Your Best Foot Forward

We get asked a lot, “which shoe is best for parkour (or ninja)?”

It’s a loaded question, really. The purist would say, “parkour requires no special gear or equipment” or others might say, “ninja is more upper-body, so focus on your grip strength and you’re fine.” In truth, it’s a little more complicated. Thankfully, we don’t sell shoes or have to bend to shoe sponsors, so the following should be both honest and helpful. Just to ensure that’s true, note that there are no affiliate links in this article. We make no money with these recommendations.

For starters, and to be fair to the hardcore Parkour purists, if you can’t perform parkour in dress shoes or sandals, you haven’t honed your craft to the level intended (okay, that’s exaggerative, but you get the idea). Everyone has to start somewhere, right…? If you attain mastery, or at least a high-degree of exceptional skill, then you can definitely decide for yourself how much the equipment really matters or not, but for our purposes we’ll give you guys a few helpful tips, some common preferences, and hopefully get you out there moving!

RUBBER SOLES!

First, and probably foremost, make sure your shoes of choice have rubber soles. The entire sole doesn’t need to be rubber, just the underside/tread area. There’s a very common trend from today’s shoe makers that has put an abundance of foam-soled shoes out in the marketplace. They’re terrible for Ninja Warrior, and not much better for Parkour. The reason is the foam tread (grip) squishes too much, and on smooth surfaces it has absolutely no hold. If you’re outside on concrete or brick or stone, or running on a track, sure these work great. But, try running up a slick wall, Warped Wall, or hopping in for a Spider-Climb… slip! slip! slip!

So, stick with comfortable, well-fitting shoes with rubber soles for tread. Everything else is just supplemental to this piece.

NO AGGRESSIVE TREADS OR LUGS!

Some buy the shoes that have tread that looks like it’d eat the treads off a tank while keeping you briskly and firmly attached to the toughest of terrains. And, maybe that’s true, but keep those shoes on the trails! You DO NOT need aggressive treading on the soles of your shoes to perform well in Parkour or Ninja. In fact, flatter, less aggressive treads like those found on Converse or Vans are better-performing than the heavily-treaded shoes. Stay away from those guys unless they’re going to get a lot of outside usage (and maybe that’s what you’re going for here).

GOOD FIT!

The absolute worse thing for your feet, and performance, outside of having no grip on your shoes is to have them fit poorly. Poorly-fit shoes can contribute to sprained ankles, plantar fasciitis (especially in the new athlete), or other such injuries. Additionally, the more you wear these shoes, the more likely you are to see frequent blistering on the heels and toes. Look for shoes that have wide toe boxes (allowing your toes to splay and move the way they should), good support for your feet (it’s okay to wear shoes with good padding, especially at first, to help with big drops and landings), and lace up tightly to hold to your feet (and to prevent slippage inside your shoes).

Some of the favored shoes out there slide off the backs of some athletes’ heels, while other shoes narrow too much at the toe and squish wider feet. Try on shoes whenever you can, buy from companies with good return policies, and don’t be afraid of a little trial-and-error. You may not find the right shoe the first time. Or even the second. Or the… you get the idea.

DON’T OVERTHINK IT AND DON’T OVER-BUY!

You don’t need to go buy BRAND X PARKOUR SHOE just because some Instagram athlete promotes the shoes, nor do you need to purchase the +$100 shoes in the commercials. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with those shoes, just know that it doesn’t take an expensive, sponsored shoe to be a legitimately good shoe for our activity of choice. When I first started training parkour four years ago, I wore a pair of $18 martial arts shoes, and it never hampered my performance.

The point? Shoes vary in quality and performance as much as they vary in pricing. My preferred shoes retail for $75-80, but I rarely buy them at full price. I usually wait for a sale or promotion code and then I buy multiple pairs in my size so I have battle spares at the ready (or, ready to be worn-in), but that’s just my choice — mostly because I found the shoes I love and use regularly.

WAIT, I’M NOT SURE ANY OF THAT HELPED ME…!

Okay, those are just some helpful guidelines, but maybe you still aren’t sure where to start, or you’d rather just get a recommendation to get moving. That’s what this section is intended to do.

The $18 Shoe

When I first started out, I wore Feiyue classic, low profile shoes. They do not have a lot of cushion, so if you’re not used to a low/no-drop or minimalist shoe, it may. not be a good start for you and could possibly lead to overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis or even stress fractures. But, these shoes have an all-rubber sole, are canvas and very breathable, and stretch to conform to your feet while providing good protection and exceptional “foot feel”, which is great for balance.

If you’re interested in these, note my cautions above, and enjoy: https://www.martialartsmart.com/45-35.html (not an affiliate link)

The Ninja Go-To Shoe

There’s a deeply religious view on these shoes within the Ninja Warrior community. Watch the show, even the new Junior one, and you’ll swear that New Balance is supplying these to the athletes (they’re not). The New Balance Zantes are a great shoe, regardless of your “religious preference” on shoes. They’re comfortable, well-cushioned, have a near-magnetic, gluey-rubber sole (quasi-quoting Brett Sims, here), and generally a well-made shoe. I’ve seen some minor complaints about non-critical parts coming undone (usually a logo or something completely non-performance related), but it varies from version to version. Zantes are currently on v4, and the community seems to feel that the v2 ones are the best of the breed. My daughter swears by her Zante 4s, and I can’t argue with how well her shoe grip and control has been.

From the mfr. website:
“In its fourth iteration, the Fresh Foam Zante running shoe for men continues to deliver a sleek silhouette and an ultra-lightweight and supportive ride. Designed with your ultimate finish line in mind, the Fresh Foam Zante v4 features engineered design elements built for high speeds, including a no-sew bootie-fit enhanced with HypoSkin and our signature Fresh Foam midsole cushioning.”

Here’s their official site: https://www.newbalance.com/pd/fresh-foam-zante-v4/MZANT-V4.html

I recommend searching Amazon for a good price. There are some outlets online that have the older models in-stock, but sizes are limited.

What I Wear

I’m a big fan of my Onitsuka Tigers (Ultimate 81 series). They’re a low-profile, comfortable, lightly cushioned shoe with an exceptional rubber grip. They work great out of the box (like the other two, above), but unlike some shoes the grip seems to get better and better as they wear down. I have a pair that are nearly bald, a year later, and I can walk backwards up a Warped Wall almost halfway. Seriously. You could probably get a similar result with the Zantes, but I haven’t tried.

What I love about the Tigers is the fit, the look (admit it: you care, too…), and the performance. I have Tigers that I’ve worn for years that I still play, train, and compete in — and they still do as well or better than most other shoes I’ve tried! I’m even wearing them right now as I type up this blog…! All-purpose shoes! Haha!

Seriously, though: stick with the basics, find something that appeals to you, and follow the basic guidelines here and you’ll be fine. Zantes from New Balance, Onitsuka Tigers, Merrell Vaporgloves (I didn’t mention those, but some like them — I’m not a huge fan), Feiyues, Converse, or any other well-made, non-aggressively treaded, rubber sole shoe should do. Try the ones mentioned here, for starters, find what you like, and then experiment a little! You may find something others have missed, but that will take some trial and error.

Now, go out there and SEND IT!

~Charlie~

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