Monday, February 21, 2011

Vibram Five Fingers Review

So I just picked up a pair of Vibram Five Fingers from a local specialty shoe store.

I went with the “Treksport” model (Black/Charcoal $100.00) because of the 4mm treaded outsole which I wanted for extra traction on the trails.

Before I get into the meat of my review I wanted to cover my experiences with finding a pair of Five Fingers and why you should do some research on your own before you buy a set.

I visited 3 different stores before finding a retailer who actually had my size (42) in stock.

Once I found the Five Finger’s display at what would be my final stop on my search for the shoes I listened contently to the exchange between the saleswoman and another guy who was also entertaining buying a pair.

This is an "abridged" but accurate account of what transpired;

The customer, a younger guy who was quite “stocky” asked the saleswoman if she could tell him about the shoes.

The saleswoman explained that it didn’t really matter which model he picked as all of the Vibram Five Finger’s were the same…

Vibram makes a HUGE blue “foot” that is used to measure the correct foot size for the Five Fingers; you will find this "Blue foot" wherever you find the Vibram Five Fingers.

The customer then asked if the HUGE blue foot was there so that he could be measured, as I stood there with an increasingly puzzled scowl, the saleswoman responded that the blue foot was simply a part of the “display” and that Vibram Five Fingers went by standard foot measurements...

“Ok then, I need a size 11”, and the saleswoman was off to retrieve the size “11” Five Fingers. Shortly thereafter she returned with the news that she did in fact need to measure the customer’s foot using big blue.

I did not use that saleswoman...

That being said, the background for “why” I wanted to get a pair is answered by my continuing rehab for my ankle arthroscopy.

My Physical Therapist and I talked in length about the idea that the Five Fingers would be a great way for me to strengthen the supporting muscles in my foot and ankle making me stronger than I was prior to the surgery.

That being said, I am not a marathon, Ultra, or even 10K runner. The average distances I ran prior to my surgery were 3 to 5 miles almost exclusively on trails.

So the Five Fingers are basically a strength training tool at this point.

As it is probably cliché to describe the fit of the Five Fingers as “glove like” that’s how they fit. I have short stubby toes with my big toe being the longest, so I have considerable room in all of the toe boxes except my big toe which fits snugly against the fabric. (If you have long toes this could potentially be an issue)

My first impressions of the Five Fingers were that the fit was probably to snug for comfort and that I should have gone with a size 43, but once I settled into the shoes they became increasingly more comfortable with every wear.

Vibram put 4mm of EVA in the mid sole for a degree of protection but I can assure you that you will feel stumps, rocks, and uneven terrain underneath your feet. The fact that your toes can and will wrap around ground features like small roots should definitely be taken into account.

My normal trail shoes are INOV-8’s which also have minimal cushioning so I don’t feel like I’m taking a huge leap to the Five Fingers for strength training. If you’re used to the generous cushioning found in many trail runners you should take that into account before you buy.

The uppers are mesh and as such have no water repellency, while the small cleats on the out soles worked well in loam, clay, wet leaves, and sand. (I would recommend this style for anyone who spends time on the trails; the Five Fingers do have reflectors on the straps and heels for anyone using them on the road)

The heel cup keeps my foot securely in place with little to no play as if the shoe is glued to my foot.

It takes a few times to get the hang of putting the Five Fingers on and even then they still take a few minutes longer to don that your normal shoes, so if you’re the type that likes to throw on your kicks and head out the door this is something you should take into account.

It would seem obvious, but the Five Fingers don’t provide any form of ankle support so I’m not sure how they would fare with load bearing activities like carrying a backpack or rucksack. (Something I will try later, as well as a follow up review on the longevity of the Five Fingers after I have put some miles on them).

Paired with a set of injinji socks the Five Fingers are incredibly comfortable and have already become my “got to” shoes for walking the trails around the house, rehab, playing with the dogs in the yard, and grilling out.

If you’re looking at building stronger support muscles to make you a better hiker, runner, or walker then the Five Fingers will make a great addition to your gear closet, but go slow and ease into the experience to fend off any injuries, in the short time that I have been wearing them I can already feel the muscles in my toes and feet being engaged more than with any other type of footwear I have previously owned.