The GORUCK Ballistic Trainer’s simple build hides some great material and tech suggestions. This shoe packs a large performance punch.
Colorway: Lunar Rock
Release Date: 2020
What if I told you the inventor of the Reebok Pump, Paul Litchfield, is now making training shoes? And that he’s doing it for GORUCK, an upstart training gear company founded by a Special Forces veteran, that’s also pioneering a whole new sport called Rucking. If you’re like me, you’d 1) be surprised and 2) want to try the shoe. Thanks to several WearTesters readers, I learned about the GORUCK Ballistic Trainer and this fascinating company.
The GORUCK Ballistic Trainer actually made our list of the best CrossFit shoes of 2022, our list of the best weightlifting shoes in 2022, and they are also a great basketball training shoe as well.
Once I got in touch, the folks at GORUCK were nice enough to send a test pair and let me have an hour with Paul himself. What follows are my experiences wearing the Ballistic Trainer for rucking, hiking, running, and working out. Along the way, I’ll also share all the tech specs and the creative process behind the surprising Ballistic Trainer.
When the GORUCK Ballistic Trainer is in hand, the materials stand out. GORUCK uses a nice flexible knit on the toebox and tongue. Then they use durable Ballistic nylon for the back two-thirds of the shoe. The strong nylon pays homage to the company’s initial product, the GR1 rucksack.
The nylon draws the eye just like it does on the Air Jordan 11. Compared to the Jordan 11, the nylon used on the Ballistic Trainer is a tighter weave that’s softer, more flexible, and tougher. Cordura nylon is used on very few shoes, mostly for cost reasons. But when it is used, it gives off a vibe that the shoe is ready for anything. I’ve worn the Ballistic Trainer a lot. And while the nylon portion gets dirty, there are absolutely no fraying or loose threads. This nylon will last a long time.
My only (minor) complaint is the small vinyl piece at the top of the heel used for the GORUCK logo placement. While it’s durable, the material used feels cheap compared to the rest of the shoe. I would have preferred an upgrade to a softer synthetic leather. On the other hand, GORUCK includes a second pair of laces in a different color…which is a nice touch and unexpected at the $125 price point.
9.12.2022 Update: On recently released colorways, GORUCK has replaced the small vinyl piece on the back of the shoe with a buttery leather piece. It’s a small thing that really elevates the shoe’s look. Here’s a video we made to highlight the change:
The knit toe box and tongue are one seamless piece. A single layer of breathable knit with a little bit of extra backing at the toe to maintain shape. It flexes great and feels minimal on foot. The upper is simple, but the chosen materials work well. Thanks to the material choices, the Ballistic Trainer’s upper can comfortably handle the gym, the office, and all-day wear.
I just finished raving about the materials so be sure to read that section because the materials drive the fit. The materials are put on top of a good last (or foot mold) that’s not too narrow or too wide but has a generous toebox for toe splay. A majority of foot shapes will enjoy the fit.
GORUCK explains on their size chart that the Ballistic Trainer runs “about a half size larger than other athletic trainers”. I found this to be accurate and recommend going a half size down from your normal shoe size for the best fit.
The aforementioned Paul Litchfield, who once upon a time oversaw the development of Hexalite, told me his first love is chemistry. Specifically, he loves the science of midsole chemistry. With the Ballistic Trainer’s midsole, he got to showcase his passion with Gradient Density EVA. That means the shoe is more cushioned and better at rebounding in the forefoot to accommodate jumping, running, and explosive movement. The heel of the shoe is denser and stiffer to provide a stable platform while doing various lifting movements like deadlifts and squats.
And the craziest part…you can’t tell a difference in the foam by looking at it. The Ballistic Trainer’s midsole looks the same from toe to heel. But you can feel the difference by pressing your thumb into the two sections. On foot, the two densities work together well and offer a smooth transition from heel to toe while walking or running.
To further improve the cushioning, the GORUCK team added a thick polyurethane insert (insole) that contours nicely to the foot and arch. I liked the extra squish the insert provided. But if that’s not your style or you don’t like the added arch support, the Ballistic Trainer comes with a flat EVA insole as well.
Overall, it’s enough cushioning for everything the Ballistic Trainer is meant to do. Short runs, walking with a weighted backpack (also known as rucking), plyometrics, and lifts. I didn’t find myself wishing for more cushioning during high-impact movements and that’s a rarity in the cross training shoe segment.
Here’s another place where there’s tech hidden inside an innocuous-looking package. What looks to be an outsole made of one type of rubber is actually made of 3 different rubbers. A grippy forefoot, a harder more durable midfoot made for climbing ropes, and a denser heel to endure heel strikes while running or rucking. Move your finger along the bottom of the shoe and you’ll feel the subtle differences. Most companies achieve a similar result with various panels made of different types of rubber. This is a cleaner method that looks slick.
But the traction never feels slick. The segmented suction cup pattern used at the tip of the toes, on the lateral forefoot, and medial heel really grabs the floor. It does collect tiny rocks, which can be annoying if you’re using them for hiking, but it really sticks to the ground.
The outsole is just a great overall outsole design and composition. I never experienced slippage, even on slick concrete floors or in wet/cold conditions.
The support starts at the base of the shoe with the 8mm drop. It’s a traditional drop and not the trendier zero drop approach to workout shoes. The drop puts less strain on your Achilles during lifts and feels better when rucking, hiking, or running.
The whole rear area of the shoe is built to keep your heel in place. The heel is sculpted so your foot easily falls into place. There’s also a lengthy, sturdy heel counter that extends to the midfoot. The Ballistic Nylon on the outside of the heel is also strong enough to add further structure and stability. Once you’re laced up, your heel doesn’t slip. I felt completely secure when doing quick side-to-side agility-focused movements and quick changes of direction.
Also, I tried using the top two lace holes and then not using them. I felt locked in both ways. No matter which lace loops you use up top, you’ll get great lockdown.
The GORUCK Ballistic Trainer is my favorite cross training shoe of the year alongside the Reebok JJ IV and On Cloud X. And honestly, it’s probably my 2020 favorite due to its unique construction, great comfort, and the extra tech packed into an unassuming package. The Ballistic Trainer is both great for hard workouts in the gym and a casual night out (remember those?). Plus, at the $125 price point, you’re getting your money’s worth.
Even though GORUCK is a young brand, it’s obvious they found the right creative direction for their shoe line. The shoes really match the aesthetic and toughness of the company’s Special Forces roots. Their first versatile, functional fitness-focused shoe is a winner and I’m excited to see more from them in the future.