Vibram Five Fingers - Before the trend
What are the
I bought my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers over a year ago. I had to drive an hour to find a store that carried them, much less the right size and color. I remember calling around to various stores, always greeted with a confused "Vibram what?!?" You can now find them in almost any outdoors store, in any shade, several styles, and almost any size. Premium leather, neoprene (wetsuit material), mesh; black, blue camouflage, hot pink; the options seem endless. The following are my thoughts on the development and popularity of these shoes, as well as my personal experience wearing the different styles.
What size do I get?!?
The first thing you'll notice is the sizes are notated in European sizes. Anyone who has ever purchased a pair of Birkenstock sandals will be accustomed to this, and they have now started to list the US sizes in small print under the Euro number. For example, I wear an US 8 or 9 in men's, but in European sizes I ended up being a size 40. Also, any store you visit should have a custom Vibram Five Finger fitting grid, which quickly and easily shows what size you need. It's quick and simple.
What style/model should I get?
Classic - The original! Basically, this shoe was designed to provide the barefoot experience with a minimalist approach, covering as little of the upper foot as possible. Many people like the ease of slipping these on and off, but they are slightly less secure without the velcro strap on top, and small rocks/dirt are more likely to get in.
Sprint - The sprint is similar to the VFF Classic, with the addition of a velcro strap and a slightly more aggressive sole, for improved traction on wet and dry surfaces.
KSO - "Keep Stuff Out." The KSO adds to the Sprint a mesh covering for the top of the foot, which, as you can tell from the name, does a great job of keeping hitchhikers from interrupting your hike or run. The mesh top is very breathable, yet a provides some insulation in colder weather.
KSO Trek - In addition to KSO features, the Trek adds a leather upper and tread designed for more rugged terrain.
Bikila - Basically the KSO with a more breathable outer material, and an aggressive sole designed for running.
What do I think of Vibram Five Fingers?
I first learned about these from Chris McDougal's book Born to Run. The book tells of his time with the Tarahumara Indians, a tribe known for its Nomadic lifestyle and uncanny ability to run great distances with nothing between their feet and the ground but a slice of recycled tire tread. He studies their lifestyle, running technique, and in the process discovers the Vibrams, which were originally designed as a minimalist "deck shoe," used to help sailors maintain traction on wet wood. This book is probably the largest proponent of the growing popularity of these shoes.
Similar to the author, I had previously suffered from foot and calf discomfort during and after running in athletic shoes. Due to overpronation, I had also purchased expensive running shoes from a specialty running store, which did not help the situation at all. Within a month of getting my Vibram Five Fingers, I was running longer than I had before without any pain. I could also feel my balance improving, which I later learned was due to my foot muscles being strengthened, something retarded by the abundance of padding in "running shoes."
My most passionate endorsement of these shoes is that it reminded me what it was like to love running. I, like many other people, had come to view running as a chore. Another thing to "get through" so I could be in shape. After wearing these shoes for a few days, I felt like I was back on the playground in kindergarten, running as fast as I possibly could, in a state of bliss as my hair blew in the wind and the scenery (seemingly) whizzed by me in a blur. Whew...I get goosebumps now thinking about it!
One reason for this is that running barefoot and running in VFFs encourages landing and propelling from the ball of the foot, rather than landing hard on the heel and rolling your foot with each stride. I, personally, think this running technique is more logical considering the design of our feet and joints.
Should I buy these?
I give Vibram Five Fingers my full endorsement. They completely changed my attitude toward running, and have held up well through hiking, running, yoga, and wearing around town. They are a great conversation starter, and I always enjoy having the opportunity to talk with people about the reasons for barefoot running.
Many reports of decreased pain associated with running
Variety of styles and colors to suit any lifestyle
Cost ($80-$120 depending on the style you choose)
Some people have reported not liking them due to discomfort having fabric between toes