We asked dozens of pros what shoes they were wearing at Worlds. Here's what we learned.
November 13, 2023 by Jesse Weisz in Gear with 0 comments
“All I’m looking for is comfort. Grip. Waterproofing. Honestly, I feel like if you don’t notice your shoes, your shoes are doing a great job. You don’t want to be thinking about your shoes, so they’re an accessory product to allow me to perform at my best, but it’s not like that specific thing that makes them indispensable and perfect. It’s just that when they do their job, that’s all you need from a shoe.” – Nate Sexton
One of the most frequent posts you’ll see on disc golf forums such as Facebook groups and r/discgolf is “What shoes should I buy for disc golf?” For professional players, this is a legitimately important question, and they have every incentive to figure out what are the best shoes currently available. While at the 2023 PDGA World Championships at the Smugglers Notch Resort in Vermont, I spoke to dozens of pros to find out which shoes they wear and why.
Some caveats before we begin:
- Smuggs has two courses: The heavily wooded Brewster Ridge, with paver stone tee pads that were chosen for ideal grip in both wet and dry conditions. And the very open Fox Run Meadows with lots of OB and turf tee pads. The ground in Vermont was pretty saturated, so both courses had their share of mud, especially Brewster.
- Players often change their shoes based on weather/ground conditions and tee pads. The shoes they were wearing at this event might not be the same that they use at other events or even other individual rounds at Worlds. If they were playing in drier conditions, there likely wouldn’t have been so many shoes with GoreTex.
- Most of the shoes worn by top pros at Worlds were premium quality and cost $100-$200. They might be more of an investment than more casual disc golfers will want to make.
- There were nearly 300 players playing in the event. My sample size is 58. In general, I focused on the more widely known players. A wider sample size would have provided more variety in brands and models, but I believe the information collected is enough to get an idea of what the most popular shoes are.
- I did my best to identify which exact model each of these players was wearing, but some of this was guesswork.
I will categorize shoes into five main categories, and if you don’t like reading, I have also listed the shoes in that category that were used most often by pros.
We’ll look at each of these categories one by one.
Disc Golf Shoes
In 2021, Idio launched a Kickstarter for the first shoe specifically designed for disc golf. Idio’s first, and so far only, shoe model is called the Syncrasy.
I saw Nate Sexton and Corey Ellis — both sponsored by Idio — along with Aaron Gossage and Paige Shue wearing Syncrasys. The company also sponsors Paige Pierce, who missed Worlds while recovering from an injury. I recently interviewed Craig Kitchens, Idio’s founder and owner, to learn about how the past few years have gone and his theories on why more pros aren’t wearing the only shoe made specifically for disc golf.
“I worked with Craig for a couple of years, going back as far as maybe 2018 about his vision for the company and I can feel the passion that he has for trying to bring that disc golf-specific footwear to the market,” said Nate Sexton. “I like working with Craig and I like to support a disc golf business. They do have some cool features to stay durable against people who drag their toe on the tee, which is a common mistake that people make.”
Hiking shoes are a modern style of hiking footwear similar to a boot but lighter in weight with a lower cut at the ankle. They tend to be durable and have great traction; many models are waterproof. The most popular hiking shoe among the pros were part of the TERREX line made by Adidas. In particular, the TERREX Swift R2 and the newer R3 were worn by six players including Paul Ulibarri, Chris Dickerson, and Juliana Korver. This waterproof shoe was made popular by Paul McBeth, who received a grassroots sponsorship from Adidas in 2016 and then a paid sponsorship for the 2017 season, before walking away from the sponsorship deal in 2018.
Also popular was the TERREX Skychaser, which was worn by four players, including Valerie Mandujano and Joel Freeman.
“I wear Terrex because they have the best grip and they keep my feet dry,” said Valarie Mandujano. “For different situations, I sometimes switch the model. They last me a good eight months to a year. I am using the high tops now because they make my ankle feel more secure.”
“I can’t say what it is about the product, but I’ve never worn a shoe that performs so well in wet conditions,” said Joel Freeman
McBeth was wearing the Salomon X Ultra 4 at Worlds. When asked about his shoes, he explained that he still normally wears TERREXs, but they got torn up in Europe and he wasn’t able to find a replacement quickly so bought Salomons instead. The X Ultra 4 is also a waterproof hiking shoe and fills a similar niche to to the Swift R3 so is a sensible replacement. Matt Orum was also wearing the X Ultra 4.
“I think the Salomons are the best disc golf shoes for me,” said Orum. “I’ve tried almost everything except for Vans. The Salomons have lasted the longest. They’re the most performance. I used to like the Adidas Swifts but they changed the mold and I cut them off.”
A hiking shoe often touted by players online is the Merrell Moab GTX. The only player I found wearing the Moab was Ellen Widboom.
“I am wearing the waterproof Merrells with the Vibram bottoms,” she said. “They’re perfect for hiking in the mud. I normally wear Altras with the wide toe box and zero drop. Those are also great on the course but for waterproof, I like the Merrells.”
