The Onitsuka Tiger Ultimate 81s are not the highest-profile parkour shoes, but they’re some of the best shoes out there. It has a rare combination of grip, flexibility, lightness, durability, and comfort that’s very difficult to find – let alone at the Tiger’s low price of roughly $60. It’s a little sad to see the Tigers have only one small flaw.
The Tigers are by far the best-looking shoe in my closet. Hands-down. Puma Faas 500s can come close (in the right color), but the sleek lines of the Tigers, plus the vast array of color combinations it comes in… It just makes everything else out there look bad in comparison.
The first time I put the Tigers on, I was coming from about 4 months of wearing exclusively Feiyues, Vivo Neos, and going barefoot. The Tiger’s arch support was at first an unwelcome shock, but after a few hours of use, I got used to it. They don’t hurt my feet at all anymore.
Other than that initial minor annoyance, I have zero complaints. I’ve worn the Tigers for 14 hours of constant walking and running, yet I have no blisters, chafing, or discomfort to report. I am extremely pleased with this aspect of the Tigers. No complaints at all.
The Tiger’s grip is pretty unique as far as parkour shoes go. Instead of an apparently random collection of strips of rubber glued to the bottom of the shoe, it’s all one piece of rubber (which is good) with only one grip pattern. The actual stick of the Tigers is not spectacular, but it’s solid. It’s good enough that it will definitely assist you getting up a wall, but not so good that it will cover up deficiencies in technique. Not that great on wet surfaces – and it squeaks a lot on tile floor. No ninja sneaking in these shoes after a good rain. But it’s pretty good on rails, pretty good on wood. However! I have been told by people who have been wearing these longer than I have that as the little circles get worn off, the grip on smooth surfaces gets better and the squeaking goes away. So break them in well. Also, make sure you get Tigers with black grip; it apparently makes a difference of several months in the lifetime of the shoe.
At almost 10.5oz, the Tigers are heaviest shoe in my closet. That said, it’s only a 2oz difference between Tigers and Feiyues or KO’s, and the snug yet comfortable way the shoes fit makes the psychological weight of the shoe less than the actual weight.
Not bad. Not fantastic, but not bad for a padded running shoe. It flexes in the middle and by the toes, but you won’t be rolling this one into a ball and putting it into your pocket like some of the shoes I’ve reviewed.
I was pretty rough on these shoes. Not on the grip, but I poured soda and juice on them, ran in them through muddy thorns, fell in a river… All sorts of stuff. The stitching and glue held up excellently. My rubber is relatively unaffected by what I’ve done with it, so I will refer you to the durability section of Sam Blattner’s review on APK:
Durability – (9/10) These shoes hold up extremely well – Props to Asics for that. After heavy use the rubber will begin to wane, but it actually holds up for a surprisingly long time. As the rubber breaks in the grip gets better. The mesh has begun to rip a little, but that is expected with mesh. Just remember that mesh on any shoe is bound to be prone to ripping. If you have a problem with that you can get the non-mesh version (Not sure on the material).
Now comes the part where I put aside all theorizing and actually train in these shoes.
This is the perfect shoe for training wallrun technique. It’s grippy enough that you won’t be sliding off the wall, yet not so grippy that you’ll be relying on grip alone to get up the wall. The grip is not spectacular, but it’s plenty solid.
This is the Tigers’ one weakness. The interior of the arch is fairly narrow, which leads to your ankles turning inwards on awkward midfoot precision landings. Yes, you shouldn’t be landing like that, but it happens. Better to have it happen on a wider base than a narrower.
Because of the stiffish sole and the padding, the Tigers are not ideal balancing shoes. Obviously they function well, as Phil Doyle demonstrates, but there are better balancing shoes out there.
I like the laces a lot. They’re flat laces, made of canvas, pretty high quality. My particular pair of shoes came with two sets of laces, one black and one white. I chose black because it would show dirt less, but it was nice having the option. Beyond that, the laces stay tied extremely well. No double knots necessary, thankfully. This is a highly underrated aspect of shoes, IMO, and the Tigers knock it out of the park.
There’s no one thing that’s better about the Tigers than any other shoe. They’re not (quite) as grippy as KOs, they’re not as flexible as Vivo Neos, not as cheap as Feiyues. The thing that’s really special about the Tigers is that they’re a jack of all trades. They combine a lot of good, solid features into an attractive package at a reasonable price.
Should You Buy Them?
Yes. Absolutely. I’ll be buying another pair when this one wears out. They may not be the best at any particular thing, but they’re a very, very good all-purpose shoe. I highly recommend them. I don’t usually numerically rate shoes, but if I did, the Onitsuka Tiger Ultimate 81s would get at least a 9.3/10.
You can get the Onitsuka Tiger Ultimate 81s from Amazon for about $60.
Carl Luiker contributed to this review.