Review: We Just Found Our New Favorite Gym Shoes
Take them to the gym, or pack them for your next trip. These things do it all.
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The only downside to owning highly-specialized sneakers? It makes packing a nightmare. I stared at my shoe rack for a decent half hour last week, ahead of a trip that I rightfully suspected would include some combination of running, hiking, basketball and partying.
On the rare occasion, though, that I stumble upon a true “unicorn” of a shoe — one that’s designed to dominate a specific activity, but can still tag in for a variety of other pursuits — I’m a very happy man. To that end: NOBULL’s athletic trainers fit the multi-purpose mold better than just about any shoe I’ve ever worn.
The Boston-based brand (also known as the NOBULL Project), launched back in 2015 but has really hit its stride in recent years, after earning the allegiance of some of the biggest names in CrossFit and powerlifting. Lately, the label has expanded into golf shoes, cycling shoes, slides, and even just debuted a line of runners, but their bread and butter remains lifting shoes — stable, flexible wide-boxed trainers you’d wear to the gym. I spent the last couple months testing them out for myself.
Reebok and Nike have long cornered the mainstream market on lifting shoes, with their Nano and Metcon series, respectively. Meanwhile, gym rats in the know like to wear canvas sneaks or skate shoes, and few-times-a-year lifters tend to show up in running shoes (that’s not a good idea — we explain why here). But NOBULL is a worthy alternative for all of the above.
When it comes down to it, NOBULL Trainer is just an extremely thoughtful combination of function, comfort and aesthetics. First and foremost, the shoe encourages proper lifting technique. I found it easy to spread out my toes and grip the base of the shoe, which, in turn, had a solid grip on the gym floor. That’s thanks to the outsole’s traction-minded lugs, which (go figure) sort of reminded me of the grippy pattern you’d find on the bottom of a pair of Vans. It’s a perfect recipe for stability when you’re trying to execute a deadlift, walking lunges, or even just mirror-facing barbell curls.
But like most CrossFit training shoes, the sneaker also pack some serious oomph. The entire shoe is constructed from a seamless, one-piece layer called SuperFabric, and there are carbon guards built into the sidewalls to protect from the abrasion that naturally occurs when chucking weights around a gym. It can also, reportedly, “resist incisions from a surgical knife.” You’d think anything that sturdy would wear clunky, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how lightweight NOBULL’s Trainer feels, and how reactive the forefoot is in more high-intensity workouts that involve plyometrics.
The kicker? How handsome the thing is. That’s a quality the big brands definitely can’t (or, at least, haven’t really attempted to) replicate. I have a navy pair, and would legitimately feel comfortable wearing these out to dinner. NOBULL has what feels like over 100 styles on offer, spread out over 13 pages in its online shop. Pretty much any color combo is in play, and they all follow a similar model: solid-colored upper (with a hardly-there logo), over a clean outsole. There are low-tops and high-tops and some truly wacky colorways, but if you’ve been searching for ages to find a pair of shoes that don’t seem to be constantly screaming at your fellow lifters, this is your last stop.
Going forward, these will be an obvious go-to on gym days for me. But they’re also a no-brainer for future trips. There is little doubt in my mind that these shoes can crush a 30,000-step travel day. They’re that damn versatile.
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