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Vibrams Review

Photo of a runner's feet, wearing a five finger shoe in blac and orange color.

“All you need to run is a pair of shoes.” Everybody has heard this old saying. But is there any truth to it? Every runner is familiar with the potential dangers of the sport if you don’t look after your feet properly. Muscular issues such as plantar fasciitis, and problems with posture, are familiar to many runners and can affect people in different ways depending on many things, including what type of shoes you wear.

A research study which compared runners from the US and Kenya found that those who grew up running barefoot have almost no impact collision between their feet and the ground when they run, compared to American runners who were used to using footwear. Wearing classic running shoes restricts and contorts our toes and our feet into unnatural shapes, which is a leading cause of many of these medical issues in the long-term.

Barefoot running, by contrast, seems to decrease the risk of unnecessary pain and sprain. Vibrams is a company which has found a middle ground, a running shoe which allows the foot to move properly and offers all the dexterity of the barefoot experience by offering spaces for your toes to move independently, and providing the wearer with a convincing ground feel.

Discover the advantages of their lightweight design, and see our responses to some frequently asked questions about this unique and original style of footwear. Read on to see our full review of Vibram Fivefinger footwear.

Product OverviewImage of a five finger shoe in black color with laces in place.

Upper Material: Mesh | Outsole: Rubber | Weight: 6.4 oz

In Italian, the word for “fingers” is the same as the word for “toes”. Fivefingers gets their name from Italy – Vibram (pronounced Vee-bram) is an Italian business based in Albizzate. This well-known footwear company has been around since the 1930’s, so you know you are getting a name which is considered reliable around the world.

Below we review some of the key features and technical specifications of Vibram Fivefinger shoes, the advantages and disadvantages of the style, and finally take a look at some of the Frequently Asked Questions we receive about this footwear.

Key Features:

Vibram Fivefingers are the most popular brand of a design style which is being noticed more and more, known as barefoot shoes. These are essentially tight-fit shoes which do not cover your ankles and have visible pockets for your toes, which offer all the health benefits of barefoot running mixed with the comfort and security of quality footwear. The increasing popularity of such minimalist shoes is supported by science, which is in favour of giving your feet the room to move in a natural way, as well as the ability to feel the ground and the muscle advantages this can have when exercising.

Fivefingers come in many different styles which are suited to people of all ages and levels of ability, depending on your preferred exercise. We include some more specifics a little further below if you have a specific kind of exercise in mind, in order to best the best out of your Fivefingers.

Our favourite is the KSO, as it is both durable and versatile, and will suit most of your exercise needs, whether it be cross training, rock climbing, indoor track and cardio, or (limited) outdoor running. We say limited here because the traction offered by most styles of Vibram Fivefinger isn’t the best for particularly cold or slippery outdoor weather. Keep reading further down our review to find out more.

Technical Specification:

Before we review some of the advantages of Vibrams, it is worth taking a look at some of the materials and specifications. While the specifics change depending on which model of shoe you talk about, they all share some common features.

The soles are made up of Vibram TC-1 performance rubber, and most designs have thin soles better for walking and indoor exercise, but some are thicker than others. The models with thicker soles, such as the Vibram V-Run, tend to be better for running outdoors as they offer greater protection for your foot when it impacts upon hard ground. Most Vibram Fivefinger models tend to be very light and flexible (the reason they are machine washable where many other shoes are not), although the varieties with a thicker sole tend to be a bit heavier.

The frame of the shoe is made from stretchable polyamide, which has the ability to change shape over time to better fit the foot wearing it. This is what people mean when they talk about “breaking in” a new pair of shoes, and Vibrams make this easy and maximise comfort by using this thin and malleable material. The exterior is usually made up of a simple polyester fabric (this is the case with KSO and KSO EVO), although there are some exceptions to this, such as the CVT-Leather design. There are lots of different models of Fivefingers so it is best to check directly.

Depending on your preferred style, some Vibrams – such as the V-train – use a unique and easy-to-use lacing system which uses a toggle lock instead of tying, making them operate more like slip-ons. Other products use a simple Velcro strap. We found that both options are quick and easy to use, and while the toggle lock lacing system was new to us, it was very easy to get the hang of.

Many models – like the classic KSO – are available with or without laces, depending on your individual preference. While it can be tempting to go for the lace-less option, remember the toggle lock does make fixing the shoes easy and saves you from tying. In our opinion, the options with laces tend to offer a tighter and more secure fit than the Velcro straps, and since all models are machine washable, cleaning is just as easy with or without laces.

