My cool shoes: wearing Vibram barefoot shoes

June 12th, 2010 in exercise, PlanetGNOME, Travel

Photo by joshunter.

I originally got interested in barefoot shoes when I read an article about the health benefits of going barefoot. (I thought it was a New York Times article, but it wasn’t this recent one about running barefoot.)  I also read a study that said that the more expensive your running shoes, the more likely you were to have suffered a knee injury. I decided I liked the idea being barefoot and I wanted to try to find a pair of shoes that would let me be barefoot in public in a socially acceptable way. I wasn’t crazy about the toes in Vibram FiveFingers shoes but since the other barefoot type brands didn’t have my size, I ended up with Vibrams. I love them.

Vibram shoes attempt to give you the experience of being barefoot while still protecting your foot. So you won’t get cut, but you’ll feel like you are walking barefoot. (Note that the classic pair does not protect against cold. I thought I was going to lose my toes to frostbite one night when I got to my car parked at the airport at 2am and had to scrape ice and snow off my windshield.)

Why do I like my Vibram Five Finger shoes ?

  1. Barefoot. The new theory is that it’s healthier to walk and run barefoot. Cushioned shoes have changed our gait. They offer our feet too much support which makes them weaker and often encourages bad behaviors like heel striking. By going barefoot, you’ll adopt good running and walking gaits and your feet and legs will be strong. (And believe me, if you continue to heel strike when running without a cushion, it will hurt!) During the day I spend most of my time barefoot, so walking wasn’t much of a transition. Running barefoot took a bit more practice – I have a terrible habit of heel striking that I’m working on correcting. Also, you use a whole new set of muscles when running barefoot. When I started I could only run a mile before I switched back to my tennis shoes for the next two miles. I’m still not sure I am convinced that traditional shoes are bad for you, but I think going barefoot is good for you. If you want to try running barefoot without buying a new pair of shoes, just try running barefoot on a treadmill.
  2. Comfortable. These shoes are about as close to wearing no shoes (or wearing socks like I do at home) as you can get. They are light, flexible and generally feel like they are not there.
  3. Travel. They are comfortable for walking in, pack up small (much smaller than carrying running shoes) and most airports will let you wear them through the security scanners. I had been on a search for a pair of running shoes that packs up small. (I wear large shoes and carry a small suitcase!) The Vibrams work great. On long flights, I still take them off and put on a pair of socks. It’s the material between the toes that bothers me when I’m trying to sleep. (I know, I know, it sounds strange.) I also wouldn’t take them as the only shoes for long days of sight-seeing on concrete.

Note that I bought the black shoes because I thought they would be more discreet. They are not discreet enough for formal work situations - everyone comments on them – and they are too hot to wear in the hot sun. Literally my toes feel like they are on fire if I stand outside in them on a hot sunny day. So if you buy some, buy the color you like the most.

I’d still like a pair of barefoot type shoes that I could wear with a suit but the Vibrams work great for more casual wear and for running.

I get asked a lot where I bought my Vibrams … you can buy them online from places like Amazon . You can also try them on in stores like REI and Jax in the US.

What’s been your experience with Vibram’s? Have you tried any of the other barefoot like shoes like Terra Plana’s?

26 Responses to “My cool shoes: wearing Vibram barefoot shoes”

  1. In the interest of injecting some skepticism:

    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4185#

  2. Sandy says:

    I’m a huge fan of my VFF KSOs. It’s funny that you mention the black/temperature issue. I live in Las Vegas, and lately we’ve had 100+ degree weather, and I was worried that my shoes would be too hot, especially because my feet tend to be very sensitive to heat and sunlight.

    Interestingly, though, my feet were very comfortable in the heat and bright sun. Of course, when you live in Las Vegas you don’t spend long amounts of time outside in the summer, so maybe if I walked for more than 20-30 minutes it would be a different story.

    I’ve never enjoyed running as exercise, though like any kid I love to sprint. I find that running in my VFFs is way more comfortable than with my New Balances, so maybe I’ll try to get into that.

