Inov-8 made a number of changes to the Bare-Grip 200 shoes I reviewed before, including the laces, upper material, lining, and side reinforcement. Now that I’ve had 6 hours in the new version here’s the verdict.
There are some positive changes. The side reinforcements should improve durability right at the point that my other shoes wore through, and the denser mesh of the upper (more like Cordura) should take more abuse than the prior version too. The new upper doesn’t conform as easily to your foot, but the smooth laces self adjust a bit to make up for it, so after half an hour I really didn’t notice the difference. They also feel and fit just like the previous version so if the originals fit well these should too. On the surface, a few improvements to the same basic shoe.
One of my favorite things about the green version was how quickly they dried on the trail. Water got in very easily but exited just as easily, so the shoe didn’t hold water and dried rapidly. But the new version has a full lining – presumably for the sockless crowd – and combined with the denser mesh upper it lets water in about 1 second slower, but lets it out far more slowly, so they literally take hours to dry. I’m not a fan of trench foot, and never go sockless on trails, so this is a big negative for me.
Another negative is the new yellow sole. I guess the marketing/design department won this argument because colored rubber simply doesn’t grip as well as carbon black, which makes it a poor choice for a high performance shoe. It makes no difference at all in mud or in many other trail conditions, but on smooth, slick rocks it’s a noticeable decrease which caught me by surprise a number of times in stream beds since I’m so used to the black version. It’s not a dramatic change, and they still grip better than most shoes, but they definitely don’t hold as well as the original version. I suppose the upside to the yellow soles is if you slip and crack your head open the brighter soles will make it marginally easier to find your lifeless body in a gully.
Something that didn’t change is the shape of the shoe, which remains very pointy toed. I’ve tolerated it since they performed so well in other areas but the longer I use minimalist shoes the more I’d prefer a natural/anatomic last.
Overall, it’s still a good shoe – neither negative is a deal killer in itself, and may not matter to many users – but taking one step forward and two steps back doesn’t equal progress to me, so I’m hoping Inov8 will make some course corrections in the next update.
****Update: I made some modifications to the shoes, removing all the lining, some foam padding, and used an awl to stab some holes in the lower rubberized parts of the upper. Drainage is now quite acceptable, though I’m guessing the warranty was severely damaged..