Trail Running Shoes
Occupying the space between running shoes and hiking shoes are trail running shoes. They allow for light and springy movement but have the added protection, support, and traction needed for off-road travel. The most popular trail running shoe by far was the Nike Pegasus, in both GoreTex and non-GoreTex versions. It was worn by 10 players, including women’s champion Kristin Tattar.
“The Nike Pegasus model are found in every Dick’s chain store around the country, which makes it a consistent buy when you’re on the tour, because these shoes burn out after like two or three months,” said Bradley Williams. “They have a waterproofing layer over the top so the morning dew doesn’t saturate your sock and you stay mostly dry. The tread pattern on the bottom has worked well for most types of surfaces. I wouldn’t say it’s the best in every category, but it’s pretty consistent. I don’t want the lugs to be too deep and spaced out. I want it to be more like a trail running shoe. When it comes to buying the shoes, I don’t want to feel that float feeling where I’m separated from the surface. I want to still feel grounded a bit. But I also want the shoe to have some give. When I go to rotate my backhand, I want the shoe to flex and stretch, so I don’t want it to feel too caged in. It’s a balance between finding support and give in a shoe for me.”
“I feel like I’ve kind of gone through all of the popular disc golf shoes,” said Connor O’Reilly. “I’ve worn the Vans, I’ve worn the Vivos, I’ve worn the Adidas. These Nikes have the combination of a good tread on the bottom and a pretty responsive, kind of bouncy midsole that makes me feel nice and athletic on the course. They don’t have too much heel drop, so you’re not getting that weird platform that’s unstable. So I think these have been my favorite shoes I’ve worn so far. I do like the Vivos, but they made my calves a little bit too tight.”
“I am wearing the Nike Pegasus trail and I chose these because they have a lot of cushion,” said James Proctor. “They feel pretty bouncy and when I’m walking the course two rounds a day, caddying for Ella in the morning, I like to go cushy in the afternoon. I’m also a big fan of the Vivos but those are more of a one-round-a-day type of shoe. So yeah, traction is good. Feels great. These ones are not waterproof, but I don’t need it today.”
There were three other Nike trail running shoes that came up:
Jesse Nieminen was wearing the Nike Wild Horse 7. “They have good grip and are nice to the feet. I think Ricky used them a year or two ago and I checked them out and have been liking them since,” he said.
Zach Melton was wearing the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger. “If we didn’t have all this mud, I would be wearing the Stephs. Honestly, I just like a light shoe with grip, and with a little Tennessee orange,” he said.
Sullivan Tipton was wearing the Nike ACG Mountain Fly Low. He said the waterproofing was great.
In other brands, second-place finisher Anthony Barela was wearing the Adidas Ultraboost 21 GTX. “I’ve always worn Ultraboost since I first started playing. I’m wearing the GoreTex version this week because it’s muddy, there’s wet ground, and they’re waterproof,” he said.
Manabu Kajiyama was wearing the Salomon Speedcross and Justin Bilodeau was wearing the Salomon Ultra Glide. Bilodeau said he likes Salomons because the tread pattern is not too luggy. He has actually prototyped his own design that he might manufacture at some point.
Brodie Smith was wearing the All Birds Trail Runners SWT.
There were three players wearing Altras, each with a different model, which are all similar, but with different amounts of cushioning beneath the feet. MPO winner Issac Robinson was wearing Olympus 4 (33mm cushion). Sarah Gilpin was wearing the Lone Peak 5 (25mm cushion). And Ella Hansen was wearing the Superior 5 (21mm cushion).
“I like Altras. I have wide feet, so I like the wide toebox,” said Hansen. “They have a couple of different models, but they all have the same tread so I can trust that they’re gonna have the same grip. And they’re just comfortable. These are Superiors. I have some of the Lone Peak waterproof ones. I kind of just switch of depending on wet it is going to be. I feel like I can wear them like all day, which is good.”
All of these Altras are zero-drop shoes, which refers to the height of the heel and the sole of the shoe being the same. This leads us to our next category of shoes.
Barefoot running shoes are zero-drop, have no cushioning underfoot, allow your toes to flex, and normally have a larger toe box permitting your toes the freedom to spread which is thought to help you utilize your foot muscles better. While all barefoot shoes are zero-drop, not all zero-drop running shoes are barefoot as zero-drop shoes can have plenty of cushioning, a narrower fit, and lots of protection in the uppers.
I had a chance to speak with Seth Munsey of Disc Golf Strong, who is also the Director of Health and Sports Performance for the Disc Golf Pro Tour. “I’ve always done strength and conditioning training for athletes with them either barefoot or in socks,” he said. “You just get more connection with the ground and you don’t have an elevated heel, so it’s just a lot better for your training. Our human ancestors walked around barefoot or with some kind of leaf or animal skin protecting the bottoms of their feet. That’s how we were designed. We have the same skeleton, same foot, and same gait patterns as our ancestors, or at least we should. I’ve personally been wearing barefoot shoes since around 2006.”
