I went out to our local sporting goods shop to see if they had any of the new Vibram five finger shoes in stock. We were in luck!
I’m a real shoe snob. I still scour e-bay daily just to see if anyone is selling my favorite shoes, not made since 2001. I don’t like shoelaces. I’m of the opinion that tying things to our feet really should have gone out of style with the bustle (I prefer to be asked if my shoes were made by aliens). My usual shoes are lightweight and form fitting running shoes, air padded, so when I tried on the Vibrams, I was expecting something similar with something scratchy between my toes. I was wrong.
I’d seen the pictures of all the fancy ones online, so when the shoe dude brought out a pair for me to try on, the first thing that struck me was the soles. They aren’t ridgid and ridgy like shoes, they are smooth and padded like the soles of your feet. If you push on the shoe from the inside, the soles split into tiny herringbone incisions (they refer to it as razor siping). These provide awesome traction. The upper felt like wetsuit material. Pulling the shoe on was easy except for the little toe. I’ve wondered if the shoe would be better of with only four toes instead of five, combining the smallest two, but I really think they just made the smallest toe a tiny bit on the large side. Once the shoe is on though, it didn’t seem to be a problem. The shoes are shockingly comfortable. I wasn’t expecting that at all.
Walking around in these isn’t like wearing light running shoes at all. It feels like walking around in thick socks, but with the protection of a tough sole under your foot. I expected the wetsuit-like material to make my feet really hot and sweaty, but it really didn’t. I bet these would be unbeatable on a rocky shore or tide-pool. They don’t seem like they would suffer at all out in the gritty sand either, since there isn’t really anywhere for them to chafe. I was trying on the Fivefingers FLOW model. They had another model, the KSO, which has a nice fabric mesh upper instead of the rubbery stuff. Trying these on took things one step further. I no longer felt like I was wearing thick socks, but more like being barefoot with tough soles. They are super light-weight and breathable. I bought a pair of the mesh shoes.
Wearing these toe shoes is such a pleasure that I found myself wearing them most of the day, around the house and in the yard. I don’t tend to wear shoes unless I’m going out, so this is a big seal of approval. After wearing them all weekend, I decided to wear them to work, which is about half a mile away. Walking to work, I took things a little slower than usual. The shoes didn’t hurt, but I could tell they were using a different set of muscles. When I got to work and sat down however, I felt a burning sensation across the front of the pad of my feet, like you might get from a few minutes of walking across asphalt barefoot. It didn’t go away, so I switched back to regular shoes for the day. I think I was really close to giving myself a blister. I would recommend your first brisk walk in these be no more than a quarter mile with a day afterwards to see how everything feels. I have sore muscles down my calf and Achilles, and in my foot, which considering how much walking I do and how often I’m barefoot, surprised me. These shoes are marketed towards marathon runners, and I hear that you just need to adjust to them. It didn’t feel like a flaw in the shoe, except that maybe a bit more than the usual proportion of stepping force is applied to the front of the pad. They don’t feel like they slip or chafe, and it would be unlikely to roll your ankle. I would say that as compared to normal shoes they vastly increase the pleasure of walking on natural terrain and indoors, and somewhat decrease the pleasure of walking on asphalt.
I’m giving myself a couple days off from the shoes to make sure I’ve recovered from the first outing and then I’m excited to wear them again, this time with no extended walks until I’ve worn them a bit more. I’ll update this post further as I break them in some more.
Update: After a couple of days of rest, I was able to walk a few miles over the course of the day with no ill effects. My first attempt at running lasted a coupe blocks before I could really feel it down the back of my legs and quit just to be safe. I ended up with sore calf muscles (in a good way). The shoes do put a lot more emphasis on lower leg and foot muscles while running. After two weeks, I’m now able to walk several miles at a stretch on asphalt without discomfort. I wore my five fingers shoes to the Kinetic Sculpture Race, and they were great in the sand. They didn’t pick up much sand, and since your foot doesn’t slide inside, there is none of that sandpaper feeling at tender spots on your foot.
I’ve been wearing them everywhere, and without socks. They do need to be washed often. I threw mine in the washing machine and they came out great with no sings of wear. I’m finding myself unwilling to wear my other shoes now, so I’m going to buy Vibrams to wear while my others are waiting to be washed. They don’t soak up much water when washed since they don’t have all the spongy stuff most shoes do, so I just wore them rather than drying them and it didn’t seem weird.
Update: I got a second smaller pair (to keep a good wash cycle going), and I like them even better, so if you can’t decide on a size, go with the smaller. Over the 4th of July weekend, I took the FiveFingers out to the beach and still had no problems with sand (they leave great footprints), and they were great for climbing on the rocks.
There was none of the pain of walking on barnacles barefoot, but none of the slippery feeling of being in shoes.
I also went out to the redwoods and walked around in the forest. My balance was much improved walking on small downed trees (the shoes wrap around instead of sitting flat like a platform). I found some stumps about twenty feet tall and had no trouble climbing straight up them. Making it up in running shoes would have been unlikely since there wasn’t much in the way of visible footholds. The soles were grippy enough to make it a breeze. I don’t know how they would be for hard-core rock climbing, but they are excellent for casual climbing.
Update: Took them out to the river and they were awesome for puddling around in the water. I didn’t try swimming in them, but walking on the normally treacherous slimy rocks was like a foot massage and quite stable. I also walked on some really scary looking blackberry brambles and none of them made it through to my foot, which I have to admit, really surprised me. I’ve been seeing a lot of people worrying about whether it is bad for your back or arches to run barefoot or in FiveFingers. I’ve suffered no ill effects now after several months. This is how we were designed to run. If you doubt it, just check out this video of an ancient hunting technique. I found it inspirational as a runner.
I know a lot of you don’t live near stores where you can buy Vibram Fivefingers, and most of our readers are international, so I’m posting an amazon link below (international variants at the bottom of the resulting page) which I still find to be the safest and most convenient, but I’ll keep an eye out for better deals and post them here as I find them.
There are several colors and styles. I went with black mesh KSO (pictured). The well placed strap system makes them flexible enough that being a size off shouldn’t be a big deal. These are listed in European sizing, so I’ve put up a sizing chart, which I found to be quite accurate.
Here you can find Assorted Vibrams available on amazon. Scroll down to the bottom of the amazon page to find them for your country if you don’t live in the U.S.