Vans may not be the first brand of shoe that comes to mind when you think of lifting weights but the Vans Old Skool can be a particularly good choice when it comes to compound lifts such as the squat and deadlift and, indeed, even as a general-purpose weight training shoe.
But what makes the Vans Old Skool work so well as lifting shoes?
Vans Old Skool has many features that make them a great choice as lifting shoes, primarily:
- Vans feature a stiff, flat sole, providing the ideal base to push from.
- The toe box is wide and roomy, allowing for toe spread.
- There is support around the ankle joint.
- They are very cost-effective.
Lifters who are more suited to low bar squatting, in particular, will find Vans to be very compatible with their lifting style. For more information on squat styles and how shoe choice can influence this, check out my two articles; Low Bar vs High Bar Squats and Flat Shoes vs Heels.
Vans Old Skool | General Review
The following stats are based on a US size 10:
- Weight – 420g
- Length – 288mm
- Toe Width – 101mm
- Heel Width – 70mm
- Sole Height – 14mm
- Max Height – 88mm
Vans are one of the most popular and well-known brands of casual shoes currently on the market, next to Converse.
Particularly well known in skate culture, their design has lasted many decades remaining largely unchanged.
As someone who used to frequent skateparks in his teens, I have always been a big fan of the Vans design. It is simplistic and timeless and works for almost any occasion and style.
For those unfamiliar with the design, however, Vans are a low profile, flat-soled shoe with a canvas upper. Stitched into both sides of the shoe you will find the vans ”wave’ logo. On the heel of the shoe, you will also find a rubber Vans “Off The Wall” logo.
A great feature of the Vans design is that the world is your oyster when it comes to color choice.
Many people, like myself, love the plain one-color designs. However, there is also a very popular subculture of Vans which features vibrant designs and patterns, often based around popular TV shows and video games such as The Simpsons or Mario for example.
I love the way Vans look and wear them regularly both in and out of the gym. For that reason and the wide choice available, I can’t give them anything other than a perfect 10 for looks!
Rating – 10/10
Vans aren’t going to win any awards for being the best fitting shoes out there. Nor are they the worst by any stretch.
As someone with reasonably average shaped feet, I would describe the fit of Vans Old Skool as just being fine. The majority shouldn’t find any issues in this department but I wouldn’t expect anyone to find them to be the best fitting shoes either.
The profile of the shoe is very flat across the board, so those with flat feet should feel right at home. Conversely, those with particularly high arches are the only people I would anticipate to find the fit of Vans to be less than ideal.
Overall, Vans have no particular stand out features when it comes to fit, but there’s very little to complain about either.
Rating – 7/10
Vans are a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to comfort. I have worn shoes like Vans and Converse for most of my adult life, so I am used to the hard sole underfoot.
For those not used to this though, Vans may take some getting used to.
Focusing on the upper though, Vans are a very comfortable shoe. The light canvas material is very breathable and there are no pressure points that rub into your foot.
This light material also allows the shoe to conform easily to your foot shape with minimal effort.
One feature that I particularly like is that the material surrounding the ankle joint is padded. It helps to add a little extra support to the joint and with overall comfort.
Much like with fit, there’s not a lot to shout about here but the Vans Old Skool will still provide enough comfort for the vast majority, provided you are used to stiffer soled shoes.
If not, one option that can help strengthen your feet and make them more adept for stiffer shoes is the exercises provided in my foot strengthening article.
Rating – 7/10
Straps and Lacing
Vans Old Skool does not have a strap system in place and all the control over tightness comes from the lacing system only.
This system performs about as well as you would expect from a more casual shoe such as the Vans.
The laces are strong and robust and feel like they will stand the test of time. However, the eyelets haven’t been strengthened in any way, I.E through metal eyelets for example. Rather, the eyelets are just holes punched through the canvas material.
Granted, the shoe does have an extra run of material stitched into this area which goes a long way to preventing any long-term wear and tear.
One negative with the lacing system for me is the lack of control over tightness it offers. I find the system to be quite rigid and loosening and tightening the laces isn’t all that easy in truth.
Aside from this though, the Vans Old Skool’s lacing system is about as good as any and holds your foot well enough in the shoe.
Rating – 6/10
Vans Old Skool has been a popular shoe in the skating community for many years. It would be expected then, that they should have plenty of grip on the outsole.
In the Powerlifting Perfection Grip Test, the Vans Old Skool scored 0.64.
Of all the shoes tested, this was perhaps on the lower end, however in practical use, I found no issues with grip that would cause concern.
Rating – 6/10
One of the best features of the Vans Old Skool is its price. For anyone on a budget or for anyone looking for a versatile shoe they can wear for many different occasions, both inside and out of the gym, you get your money’s worth with a pair of Vans.
The price will vary a bit depending on color scheme and size so I would recommend checking the price for the specific style you are after.
I wanted to give the Vans a perfect 10 for price, but there are cheaper options available if you’re really looking to save. Check out the Adidas HVC Wrestling Shoes, which are about as cheap a lifting shoe as I have ever found.
