As parkour has grown in popularity, a lot of companies have created and sold parkour shoes. A lot of people ask me what is the best shoe for parkour, so I’ve put together this guide to the most common shoes people might suggest for parkour. This is by no means an exhaustive list, these are just the most common ones that I have enough experience with to review.
One quick note: I am a big fan of minimalist shoes. There’s a lot of research out there that shows that the more padding and cushioning a shoe has, the MORE damage it does to your feet, knees, and hips. That’s out of the scope of this article though.
Full disclosure: In early 2010 I received some free Ariakes from K-Swiss. This has not influenced my review, but I wanted to be transparent.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="K-Swiss Ariake Parkour Shoe"][/caption]
This was the first shoe created and marketed specifically for Parkour. They’re made by K-Swiss. They sent a lot of free pairs out to traceurs a few years ago to help spread the word about being a Parkour shoe. Many people wearing Ariakes got theirs for free, either directly from K-Swiss or from someone who got them from K-Swiss. They also come in lots of different (and crazy) colors, which can be a pro or a con depending on your preference. :)
- Pretty good grip on most surfaces in most conditions.
- Pretty flexible
- Flat, solid rubber sole. There’s no dumb plastic arch or anything like that.
-Can be very slippery on wet metal objects (rails).
-Durability. The toe will rip open, and the lacing holes will start to rip. You can still wear the shoe, but it will sustain cosmetic and eventually structural damage fairly quickly.
Definitely not a bad shoe. I like shoes with less padding, and while this shoe has some, it doesn’t have a ton. The quality is the biggest problem - the shoe will tear itself apart after 6-8 months of moderate use, 2-4 months of heavy use. The shoe is mostly leather, so it’s a nice shoe to wear to keep your feet slightly drier.
K-Swiss Ariake Lite Mesh
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="K-Swiss Ariake Lite Mesh Parkour Shoe"][/caption]
The Ariake Lite Mesh came out about a year after the Ariake and solved many of the problems with the original shoe. It replaced a lot of the leather with mesh, which made the shoe lighter and breathier. They improved the durability by redesigning the toe and the lace holes so they don’t get damaged as easily.
- All the pros from the original Ariakes
- Much more durable
- Slippery when on wet metal objects.
- Since the shoe is mostly made of mesh, it will absorb water rapidly.
- Very difficult to find.
The Ariake Lite Mesh is one of my favorite Parkour shoes. The biggest downside is that they’re very hard to find. K-Swiss doesn’t sell them directly anymore, so you’ll have to search elsewhere online or get really lucky in a store.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Fiveten Freerunner Parkour Shoe"][/caption]
I haven’t owned a pair of these shoes, and so I don’t have extensive personal experience with them. I’ve tried on other peoples’ a few times, and then read a fair bit about them.
- The rubber is extremely grippy. 5.10 originally made climbing shoes, so this makes a lot of sense.
- The rubber is extremely grippy. This is also a con, because this extra grippiness can and will hide problems with technique.
- When wearing them, I found them to be a bit clunky. I had a lot of trouble “feeling” the ground under my feet, which makes me very uncomfortable. The padding was just too thick.
- I’m not a big fan of these shoes (which is why I don’t own a pair). I don’t like the fact the thickness of them, and I think the extreme grip is actually a detriment to someone learning parkour. If I was in a wallrun contest, then I’d wear these parkour shoes, but if I’m just training I’d prefer something more normal.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Feiyue Parkour Shoe"][/caption]
These are really interesting shoes. They weren’t created for parkour or ever marketed toward traceurs. These are originally martial arts shoes, and are often found in China Towns and martial arts stores. They have a cloth top, a thin, extremely flexible, and pretty grippy bottom, and they have simple laces. The most outstanding part of this shoe is it’s price - between $10 and $20. They only last 3 or 4 months, but they cost a fraction of the price of any of the other speciality parkour shoes. Many people buy 5 pairs of Feiyue’s at a time!
- Extremely inexpensive.
- Very flexible.
- Very lightweight.
- Very little padding.
- You’ll wear through the bottoms of them pretty fast.
I love these shoes. They’re comfortable, flexible, light, and extremely cheap. Buy a couple pairs and be set for a year.
Vibram Five Fingers
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Vibram Five Finger Parkour Shoes"][/caption]
I love these shoes. I don’t have a pair yet, but they’re going to be my next shoe purchase. The ultimate minimalist shoe, there is essentially no padding, pretty good grip on most surfaces, and forces you to have perfect technique (in running and walking as well as parkour!)
- Extremely minimal padding. Expect your landing technique to improve dramatically.
- As long as you get the right size, expect a very snug fit. They shouldn’t be going anywhere!
- Paying a premium actually makes sense for these foot-fitting shoes, as opposed to other shoes that are basically just shells for your feet.
- Will force you to improve landing and precision technique.
- Will improve running technique, which can prevent or fix some foot, ankle, knee, and hip problems.
- Can be dangerous if you don’t take it slow. It’s imperative you avoid big drops and precisions, at least until you build back up to them.
- Very little protection if something gets dropped on your foot or if you stub your toe.
The Vibram Five Fingers are really great Parkour shoes. Some people like to “go big” and do big drops - I discourage this because it leads to a higher rate of injuries. If you want to go big, these will not be good shoes for you. If you want to improve your technique, if you want to train and prevent long term injuries, these will be great shoes for you. You’ll pay around the same price as other high end shoes, but these are definitely worth it.
For the dedicated traceur with no budget, I’d recommend the Vibram Five Fingers. If you don’t want to spend that much, but still want a great minimalist shoe, I’d definitely look into (a few pairs of) the Feiyues. If you aren’t interested in a minimalist shoe, the Ariake Lite Mesh and then the regular Ariake would be my recommendation.
That being said, if you’re just getting into parkour, you should ignore everything in this article for a few months. Head over to a general clothing store, find a pair of cheap $35 cross trainers and use those for a while. Technique is 90% of parkour, owning “the right shoes” is only going to get you a bit farther, and until then it’ll just mask problems with your technique.
Things to look for in a cheap crosstrainer:
- No plastic arch on the bottom.
- Bottom isn’t slick. If you have to, put your foot in the shoe and rub it against a few surfaces to get an idea of how grippy it is.
- Not too much padding or cushioning.
Now get out there and start training! :)