Performance nutritionist and avid gym-goer James Hudson says the inov8 Bare-XF is a near-perfect gym shoe.

Ever since Christopher McDougall’s seminal book Born to Run, minimalist running and gym shoes have been big business. The book inspired many to ditch their big, heavily cushioned trainers for something lighter, wider and/or flatter. Going shoeless is obviously the most minimal of all, however there are many circumstances where that’s not socially acceptable, nor particularly safe (like at the gym).

Many companies, therefore, are solving this problem by creating ‘barefoot shoes’ which allow people to have the barefoot feel with a thin, yet critical barrier to the pain/annoyance caused by stepping on small stones, sharp thorns or some unexpected dog dirt. inov8 is the latest brand to enter the fray, and in my view the Bare-XF is as good an option as you will find.

I put these shoes through their paces in April 2024 to test their performance when running, lifting and maxing out during a gruelling interval workout. 

Men’s Fitness verdict

Minimal design meets outstanding performance. With a wide toe box and zero drop, it’s a solid choice for both minimalist shoe enthusiasts and those transitioning from more traditional trainers.
  • Zero drop positions your foot close to the ground for optimal lifting form
  • Wide toe box for natural foot and toe splay, promoting proprioception and healthy feet
  • Super lightweight and very comfortable
  • That zero drop can make squatting and Olympic lifting harder if you have limited ankle range
  • Slightly dull appearance; not the prettiest shoe

Design and build quality of the inov8 Bare-XF

As you can see, the design aesthetic of this shoe is fairly unremarkable. I would describe the shoes’ appearance as plain and workmanlike. Now, barefoot shoes are inherently minimal, and to be honest I think matching the aesthetic to their minimalistic design is smart.

This shoe doesn’t jump off the shelf and is only sold in fairly muted colours, but when putting the shoe on it becomes immediately apparent that all the effort and energy in the design process has gone into the shape, the materials and the performance. 

I have been wearing barefoot shoes pretty much exclusively since 2018, and the result of this is that my feet have changed. They have naturally increased in strength, (I don’t need orthotics any more) and width. The good news is that the inov8 Bare-XF comes with a wide fit option which even accommodated my broad feet very comfortably.

For those who struggle with width, going for a barefoot shoe is something I would recommend as they are naturally wider. In addition, the design of this shoe incorporates a wide toe box (another hallmark feature of a barefoot shoe) which allows  for more natural foot movement.    

Men's Fitness product tester James Hudson jumps on a box while reviewing the inov8 Bare-XF gym shoe

inov8 Bare-XF performance

I was very impressed with the performance of these shoes during testing. It’s remarkable how inov8 has designed such a light shoe that still feels sturdy when lifting weights. I felt solid and grounded when using a barbell, for instance.

The shoes have plenty of grip, too, which made it easy to change direction quickly on the gym floor. This came in handy, especially during dynamic and explosive movements. The grip, combined with the shoe’s bounce and spring, made jumping around on a box as easy as it has ever felt. 

Features of the inov8 Bare-XF

Boomerang technology

I intentionally didn’t do too much research on this shoe before trying it out. One of the words I used to describe them to a friend during the workout was ‘bouncy’.

Although it has been over 10 years since I learnt to do a back somersault in the gymnastics centre at Uni, these shoes were making me feel it would be possible, today, on the gym floor. They have so much pop!

I was curious to learn more about this magic so I looked on the inov8 website and learnt about the shoes so-called ‘Boomerang’ technology with ‘energy return’. Creative marketing lingo aside, I can honestly say these shoes gave me more bounce, spring and pop than my current pair of Vivobarefoot Primus Lite (inov8’s closest rival in this space). 

Light weight

The weight, or lack thereof, definitely counts as a positive feature for the Bare-XF, as it helps create the illusion that you’re not wearing any shoes at all. You really feel light on your feet with these on.

Let me give you another direct comparison with the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite. At 7.4oz (210g), the Bare-XF are lighter by 0.7oz (20g). I noticed that extra weight loss during my set of box jump-overs, as the lack of weight combined with the boomerang rebound had me flying over the box.  

close up of the inov8 bare-xf gym shoe

Wide toe box

The Bare-XF boasts an ‘anatomically shaped toe box’, which should come as standard in any gym shoe. Why don’t all shoe manufacturers design shoes to the shape of people’s feet?

Anyway, that wider space is great as it allows the toes to splay a little when moving, giving you a better sense for the ground (improved proprioception). So practically speaking, you feel very grounded when lifting, which is exactly how you want to feel – especially when shifting heavy weights. 

Zero drop

A zero drop means all parts of the foot are the same height off the ground. It’s another hallmark of most barefoot shoes.

There are pros and cons: zero drop can help promote better running form with less heel striking; but not having a heel can also make it harder for those who struggle with mobility to get into the right positions while Olympic lifting. 


This is only a small detail, but the laces are ever-so-slightly stretchy. It turns out this is the feature of a trainer I didn’t know I was missing. Obviously the laces are still very strong, but they have a little give.

This makes it more comfortable to wear when you are working hard during a functional fitness session, and it helps the laces do up really tight. No pausing your workout to tie up your laces with this shoe.

inov8 bare-xf gym shoe locked in to rowing machine straps

Should you buy the inov8 Bare-XF?

I had a big smile on my face while wearing these shoes. They’re super comfy and definitely aided my performance. During the running part of my session I felt the shoe was enhancing my ability to spring from foot to foot and made running a joy.

if you’re considering a new, more minimal shoe for training, I highly recommend the Bare-XF. It ticks all the boxes for me.

The minimal design, combined with top-tier performance, has got me donning these shoes for all my gym sessions. For those looking to transition from a traditional trainer to something more minimalist, you can’t go wrong with this shoe.

And for those of you who are die-hard barefooters currently sporting the likes of Vibrams or Vivobarefoots, I would suggest seriously considering the Bare-XF to add a little extra ‘pop’ to your training. 

Features3D air mesh upper; Meta-Flex technology; Adapterweb Cradle lacing system; EHC heel system
Weight7.4oz / 210g