Pros

When making a decision about which exercise equipment to buy, it is best to review the pros and cons of any potential purpose. To make this job easier for you we’ve compiled a list of what we think are the main advantages to Fivefingers, and what you can expect from your first pair.

Pro's:
  • Aids flexibility – Vibram Fivefingers help increase flexibility in your ankles, feet, and toes. First-time Vibram wearers often notice a stiffness in these areas, particularly when moving, and an unnecessary amount of strain on the outer soles of the feet and ankles. This is essentially muscle memory, and is the result of years of exercising (or even simply walking) with footwear which does not complement the foot’s natural shape. This more traditional footwear does not compliment your toes or the dexterity in your feet. You will also notice that with flexibility comes strength – this is a real selling point for any barefoot running shoe, and Vibram are no exception.
  • Comfort – The comfort benefits of Vibram Fivefinger shoes are twofold. Not only is the shoe a more comfortable wear for the user, but the barefoot experience is also easier and more comfortable on your feet than exercising with traditional footwear. It is easy to think that a normal shoe would provide greater protection, but actually it is more likely to encourage “heel-striking”, or hitting the ground with your heel instead of the ball of your foot. Wearing Fivefingers encourages you to run in a more natural way which is similar to being barefoot, while still protecting your foot with a flexible rubber sole.
  • Balance and posture – Proper good balance is all in the toes, and regularly wearing minimalist shoes teaches the muscles and ligaments in your feet and toes to function properly. Think about the thick soles on traditional running shoes acting essentially like big rubber planks, bearing the impact of every step and taking all of the hard work away from your toes. Switching to Vibrams forces you to use your feet properly – utilising every joint and muscle in the way our bodies are supposed to. It is a common user review that wearing Vibram Fivefinger helps to improve balance, because it takes away our reliance on those rubber planks and forces us to use all of the foot properly. This can greatly benefit your balance and posture by lowering your heel and evenly distributing your body weight.
  • Durability – Vibram takes a lot of care to ensure their products will last you a long time, and test the physical-mechanical characteristics of every material in a lab to measure for stuff like stress capacity and density. Top quality craftmanship means that if you are looking after your shoes, you will get years of use out of them. Their designs come so highly recommended that they actually provide the soles for law enforcement, firefighter and military uniforms! Ours have stayed at peak performance after multiple test runs and outdoor hikes, and as long as you remember to give them the occasional light wash (made easier by the fact all Vibrams are machine washable) then we see no reason they will need replacing for a number of years. If you’ve been using yours outdoors and they require a slightly more heavy-duty wash, or if you don’t have access to a washing machine, you can also rinse them out with warm soapy water.
  • Versatility – Something which really sets Vibram apart from other sports shoe brands is the sheer range of options. There are actually far too many to fully review all of them here, although product reviews for each can be found online. Each model is available for men’s and woman’s feet, and comes in a number of sizes and colors. Smaller size KSO-EVOs come in black and are suitable for kids for a reasonable price, and adult options range from a casual shoe like the CVT-Leather or CVT-Hemp, through water-sports friendly options like the V-Aqua, to outdoor friendly designs for hikes and trail running like the V-Trek and V-Trail. The KSO and KSO-EVO are terrific all-rounders which are equipped to handle most kinds of exercise without deteriorating, which is why they are our top recommendations. Read more to see our review of the top Vibram models for walking and running.
  • Sustainability – We’ve said a lot about the shoes – but what about the business behind them? Vibram are an Italian company who go all we the back to the 1930’s, and sustainable performance is one of their core principles. Unlike a lot of companies who simply provide a bit of environmental lip service, Vibram are committed to sustainable business practices and operate on a sustainable supply chain using a zero-waste policy. They use renewable energy and low-powered LED lighting systems for many parts of their Italian operations, for example. This means you can rest easy in your new Vibrams knowing you are investing in a responsible and forward-looking business.

Cons

While we have found that the benefits of Fivefingers outweigh the disadvantages, here are some things we think you should know before deciding to purchase Vibrams.

