Besides the wetsuit, the shoes are the most important item in swimrunning. First of all they have to fit well and be comfortable. Furthermore, how they perform in different environments – stone, forest trails and narrow paths – both dry and wet. As you’re going to swim with it (most of us will do so) it’s also a question of how they drain water, and performing in swimming. Still there’s no perfect swimrun shoe yet, as there’s no perfect running shoe. However, there are some important points to check for when buying a swimrun shoe, foremost weight and draining capacity. Maybe you‘ll miss the “classical” running shoe with more drop and stability, but they are all trail running shoes which are mostly neutral with less drop. In Swimrunning it‘s all about weight, draining capacity but also how much they will drag in the water. So, less is more when you have to swim with your shoe. Cushioning or stability isn’t as important since individual running sections in many races are no longer than 8 to 12k.
At the end of March, World of Swimrun (WoS), Swimrun France (SR-F) and Swimrun Germany (SR-G) teamed up in Marseille, France for the 1st ever international swimrun equipment test. During 4 days the team tested and debated swimrun equipment from over 40 manufacturers, among them, 10 different shoe models. Contrary to normal calm conditions in the rugged and steep terrain of Calanque de Sormiou, Marseille, the test was conducted in rain, storm-winds, huge waves, strong currents and sun.
Each gear item was tested by the crew and given a score of 1 (poor) to 5 (best) and if there were specific characteristics or features worth noticing, a comment was written down during the test.
Click on the table to enlarge it
Brooks Pure Grit 4
Lightweight trail running shoe with soft cushioning. On the top in comfort as long it’s dry. We miss some grip on wet rocks. When becoming wet the shoe becomes heavy and the fitting get lost.
Icebug Acceleritas 5 RB9X
Test winner together with the inov-8 X-talon 200. The Acceleritas is a very flexible, dynamic shoe with a really great performance on wet rocks due to the special RB9X sole. Developed for swimrunning he combines grip, lightweight and drainage. You will miss any cushioning so we don’t see it on long runs especially not on tarmac. The Accerleritas is one of the tested shoe which you can fold and put in your suit if you want to.
Icebug Zeal 3 RB9X
The Zeal is designed for Obstacle Challenge Racing. It’s grip is as the Acceleritas 5 great on both dry and wet terrain. The protection for the feet on both sides is a little bit hard and stiff so we miss some flexibility but is good in rocky conditions. And also, the water drainage is not as good as on the 5 version.
Inov-8 Roclite 290
The Roclite is a very comfortable trail running shoe with the inov-8 grip. We do like its performance on the trails. But it’s definitely not a swimrunning shoe. In water it becomes heavy and the fit get lost if it’s wet. There are other shoes from inov-8 which are much better for swimrunning.
Here is our second winner! The X-Talon 200 combined the famous inov-8 grip with good water draining. Just as the Acceleritas’ it’s less comfortable on tarmac roads. It’s not as direct as the Icebug, so it’s more recommendable for longer runs if we compare the two. Its so called “standard fit” makes it more comfortable for wider feet.
Another famous trail running shoe. Its playground is more the rough trails of the Alps. The outer sole is quite hard and stiff which provides a good grip on rocks but then miss out on some flexibility. A great trail running shoe but not perfect for swimrunning.
LaSportiva Helios SR
Lightweight, good grip on most terrains and very comfortable due to its thicker outer sole. It takes second place together with the Salomon Amphib. Maybe a bit more difficult for wider feet due to its more narrow “Italian” cut.
Merrell Avalaunch Tough Mudder
Just another shoe designed for OCR. The Avalaunch is more flexible and lighter than the Icebug Zeal. It was the surprise shoe in the test. The short neoprene gaiter fits perfect and protects the laces but on longer runs it’s getting quite warm to run in.
Good grip, good water draining. The shoes came up in 2016 as one of the first special swimrun shoes ever. There were no modifications on the shoe since. In our test it recieved an average score for most testing points.
Salomon S-Lab XA Amphib
The most expensive shoe in our test. Good grip as expected in a Salomon shoe, very light and direct like a minimalistic shoe should be. It provides the best water draining and one of the best swim performances. Also one of the shoes you can fold to put under your wetsuit.
Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Soft Ground
Vivobarefoot has partnered up with ÖtillÖ and are working on their own concept shoe. In our test we only had access to their general model which is not really balanced. A lightweight minimalist with a thick, heavy sole. Perfect foldable due to a great flexibility. But we also don’t want to recommend it for longer runs. You should be used to zero drop shoes if you go for this one.
Most swimrunners would never take of their shoes before a swim, although it is proved by good swimmers that you can swim faster without shoes. But where do you put them? To carry a bag behind you is an option in training, but not in racing. So the only possibility is to store the shoes somewhere inside the wetsuit. Most seen is the example where swimrunners put the shoes on the lower back, under the wetsuit. Even seldom to place the shoes under the wetsuit on the upper legs. This manouvering of the shoes requires them to be flexible in the material, i.e. that they are easy to “fold”.
It’s on you to try what works better for you – loosing some time caused by swimming with shoes, or loosing time in pulling them on and off. And think of getting out of the water barefoot – that’s not always a good option.
Do my beloved trail running shoes work in swimrunning?
Why not – there’s no completeness in our test. First go out and find out if your shoes are still okay for you when they’re wet. You needn’t to go for a swim at once, it’s enough to do some steps in a river or a small stream to get them really wet. Then go for a run: are they still fitting? Did they become much more heavier? If everything is okay next step will be trying to swim with them.
And don’t be scared about blisters. It’s not really a problem when everything fits together – you, water, shoes and socks (!). Socks will protect you from small stones or sand you’ll find nearly everywhere on the banks of rivers or lakes or on the beach. In socks we recommend at least a light compression which make them fit well even when they’re becoming wet. Low ones or high ones – that depends on your preference.
Do yourself a favour ! Go out and try this fantastic sport !!!!
Yours – The team of WoS, SwimRun France & SwimRun Germany
We want to thank all manufacturers that helped us by providing equipment for our test:
We also want to extend a BIG thank you to www.randorunning.com for helping us with the logistics, Fix parents for housing the testing team, and last but not least, all you swimrunners who have followed us over the weekend, liked what we do and asked us so many intelligent questions.