My GORUCK Ballistic Trainers Review – THE Rucking/CrossFit Crossover Shoe?

If you’re familiar with GORUCK, the first things that comes to mind when you think about the brand are there unique, durable, and iconic ruck sacks.

This is undisputed and objective (if you disagree, fight me).

That being said, the second thing you think of is their footwear. If you’re a boot guy, this means you’re probably losing sleep obsessing over the MACV-1 vs MACV-2 rivalry.

…but if you’re a shoe guy, the GORUCK Ballistic Trainers are probably always invading your thoughts (hence why you clicked on my GORUCK Ballistic Trainers review!)

They look so sleek and everyone seems to rave about them. They can’t actually live up to the hype…

Right…?

(Probably) wrong.

Unless you’re looking for ruck-only shoe and/or are narrowing down footwear options for your next CrossFit Games appearance, the GORUCK Ballistic Trainers might just be the training shoe you’ve been looking for.

They’ve been my go-to shoe for awhile now and I’ve enjoyed them so much that I’m even stupid enough to wear them while weeding my yard.

(now that is the difference between “love” and “like”)

The GORUCK Ballistic Trainer is the Best Rucking Shoe…for CrossFit?

When most people think about rucking footwear, heavy duty, yet multi-functional boots generally come to mind. 

When most people think about CrossFit/”functional fitness” shoes, iconic offerings from Reebok (Nanos) and Nike (Metcons) generally come to mind.

So what’s the deal with GORUCK’s Ballistic Trainers…which are neither of the above?

Well, if you know anything about the brand, their definition of “rucking” is somewhat…comprehensive.

…and with good reason. Take a quick look at some of the “rucking” events featured in a couple of 2023’s biggest CrossFit competitions:

As much as I love my MACV-1s, they would definitely not be my shoe/boot of choice to take on these ruck events!

At the same time, as stable and durable as my NanoFlex 2.0s are…well…I can speak from experience that their stability and durability are much different on Mile 4 under load than they are during an 8-minute AMRAP.

Understanding the interests and priorities of their clientele GORUCK came up with something that you can wear for both.

A sturdier-than-usual rubber outsole, ballistic nylon, and 3 distinct levels of arch support are the calling cards for the Ballistic Trainers. 

Long story short, If you can imagine some of the signature qualities of a legit ruck boot (cough..CORDURA) and your go-to cross-training shoe, you’re imaging the Ballistic Trainer.

Pros

  • A true “do everything” shoe, particularly for those with overlapping interests in rucking and functional fitness
  • During regularly occurring sales, a wide range of colors and sizes available at very reasonable prices
  • Eligible for GORUCK’s patented Scars Lifetime Guarantee (but you won’t likely need it!)

Cons

  • Not “great” enough at any one thing to be the shoe for any particular activity/discipline
  • Some complain of sizing issues

How I Tested My Ballistic Trainers

The Ballistic Trainers are designed to excel in a number of different environments and contexts. With this in mind, it was important for me to collect data points to cover as many of these as possible.

I have been wearing these bad boys daily for the past 2 months, on pleasant-weather rucking days (as well as those where the elements showed up), during indoor and outdoor runs, during CrossFit metcon workouts/WODs as well as dedicated Olympic weightlifting sessions, and for casual, “everyday” wear.

Tested surfaces have been concrete roads, dirt roads, paved and unpaved sidewalks, improved and unimproved forest trails, outdoor running tracks, indoor gym floors and treaded stationary running surfaces.

Tested conditions have included fair/sunny, rainy (light and moderately heavy), light snow accumulation, and indoor/controlled.

Future updates to this article may include warmer climate and biome conditions, but for now, I think got most of your bases covered!

Wearing the Ballistic Trainers During a Ruck

I’m sure there are some people who come across GORUCK’s stuff because they’re looking for a CrossFit shoe from an “alternative” brand.

But let’s be real; you google “GORUCK Shoe” or “Rucking Shoe” or “Best Shoes for Rucking” because you intend on blocking out a couple of hours, strapping on a 30 (50?)-pound pack, and taking in some scenery as you stroll for 9 miles or so.

…and, for the most part, the Ballistic Trainers hold up their end of the bargain.