Cons:
  • Design – Most Fivefingers wearers admit that the design takes a little bit of time to get used to. Not everyone is a fan of the foot-like appearance when they first see it, and it is really the comfort of a first-time wearing experience that sells most people. This is not just a vanity point – as a more general note, toe shoes will always feel unnatural the first time you try them. As we have said above, when you go from regularly wearing trainers and other types of shoe to wearing Five Fingers, you notice immediately those areas of tension and stiffness caused by the long-term effect wearing shoes has on the body. Vibram have a list of transitioning tips on their website for anyone who is looking to make the transition to Five Fingers. Patience is your friend – you need to build up gradually (they recommend over the course of several months, depending on the wearer) and take a break if you feel pain in your feet. There are also easy barefoot exercises you can try at home to strengthen your feet to make the transition process smoother. You should also practice running properly – this means avoiding over-striding and heel-striking as this can damage your legs, and being mindful of how much noise you make when you run (ideally, you should be landing every step lightly). It might also take longer to put them on the first couple of times, as the toe pockets and tight fit feel less like a shoe and a bit more like putting on a glove. Don’t worry – this will get easier and faster with time.
  • Traction – Depending on the kind of use you are looking to get out of your Fivefingers, it might be worth taking a close look at the model you are going to buy, as they offer different levels of traction for different exercise experiences. While models like the Flow offer better traction than most, the majority of models are better suited to dry terrain and indoor track and cardio. Wet rocks and cobbles are not best friends with Vibram shoes, so this is worth remembering before you make your purchase.
  • Sweat – In order to give the best and most convincing barefoot feel, Vibram use rather tight sizing. Most Fivefingers designs fit around the foot like a sock. The KSO in particular has a remarkable smug fit – if you are wearing the right size, there shouldn’t really be much room left in the shoe. If your workout is intense and long, Vibrams can become quite sweaty and smelly, especially if you are a trail runner. You can always wear toe socks inside your Vibram shoes, but we feel this slightly offsets the benefits of unrestricted movement, and takes away from the barefoot experience. Luckily, Vibrams are machine washable so if you do find they are starting to smell, getting them clean again could not be easier.

Final Verdict:

Thanks for reading our Vibram Fivefingers review. Hopefully the above information gives you an idea of the kinds of benefits a minimalist shoe can have on your cardio workout – and of the issues you might come across if you decide to make the switch. For the reasonable price tag in comparison to other sporting footwear, we definitely think Vibrams are a good investment if you have the patience to break them in properly and responsibly.

When we review all of the pros and cons, we think it is clear that Vibram Five Fingers are a winner. Starting at a reasonable price, there are very few shoes on the market which offer as many advantages and health benefits as these do. Of course, there is no room in this review go into detail about every model Vibram offers (and there are quite a lot), but there are other reviews online for specific products when you know exactly what you are looking for. In the FAQs section we have included some handy tips for which model is right for you, depending on what you plan on using your shoes for.

Lighter products will be more comfortable for walks and hikes, while the models with heavier and thicker soles are the most beneficial for outdoor running. We are here to give you an idea of the common features and point you in the right direction. Read on to see our recommendations for the best Vibram models for runners.

It is all too easy to understate the importance of comfort – no shoe comes closer than a Vibram to a genuinely barefoot feeling. As we have said, they may take a bit of time to get used to, and you might experience some stiffness the first couple of times you try them on, but used in the long-term Vibram Fivefingers are not only comfortable, they make you feel better by improving your posture and strengthening important and underused parts of your feet.

The main thing which swayed us was the fact that the biggest drawbacks – the initial discomfort and stiffness, and the length of time to get used to Fivefingers – are short-term issues. In fact, we’d say they aren’t really issues with Fivefingers shoes themselves – it might make more sense to describe them as issues resulting from the long-term use of trainers which box in and restrict your feet, harming your foot’s strength and your overall body posture. Someone who has been wearing traditional running shoes for a long time might find it harder to adjust initially, so make sure to break in your new shoes gently.

Think of it like working out a new or underused part of the body: many of the muscles in your foot will not be used to proper utilisation, and the lack of sensitivity on your sole from years of wearing trainers will make it difficult initially to run for long periods of time. The unexpected comfort and weightlessness feel like a breath of fresh air, but if you get carried away on your first workout you could risk over-striding and putting extra unnecessary strain on your Achilles tendon.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hopefully now you’ve got an idea of what to expect from your next pair of Vibram Fivefingers. Below we’ve taken some of the most common things we hear from our readers, in case you need any extra help in making your decision.

Are Vibram Five Fingers good for your feet?

The short answer is yes! Vibram Five Fingers simulate the experience of running barefoot, which as we have said above has many advantages for your feet and toes. Barefoot runners strike the ground with very little impact collision, which is better for your feet, legs and back. Traditional shoes make it harder to do this – impact is shifted on to the ball of the foot which can be painful and over time might cause issues with posture.

Remember the rubber soles of regular shoes are like flat planks, which are unnatural for the shape of the foot and restrict our ability to use all of the foot’s 20 muscles or properly utilise many joints and ligaments. Over time, this can be harmful for our balance, and our foot’s dexterity. Wearing Vibram Fivefinger gives your feet and toes the freedom to move properly. Just remember to make sure you break in your Vibrams slowly, as your foot might not be used to getting a full workout from years stuck in trainers.

