Thinking about joining the barefoot revolution? Shoe manufacturers have certainly picked up on the renewed interest in running (and walking) barefoot and are producing more options for the paradoxical going-barefoot-while-shod. Of course, there’s really no shoe that is exactly like being barefoot, but until social customs change and we’re allowed to go around without shoes, something like this may be your best bet. (Not to mention the fact that even a very heavily-calloused sole isn’t going to protect you from sharp rocks and broken glass as well as an actual shoe, no matter how thin.)
As I mentioned in my review of Born to Run, I’d been wearing Nike Frees even before I started running, just for the flexible sole. My wife went from traditional running shoes to minimally-cushioned track flats to the what’s-that-on-your-feet Vibram FiveFingers. But one brand that I’d been wanting to try was the Vivo Barefoot line by Terra Plana. Terra Plana is a company that uses eco-friendly (and some recycled) materials along with different shoe assembly methods to minimize waste and use of glues and other chemicals. Their Vivo Barefoot line is designed to approximate being barefoot, using a very thin puncture-resistant sole with minimal padding or arch support. And if, like Steven Leckhart, you don’t want the heckling and stares you’re bound to get with the Vibram FiveFingers, Terra Plana’s shoes actually look like, well, shoes.
I finally decided to take the plunge and purchased a pair of Lesotho lace-ups when Terra Plana was having its spring clearance sale, and took them on my recent trip to Portland to put them through their paces. I found them to be really comfortable, and the lack of arch support really made it feel like I was barefoot inside my shoes—a difficult sensation to describe. The sole is really thin and more flexible than most regular shoes, but was a bit stiffer than I’d expected. Still, they were the only shoes I wore for about a week and a half with lots of walking, and I love them. The only thing that keeps me from wearing them all the time at home is that I’m extremely lazy and often wear my default slip-on shoes when I’m in a hurry.
The EVO is the newest design in the Vivo Barefoot line, a running shoe released this year. I was able to try out a pair and took them for a few short test runs. The sole on the EVO is a little more contoured and a whole lot more flexible than the Lesotho; the body of the shoe is also a very flexible mesh with a rubbery honeycomb-pattern that holds it together. The pair I tried was white, and the translucent mesh made me feel like I was wearing jellyfish on my feet—I could see my socks inside. It’s extremely lightweight even compared to the Nike Frees. I think I probably should have gone up one size—the length is fine but I have wide feet, and I didn’t feel like my toes could spread out quite enough.
The first thing I noticed when running in the EVOs—and I noticed it whenever I jogged a little in the Lesothos as well—is that landing on your heels is not comfortable. I mean, I knew that barefoot running is supposed to make you strike the ground with the middle or front of your foot rather than the heel, but I kind of thought I’d been doing that all along in the Nike Frees. As it turns out, even the Nike Frees have a lot more padding in the heel than the Vivo Barefoot shoes. So I was more conscious of how I was landing, and it did shorten my stride a little as expected. Other than that, I thought they were comfortable for running and I’m curious to see how they do long term. Shortly after my first half-marathon, life happened and I ended up taking a pretty long hiatus from distance running and I’ve been working back up. We’ve got another half-marathon scheduled in October, so I’m planning this time to train in the EVOs and see how well they hold up. Expect another report later this year!
The only real downside to the Vivo Barefoot line is the cost: the shoes normally run anywhere from $120 to $180 a pair, depending on the style, which is a lot to pay for somebody like me who typically goes for the $20-40 range. (I think I’d found my Nike Frees on sale at Marshall’s.) That puts them above the Nikes and the Vibrams, but what you’re paying for is also the earth-friendly aspect. I think if they hold up well it’ll be a good investment, but it took a clearance sale before I felt I wanted to take a chance on them.
Wired: Thin flexible sole gives your foot freedom to flex while offering protection from cuts and scrapes. Look like actual shoes.
Tired: Pricey. Not sure I want to be able to see my socks through my running shoes.
Note: Terra Plana provided a pair of EVO running shoes for review purposes. The Lesotho lace-ups were my own purchase.