One of the most common questions we get from fencers is, “What shoes should I wear?” Shoes can make a huge difference in the comfort and quality of your fencing, so choosing a good pair is vital. But what makes a ‘good’ pair of fencing shoes, and how do you know if they’ll work for your feet?
What is a ‘Good’ Pair of Fencing Shoes?
While everyone’s feet are different—and we’ll get to that later—there are some qualities that every fencing shoe should have. When shopping for shoes, you should always look for shoes that:
Provide Lateral Support
Fencing uses mostly lateral (side-to-side) motions, and your shoes should reflect that. How much support you want is a personal preference, but your shoes should be able to tolerate the intense force of your lunges, advances, and retreats. Stay away from shoes designed for linear (front-to-back) motions like running.
Cushion Your Heel
Landing your lunges puts a lot of force into your heel. Your shoes should be able to absorb some of that force so that your lunges aren’t painful. Ideally, your shoes should have enough cushioning to be comfortable but not so much that it elevates your heel. Which brings us to our next point…
Have Flat/Level Soles
The bottom of your shoes should be flat and should not elevate your heel higher than your toes. A raised heel is going to be uncomfortable and won’t provide a stable platform for your footwork. If you prefer shoes with significant cushioning, make sure it’s roughly the same thickness throughout.
Keep Your Feet from Rolling/Sliding
No one likes shoes that are painfully tight, but they should be snug and secure enough to keep your foot from rolling or moving around inside the shoe. Odds are that your foot will want to roll when you lunge, so it’s important to have a shoe that prevents that. The best shoes for fencing are snug (but not too tight) around the midfoot and loose around the toes.
Grip the Floor
It goes without saying that you want a shoe that stays where you put it. This is especially important in fencing, where we put a lot of force through the floor and often have to fence on slippery surfaces. Look for shoes with hard rubber soles versus soft foam soles.
Choosing the Right Shoes for You
Now that we’ve established what all fencing shoes should have, what should your fencing shoes have? The right shoe for you is highly dependent on the shape of your feet, the way you fence, and your personal preferences. Here are some things to take into consideration when choosing your fencing shoes:
Wide or Narrow?
Are your feet wide or narrow? And, just as important, where are they wide or narrow? Whether you have a wide foot all around, a narrow heel, wide toes, or some other combination, it’s important that your shoes work with the shape of your foot. A pair of shoes might be ‘good’ or popular, but that doesn’t mean they’ll fit your unique feet.
Light or Heavy?
Do you hate dragging around heavy shoes or do you prefer padding and durability regardless of weight? The weight of your shoes can make a big difference in how comfortable you find them, so make sure to check out how heavy a pair is—either by holding them or by checking the specs online—before purchasing them.
Responsive or Cushioned?
Do you like to feel the floor under your feet or do you want to be surrounded by protective cushioning? This is very much a personal choice and the answer often changes with experience. Thinner, responsive shoes can let you move faster and more accurately, while more cushioned shoes can provide much needed impact protection.
Arch Support or Flat?
Do you have a high arch or flat? If you’re lucky enough to have a proper arch, you’ll have a much wider array of shoes to choose from. On the other hand, fencers with flat feet will need to be on the lookout for shoes that have little to no arch. Despite the popular misconception that people with flat feet need ‘arch support’, shoes with too much of an arch can cause painful cramping and make it very difficult to fence.
Do You Need to Wear Shoes Made for Fencing?
If you’ve shopped online for fencing equipment, you’ve no doubt seen ads for Nike and Adidas’ brightly colored fencing shoes. However, the fact that they make fencing shoes doesn’t mean you need to—or even should—wear them. Fencing shoes carry a very high price tag, and in our experience, they aren’t all that great for fencing. They tend to be too narrow, too padded, and uncomfortable. Instead, we recommend fencers wear indoor court shoes; tennis, volleyball, and badminton shoes all work great!
Where to Buy Your Fencing Shoes
Indoor court shoes are easy to find, so you should have no trouble locating a pair. You’ll find the greatest variety online; we recommend checking out Amazon, shoe manufacturers’ websites, and specialty tennis stores. If you do choose to purchase shoes online, make sure to look at lots of pictures, thoroughly read the description, and read as many reviews as you can. It’s important to know exactly what you’re getting because you won’t be able to try them on first.
Unfortunately, options are more limited for shopping in person. Chain stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods often have some, but not many, indoor court shoes. Your best choice is to find a specialty tennis store. Our favorite is Holabird Sports in Baltimore, MD.
Popular Brands & REcommendations
There are a lot of indoor court shoes on the market, so it can be hard to know where to start. Here are some of our—and the fencing community’s—go-to brands:
Shoes to Stay Away From
While they can be cheap and easy to find, we strongly encourage fencers to stay away from running shoes and cross-trainers. They provide no lateral support and no protection from your feet rolling or sliding. A flat pair of Converse will treat your feet better than running shoes!
Still not sure where to start? Here are our coaches’ favorite shoes and why.
Coach Jeff’s Pick: Asics Gel Rocket 10
I’m actually a barefoot trainer outside of fencing, but neither of my feet appreciate the immense forces of my lunge, so my fencing shoes are actually the heftiest shoes I own. I have been known to jump between shoes on a whim, but I’m currently using the Asics Gel-Rockets (10s). Coincidentally, the Gel Rockets are probably the most widely-seen non-fencing shoe in fencing. I appreciate that the shoe doesn’t have much heel lift and barely has anything that could be described as arch-support (which I personally oppose in any shoe). They’re also quite durable for the cost and given that my lunges tend to wreck shoes in under 6 months, I’m very happy with them! They don’t come in wide sizes, but the shoes do tend to run wide already; I have 4E width feet and the shoes fit me just fine. I (and most of the fencing community) definitely recommend the Gel-Rockets as an affordable alternative to fencing shoes.
Coach Ryleigh’s Pick: Asics Gel Resolution 8
I have really flat feet, so I have a lot of trouble finding shoes that work for me and I’m always trying out different ones. Right now, I’m fencing in the Asics Gel Resolution 8. I’m a big fan because they’re totally flat (no arch pain!) and they provide enough support that my foot doesn’t roll around inside them. That’s a big deal for me because I’ve had that problem with a lot of other pairs and I hate feeling like my foot isn’t secure in my shoe. I also love the fact that the uppers are made of a plastic material, meaning that they’re really durable and I don’t put holes in them. I don’t know if I’d recommend them for the average fencer because they’re pretty heavy and they run on the narrow side, but they work great for my weird feet.
Coach Justin’s Pick: Merrell TrailGlove 4
I am very picky about my fencing shoes, so I spent many years trying different types of shoes and not being satisfied. Running shoes, cross-training shoes, and actual fencing shoes were either too heavy, too narrow, not secure enough to my feet, or just made my feet hurt after a few hours of fencing. But I’ve been wearing Merrell TrailGlove 4’s for a few years, and I’ve found them to be extremely light, wide and arch-less to allow my flat feet to spread out and fully contact the ground, flexible enough to allow for natural foot movement, and have fully rubber soles for good grip on most floors. Plus, they come in blue!
Unfortunately, this model is discontinued so they may be hard to find, and I’ve found the newer models aren’t the same. They’re also technically barefoot trail running shoes, and it took some time (and soreness) for me to get used to them, so I’d suggest all fencers try other options first.