The original Know Obstacle shoes were something of a watershed product. They were the first inexpensive shoes designed specifically for parkour. With the support of the WFPF and their cadre of famous, highly influential traceurs, there was no way these shoes would go unnoticed. And they didn’t. Today, there’s hardly a parkour video on YouTube in which the traceurs aren’t wearing KO’s at some point.
It’s hard to improve on that type of product, and dangerous to make changes. So for the second generation, the WFPF has chosen the route of refining small aspects of the shoe instead of making sweeping changes. Read on to find out exactly what those changes are, how they affect the experience of using the Gen 2′s, and whether the little refinements will be worth the price of the upgrade.
No review is complete without some context about the reviewer.
I’ve been wearing the original KOs for over 6 months now. I like them a lot, as you can tell from my initial review. Recently, however, I’ve started wearing the extremely cheap, extremely grippy, extremely flexible, extremely minimalist Feiyues. I’m also fond of barefoot running – I don’t generally wear or like over-padded shoes.
Disclaimer over, on to the review!
The only changes the WFPF listed in the press release announcing the Gen 2’s were unspecified “structural improvements” and a sleeker form factor. Is that all that’s changed? Yes and no. These are the changes I’ve been able to verify.
The dark grey on light grey color scheme is more subdued than the white on black of the Gen 1’s. The famous blue patch is still there, but it’s a different shape.
The WFPF logos are actually stamped into the leather instead of merely silkscreened like on the originals.
The loops on the heel are run through with shiny silvery thread, which I don’t really like. It doesn’t fit with the more understated design of the rest of the shoe.
I’m also not a fan of the white threading that runs throughout the leather. They should have stuck to a light/dark grey and blue color scheme.
A lot of the extra leather reinforces the toes. It seems to be of a higher quality (thicker and tougher) material than that of the original KO’s, which is good. When the leather of the original KO’s gets scratched, black flakes away to reveal greyish material underneath. This won’t happen with the Gen 2’s.
Some of the leather around the laces has been replaced with cloth, likely to cut down on material costs. This is unfortunate and may present a problem later on. Some plastic eyelets around the laces should have been added, at least around the top two holes that get the most wear.
We’ll get to this shortly.
Especially around the tongue and the inside tops, there’s a little more padding than on the originals. It will get compacted down with wear, but I wish it wasn’t there in the first place.
Using the Gen 2’s
The experience of using the KO Gen 2’s is very close to the that of the original KO’s. For the benefit of those who have never used the original’s, I’ll do a full, from-the-top review of the Gen 2’s. If you’ve already used the originals and just want to know if the Gen 2’s are a worthwhile upgrade, go ahead and skip straight to the conclusion.
The soles are unchanged from the first generation KO’s, so if you’ve used those, then you’ve experienced the grip of the Gen 2’s.
For the benefit of those who have not been so fortunate, the KO’s grip is amazing. They stick like gecko feet on rough surfaces such as brick or concrete; slick surfaces like tile and marble are also pretty easy to get a grip on. The grip is pretty sticky on wood, although it’s not the best. Even with that minor drawback – wow. It is really good. They even maintain a good amount of traction on wet surfaces, something not a lot of other shoes can say.
While I haven’t put them through a super strenuous stress test, I think they’ll be more durable than the originals in some aspects and less in others. I already talked about the removal of the leather in the laces. The canvas in the middle of the shoe also has less material. It’s not thinner, but there’s not as much of it. You can quite easily see through it when held up to the light.
Insides of the originals.
Insides of the Gen 2’s.
I suppose this may have been done in order to reduce weight and make the shoe more breathable, but breathability isn’t a problem I’ve had with the original KO’s. It will be interesting to see if this gets more or less torn up than the original’s plain canvas. Running through woods, the Gen 2’s are at a disadvantage, as the open, honeycomb-like design grabs thorns and stickers. On concrete and brick, the Gen 2’s may be at an advantage, because the honeycomb design keeps the shorter protrusions of brick from digging completely into the material. I am ambivalent about this particular change – it doesn’t really add or take anything away. It does look more unique, though.