Truth be told, if you’re heading into any type of heavy terrain or areas where you want/need a bit of traction, a dedicated rucking boot or a shoe like the GORUCK Mackall shoe will best handle the job. However, the multiple layers of CORDURA allows the Ballistic Trainers to handle (literally) miles of abuse better than the vast majority of running or cross training shoes.

Most importantly, the shoe’s EVA construction of the heel makes these rucking shoes. This unique addition provides a degree of stability and durability that instills confidence when walking/moving under a heavy load. 

My feet my start to get a little sore when rucking long distances (anything over ~5 miles) in these, but they never feel unstable or unsupported. If you’ve ever rucked in a shoe where you weren’t sure whether your feet were about to pop to one side or the other or simply give out, you’ll appreciate how you simply don’t feel this way in these!

Good for a CrossFit Metcon?

The one thing that keeps the Ballistic Trainers from being the perfect rucking shoe? They’re too good at being a CrossFit shoe!

Had GORUCK simply focused on creating a rucking shoe, the Ballistic Trainers would not have the slight (8mm) heel drop preferred by those in the functional fitness community. They also probably wouldn’t have that extra lace-lock at the top to really tighten up your shoes in those last, tense seconds right before the WOD begins.

I find the Ballistic Trainers to be great “in-between” CrossFit shoes as they have a heavier, sturdier feel (which I appreciate when getting under heavy lifts) than my NanoFlex 2.0s while still feeling lighter and more pliable (which I appreciate on runs and anything requiring agility) than my old Nano Xs.

As most would expect, I still opt for a dedicated, heeled weightlifting shoe for dedicated Olympic lifting and heavy squatting sessions (Nike Romaleos 4s, to be precise). However, the Ballistic Trainers offer a surprising degree of stability, inspiring confidence during “heavy-ish” cleans, snatches, and squats.

I’d feel confident wearing these up to the final bar during something like CrossFit Open Workout 23.3 (if I had time, I’d opt for weightlifting shoes for the 225-pound snatches) and until I got to the 275-barbell in something like 20.4.

Personally, I did not find that they required any type of break-in period before wearing them during a normal day of training. No blisters and no soreness (although they did feel slightly like bowling shoes the first couple of times, but only when I had them laced all the way to the final lace-lock).

…Running?

Like most shoes designed for rucking, hiking, or functional fitness, the Ballistic Trainers are not going to be anyone’s go-to running shoes. That 8mm heel drop is too small for serious Oly lifting but is far too high to create any “minimalist” running feeling. 

The thought of completing Murph in these isn’t so bad.

The thought of taking on the Triple 3 in these…ehhh…

The thought of competing in Hyrox in these…kill me.

The good news? During “typical” CrossFit running distances (400, 800-meters), I don’t notice the shoes (in a good way). I also haven’t experienced discernable differences in feel or performance when running on pavement, unimproved terrain, or on belted running apparatuses (like the Air Runner or treadmill).

Wearing GORUCK Ballistic Trainers …to the Mall!

I’m not a guy who collects sneakers so I don’t really know what “cool”, “Ath-leisure” wear looks like. 

That being said, I’m quite fond of both how my Ballistic Trainers feel and look during my day-to-day, non-training outings. 

Truth be told, the white material does scuff pretty easily (to be fair, I do live in a more rural area and am out in my field and forest every day), but I can appreciate the more subtle look of the shoes. They don’t scream “I’m wearing my training shoes!1!!1” when I wear them out with shorts or jeans.

I’ve worn these as my go-to shoes during excursions to other cities/countries and rarely experience sore or overworked feet, even during long days of walking and exploring (I don’t lace the final lace-lock when I’m casually wearing these).

Size, Fit and Feel

Truth be told, it’s pretty difficult to find a disparaging word about the Ballistic Trainers. Customers almost universally love them.

However, if there is a common point of contention, the shoes’ fit is it. 

Of the ~3,000 verified reviews on GORUCK’s official website, there are 20 or so users complaining about their Ballistic Trainers running small (either length-wise or width-wise).

Personally, my Ballistic Trainers are almost a perfect fit, running slightly tighter than usual when laced to the final (extra) lace lock and running slightly looser than usual when laced to the second-to-last lace lock. In either case, the difference in size from “perfect” is negligible and is nowhere near significant enough for me to complain about.

