CrossFit box).
We’ve found these to have a bit of a wider heel than most, so for people with a narrower heel, they may find the shoe doesn’t stay on quite as well.
They also, as you can see, have an extremely reinforced midsection – stabilizing for lifts as well as protection for rope climbs.
You might be wondering what all the fuss about rope climbs is. If you’ve ever climbed a rope in shoes without this protection, you know. If not -the shoe basically disintegrates against the rope, and sheds all over the floor in pieces and makes a huge mess.
Inov-8 is often a lesser-known brand, but in our opinion, one of the best out there. They build a sturdy shoe that holds up to a lot of movements, and they have lots of options depending on the amount of support you’re looking for.
Arguably the most minimalist of minimalist shoes, the Inov-8 Bare-XF might be considered more of a sock than a shoe. This is not a stable shoe – it has a very very flexible sole and a mesh upper. It forms to the shape and movement of your foot. Some love this zero drop, flexible shoe for their CrossFit training. While we do like this shoes for many movements, we don’t recommend it when buying minimalist shoes for the first time. This shoe has a very thin sole and is most like being in bare feet (hence the name). We recommend trying some other minimalist shoes to get accustomed to the feel, and potentially graduating to these if you just want to protect the soles of your feet and are not looking for any support.
If you want to try Inov-8 as a brand, but aren’t quite ready for the completely “barefoot” feel, we’ve got you covered. After many many years of CrossFit training, functional fitness, and weight lifting, the Inov-8 F-lite 235 v3 is hands down our top pick.
With a stable base, a slightly higher heel than the BareXF (4mm vs. 0mm), a rubber outsole, and a breathable upper, these have quickly become our favorite minimalist CrossFit shoe. Inov-8 brand shoes in general tend to run slightly narrower, so they’re better if you don’t have wide feet and don’t need quite as wide of a toe box as others. You can tighten them up around a narrow foot to get a snug and supportive fit without feeling like you’re cutting off the circulation in your feet.
They’re lightweight, not bulky, and they move with you without feeling flimsy. They’ve been our favorite for some time now, and we think they’re one of the best kept secrets around!
Newer to the CrossFit scene, No Bull has recently become the sponsor brand of the CrossFit Games. While some love the colorful designs and bright soles of No Bull trainers, we find them to have very little cushioning at all. They feel stiffer to us than other shoes mentioned here, and have little flexibility. Some people like this; for us it’s just not the right shoe for most movements.
There are a few things we do love No Bull trainers for – they make us feel super stable for heavy lifting and box jumps. But, if we’re running, rope climbing, or doing pretty much anything else, these are simply not the right shoe for us.
New Balance shoes are less commonly found in a CrossFit gym, but they do offer a line called the Minimus, which features the BOA® Fit System – New Balance’s “precision fit” system that allows you to tighten incrementally using a knob on the shoe. While this seems a bit gimicky, we have not tried it and cannot speak to its effectiveness or the shoe in regards to CrossFit.
The best minimalist shoes
So what are the best shoes for you? That depends – on your foot, your preferences, and what you’ll be using them for. While we can give you our opinion, it’s just that – our opinion. You’ll have to try a few options and see what works best for you and your feet. The most important thing is that you feel supported and comfortable in your movements.
The best way to decide which shoe works for you? Try them. Go to the store and put them on, walk around in them, even jog around the store.
If they aren’t common in stores (we’re looking at you, Inov-8) you can often order them from places with free return shipping (Zappos is a great option) so you can send them back if they don’t work. Try a few different options. Keep in mind that it might take awhile for you to find YOUR perfect shoe – but once you do, you’ll buy it again and again!