Saturday, October 23, 2010

Inov-8 F-Lite 195 Review (Short)

Not quite there, sadly.
Really short: They're nice sneakers; but I won't wear them.

As you can see, they're beautiful shoes.  I would have preferred the black, but the red is spectacular.

I picked these up last night at the Shoe Mart, which happens to be on my way home from work. 

  1. Light.
  2. Well-made (as far as I could tell).
  3. Good-looking.
  4. Minimal cushioning.
  5. Good ground-feel, for a sneaker.
  6. Sole seems to offer good traction, from looking at it.
  7. Upper is well-ventilated.
  1. 4mm heel lift. [Correction, it's 3mm.  Thanks to Graham in the comments.]
  2. Narrow last.
  3. Big toe gets bent.
  4. Cushy insole, but that comes right out.
So I tried on a 10 (UK 9), my "new normal" size.  I also bought a 10 in the MT101, FYI.  Even in the 10, my big toe felt pressure pushing it in.  Not a good sign.  Nevertheless, after confirming the Shoe Mart's excellent return policy, I bought them and took them home.  I took out the insole (which is not glued in; thanks Inov-8), and wore them around inside for a few hours. 

The heel lift bothered me from the outset.  I found that they strained a muscle in the sole of my left foot, just from walking around inside.  I took them off, put on my Treks, and went for a two-hour run.

The fellow I ran with was wearing the F-Lite 195s, in fact.  He loves them.

So this morning I packed the F-Lites back into the box, and drove to my local cobbler to ask him if he could drop the heel.  "Sorry", he said, "It's too flat.  Can't you run in them like that?  What about [racing] flats?"  I explained that these had the same heel lift as most flats.  Sigh.

Next stop was the Shoe Mart, where I returned them.

I feel bad about posting this review, in a way.  If I had found these shoes 18 months ago they would have been the answer to my prayers.  But after a year spent diligently training my feet to be stronger, and to run in Vibrams and barefoot, these will not do.  They are too narrow, and even the minimal heel lift is too much.  I'll stick to my Vibrams.

A note to Inov-8, if any one from that company ever finds this review:  Regarding your performance last, which I understand is the narrow last that underlies this shoe: why do you think that a last which deforms the foot from its natural motion improves performance?  Do you have any evidence, other than statements from runners with already-deformed feet, that this works?

Maybe next time?
Inov-8 supposedly has a BareGrip model coming out, with zero-drop from heel to toe, and hopefully a better last than the performance last.  If both those statements are born out in the product, I'll buy those.  (Hopefully they'll have a model with a less-agressive tread pattern, too.) In the meanwhile, I'll just stick with my 101s.

[Correction: Mark from the Shoe Mart says in the comments that this is not the case. What I reported above I was told by the salesperson in the Shoe Mart store, but I guess that was in error.] Now, the interesting point I got from my two visits to the Shoe Mart, is that apparently Inov-8 won't allow a retailer to carry their more-minimal models unless the retailers carries a lot of Vibram models.  That's their condition.  I was pretty surprised to hear that, but it's good business on Inov-8's part.  The Inov-8 models were shown in the same display as the Vibrams, right by the front door of the store. 

I also learned that the Shoe Mart can't keep the Inov-8 models in stock, so my opinion may be a minority one.

P.S. Follow-up here.

P.P.S.  The shoes Inov-8 ought to have made.


  1. I have a pair of these, and your review pretty much sums up my sentiments as well. I suspect that the BareGrip (in fact I think it is more than a suspicion) has the same narrow performance last.

    I emailed Inov-8 about this, asking them when they were going to release a trail shoe with the anatomical last. The new Road-X will have it, but no trail shoes as of yet. What a shame.

  2. Well, given that I use my Bikilas mostly for trail running (they're too cushioned for the road, IMHO), the Road-X might work well for me.

    But it would be nice if they would just get it right...

  3. The 195 is a performance based minimal trail shoe. Having a snug fitting last means the wearer can contour without the shoe moving on the foot. The heel to toe differential is actually 3mm but this forms part of inov-8's transitioning from conventional heel to barefoot story which isn't offered by any other brand. The 3mm lift relates to a 1 arrow midsole (6mm for the 2 arrow, 9mm for the 3 arrow etc). Zero arrow models including the Baregrip 200 will be available soon. Also, there is no condition whereby inov-8 will only allow vibram stockists to stock the lower profile shoes.

  4. @Graham I understand Inov-8s reasoning for the narrow last. I think some new/innovative thinking needs to be done in this area. Manufacturers should be looking for ways to secure the shoe to the foot without having to resort to constricting the toes. Obviously one way is with separate toes, like how Vibram is doing it. I am sure there are other ways we haven't thought of yet.

    The only way manufacturers will consider pursuing new designs is if enough people tell them what they don't like about the current ones. I am willing to think outside the box, and believe that one day we will see a performance shoe that isn't narrow.

  5. Graham, I posted my response in a new post.

  6. AinP, good point. The old solution is to have a shoe that's snug around the heel and instep, and wide around the toes. That's the Munson last that Russell Moccasin uses, and it's the sort of solution I was hoping we'd see from Inov-8.

  7. Hello,

    We would like to just clear up this misunderstanding about the Vibram Fivefinger shoes and Inov-8’s in our store. We do have them on display in our store together because they are under the same low profile running category. The Inov-8 company doesn’t require us to carry their shoes unless we carry Vibram Fivefingers. We have had a hard time keeping up with the high demand on the F-lite series shoes because of the high demand for these wonderful shoes. We are sorry for any confusion this has caused our customers. The ShoeMart strives to provide its online and in-store customers with the best service and we are looking forward to carrying more styles this December.

  8. Thanks Mark. I added a correction to the story.

    You have a very nice store, and I'm happy you're committed to the minimalist running concept.

  9. Hi Tuck,
    We appreciate your business and the correction.
    Thank you