If you over-stride (land your foot too far in front of your hips), you can put unnecessary strain on your Achilles tendon, and this is something which can lead to health problems in the future.

What are the benefits of Vibram Five Fingers?

We’ve already told you about the great health benefits of toe shoes – but why should you choose Vibram over any other brand? There are a couple of reasons. First, they are exceptionally comfortable. The tight fit – especially with designs such as the KSO – means that at times you will forget you are even wearing shoes. If you find your feet can get a bit sweaty (don’t worry – it happens to the best of us) then there are toe socks you can buy to stop this from happening.

In this case, it may be an idea to go one size up, depending on how tight a fit you are looking for. As with any other shoes, it’s best to go into a store beforehand and try your shoes on to get a feel for the right size, but take a look on their website for their recommended US sizing guide if this isn’t possible. Don’t worry too much if you don’t want to wear socks but are also worried about your shoes smelling, as Vibram shoes are conveniently machine washable, thanks to their thin soles and lightweight design.

Just remember to air dry if you don’t want to damage them. Another benefit of Vibram Five Fingers is the affordable price tag – you won’t find a minimalist shoe which is consistently reliable and durable for anything under Vibrams $75 starting price. Most designs are also available with or without laces, and in a range of colors for every size to suit your preferences. You can see all of these options if you order direct from Vibrams own online store, which you can find on their web site.

Are Vibrams good for walking?

You don’t have to be born to run to experience the benefits of Vibram Fivefinger. Some models are better suited to specific types of outdoor exercise, but you will struggle to find any which are not suitable for walking. As well as the health benefits which we review above, we also found walking to be far more enjoyable with Five Fingers because there is something exhilarating about having the convincing ground feel which makes you feel like you are walking barefoot.

Hikes are especially easy with the KSO model. The acronym stands for ‘Keep Stuff Out’, and its tight fit is specially designed to keep your feet clean and dry on outdoor trails. This makes the KSO a terrific all-rounder which can also be used for indoor activities and exercise, but for walking (especially on a trail hike) we were certainly grateful to have a shoe which combines a seamless barefoot experience with a sturdy and robust shoe which is sure to keep out all the mud and leaves. Just watch out for traction – as we have said above, you should avoid going out to exercise with Fivefingers on smooth rocks in damp or wet weather – try to stick to level grassy terrain where possible, such as a field.

Which Vibrams are best for running?

If you plan on using your Vibram Five Fingers mainly for barefoot running, it’s important that you purchase a model with a thicker and sturdier sole. You will lose a little flexibility, but this will be much easier on your feet in the long run. The best shoe depends on where you usually run, and how intense you want your workout to be (although remember to avoid intense workouts when you are still transitioning). Try the Fivefingers KSO or V-Run, which are both available in a variety of colors, with and without laces.

The KSO design is your ideal shoe for flexible use such as hikes and general exercise, but the V-Run is heavier-duty and better suited for someone who plans to run longer distances, although you should remember to avoid going long distances while you are still transitioning to wearing a Vibram shoe. You can find reviews of the KSO model online if you require any more information. Another great all-rounder which suits almost any kind of exercise is the V-train, a shoe designed with running in mind but ideal for all sorts of workout, indoor and outdoor. It is slightly heavier than most other Fivefingers models and offers a more solid structure with Traction Lugs in the arches which are terrific for grip when rope climbing. Like most other styles, these are available with laces.

Avoid immediately going on intense or long-distance workouts when you start wearing Five Fingers. As we have said above, you can hurt yourself if you don’t take some time to slowly transition yourself. Five Fingers requires more foot strength than your standard sports shoe – so initially you’ll want to train your feet with workouts designed to improve strength. You can review different exercises on the Vibram website, along with advice on how to do the transition properly. A few pieces of advice to remember are to be mindful of how you run – over-striding, or putting your foot too far forward, can end up hurting your legs. Keep an eye out for heel-striking, or hitting the ground with the back of your shoe, as this puts a lot of unnatural pressure on your foot and is the fastest route to damaging your shoe as well as your foot.

You should start off by going small distances and adding your Vibrams to your usual workout shoe rotation, instead of throwing out all of your other brands on the first day. The length of time you spend transitioning will depend on the product, the workout and ultimately the wearer. Some online reviews only recommend a couple of weeks, but Vibram say it can take up to a year to be fully fit and comfortable wearing Five Fingers. If you go for long and intense runs immediately you might end up doing more harm than good – the best advice is to listen to what your body is telling you and adjust your transition exercises accordingly. You don’t want to overdo it, after all.

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