Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 :: 30-Miles-from-New Review

Those of us who are less than perfect will occasionally spend our hard-earned money on things we don't necessarily need, superfluous items that do not fill huge, gaping voids in our material lives. These are things we want, things that look really cool, things that require great effort to justify purchasing.

Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 lateral right view
The Bare-Grip 200:
with Zero Arrow Shoc-Zone™!
For me, the Bare-Grip 200 from our friends at Inov-8 is one of those things. I already have a marvelous collection of trail shoes, which more than sufficiently accommodate my runs on the various trails around the Triangle: There's the Roclite 285, the Minimus Trail, the f-lite 230... So, I certainly don't need another trail shoe.

But, look at it. That is an awesome shoe! (Okay, maybe it's not as awesome if you don't like green) And, it was on sale for 25% off!


Given it's pronounced lugs, the Bare-Grip 200 is more of a specialized trail shoe than anything else I've worn. It's designed for very wet, sloppy, and/or loose terrain with lots of inclines to climb and descend, fell running, really. And, the last time I used the word "fell" in a sentence about running, it wasn't a noun.

Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 lateral right view
The Bare-Grip 200 is all kinds of awesome!

So, we don't have fells here in central North Carolina. But, it rains. Our trails get muddy. And, those leaves, they can be pretty slick in the Fall and Winter, wouldn't you say? Plus, the snow and ice certainly warrants a shoe with significant traction. So, yeah, I'll be able to use the Bare-Grip 200 pretty regularly! This might even have been a wise purchase, safetywise. (Did I mention that it was on sale?)


Notable features of the Bare-Grip 200:

  • Grippy lugs (duh) — These actually serve as a bit of protective cushioning while running over rocks. So, the Bare-Grip simulates barefoot running without subjecting your feet to the perils that VFFs might.
  • Zero differential between the heel and the toe — Inov-8 markets this feature as a ZERO Arrow Shoc-Zone™. (I imagine that the capital letters are for emphasis)
  • No midsole at all — This makes the shoe incredibly flexible and fun to wear. Inov-8 explains that the lack of a midsole "allows all the natural power and speed of the foot [to be] transferred directly through the shoe." The video I've embedded below explains the appeal of forgoing a midsole quite nicely.
  • Better protected toe box — Well, this is subjective, I suppose. To me, that's a rather sturdy bit of rubber, or whatever, buffering the toe box from the outside world. I've found it to be quite useful already. The toe guard is more significant on the Bare-Grip 200 than the one on the Roclite 285. And, I appreciate that.
  • Read more about features in this Bare-Grip 200 review. I lack the attention span to really delve into specifications, etc.
Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 lateral right view

Sizing and Feel

I tried the Bare-Grip 200 on in two different sizes, just because. These are built on the Inov-8 performance last, which coincides with the last of the f-lite 230 and Roclite 285. But, my US Men's size 11.5 Roclite 285 is a bit roomier in the front than my 11.5 f-lite 230. So, just because those shoes are built on the same last doesn't mean they fit the same way. But, I digress.

Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 profile view
The Bare-Grip 200 is a long shoe

The size 12 Bare-Grip felt better on my feet than the 11.5. I liked the added width in the toe box the larger size afforded my little toe while the 11.5 squeezed just a bit. Although, in retrospect, the shoe's upper may have stretched enough after a few runs to warrant keeping the smaller size. I make note of this because I've been second-guessing my decision to keep the 12 now that it feels a bit more loose on my foot. And, if I could have kept the 11.5, I would have preferred it, because I feel a little self conscious about the length of my feet.


The shoe feels fantastic on my feet, light and incredibly flexible. I wouldn't say it fits any more snugly than the f-lite 230. The upper is just as breathable as I'd expect by looking at the photos, which is to say that it's very breathable indeed.

As usual, this Inov-8 shoe includes an insole, 3 mm. I leave it in there. You can remove it if you like. I suspect that those of you who do not wear socks will prefer to leave the insole in place, because the foot bed is a tad rough. But, what do I know about not wearing socks? (Nothing, because I wear them)

Running in the Bare-Grip 200

Since the Bare-Grip 200 marked my foray into zero-droppedness, I was a little nervous about running for too long on the first try. But, my other shoes with their relatively low heel-to-toe differentials probably prepared my calf muscles well for the Bare-Grip. So, a little under 10 miles for the initial run went well. (If you're trying the Bare-Grip while running regularly in a more cushioned shoe, you should use caution and work into this one gradually. Everyone says so.)

Here's a great video overview of the Bare-Grip featuring a runner with a cool accent. This video proved very persuasive to me when the shoe was on sale. Just sayin'.

I took these on the trail for the first time after a day of rain so as to test out the Bare-Grip's traction over soft, wet surfaces. It didn't disappoint. The grip is especially superb over muddy inclines. I found myself running directly through the squishiest parts of the trail just to test the shoe's hold on the surface.

The Bare-Grip's über-flexible outsole is definitely my favorite attribute of the shoe. It conforms to various shapes on the ground in a way that really heightens your sense of the terrain without impaling your feet on pointy rocks hiding under loose debris. I mean, sure, you'll still feel the rocks. You might even wince a few times as you step on a sharp one at an unfortunate angle. But, the balance between proprioception and protection inherent to the Bare-Grip 200 is good.

I'll mention, perhaps superfluously, that the Bare-Grip is not something you want to wear for any length of time on pavement or hard-packed trails. Not, only will you feel the pressure of the individual lugs on the outsole pressing into your foot, but you'll also feel like an idiot. I mean, why would you wear something like this on a flat surface? Granted, you won't be rendered immobile if you're wearing these at the start of a trail race that begins on pavement. You just don't want to have to run more than a couple of miles on the road with the Bare-Grip on your feet.