The amount of leather has significantly increased, which will make the shoe as a whole more durable. Compare the differences between the leather around the toes and the hole for your foot on the originals and the Gen 2’s. Note: There is no technical term for “the hole for your foot.” Trust me, I looked.
This picture also shows the changes to the top of the heel. The original KO’s had a U-shaped design; the Gen 2′s are rounded, more like an n. I like the original’s design better. There is no real function to the extra material there – except to painfully jab you in the Achilles tendon when you land a precision on your heel. Not that I’ve ever done that, of course.
I initially thought the tips of the toes weren’t as tightly glued as they should have been, as shown in the picture below.
But this only affects one of the shoes, and only slightly at that. It shouldn’t be a big problem. Speaking of glue, look at this picture I found on Facebook:
This doesn’t surprise me at all. There’s a reason most people recommend shoes with a single sole (Feiyues, Onitsuka Tigers) for parkour; these sorts of problems can’t happen, because the soles can’t come off. BUT! It’s worth noting that this isn’t actually all that common of a problem. The above picture is one of the only places I’ve seen it happen. You’ll have to really bend the soles a lot to get them to come apart, more than normal wear and tear. Be aware that while this could happen, the glue that holds the grey grips to the white soles is pretty strong, so there’s no need to worry too much.
Durability, TL;DR version: Will probably hold up well.
It’s about the same as the original KO’s, so very, very light. It may be a few grams heavier because of the extra material, but there is absolutely no way you will feel it. Heck, they’re so light there’s a very real chance you won’t even feel the shoes once you get start focusing on a run.
The Gen 2’s flexibility is quite good, much more than the average running shoe. They can be bent almost in half, but that will leave good-sized creases in the white midsole. Not to mention the fact that because of the way the grey rubber connects to the white material, too much bending can put a lot of stress on the glue that holds the grey rubber in; but we already discussed that. The Gen 2’s have the ability to be flexible, it’s just not that comfortable for the shoe.
Fit and Comfort
Both the original KO’s and the Gen 2’s are the same shoe size. I was told by the WFPF that both shoes came from the same mold; and I have confirmed via independent measurement that they are the same width and length, inside and outside. The Gen 2’s are perhaps a tiny bit longer and winder, but we’re talking millimeters. For all practical purposes, they’re same size.
Yet oddly, the Gen 2’s fit and feel much larger than the originals. There’s an extra 1/4 inch between the tips of my toes and the end of the shoe, much much more space than the original KO’s.
After a lot of experiments and trial and error, I believe that the most likely explanation for this strangeness to be the difference between the heel walls of the originals and the Gen 2’s. The heel walls of the originals are sloped inwards, so they push your feet forward. The heel walls of the Gen 2’s are straighter up and down.
A little difficult to tell from this picture, but it’s definitely there.
Another possible cause – that I have been unable to confirm – is a deeper heel indentation, allowing the wearer’s heel to nestle more snugly in the back of the shoe, where it doesn’t want to come out.
In any case, the result is that the wearer’s feet fit further back in the Gen 2’s, leaving more space in the front for the toes to move around. This is a problem.
Several times, having that extra space made the difference between sticking a precision and falling. (I fell.) Wearing extra socks and stuffing padding in the heel walls ameliorates the problem to some degree, but those modifications shouldn’t be necessary.
If you fit snugly in your current shoes, KO’s or otherwise, then you may be able to get away with ordering the same size as you’re currently wearing. If you fit loosely in your current shoes, then it would probably be best to order a size down. This presents another problem: the only sizes currently available are 9 through 12. Smaller sizes will be added soon, but until then… You’re rather stuck. You could also go with the original KO’s, although the stock seems to be irregular lately.
Also, if your order a pair, make sure that you’re going by your actual shoe size, not necessarily what’s marked on your original KO’s, as the first shipment of the original KO’s was mismarked. Go to a shoe store and measure your foot if you’re unsure of your proper size.
