Friday, December 21, 2012

Inov-8 F-lite 195 Shoe Review

Despite the fact that the Inov-8 F-lite 195 has been highly praised as a crossfit shoe since its initial production, and in fact Inov-8 itself now designates the model along with the rest of its crossfit specific line, I have felt the need to publicize my view of this shoe for its originally designed purpose - as a crossover trail running shoe. For a year and a half now, the F-lite 195 has been my go-to shoe for trail and mountain races up to marathon length, and for several half marathon to marathon length road races. I've also used the shoe some as a trainer on the roads. Despite having many other shoe options that I consider adequate for racing, I've continually turned to the F-lite 195 to carry me through a variety of surface conditions and distances, all while handling the intesity of racing.

The picture below was taken immediately after the F-lite 195s destroyed the old mining building in the background.

For those unfamiliar with the F-lite 195, it was originally produced as an ultralight trail running shoe with minimal features and a crossover tread that allows the shoe to perform on both trails and roads. It the exact same shoe as the highly praised X-Talon 190 with the exception of the outsole - while the X-Talon 190 outsole contains deep, widely spaced lugs to handle thick mud and wet grass, the F-lite 195 has lower profile lugs that handle basically everything else. At 195 grams (6.9 oz), it is one of the lightest running shoes on the market that is specifically built for trails, and is arguably (depending on whose measurements you trust) the lightest trail running shoe available with a foam midsole.

By my count, I've competed in 26 races while wearing the F-lite 195s. These races have ranged in variety from a cross country 5k to a road marathon, and every type of trail and mountain race imaginable within this distance range. In an effort to give a fair assessment of my experience with the shoes, I'd like to profile a number of the races that I've competed in while wearing these shoes, and use that basis to outline what I believe to be the highlights and limitations of the shoes. I'll say from the outset that I have never finished a race wearing the F-lite 195s and wished that I had chosen a different shoe. On the contrary, I have finished races wearing other shoes that I thought would perform better in the given race conditions and wished that I had chosen the F-lite 195s instead.

Xterra Beaver Creek Trail Race - July 2011
Distance: Half Marathon
Terrain: Dry, packed dirt mountain trails and roads typical to Colorado
Comments: This was the first race I ran in these shoes, and in fact was only the second time I had run in the shoes at all. This is where I first fell in love with these shoes. The course terrain was the type that I still consider to be what these shoes are ideally suited for - dry dirt trails without an over-abundance of rocks and roots, with substantial climbing and descending.

Pikes Peak Ascent - August 2011, August 2012
Distance: 13.3 mi
Terrain: Asphalt road, dirt road, dry trails, rocky trails, all uphill
Comments: For the last two years I've chosen the F-lite 195s for the Pikes Peak Ascent, and will continue to do so if I run the race in the future. The shoes have continued to prove themselves ideal for any type of dry conditions, such as are typical in this race. I should note that if I were to do the full Pikes Peak Marathon - both up and down the mountain - I would most likely choose a shoe with some additional protection for the downhill portion, such as the Inov-8 Trailroc 245.

Breck Crest Marathon - September 2011
Distance: 24.5 mi
Terrain: Dry alpine and sub-alpine mountain trails
Comments: This is the longest distance mountain race that I have completed in the F-lite 195, and was in fact the longest race of any type that I had done at the time. The shoes performed beautifully over the distance coupled with the substantial elevation gains and losses over the rough trails. If I were to run this race again today, I may be inclined to choose a slightly more protective shoe - maybe one with a rock plate - but certainly wouldn't object to relying on the F-lite 195.

Denver Rock 'n' Roll Marathon - October 2011
Distance: 26.2 mi
Terrain: Flat asphalt roads
At the time I ran this race I had been putting in some training miles on the roads in the F-lite 195, and had very comfortably raced a road half marathon in these shoes two weeks prior to the marathon, so the decision was easy to stick with the F-lite 195s. In the end, the shoes performed very well and were the best option that I had at the time for this race. Since this time I've begun doing all of my road training in the New Balance 730, which I've come to prefer for longer mileage on the roads. If I were ever inclined to run a road marathon again, I would most likely run in the 730s rather than the F-lite 195s simply because of my current adaptation to using these shoes for the roads.