“I would recommend barefoot shoes for players off the course, but not for throwing because that had never really been done at this level,” he continued. “You don’t want to experiment too much and have somebody get injured experimenting. But from working with Eagle McMahon barefoot, he started trying out barefoot shoes and eventually settled on Vivo. Eagle wanted to try throwing them, and when he did, he really enjoyed it. I believe he was the first pro at this level to wear them and others then tried them out based on his recommendation. Now it’s just crazy to see how many players are using barefoot shoes, and I believe this is how it started. I never expected that barefoot shoes would be popular in disc golf as an actual throwing shoe.”
In a previous interview conducted by Vivo, Eagle said “I started wearing Vivos because after doing research on what the benefits of a barefoot style shoe are, I could not fathom returning to a ‘normal’ shoe. Now being an advocate of the barefoot lifestyle, I can safely say that I have eliminated any previous foot pain and strengthened my feet to give me a greater foundation to perform my sport on. All while helping others within the disc golf community to do the same.”
As you might expect, McMahon is still wearing Vivo. Vivo was even a sponsor of the European Open in 2022. At Worlds, I saw McMahon wearing one of the Primus models that Vivo makes. The Primus line are considered to be from running and training and are low top. Vivo makes the Primus in several versions, including firm ground and soft ground versions with different types of lugs. I also saw various Primus Model Vivos on Eric Oakley, Sai Ananda, Silva Saarinen, and Kyle Klein.
“Vivo barefoot quickly became the best shoes for me,” said Oakley. “I used to wear a lot of Nikes which I loved, but I had issues with the higher raised heel and I was slipping out. Vivo has been the best and I’m lucky to be an ambassador of the company and feels awesome to wear an amazing shoe that feels like it’s improving my game and improving my health.”
Vivo also has their Magna line of shoes, which are high top and somewhere between a shoe and a boot. Ricky Wysocki, Thomas Gilbert, and Raven Newsom were wearing Magna models.
“I am wearing the Vivo barefoot magna trail to runners,” said Gilbert. “I use them because they’re water-resistant up to my ankle and then just have superior grip on the tee pads. Best I’ve ever worn. I used to wear old Costco running shoes, but since I found Vivos that’s been the only thing I’ve worn. I have had these pairs since the very beginning of the year and they’re still waterproof, so they last hold up well.”
“I don’t slip as much and I’m heavy on my front feet, so they have really good traction, and it makes it easier to be consistent,” said Newsom. “I switched to zero-drop shoes because I kept slipping. I wanted to find shoes that helped me not do that.”
Kat Mertsch and Blær Örn Ásgeirsson were wearing Vivo’s Hydra ESC, which are specifically designed for swimming and running, a kind of high-end water shoe.
“I like having my feet as close to the ground as possible, it makes me feel way more comfortable,” said Ásgeirsson. “Plus, they have a great grip as well, which is important, especially in Iceland, where I play most of my rounds. I’ve had these for four months now. And you can see they have one hole, but the people in the store said, if they get damaged so quick, you can come here and we’ll fix it.”
You already know one of the names that will be in the “other” category: Calvin Heimburg. He was wearing the Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit, a minimalist running shoe. It is very light, flexible, and has a small 6mm drop. Calvin appropriately gave a minimalist quote when asked about why he wears them: “I just like them. They’re comfortable. They’re light. That’s pretty much it.”
Missy Gannon was wearing different shoes on different days. For Brewster Ridge, she wore New Balance Fresh Foam X Hierro v7 GTX Trail Running Trainers, which were the only New Balance shoes I saw all week. On a day when she was playing Fox Run Meadows, she was wearing Adidas S2G Spikeless Golf Shoes. Missy told me, “These specifically are for courses that have turf tee pads. They are actually spikeless golf shoes. They are waterproof, very comfortable, and they work great on the turf tee pads. You can find them in Dick’s or any golf store, and they’re actually pretty inexpensive. I think these were like sub $100. So they’re a great, affordable option but also very effective.”
The last of the “other” shoes was one of the most popular shoes overall. Six top pros–including Gannon Buhr, Hailey King, and Ezra Robinson–were wearing Vans UltraRange shoes, mostly the EXO model. Vans are known as skate shoes, and these have the familiar Vans look, but on their website, the most common use for them seems to be casual wear with reviews touting how comfortable they are for walking.
“We play mostly concrete tee pads, which are more like a skateboard deck than they are anything else. I used to skate for a long time and I was one of the first people to wear Vans (on tour), and now a lot of people are doing it,” said Luke Humphries.
“I find Vans to be more of a comfortable shoe in terms of cushion,” said Connor Rock. “They really fit my feet well. They’re not the most durable. Also in terms of playing on a course in bad conditions, they don’t hold up the best in terms of grip either. If they are brand new, they hold up pretty well but if you have them seasoned in, they’re gonna slip quite a bit. I try to rotate pretty new ones.”