Inov8 Bare-XF barefoot running shoes review: feel the train in luxurious comfort

The super-comfortable Inov8 Bare-XF is a very versatile, zero-drop shoe for running and working out

Inov8 Bare-XF barefoot running shoes
(Image: © Pat Kinsella)

Advnture Verdict

So long as you choose your terrain carefully and don’t expect these shoes to provide the same sort of traction you might usually expect from an Inov8 running shoe, the Bare-XFs are excellent for barefoot adventures. Exceptionally comfortable straight out of the box, these super lightweight shoes make you feel agile on the trails. They have an extra wide toe box (perfect for spreading your pinkies), while the sticky outsole provides some grip, and the Boomerang footbed serves up just the right amount of cushioning to protect your feet while still allowing a good level of trail feel. These shoes are also good for workouts and (thanks to the quick-draining upper) even wild swimming.


  • +

    Wide toe box

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    Ultra light

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    Lots of trail feel


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    Very little grip on slippery surfaces

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    No recycled materials used

You can trust Advnture Our expert reviewers spend days testing and comparing gear so you know how it will perform out in the real world. Find out more about how we test and compare products.

Meet the reviewer

best fleece jackets: Artilect Halfmoon Bio Pullover
Pat Kinsella

Pat has hiked all over the world, his adventures taking him to Mont Blanc, the roof of Western Europe; the Norwegian Alps; the highest peaks in Australia; and New Zealand’s Great Walks – among others. He’s an experienced tester of hiking footwear and gives each pair a thorough thrashing before reviewing.

Inov8 Bare-XF: first impressions

As a long-time user of Inov8’s trail running shoes – such as the excellent TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max, which feature the British brand’s trademark graphene-based outsoles and boast the kind of aggressive tread that will keep you upright in even the gloopiest conditions – I was a little surprised to see how minimalist these Bare-XF shoes were when I first unpacked them. I guess I was expecting a pared-down version of Inov8’s typical offering, but no, these are the full barefoot deal.

Inov8 Bare-XF barefoot running shoes

Inov8’s Bare-XFs are the full barefoot deal to give you that authentic trail feedback (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

• List price: $120 (US) / £115 (UK) / €120 (EU)
• Weight (per shoe): 210g / 7.4oz
• Stack height: 2.5mm
• Drop: 0mm
• Colors: Navy / Dark Gray / Black / Gum
• Compatibility: Dry weather and sealed-surface barefoot running

The 2.5mm outsole has a pattern on it, and it’s made from a clingy, sticky kind of rubber, so the Bare-XFs, which you can buy from Inov8 here, are not exactly slippery, but there’s no sign of the long-lasting ferocious fangs that usually characterize Inov8’s shoes. And neither should there be – these are not intended as mud or fell-running shoes; they’re designed for scampering around on fairly dry trails, rocks and sealed surfaces. 

They’re also excellent for use in outdoor and indoor gyms, and are compatible for weight training and other strength-building exercises.

I don’t do gyms, but I have been legging it around the outdoors to see how Inov8’s Bare-XFs compare to the best barefoot running shoes on the market.

Inov8 Bare-XF barefoot running shoes

The Inov8 Bare-XF’s upper is made from synthetic mesh, with holes large enough to enable your feet to breathe and water to drain out (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

Inov8 Bare-XF: style and design

Like any self-respecting barefoot running shoe, the Bare-XFs don’t feature any midsole at all, to allow for maximum trail feedback. They do, however, have a 6mm-thick Boomerang footbed, which provides a small amount of padding and protection from sticks and stones, and gives you a bit of bounce too, without significantly dampening the all-important trail feel. 

There’s also a 2.5mm sticky rubber outsole, which supplies some minimalist grip –don’t expect it to get you up or down a slippery muddy slope without a few slides and skids, but it works well on dry trails, rocks and sealed surfaces. This outsole extends up the sides slightly, providing some additional shielding from sharp objects on the trail (and in the water), and there is a small toecap for protection against stubbing injuries.

Inov8 Bare-XF barefoot running shoes

The sole provides minimalist grip but we wouldn’t want to run on wet surfaces in these shoes (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

The upper of these shoes is made from synthetic mesh, with holes that are large enough to enable your feet to breathe and water to drain out, without letting little pebbles and stones in. The tongue is cushioned enough to be comfy on the front of your foot, but also features a breathable mesh construction, and the heel is nicely padded and raised slightly to cuddle your Achilles. A TPU skeleton wraps around the chassis leading to the lace holes, providing some shape and strength, and the flat laces don’t come undone while you’re running.

As with many Inov8 shoes, the Bare-XFs boast a ‘Met-Cradle’, which wraps around the midfoot to provide stability and confidence while you’re running (or lifting).

Inov8 Bare-XF: on the trails

Inov8 Bare-XF barefoot running shoes

The Inov8 Bare-XFs are super comfy from the moment you put them on. The wide toe box is especially appreciated (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

I’ve been testing these Inov8 Bare-XF shoes out on local tracks and trails for several weeks, attempting to skip over the biggest puddles and dodge the worst of the mud in the slippery hills around my home in the soggy South West of England. While doing this I’ve been massively impressed with the agility of these lightweight shoes, which actually make me feel remarkably light on my feet (quite an achievement for an 85kg lump).

Personally, when I run in barefoot shoes I prefer to go sans socks, so I can really spread my toes and make the most of the trail feedback. This is always a slightly risky approach during runs when you’re wearing brand new shoes, as some (yes, I’m looking at you Xero Mesa Trail WP) will rub the skin right off your feet. With Inov8 Bare-XF shoes, however, I experienced no such dramas.

Inov8 Bare-XF barefoot running shoes

So supple – very handy if you’re feet can do this too (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

In fact, these shoes have been sumptuously comfortable from the first minute I put them on. I really love the wide toe box, which accommodates my hobbit-like hooves very nicely, and I’ve experienced no rubbing whatsoever. Despite this relaxed fit, the Met-Cradle does a decent job of making the shoe feel very secure on my foot.

After the wettest spring I can remember, it hasn’t always been possible to avoid the puddles or the occasional stream crossing, but another thing I love about these shoes is how quickly they drain and dry once they do get wet.

Inov8 Bare-XF barefoot running shoes

While it’s best to avoid running on wet surfaces in Inov8 Bare-XFs, they actually make good water shoes and you can even swim in them (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

In fact, in recent weeks I’ve started wearing them for my morning run-swim-run (a bit like SwimRun, but with no competitive element, just a nice dawn run with a wild swim in the sea midway round); I live on a very pebbly coast, where you really need good water shoes in order to comfortably get in the sea, and the Bare-XF are brilliant, because I can wear them for both the run and the swim.

Pat Kinsella

Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing stories involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades on Strava here and Instagram here.