Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review: Reebok CrossFit Shoes

It's been a month since I bought a pair of Reebok's CrossFit shoes down at the Games. Only a few hundred pairs were made and distributed to Games competitors; the leftovers were then sold to spectators like me. So while the rest of the CrossFit world impatiently waits for Reebok to offer its shoes to the buying public, we lucky few who nabbed a pair at the Home Depot Center have been trying them out. Through all of August, I put mine through the paces: lifting, running, jumping -- the works. 

So what's the verdict?

Before we get down to brass tacks, I should point out that the pair I own may not be the final launch version of the Reebok CrossFit shoes. Even though they were deemed Games-ready, I'm guessing that Reebok has some final tweaks up its sleeves. (From what I've heard, they'll be available as early as November -- though I've also heard January -- and will retail for $130). But I'm working with what I've got, so here goes.

There are some things I absolutely love about these shoes. First and foremost, I'm a big fan of the Reeboks' super-wide toe box. The forefoot feels slightly wider than even those on New Balance's Minimus shoes (though upon visual inspection, they appear to be the same width), and offers tons of room for the natural spread and stretch of athletes' toes. Also, unlike some other manufacturers, Reebok's managed to build a wide shoe without sacrificing the look of the product.

Yes, some find the Reebok CrossFit shoes to be butt-ugly (including my wife), but I don't. As I've written before, I think the styling comes correct. I haven't once felt self-conscious about wearing them out in public despite the fact that they're blindingly yellow. I associate yellow-and-black with Bruce Lee, wasps and the Steel Curtain -- so I actually feel pretty bad-ass when I strut around in these babies. (Yes, I realize that most people actually just think I'm color-blind, but shut up.) Bonus: The shoes came with both yellow and black laces.

(Not a fan of the yellow and black? Check out more colors here.)

The Reeboks -- at 9.15 ounces -- are fairly lightweight, and only slightly heavier than my New Balance Minimus MX20s (8.10 ounces) and MT10s (7.15 ounces). The padding and support around the ankles feel solid without being obtrusive, and the throat at midfoot -- although pretty snug when laced -- doesn't overly constrict my feet like the Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves did (or even the New Balance Minimus MT10s). The Reebok shoes' mesh uppers are soft and breathable but durable; after a month of fairly aggressive wear-testing, I haven't noticed any fraying or tearing of the fabric -- not even at the toe-cap, where there's minimal foxing.

As for the vaunted U-Form custom-fit technology? I stand corrected -- it's not just a marketing gimmick. When I first put the shoes on my feet right out of the box, they felt a little loose in places (especially in the vamp and heel counter). But after baking the shoes in a 200-degree oven for 3 minutes and then keeping them tightly laced on my feet for another 8 minutes, the Reeboks fit like a glove. Plus, they felt warm and toasty.

(Note: My shoes didn't come with baking instructions, but I found 'em online here.)

That said, this is not (yet) a perfect shoe.

Some of the flaws are minor, and can be easily fixed. For one, the sizing of the shoes that were sold at the Games is totally screwy. These Reeboks run a full size larger than normal. I usually wear a Men's 9.5 or 10 -- but the Reeboks that best fit me are size 8. Given that Reebok has signaled that these shoes will be sold primarily (exclusively?) online, accurate sizing is critical. Folks who have waited months for these shoes to become available aren't going to be happy about opening up FedEx packages of shoes, only to find that they're too damned big.

Another small problem: The shoelaces are way too short. If you lace the shoes up all the way, you'll barely have enough left over to make bunny-ears.

The biggest issue I have with the Reebok CrossFit shoes, however, is the sole. Yes, I like the minimal heel-to-toe drop, the treads wrapping around the edge of the instep to protect against damage from rope climbs, the lack of zigzags, nubs or other rubbery nonsense on the bottoms of other Reebok shoes. But unfortunately, these shoes are, in my opinion, overly stiff in the sole -- especially through the middle of the foot. While most other shoes flex right at the ball of the foot, the break-line in the Reeboks' sole appears to be situated closer to base of the toes. As a result, with the exception of the very front section of the forefoot, the sole feels like a flat board. There's not a lot of give here.

I can see the advantages a stiffer sole might bring to lifting -- you don't want so much flex in the shoe that people end up on their toes when they should be keeping their weight on their heels. But in my opinion, the soles of these CrossFit shoes could stand to be more yielding given the variety of non-lifting movements that we encounter. The padded insert that comes in the shoes doesn't help either. It sacrifices ground feel for cushiness -- something that most of us don't want or need. After a few workouts, I ended up removing the spongy inserts entirely.

For CrossFit, I prefer shoes that I don't even think about during my WODs. But whenever I ran or jumped in these shoes, I couldn't help but notice the stiffness of the midfoot sole from the balls of my feet to my heels.

The sole aside, the Reebok CrossFit shoes are still heads-and-shoulders above most other cross trainers on the market. The wide toe-box, easy-bake fit, head-turning looks and minimal heel-to-toe drop are features any CrossFitter would dig.

How do they stack up against my other CrossFit footwear? My New Balance Minimus MX20 Trainers still remain my favorite -- but competition for CrossFitters' hearts and minds (and feet) has begun to heat up. This next year is going to see a glut of CrossFit-specific shoes, with new offerings from Reebok, New Balance, Vibram, Altra, Inov-8, Merrell, and others. I can't wait to try 'em out.

Shoe whores: Rejoice!