    Last thing: walking on grass in VFFs is sublime. :-)

    stormy Reply:
    June 12th, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I notice the heat mostly when I’m standing or sitting still. I’ve been watching a lot of 9yo baseball, and I have to take the shoes off and put them under my chair …

    I enjoy sprinting more than running too! Sprinting in VFF takes some getting used to. It’s hard work. You have to land on the balls of your feet first which is not the way I usually sprint.

    Sandy Reply:
    June 12th, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Yeah, that’s a good point, I seem to notice them more when I’m not moving, and I can imagine them getting uncomfortable quickly in that situation.

    I tend to walk on the balls of my feet anyway, and the VFFs really reinforce that.

    In fact, these two points tie together. When standing in line at the grocery in my VFFs, for example, I tend to dance around a bit on the balls of my feet, or flex and stand on my toes, etc. I just feel like being active in that way, and it’s more comfortable than standing still.

  3. jorge says:

    Woo! Glad to see I’m not the only one digging VFFs! When I was looking for my pair Sandy recommended that I try them on first, which ended up being a good idea because they’re European sized (or something), and I had no idea I was a 43!

    I wanted to get the black ones but REI only carried a certain color so they don’t look as discreet as I’d like but I love them. Here’s what I’ve learned:

    * If I wear them day after day after about 2/3 weeks they get smelly, so I dunk them in a bucket of water with a half cup of white vinegar overnight. This gets rid of the smell but doesn’t make them smell vinegary. Washing them in the washer seems to not be as effective.
    * These shoes are perfect for travelling, especially on long haul flights where I want to be comfortable but want to walk around.
    * Some gold bond medicated powder on my feet keeps them fresh and cool all day. (The stuff is magical)

    I didn’t really get them for the “barefoot benefits”, I just wanted some nice light shoes for the summer because I don’t like sandals or flipflops. I’ve done a ton of walking in them and after I got used to it (sore calves) I do notice a difference in my gait. They’re pretty great in the grass too.

    stormy Reply:
    June 12th, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on the vinegar. I haven’t had trouble with them smelling but I throw them in the wash pretty regularly. The sole of the shoe (inside) never looks really clean to me though …

    stormy Reply:
    June 12th, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Oh and it’s the front of my calves that get sore first … like where you’d get shin splints but not shin splints.

  4. I have the KSO Treks which I do trail running and street running in. I love them. JUst finished a 24 mile hike in them on Memorial day where bets were going around when I would switch out to my hiking boots. I never did. The kangaroo leather runs cool and drys fast, they are light, have no pressure points and I don’t get blisters in them. They are a little bit more wear on my knees and calf mussels but I think that is just because I need to build up my mussels to compensate for the different style of walking and lack of shock absorbing material.

    Mike Reply:
    September 28th, 2010 at 7:08 am

    ‘Muscle’ I’ve been contemplating whether or not these are adequate for every day use and as a substitute for regular sneakers. They look very comfortable but I’m not sure if there are any reprocussions for using them in place of supported shoes. Sort of confusing to me…

  5. Tomas says:

    I have Terra Planna’s I bought in Barcelona more for their look than for their being barefootlike, but I got to like them so much – it is so nice to actually feel what you are walking over. I have never tried to run in them though. And they look so damn good. If only the closest place to buy them weren’t Vienna (which is in another country and about 300km away).

  6. yantraShilpi says:

    Try out the Terra Plana shoes. They might fit the “dressy” requirement that you are looking for. They have a minimal footwear feel just like the VFFs, but they are better for wearing “semi-formal” clothes with I think. Atleast they look as such in their designs. I have to try one of them, but they are expensive!

    stormy Reply:
    July 7th, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    They didn’t make my size in women’s shoes … :(

  7. Henry Miller says:

    Interesting, and mostly correct. However it ignores the latest research that shows runners wearing shoes place more stress on their knees.