Sportspectrum Trail Run - January 2012
Distance: 10 mi
Terrain: Flat, muddy trails
This was the first race I ever ran in the F-lite 195s where the terrain could easily be described as a mud bath. The flat mountain bike trails winding through the state park in North Louisiana had collected significant amounts of water from recent rains, and the surface had become a mixture of thick, sticky mud and loose, sloppy mud. Since I didn't have any other shoes with me at the time, my mind was made up for me as to which shoes I would wear, but I'm inclined to think that the F-lite 195s are the best choice that I could have made even if I had a wider selection. Given the option, I probably would have chosen to run the race in the X-Talon 190s because of their superior ability to handle thick mud, but I honestly don't know if I would have felt any more comfortable in those shoes than I did in the F-lite 195s.

Below, the F-lite 195s are seen guiding me to another race finish line, despite my best efforts to take all of the wrong trails and become hopelessly lost and off-route.

Based on my experience with the F-lite 195s, I've found that they are a superior option in a number of types of running conditions, distances, and terrains. For my preferences, the F-lite 195s are ideal as a racing shoe moreso than a training shoe. When training, especially on trails, I prefer a shoe that will provide more cushioning and protection, and is more of a comfort fit design. I'm willing to sacrifice these aspects to some extent when it comes to racing, so the "stripped down performance" nature of the F-lite 195 becomes ideal in these times. I see the F-lite 195 as being an ideal racing shoe for up to marathon length races, but would probably not be suitable beyond this distance for many people. The reason, once again, is because of the "stripped down performance" design of the shoe, which eliminates some protective and comfort features that become important in the longer distance races. The shoe is ideally suited for any type of terrain that can be described as "dry." While it certainly has the ability to handle mud, wet rocks, wet grass, etc... there are other shoes that are more specifically designed for these other terrains. Overly rocky courses have potential to cause problems with this shoe because it contains a thin foam midsole and lacks any rock protection, so the possibility of foot bruising is increased. The tradeoff of a lower weight, less protective shoe will become more significant on a rocky course the longer the distance is, and at some point (for me at about the half marathon to 25k distance) a more protective yet slightly heavier shoe will probably become ideal when racing on very rocky trails.

I have heard some complaints that the F-lite 195s lack good durability, but I find that they are largely comparable in durability to other high performance racing shoes, and in fact are more durable than many other shoes in their class. They are also very easy to repair when the high wear areas of the shoe begin to fail. I've found that I can usually count on getting 200-300 racing miles out of a pair of these shoes, with many additional miles of life remaining outside of using them for racing. Another feature of these shoes that I've always found superb is their ability to drain water quickly. This has been a very useful feature in races with lots of water crossings or standing water, and ensures that my feet will not be weighed down from hauling around excessive water loads in my shoes. On the whole, I consider the F-lite 195s to be an ideal trail racing shoe for the types of races I compete in most often. Only occasionally do I feel the need to supplement with a more protective or differently designed shoe as dictated by the course conditions, and I find the F-lite 195 to be largely suitable for most marathon and lower distance trail races.


  1. The durability is an issue with the mesh. But comparing to other shoes, they hold up a lot longer, just comparing to other inov 8 shoes we find a lack of durability.
    1500 to 2000km definitely what is already a lot of mileage for a shoe.
    I really like them and use them on roads, trails and track too.

  2. Hi Chris
    I got your comment from my blog A Muddy Pair of Heels. Unfortunately I couldn't respond via email so hopefully you'll see this.
    Thanks for the kind words and comments regarding the ultra rankings. I've certainly gotten my fair share of criticism but in general the response has been largely positive. It's always great to hear when people are interested or get something out of it. I like that it can be a resource for people. Mostly it just keeps me up to date on what's going on in the ultra world.
    Thanks for the offer to help, I will likely take you up on that. If you can, send me your email to jayruns33@gmail and we can chat further.