Review: Vibram Five Fingers Shoes

by Tom Markiewicz on July 27, 2009

My good friend Ryan Wanger wouldn’t stop talking about his new shoes, so I made him write a review. He is the Community Manager for the Boulder based startup Everlater, which helps people record their travel experiences with friends and family.

Let me make this clear: my review of Vibram Five Fingers shoes is self serving. The more people who know about them, the less I will be stopped by total strangers asking “What are those?”
Vibram Five Fingers
Basically, the Five Finger shoes are the antithesis of footwear technology – not much more than a flexible, semi-form fitting rubber sole attached to the bottom of your foot. You can feel everything. I actually find myself wanting to walk more often, and taking strange paths home just to feel the difference between concrete, grass, and gravel.

What are they for? Everything. I’ve worn mine:

  • Walking around town
  • Climbing easy routes (these aren’t great for cracks, dime edges or
    smearing)
  • Hiking (both with and without a pack
  • Sprinting
  • At work (caveat: I’m in Boulder!)
  • Trail running
  • Playing soccer on astroturf (amazing ball control)

Why should you get them?

  • There is growing evidence that “high performance” running shoes may actually cause more injuries
  • You’ll strengthen your feet beyond what is possible in normal footwear
  • Traveling on foot becomes much more fun
  • Better balance on uneven surfaces (I’m actually more likely to step on smaller stones and branches because I can feel them – and won’t wobble)
  • They can solve lower back problems (see Tim Ferriss’ post for a good explanation)

That sounds great, but what if you have __________ (fill in the blank: high arches, flat feet, pronation, weak ankles, etc)? Well, I would ask you this question: why would you be born with feet you couldn’t use as is? What do you do for arch support? Use your arches. What do you do for ankle support? Use your ankles.

I have high arches myself (my footprint in the sand is two unconnected imprints) and have not had a single problem. Two days after my track workout (complete with sprinting) my arches were killing me. And then a strange realization – was this the first time in my life I’d ever felt the need to stretch my arches? It was. The next day I felt fine – and my feet were stronger than ever before.

The best part is that my occasional lower back pain is gone. Heels on our shoes push our hips forward, arching our lower back. This doesn’t happen with my VFFs. Why are we wearing footwear that is bad for our posture and makes our feet weaker? Pretty crazy when you think about it!

The cons:

  1. Don’t overdo it. It takes a little while for your feet to get stronger. Work up to longer hikes and runs.
  2. Unwanted attention. Extreme introverts might have a problem with strangers approaching to ask about your Vibram Five Fingers. In particular, I catch women and children staring at my feet constantly.
  3. If you wear them for more than a few hours consecutively, you’ll need to wash them. Your feet won’t be hot, but the shoes will be stinky.

Find a store and try them on for sizing purposes (for reference: I wear an 11 mens US, but ended up with size 42 five fingers – your situation might be different). There are 4 different styles. I own the KSOs but have not tried any of the others, so I can’t enumerate the differences, other than saying that the Flows are thick neoprene on top and more suited for water-only activities.

Expecting to walk home in the Classics, I went with KSO because I did not want an open top which would likely collect dirt and pebbles on the trail.

Anyone else own these or seen them around? I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the last few weeks.

You can order the Vibram Five Fingers online from Amazon.

Special thanks to Ryan Wanger of Everlater for writing this guest post. I’m still not 100% sold on these shoes, but he’s been doing a good job trying to convince me!

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