Not too long ago I wrote up my initial review of the Inov-8 F-Lite 195 minimalist trail running shoe. I’d put on relatively few miles (about 15), but they were rugged and varied, which gave me a good idea of how the shoe performs in terms of initial quality. (You can read the first review here)
But initial quality doesn’t mean anything if the product doesn’t hold up under some sort of sustained punishment. And that’s where we are today.
It’s been about 6 weeks since I wrote that review, and to say the least, I’ve put a bunch more miles on these shoes. And I have definitely put them through the wringer, much more than any footwear I’ve ever purchased.
Just to review, the shoe is a 3mm drop, 6.9-ounce trail runner that is minimalist in design. It’s not as bare-bones as some (which can be basically an upper, a sole and shoe strings), as it has some cushion, but you’re not going to get near as much in these kicks as you might in other, more standard running shoes.
Of course, that’s by design, following the minimalist trend toward more basic footwear that allows you to feel the running surface more — and strengthen your feet and legs — without having to go all the way to barefoot running.
Also in the design — a rugged tread for gripping varied surfaces and a crease near the forefoot to allow bend for midfoot and forefoot strikers. Again, like other minimalist products, heel-strikers will be terribly uncomfortable running in these unless they change their stride.
The manner in which I’ve tested these shoes has been pretty rigorous. So far, I’ve used them in three races — two trail races and a 5k. Running lengths have varied from as short as that 5k to as long as 15 miles.
Additionally, the surfaces have varied from pavement to trail, with trail difficulty ranging from soft to highly technical.
Surface conditions have also been wide-ranging: dry, rainy/wet, snowy, icy and muddy.
As I noted before, the shoe does well in gripping wet or muddy surfaces. It drains quick when it gets wet, and a prolonged wet/rainy run doesn’t leave it waterlogged for long. That bodes well for blister prevention when you run (very much tested in a damp 25k I ran) and keeping the stink factor down as it dries. Drying quickly also means the material will last longer.
But the real question is how well has the shoe maintained its integrity after hitting the century mark in miles.
The answer: Quite well. If I spiffed them up (cleaned off all the mud and dirt), you’d think they were new. There is some creasing in the rubber near the forefoot, and just a tiny bit of wear on the edges where I tend to supinate. But the tread looks almost out-of-the-box new otherwise, and the stitching is well intact. I’m really happy with this because another pair of minimalists I own has not fared as well with similar mileage. My wide feet and supination do bad things to a lot of uppers and soles in the shoes I use.
I’d note once again that if you’re not used to minimalist shoes, start gradually with really low mileage and let your feet and legs get used to the additional stress caused by the lack of support inherent in minimalist design. The reward for your patience is a stronger body all the way around and probably better running form, but it won’t come immediately. So don’t go sign up for a 25-50k trail race in these or any other minimalist shoes if you’ve never worn them before or if you’ve only just started.
I’ll probably give this pair a little more time (ie, more miles) before I give you a final verdict. But Inov-8 is developing quite a reputation among trail runners and fitness enthusiasts for a reason: They make a damn good shoe.
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