Worth the Splurge?

In a word: Yes! Clearly, I like the Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200. After a little more than 30 miles of running in them, I've not been disappointed at all. If I had to change anything about these shoes, I'd make the toe area slightly less pointy or make the US Men's size 11.5 slightly wider in the toe box. It wouldn't have to be NB-Minimus-Trail wide, just a little wider than it is now.

This is definitely a specialized type of shoe. If you're looking for your first trail shoe, or an all-around type of trail shoe, try something else. Then, get the Bare-Grip 200 as your secondary, super-fancy trail shoe for special trails, like the convertible sports car that you take out on weekends when the weather is nice (antiquated analogy?). You deserve it.

Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 with a dirty outsole
Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 with a dirty outsole


  1. Great review, Ash. I'm looking forward to Inov-8 using their "natural" last in some trail shoe models instead of the "performance" last, which squeezes my foot like a vise.

  2. Thanks Scott! I'll be interested to try their "natural" last, too, when I "need" a new shoe again.

  3. question - I had a pair of the Bare-grip 200s stolen from my front porch (dog poo on the soles forced me to leave them there for a day - hope the thief got the material all over themselves) and I'm looking to replace them. I have F-Lite 230s as well, which I use when the trails are really dry. I really liked the bare-grips (mud, creeks, ankle stability, etc), but was also considering the roc-lite 285 or X-Talon 190. I have a 3/4 mile run on pavement to the trails. The key for me is to avoid ankle sprains on the trails - the bare-grips helped immensely on this front. But they weren't so great on the way to and fro, and they also won't be as good of an all arounder... Thoughts? Are the 285s noticeably more "lever-like" on the ankle?? I'm 6'4" 200 lb'er, but usually run about 8 miles 2-3 times per week on trails. If they are dry, I prefer to bike 'em.....

  4. Awebb: Condolences on the loss of your Bare-grip 200s. At least the thief has good taste in shoes.
    Anyway, the 285s are definitely more pavement-friendly than the Bare-grips. I mean, I wouldn't wear them for an extended road run. But, a mile or two on the way to the trails isn't at all bad. You'll still notice the cleats, though, which makes sense, because they grip so well on loose terrain. On the trail, the 285s "ride" just like the 230s but with a tiny bit more cushioning due to the lugs on the outsole. I'd say that the heel of the 285's outsole is a tad wider than the Bare-grip's heel. So, your ankles will probably appreciate that. But, the difference is negligible. If the 285s had a zero shock-zone, I'd wear them for every trail run. But, these days, I switch between the 230 for dry, packed conditions and the Bare-grips for leafy, muddy conditions.
    I can't say much about the x-talon 190s, because I haven't worn them myself. But, they look like they'd feel the same on pavement as the bare-grips. I think I've seen comments elsewhere stating that runners who went from the 190s to the Bare-grips preferred the bare-grips. I could be wrong, though.
    Thanks for reading!

  5. The X-talons have been the best fell/cross country shoes i have ever used. Good all-round and can be used on hard trail and road if needed. Of course they are best for mud and stuff but when you are in a race you do not have time to stop and change your shoes if you happen upon some hard trail. I thought i would give the bare grip a try. Now I question whether reviewers actually ware them any where other than around the house. Within a few steps of a muddy field I was carrying loads of mud off that field on the bottom of the shoes. There is no point in having a great grip and being light weight if all that is gone after a few paces. I put them in the same category as the inov8 mudclaw – they might grip but that’s more because as the mud/weight increases you will run slower. I race cross country and feel that its a nice try but come on is there no one out there who can produce a fast shoe after all this time.

    1. Thanks for the insightful perspective, Mike! One day I hope to compare the X-Talons to the Bare-grip. And, your point about the shoes collecting heavy amounts of mud is very interesting. The mud/dirt in my area is comprised of either very hard clay or relatively loose sand. Thus, the mud, when there is some to run through (and, believe me, I look for it), is not necessarily the stick-to-your-shoes kind of mud. So, I haven't experienced that heaviness that you've noticed on your Bare-grips after a run through muck.

      I've actually had a lot of success with the Bare-grips this season while running across leaf-covered trails. Those thick layers of wet, dead leaves are slippery. But, the Bare-grip outsole works like a charm. And, I'm glad I have them for that.

  6. Glad you liked my video and my accent.... :-)

    1. It's still one of my favorite shoe-oriented videos, Nik! Are you still wearing the Bare-Grip?
      Thanks for reading!

    2. Yes, but I tend to cycle shoes through the week as I find not sticking to the same shoes every day helps to counter injuries.. also, in the snow and ice the Baregrips get a bit chilly so I tend to go for something a bit meatier like the Mudclaw 300's or even the Orocs if really icy. Hopefully with spring just around the corner I'll be back in the Baregrips, Vibram Spyridons and X-talons soon.

  7. Hi,

    I'm a Finnish orienteerer who's interested in barefoot running. I own a pair of fivefinger treksports, that I run with on roads and paths, and a pair of normal orienteering shoes with metal studs. I've been reading about the bare-grips because I'd like to be able to run"barefoot" also when I'm orienteering.

    My question is, can you run with these shoes in the forest and on slippery outcrops and stones when it's raining? That's what the metal studs on my shoes help with.

    Thanks for a great review!
    // Liva

    1. Hello Liva! Most of my experience in the Bare-Grips excludes slippery outcrops. But, I've ventured over plenty of wet, slippery roots and fallen trees. And, I would say that the Bare-Grips are the best shoes in my collection for somewhat slick surfaces.

      Your primary concern with these shoes might be their relative narrow fit compared to the VFFs that you run with. But, you'll find out how they fit when you try them on. I hope these work out for you!

      Thanks for reading!



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