Prepare For Liftoff
Li-Ning’s F2 Liftoff looks to break the mold.
by Chris O’Leary/@olearychris
From the second the package arrived in the mail, I felt like I was a character in one of those action movies where someone’s always a step ahead of you.
Chinese sneaker brand Li-Ning is the know-it-all guide on my stumble-as-you-go tour here. They’ve sent me a pair of their F2 Liftoff — a shoe that intrigued me when I saw it over at CounterKicks back in August.
Straight from Portland, the land of sneaker goodness itself, I hurriedly knifed the package open with my car key. Inside, there is no shoebox. Just crumpled up paper for padding, and a pair of extremely bright yellow shoes. The message, though I hadn’t clued in on it yet: This shoe is a bare-bones sort of setup.
The F2 is designed to be an affordable and functional sneaker. Using a Foam Frame, it’s a one-piece sneaker. Li-Ning means it, too. Inside the shoe (see the pic), you won’t find anything other than the opposite side of the rubber from the outside. Translation? There is no insole with these things.
I looked at the shoes, saw the yellow foot bed, looked at how it had been packaged and thought, “Customs must have taken the box and the insoles out on me.” A quick text conversation with CounterKicks owner John Brilliant forced me to realize that there was no mistake. What I had was what I had. I had also picked up these sneaks on my way to the gym for a game. So in less than 20 minutes, I’d find out exactly what I was getting myself into.
Putting the shoes on was the next step-ahead-of-you moment in the F2 experience. In talking with the folks at Li-Ning, they asked me what size I wore with the BD Doom. I told them my regular 11 was a great fit. The shoes I held in my hand were a full size smaller, at 10. The reduced materials and the cut of the shoe, it turns out, makes for a smaller fit. And in case I was worried, there was a pair of Li-Ning socks at the bottom of the box.
I’m not gonna lie. After making my way through the kind of awkward lacing system, I looked down at my double-socked feet and said something to myself that I honestly never thought I’d say.
“I think I look like I’m wearing Crocs.”
My walk through the change room, down the stairs and into the gym at my local Y carried with it an insecurity I’d never felt from a pair of sneakers before. I was ridiculously self-conscious when I walked in, took my first dribbles and put up my first shot. Honestly, I was expecting the worst. How could a shoe with no insole help you out in any way when you’re playing?
As I started to loosen up on the court, I was pleasantly surprised. Actually, shocked might be a better word. My worst fears weren’t confirmed: There was no sole pain from the shoe. While the traditional insole isn’t present, there is some cushioning, thanks to the Foam Frame and the help of an internal TPU shank plate.
Through the first wearing — a light full court game and a full-out effort in a half court run — the shoe felt a little rough, but not uncomfortable at all. What does rough mean versus uncomfortable? The F2 is rough simply because it’s a tough, one-piece rubberish/foamish material that is continually in direct contact with your foot. For me, discomfort comes from a shoe that digs into your foot and causes you pain or blistering. I didn’t feel any pain while wearing the Liftoff; I just noticed occasions where I felt my foot making contact with the shoe when making cuts or jumping.
In every other performance aspect, the Liftoff was stellar. The traction was great. I played first on my usually dusty floor at the Y for a few games and had absolutely no issues with slippage. My rec-league season started a week ago (don’t worry folks, LeBronze is 1-0) and I played on a high school gym floor that had recently been refinished. In my first minute on the court, I actually tripped over my left foot when the toe stuck to the floor. (An embarrassing but unfortunately important detail to include.)
Just above the sole of the shoe, where your standard insole would go, are a series of vents in the foam, designed to make the shoe breathable. I can’t say I came away thinking that I was wearing an extremely breathable shoe. Maybe more ventilation throughout the upper of the shoe (they very easily could have went with a Li-Ning logo there) would have helped in that sense. That said, my feet never felt like they were cooking inside the shoes either.
Being a one-piece shoe made of a light material, the shoe is ridiculously light. Height wise, it’s a nice mid-cut shoe, so ankle protection is decent, though the lacing system could work better to secure your ankles. And as I mentioned earlier, that lacing system is somewhat awkward. I’m a fan of the speed lacing style shoes myself, so this irked me a little bit every time I went to put them on.
From a design standpoint, the Liftoff is an eye catcher. I’m not sure if it was because Li-Ning sent me the yellow pair (I couldn’t choose between the five colorways so I narrowed it down to the yellow/black or the white/blue and asked them to surprise me), but I had a TON of people approach me about what I was wearing.
Considering its price range and its bare bones makeup, the Liftoff is worth the $65 US Li-NIng wants for it. At the same time, if you’re someone who loves your expensive kicks and lives for getting the luxury ride out of your sneaks, this one probably isn’t for you. If you like to take the adventurous route with what you wear on the court and you’re up for the challenge, dive in headfirst. And bring an extra pair of socks.
Lastly, should you get a package in the mail from Li-Ning in the days after you get the shoes and it’s ringing before you open it, do whatever they say. Trust me.
Middle photo via CounterKicks