If you’re a fan of American Ninja Warrior, chances are high that you’ve seen someone’s feet slip out from underneath them on the Spider Jump or their shoes lose traction on the Warped Wall causing them to just slide back down. Even those of us who aren’t Ninjas know how important it is to be sure-footed on the course.
As the sport has evolved, it’s no surprise that Ninjas have started looking for anything that can give them an edge and help them perform better on the course. So over the past few seasons, you may have noticed that many Ninjas have started wearing the same shoes with the big “N” on the side. For both men and women, the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v2 is the overwhelming favorite, which made us wonder: What makes this particular model a good Ninja shoe?
Traction is by far the most important factor in choosing a shoe for Ninja obstacles. All three athletes mentioned it.
“This particular shoe is nice because you can take it right out of the box and have amazing traction,” Barclay Stockett explained. “From there the traction only gets better with wear. I especially need the best grip on my shoes because I’m only five feet tall. I need all the extra help I can get up a Warped Wall.” She was sold on the Zantes the very first time she wore them. “I started seeing high-level ninjas wearing the shoes, and I think it may have been Thomas Stillings who let me try his on and test the grip by walking backwards up the Warped Wall. I could walk and stick way higher up on it than my own shoes. I was immediately sold,” she said.
Tyler Gillett added, “These shoes have the best grip out there in my opinion… From the Warped Wall to the Jumping Spider to agility/balance obstacles, you have to make sure when you plant your foot, they aren’t gonna slip out from under you.”
As a rock climber, Meagan Martin knows what she’s talking about when it comes to sticky rubber. She has found that the Zantes “are stickier on the Warped Wall, as well as plexiglass.”
Generally speaking, the more surface area a shoe has, the more grip it has. “Surface area is important for grip, and the Zantes have absolute full coverage without big gaps or holes between the rubber,” said Barclay.
Long training and competition days mean wearing shoes for a long time, so you want them to be comfortable. That means finding a shoe that fits just right—you don’t want them sliding around, as Tyler mentioned, but you also don’t want them to be painful while you break them in.
It can be difficult to find comfortable shoes with a high surface area that are also light. You might not think that weight could make that much of a difference, but if you’ve ever worn hiking boots, you know how much more difficult it is to move around and lift your feet. Even among running shoes or regular shoes for the gym, every ounce counts when you want to be quick and agile.
That being said, there’s always room for improvement and Meagan said even the Zantes are “thicker than I’d prefer, but for now that’s what I’m using until something better comes along.” So far, she’s been wearing them since fellow Ninja Noah Kaufman let her borrow a pair in 2014.
Trusting your shoes and your feet builds confidence, especially in Ninja. And having confidence allows you to move faster through obstacles. “Speed is all about being comfortable and confident. Comfortable mentally with the obstacles you are about to face, knowing you’ve done similar moves and are confident that you can get through it. Confident in your training, to know you’re prepared to take on the obstacles. If I can check those boxes, and feel good about the obstacles, then I can trust myself to go fast. Shoes play a huge role in this,” Tyler explained.
“If I wanted to feel comfortable going fast, I had to know my shoes could do what I need them to do, no matter what. Those shoes were a big factor for me to get the fastest time in Qualifiers. It even rained in City Finals and my shoes held up! So yes. It’s VERY important to have shoes you know won’t let you down, especially if you want to go fast.”