I admit, when I first saw Vibram Five Fingers, I thought of those ridiculous water slippers I used to have to wear around the river. So it was not love at first sight. I did love being barefoot as a kid though, and after reading Born to Run and getting the running bug again, I decided I wanted to run in the Five Fingers. Morgan was kind enough to get me a pair for my birthday. I’m a believer now, having covered hundreds of miles in my KSO’s in only a few months. I love running in them, hiked Angel’s Landing, and every time I wear them am engaged in a conversation about hear they feel/look/perform/help/hurt/and more (listening, Vibram?). 8 months after reading the book and receiving a pair, I ran my first Ultramarathon, the Capon Valley 50k, and I credit the Five Fingers with reintroducing me to the joy of running.
Now, on to the “shoes” themselves. First, they necessitate the runner striking on the mid-foot. This is good news for most people, as most modern running shoes naturally encourage a heel strike because of the cushioned heel. Try running barefoot and heel striking, you will feel pain quick. Since humans ran for thousands of years before the running shoe was invented, makes sense that heel striking is not the way to go. VFFs are light, comfortable, and stay on your feet well. I found that the mid-foot strike felt so much more natural, and have loved running in them. The thin vibram pad protects fairly well against roots and rocks, most of the time there’s an initial shock from the pinch, and it wears off quickly, a few choice words aside. Stubbed toes aren’t bad either, the sole curls up over the tops and does a good job protecting. Grip is fantastic, thanks to the siped grooves in the sole, similar to car tires. If you see a pair in the store, just bend the shoe and you’ll see what I mean. Newer models such as the TrekSport have even more tread, but are still flexible.
If you are interested in getting a pair, and live within 50 miles of a retailer, I strongly recommend going and trying VFF on. The Vibram website has a good fit guide, but until you have them on your feet, you just won’t know. Some “models” fit different than others. A size 42 KSO is perfect for me, while the 42 Sprint is tight. TO get them on, get your toes in first (spread ’em to get each toe in its place), and then pull the heel in. It will be tough at first, but it gets easier. Adjust whatever straps to dial it in, and then get to moving.
I think they feel great, its like my feet are free, closer to the earth, and adjust to its contours and feelings. The footbed is comfy, and I noticed a difference in my walk and running gait quickly. They really only hurt when running over technical trails and I step on a rock or root that digs in to my foot. But, the feeling quickly subsides, the foot bounces back, and I move along. Only once have I had a bone bruise last more than 1 day (it was 2). They also dry very quickly, a great reason to wear them while hiking, rafting, canoeing, kayaking, stream crossings, etc.
The rubber sole, while thin, offers great protection against most elements (roots and golf ball sized rocks being the exception, see above). It also curls up over the front of toes, protecting against stubbing on the trail. Your toes will bend dramatically at times, but the stability of the shoe, along with letting your toes be toes, keeps it in check. I’ve been very well protected when I’ve worn them, no injuries and very little lasting pain.
Everyone is different, but to be on the safe side, take it easy with your running to start. Run on grassy areas or well-manicured trails, steer clear of pavement and technical trails, just until you get a feel for them. I recommend spending time just walking around in them too, no matter where you are. Gardening, walking the dog, getting the paper (do people still do that?), going to the store, etc. Also, get ready for the stares and the conversations, they’re coming. While hiking around Zion NP this Spring, Morgan and I had nearly 40 people stop us on our hike to ask about them. You will too. Be proud of your VFF, naysayers be damned.
VFF are machine washable, and they get pretty funky after a few wearings, especially if you’re moving a lot (trail running, hiking). Just throw them in, wash on cold, and then hang dry, preferably out of the sun (garage or mudroom will work). I just got the first rips in my KSOs, both the result of sticks on trail runs poking through. Hopefully Vibram will replace them for me, if not, they can sewed up. There is certainly a risk of ripping them, it’s mesh and stretch nylon. But, they are still perfectly functional even with the rips.
If you are curious, and can swing the cost (cheapest is the Classic at $75), go get a pair, you will be a believer. There’s a ton of research on the benefits of having at least some barefooting in your life, and VFF are the best of both worlds. Harvard Professor tests Barefoot Running and Vibram North America. You can buy them direct from the Vibram site, REI, and other retailers.
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