It’s coming to an end now with the snow hitting the ground (at least where I live in Southwestern Ontario), but this was a very active fall hiking season. And as it wound down, I had the opportunity to try out something very different from my usual footwear: FG Hiking Boots from Vivobarefoot.
This footwear company is focused on high-quality shoes and boots that offer the closest thing possible to a barefoot experience. That means no built-up heel, no support insoles, no extra padding. Just the minimum sole needed to protect the foot, thin enough to flex easily and to provide sensory feedback. These last two items in particular really come into play when hiking. The terrain can be uneven, so flex and feedback go a long way toward ensuring secure footing.
GeekDad’s Jonathan Liu reviewed a pair of the company’s running shoes a few years back…
Tracker FG Mens
Out of the box, I have to say this is one of the more attractive hiking boots I’ve seen, with high-quality leather, sturdy metal eyelets, and tough red/black laces. It’s immediately obvious that the Vivobarefoot hiking boots are different. There’s no heel built up, no massive lug treads, and they are extremely light for a boot: just 2.4 pounds. And that’s for the pair, not each boot.
You can also easily bend them because there’s no inflexible molded insole or thick outer sole to contend with. The minimal weight and bendability make these boots easy to pack, but more importantly, it translates into easy flexing with your foot inside for a better grip on uneven terrain.
Are the Tracker FG’s comfortable? That was a big question for me. I’d just come off a 32+ mile hike through a mix of urban and forest trails. I lost a big toenail on that one (I know, gross), so I was a little nervous about new hiking boots. First, whether they would be comfortable despite feet that were a little worse for the wear; second, whether they might cause a repeat of the toenail incident; and third, whether these minimalist Vivobarefoot hiking boots would be wearable at all, given the fact that I’m accustomed to boots and shoes loaded with support.
I started slow, with a few hour-long walks and wearing them around while shopping. There are treads, but they aren’t deep, so walking around in an urban environment is not a problem—that can be awkward when wearing hiking boots with deep treads. The no-support approach took a bit of getting used to, but I didn’t find it a problem. The boots were quite comfortable and fit to size. They are waterproof and there is thermal insulation and a thermal insole (despite being ultra-thin), making them perfect for fall hikes when the weather is turning colder.
I didn’t have the opportunity to get in another long distance hike this year, but the Vivobarefoot FG Men’s Hiking Boots worked well for the remainder of the season. It felt a little weird the first time I stepped on a big stone sticking out of the trail and instead of remaining flat, my foot curved around it (like it would naturally), but I quickly came to appreciate the sense of knowing exactly what I was stepping on. I felt more sure-footed. The soles are puncture-resistant, so hitting sharp sticks wasn’t an issue. And the ultra-lightweight definitely helped to reduce fatigue.
The one thing these boots don’t handle well is ice. I found that out the hard way, walking the dogs after a flash freeze. The rubber soles offer grip on wet terrain and they have insulation and a thermal insole, but on ice, I was at the mercy of the dogs and what direction they decided to pull.
I really like the Vivobarefoot FG Men’s Hiking Boots. The $240 price tag is not inexpensive (they’re a bit cheaper on Amazon, depending on size), but with the results and quality of workmanship, I think it’s worth it. The light weight really helps to reduce fatigue, and the soles are nicely grippy without being exaggeratedly aggressive. That makes them work well on urban trails as well. The minimalist design takes some getting used to, but once accustomed to it, the design worked well for me. But I will be putting them away for the winter…
If you’ve been curious about the Vivobarefoot approach, the company offers a 100-day test-run for most of its adult shoes and boots, so you can try them out without risk.
I also noticed on Vivobarefoot’s website that they not only offer a line of kids shoes but at time of writing they were running a “buy one pair of kids shoes, get a second for half off” promotion. That might be worth considering for holiday shopping…
Disclosure: Vivobarefoot provided Tracker FG Hiking Boots for evaluation but had no input into this review.