There’s more arch support than in the original KO’s. It seems like they wanted to provide some arch support, but decided not to halfway through adding it. Thankfully, it will flatten out some with usage.
How do the Gen 2’s perform with the standard parkour techniques of wallruns, precisions, landings, and tricks?
That incredible grip comes into play here. Wallruns are easy with the KO’s. The grip will make up for a lot of bad technique. If your wallrun skills are already strong, you may find yourself going several inches higher, just on the strength of the grip. If you do a lot of wallruns, then this is the shoe for you.
The Gen 2’s are pretty good at precisions. That irritating slippery sole from the original KO’s is still there, unfortunately. As I said in my original review, it needs to be slippery in order for you to be able to easily slide your foot in… But still. It can make precisions a little dicey until you’re used to them.
The sizing issue causes trouble for me when precisioning. The extra space by the toes combined with the slippery sole makes my feet slip forward when they should stop, which makes me lose my balance and fall. There was this one bail on a 10 foot precision that must have been entirely hilarious to watch… I jumped, stuck the landing with ease, then my feet slipped forward and went WHAM! straight on my butt. But I digress.
If they’re properly fitted, and if you’re anticipating effects of the slippery sole, the KO’s will be pretty beastly precision shoes. If you don’t take either into account… Well, my butt feels sorry for yours.
Pretty good, better than your average running shoe. More flexibility would make it even better, but it’s sufficient for the occasional rail QM – although if you’re going to focus exclusively on balancing, Feiyues or another minimalist shoe might be a better choice. For the typical traceur who spends most of his time wallrunning, jumping and vaulting, the balancing capabilities of the KO’s will be fine.
The KO’s perform quite excellently at landings. There’s enough padding in the toes and heels to compensate for a certain amount of bad technique, but not so much that you can’t feel the ground under your feet. It’s nearly perfect if you’re advanced enough to not needed full support, but still want a measure of padding – just in case.
I’m not fond of tricking in these shoes, again due to the sizing problem. I don’t have a problem tricking in my original KO’s, so if your Gen 2’s fit, you probably won’t either. But still, with the size and amount of padding, I prefer smaller, less padded shoes, at least for kicks and speed movements like aerials. If your tricking involves a lot of high flips and hard landings – or you often trick on concrete, you may want shoes that are a little more padded. Like these.
Is it fair to judge dress shoes by the standards of work boots? Or tennis shoes by the standards of hiking shoes? The Gen 2’s by the standards of martial arts shoes like the Feiyues or minimalist shoes like the Vibrams? No, no, and no.
The WFPF KO Gen 2’s are parkour shoes. They are built for the stresses and demands of parkour and freerunning; judging them by any other criteria would be unfair.
For parkour shoes, they perform extremely well. They’re light, extremely grippy, flexible, relatively inexpensive, and they have just the right amount of padding. However, the sizing issue is a real problem, at least for me. If you are fortunate enough to fit in them, you will not be disappointed. I recommend ordering a half size smaller than what you normally wear, if it’s available (and if you don’t have massively wide Bigfoot feet). It’s also worth noting that – for the US, unfortunately not internationally – the WFPF has an unconditional return policy with free return shipping, so long as the shoes sent back in the original packaging and condition. You’re covered in case of a sizing mistake.
Should you buy a pair? That depends. Are you satisfied with your current parkour shoes, whatever they may be? Do you already have a pair of original KO’s in good condition? If so, then there’s no really compelling reason to upgrade.
If, on the other hand, your KO’s are completely racked out (or you don’t have any parkour shoes), then yes, the Gen 2’s are worth the $42. Are they better than the $39 original KO’s? Probably. The Gen 2’s are undoubtedly better looking. The extra, better quality leather should make them more durable. But are these admittedly nebulous criteria worth the extra $3 more than the original KO’s? I think so. If I had no parkour shoes in my closet, I would almost certainly order a pair of Gen 2’s.
You can buy the KO Gen 2’s for $42 + shipping at knowobstacles.com. Shipping, which usually takes a week, varies by location. For more Gen 2 pictures, check out the gallery below.