Rating – 9/10
Vans for Deadlifting
One of the lifts where shoes like Vans Old Skool shine is the deadlift.
They are relatively low to the ground and the sole is stiff and supportive making them ideal for this lift, whether it be conventional or sumo.
If you are a conventional deadlifter, you shouldn’t run into too many issues if you choose to wear a pair of Vans.
As mentioned, the sole is nice and stiff so there is minimal energy loss during the deadlift in this shoe.
The small band of padding under the ankle is a nice feature in this lift too, and offers a touch of support. Of course, there is also a high top variant available which will offer much better ankle joint support, however for a low top sneaker, the Vans offer surprisingly good support.
They aren’t the lowest profile shoe at 14mm off the ground but this is still about as close to the ground as you will get for most shoes.
This is, of course, advantageous in the deadlift as it allows for less bar travel, in theory making the lift easier.
If you’re looking to squeeze out as many advantages as you can in your deadlift, the Sabo Deadlift Shoe has the lowest profile, short of going barefoot. The height off the ground for these is 10mm and I am yet to find a shoe that gets closer than this.
It’s a similar story in the sumo deadlift, with the Vans being very supportive and strangely suitable considering they weren’t designed at all with lifting in mind.
The one key feature of the sumo deadlift that sets it apart from the conventional is, of course, the wide sumo stance.
In this stance, additional lateral force through the feet is required to complete the lift and a key feature of a good shoe for deadlifting should offer some resistance to this.
What I like about the Vans Old Skool in this regard, is the small band of rubber that runs around the side. This offers that little bit extra support against foot spill when applying that lateral force and helps hold the shoe’s shape throughout the lift.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about the Vans when it comes to the deadlift and I am struggling to find any real negatives, especially for a shoe that isn’t designed for this purpose.
Vans for Squatting
Vans Old Skool is a flat soled shoe, so, for this reason, I would only recommend them for low bar squats or if you have a lot of ankle mobility.
If you are more of a high bar squatter or have tight ankles, I would always recommend a heeled weightlifting shoe first and foremost as well as ankle strengthening exercises.
Low bar squatting and Vans go hand in hand. As with the deadlift, the shoe has plenty of stiffness and support during the lift making them a great platform to push from.
One particularly great feature is that despite having a stiff sole, the shoe is still flexible enough to bend at the toe and walk around in.
This is particularly advantageous during the walkout as I have found with some other shoes that their inflexibility can sometimes throw my balance at this crucial stage.
With the Vans Old Skool, I can walk out with relative ease and get set up without having to worry as much about losing my balance.
Another great feature is that the toe box is particularly open and the material surrounding it is light and flexible, allowing me to move my toes around and spread them out during the lift, giving me that little bit more control as I work my way through the lift.
There really isn’t much to grumble about with Vans during the squat and I think I would be nitpicking with any faults that I could find.
That said I would be interested to see what difference a strap or two would make, or perhaps a more rigid upper material but I would expect any difference to be minimal and generally, I have no complaints whatsoever when squatting in Vans.
Vans or Converse for Lifting
In a lot of ways, Vans Old Skool and Converse All Star are very similar shoes and both are in good standing in the lifting community.
When I first started lifting way back in 2016, it was a pair of Converse All Star that I wore during all my workouts and this continued for maybe the first 2-3 years of my lifting career until I started experimenting with other lifting shoes.
I loved my Converse and set some of my early PRs in them and to this day still have no reservations wearing them during workouts.
That said, having tried Vans for a few months now, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend these either.
So when it comes down to a choice between Vans or Converse, which is best for lifting?
Both Vans and Converse are a fantastic choice for beginners and elite lifters alike, however, if I had to choose just one, my vote goes for the Vans. Here’s why:
- The toe box of the Vans works better for toe spread. The Converse toe box famously features a rubber cap which makes them less flexible in this area.
- The Vans have a wider overall toe box, further aiding with toe spread.
- The overall profile of the Vans outsole is wider, making them feel more stable underfoot.
- The Vans are the heavier of the two shoes, further adding to the feeling of stability.
- The padded ankle support of the Vans is superior to the Converse which is slightly lacking in ankle support.
As mentioned though, I wore Converse for a long time and still do now and again, so I cannot recommend them enough for those starting out lifting.
No matter whether you choose Vans or Converse you won’t be left wanting.
Check out both my reviews of the Converse high tops and low tops for more information on Converse All Star for lifting.
Vans Old Skool Review | Final Thoughts
The Vans Old Skool may not be designed specifically for lifting, but you will be hard-pressed to find any major faults in these shoes for lifting, and for the price, there’s a lot to like!
Overall, I would recommend the Vans Old Skool in particular for beginners to Powerlifting but they will also have their place in Bodybuilding, Olympic Weightlifting, and CrossFit if you’re not yet ready for dedicated lifting shoes specific to these strength sports.