Gear Review: No Bull White Heather Forest Trainer

The first thing anyone ever says about these when I wear them around is usually something along the lines of “HEY! Nice kicks!”. I’ve worn them to bars, to the gym, out on the town. Basically everywhere. They were designed by an upstart new fitness company (they make shoes, clothes, bags) as a go-to all around in the gym fitness shoe for all kinds of workouts. They also focused on durability.

First thing’s first. When I put these shoes on the very first time I was very disappointed. They felt… bad. Stiff. Unyielding. The flex was off. The fit was OK, but not great. For a pair of $139 shoes, that’s not the first impression you want. Still, I’ve been wrong on 1st impressions before, and shoes DO break in. Bottom line, they weren’t exactly super comfortable out of box. Part of where that comes from is the combo of the sole & the material the upper is made out of. I’m half-way convinced that upper could shrug off a tactical nuke strike. It is TOUGH. I’ve beat the hell out of them now for several weeks, doing workouts & other stuff, and they literally look brand new. Like… not a scuff to be found. The upper sheds abuse like water off wax. I have to say, I’m impressed. And, it should be noted, they look amazing.

The stiffness of the lower came into clarity when I stepped foot in my gym. While it didn’t feel great out of the box in my house, the combo of gym mat floor + the soles was great. They felt supportive, stable. I brought them in for an upper body workout and they gave good floor grip on bench and felt good running around the gym. This was a pleasant surprise and a relief. Somehow the upper felt better as well. Whether it had worn in a bit or I’d become used to the feeling of them isn’t clear. I should note also that the toe box is nicely roomy without feeling loose. The stiffness of the shoe helps in this regard. As I wore them more, they began to remind me of one of my favorite shoes of all time, the Simple sneaker. This was a skateboarding shoe I wore jumping mountain bikes when I was younger, and I remember it with fondness.

Speaking of running, these are just not great shoes to run in. The soles are stiff and dead feeling, with nearly no proprioception. Which is fine, they’re not built for running. NO BULL has a specific line for running though, which hopefully utilizes more springy materials for the soles. And for the small amounts of running one might do during a workout they should be fine.

Inside the gym, things went from OK to worse on squat day. I squat in Chucks. $30 Chucks. Nearly all the powerlifters in my group do. The ones that don’t either use a very specific Merrell shoe or Vans. So when these showed up, people were both intrigued and worried. There’s a reason we use both the Chucks & the Vans: sidewalls. When you squat & deadlift, you push very hard against the side of your shoe (I sumo deadlift). People blow out the side of their shoes occasionally. Having reinforced material there is not only good for wear resistance & durability, it is a safety feature. When I asked NO BULL about this on Twitter, they assured me that their upper had plenty of support for whatever it was I wanted to do in the gym, including squats & deadlifts. They also said they had “weightlifting shoes” which, as it happens, are designed for Olympic lifters (they have fairly significant heel rise). We prefer 0 or very low rise shoes.

They should not have been so confident. My warm-ups worked fine. I got under a bar, then put a little weight. Then plates. That’s when I realized, these are not going to work. The moment I began to spread the floor under just a little weight, I began feeling the sides of the shoe give way. There was simply no support, they bulged and the bottoms of my feet began to feel unstable. My coach noticed immediately and had me rerack. Experiment over. I swapped back to Chucks and finished my main movement and workout. Keep in mind, I had close to 400lbs on my back that day. And I’m 230lbs myself sopping wet. Your mileage may vary, but for me they just were not going to work for squats.

So these suck then, right? Well, no. Not so fast. I still use them for upper body workouts. They’re tough as hell and shrug off every insult the gym has managed to throw at them. When I’m on a bench, they work fine for bridging. They’re also light and comfortable. And I wear them when I go out on a fun bike ride. Or on the town. Or to a bar. Or wherever. I seriously wear the hell out of these, and look brand new.

The brilliance of what NOBULL has done is to build a shoe that’s real good for a whole bunch of things while being essentially indestructible and looking damn good. But its not a power lifting shoe, nor is it a running shoe. Still, even though those two things are my main sources of exercise, I’m considering getting myself a high top leather NOBULL boot. Because they’d look DAMN fly with jeans. And they’d probably last a decade.

Cost: $139
Website: nobullproject.com
Score: 8/10 RAWRS (Tough as titanium, incredible looks, great on bench day, no squats allowed)

High: One of the best looking fitness shoes you’ll find, can take a tactical nuke strike, great grip
Low: Somewhat expensive, no sidewall support, soles not great for running

 

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