Order your normal size with confidence!

Materials/Construction

If you’re not a specs nerd, I understand; I’m not either. I always end up having to Google words like “density“, “gradient” and…”gradient density”.

(those links…you’re welcome, by the way!)

However, the unique combination of materials that comprise the Ballistic Trainers are truly what make the shoe.

The “big three” that you need to know about the materials/construction:

  • CORDURA – If you know anything about dedicated ruck boots, like all of them are made of CORDURA nylon. The U.S. Armed Forces have used the materials in its apparel (most notably boots) for close to 50 years. Insane tear abrasion is its main calling card.
  • EVA Midsole – No, not the CrossFit Girl WOD. The EVA mid-sole provide a unique combination of flexibility, cushioning,, and stability. This makes them bearable during running WODs while also inspiring confidence before, during, and (maybe) after heavy lifts. 
  • “3x Support system” (medial longitudinal, lateral longitudinal, and anterior transverse arches) – The Ballistic Trainers are engineered to support all of the arches of your foot. This is the kind of support system you don’t really notice the first few times you wear a new shoe…but you really notice in the form of instep, lower shin, upper shin, forefoot, and knee pain after months of wearing shoes without it. 

Overall, the construction of the shoe and the materials that comprise it are novel, but don’t feel like some weird, un-natural, synthetic shoe (that you end up needing some special insole for, anyways!)

 I’m satisfied with the combination of components that are essentially “the best of” rucking boot and CrossFit shoe materials.

You probably will be too.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve done a lot of dumb things in these shoes. Ask away before you consider doing the same!

I didn’t experience any significant problems, other than a slightly tight toe box (who are the people complaining of a wide toe box?), on my first wear. The shoes felt good from Day 1! Initial sessions included either full CrossFit sessions or “dynamic warm-ups” with light plyometrics prior to dedicated Olympic weightlifting sessions.

I should note that I prefer low “no show” socks with scant heel protection/covering. Regardless, I did not (and have not) experienced any blistering.

If you’ve been in the CrossFit space for any length of time, you’re aware of the constant problems athletes have with their shoes getting torn up from rope climbs. Long story short, there hasn’t really been a shoe manufacturer that has been able to figure out how to prevent this.

The Ballistic Trainers go hard in trying to prove that this isn’t a problem for them. I mean, this is one of the first things you see when you scroll down the webpage.

…”best abrasion resistance and long term durability — ideal for rope climbs.”

So far, my Ballistic Trainers have lived up to this statement. However, I can see them eventually starting to suffer from the abuse.

(thankfully, I insist on performing legless rope climbs…even when they’re not specifically programmed!)

The Ballistic Trainers are one of the more durable sneakers I’ve owned. They’re not the kind of shoe that you worry about when you have some type of outdoor WOD programmed or know that you’re going to take through more rugged terrain.

Keeping them clean is a different story.

I get that white shoes are white shoes, but even a relatively simple, 2-hour-long yard work session did a number on mine.

If you decide to make yours something other than gym shoes and wear them in slightly muddy conditions, you’ll likely end up Googling the same stuff I did (“how to clean white sneakers”).

The GORUCK Ballistic Trainers…Among the Best Rucking Shoes?

Yeah…In my GORUCK Ballistic Trainer review, I talked about how good the shoes are for CrossFit, how well they hold up under heavy barbells, and even how they will (mainly) propel you through even the most mundane yard work outings.

…but at the end of the day, I bet you clicked because you’re looking for your next ruck shoe…possibly your next ruck/CrossFit- cross trainer.

If this is true, and you weren’t totally sold on the earlier section regarding the Ballistic Trainers’ rucking ability, you’ll be ecstatic to know that their are exactly 7 shoes on our list of the best rucking shoes.

And the Ballistic Trainers are on the list.

Considering that there seems to always be a marked down version of this shoe during GORUCK gear sales, you can’t really go wrong with it; worst case it becomes “only” your rucking shoe or “only” your CrossFit shoe.

In the meantime, I’ll keep using mine for both…and probably even for mowing my lawn, too.

If shoes aren’t your thing (I get it) and you’re actually in the market for ruck boots, check out our list of the best boots for rucking. My MACV-1s and Ballistic Trainers together are still undefeated!

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AUTHOR

Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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