    You can safely conclude this: anyone telling you that shoes are better is not on the side of science, and it unlikely to every be. Barefoot might or might not turn out to be better, but it will not turn out worse.

  8. Rich says:

    I’ve got the camoflaged vibrams that cover the whole of your foot. I can’t run on a treadmill for more than a minute or so without getting pain in my knees and shins, wearing trainers. With the vibrams though I can run for nearly an hour now and it’s only my lack of fitness that stops me going further.

    I just wish they didn’t get so many comments though, I’d love to be able to wear them to work.

    stormy Reply:
    July 7th, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    I feel the same way. I wish they got less attention and comments. (Not that I mind telling people about them. It just makes me feel like they aren’t appropriate for some situations though.)

  9. Spider says:

    I got mine about a year ago, where I was previously a longtime ( 15 years?) army-style boot wearer, this was my first pair of low shoes in ages.

    I find that it’s a huge turnaround for me, however tendrons and muscles _really_ need some time to develop with them, so running was quite out of the question for a long time.

  10. Øyvind -pippin- Kolås says:

    I’ve got a pair of VFF flow (should have gone for KSOs instead, the neoprene is a bit too warm). In the beginning odor was not a problem at all, but after the first couple of cycles of washing in a washing machine it seems like they can get quite smelly after a day or so of use. And when they do it is a bit awkward in situations where guests are expected to take their shoes off – and in the best interest of all involved I argue for wiping them clean and keeping them on.

  11. Lefty says:

    I’ve got a pair of the KSOs, and I love ‘em. Possibly the most comfortable footwear I own. They don’t get much love from anyone else, though. “Are you actually going to go out in those!?”

  12. [...] June 26th, 2010 in PlanetGNOME Hello there! If you are new here, you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on this topic.Powered by WP Greet Box WordPress PluginAnother GNOMEr with Vibram shoes. [...]

  13. Jacob says:

    Ok so I got some vff and was wondering do you walk toe heal or heal toe when you have them on

    stormy Reply:
    July 7th, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Most of us walk heel to toe but it’s better to land more flat footed or toe to heel. Most cultures that go barefoot (or wear shoes like moccasins) do not walk heel to toe.

    If you run heel to toe in them, it will really hurt. Or that was my experience.

  14. With the vibrams though I can run for nearly an hour now and it’s only my lack of fitness that stops me going further.

  15. Nathan says:

    I was contemplating on buying a pair of Terra Planna’s or VIbrams. My only thought or question rather, is whether or not when going “barefoot” you should walk heal-to-toe(lightly) or mid-foot-to-heal as you would when running barefoot. I’m only 18 but from 4 consecutive years of skateboarding and 5 years of soccer my knees or shot. Just trying to help them out so I don’t end up needing knee surgery. :x

  16. arpia49 says:

    I read your post half a year ago and I’ve always thank about getting a VFFs, so yesterday I pick a KSO pair (I think it can be warmer in the cold) and ran 15km just to see if they feel great.

    I have to say that after that lame action I’m still alive and pretty happy about them. I have one little blister (after 80min running!) because I didn’t fast the velcro well in my right feet, and my legs hurt if I was being running barefoot into the sand.

    So… I have to thank you for giving me courage to try :)

    By the way, if someone is looking for VFFs in Madrid (Spain) I bought my pair in Bravo Murillo 12.

    stormy Reply:
    February 13th, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Awesome! Were you running in other barefoot shoes or barefoot before you ran 15km? That’s quite the run!

    arpia49 Reply:
    February 17th, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Before I ran with classic sneakers but I was born in Tenerife island and I’ve done track and field a few years so I know what kind of soreness I would expect (very similar to running barefoot in the sand).

    After a week and 43km I feel very comfortable, but I still hesitate when I change from asphalt to soil (maybe soil is not the word, bit I can only think in “almost dry mud”). Running under the rain is also very funny if you live near so yo can dry you foot before the freeze.

    Like I’ve told you before, thank you for letting me know about VFFs (and geeky posts that I read but don’t comment).