All Climbing

Everything climbing, mountains, and the outdoors.




Review: Vibram Five Fingers Shoes

Author: 31 Comments Share:

My good friend Ryan Wanger wouldn’t stop talking about his new shoes, so I made him write a review. He is the Community Manager for the Boulder-based startup Everlater, which helps people record their travel experiences with friends and family.

Let me make this clear: my review of Vibram Five Fingers shoes is self serving. The more people who know about them, the less I will be stopped by total strangers asking “What are those?”
Vibram Five Fingers
Basically, the Five Finger shoes are the antithesis of footwear technology – not much more than a flexible, semi-form fitting rubber sole attached to the bottom of your foot. You can feel everything. I actually find myself wanting to walk more often, and taking strange paths home just to feel the difference between concrete, grass, and gravel.

What are they for? Everything. I’ve worn mine:

  • Walking around town
  • Climbing easy routes (these aren’t great for cracks, dime edges or
    smearing)
  • Hiking (both with and without a pack
  • Sprinting
  • At work (caveat: I’m in Boulder!)
  • Trail running
  • Playing soccer on astroturf (amazing ball control)


Why should you get them?

  • There is growing evidence that “high performance” running shoes may actually cause more injuries
  • You’ll strengthen your feet beyond what is possible in normal footwear
  • Traveling on foot becomes much more fun
  • Better balance on uneven surfaces (I’m actually more likely to step on smaller stones and branches because I can feel them – and won’t wobble)
  • They can solve lower back problems (see Tim Ferriss’ post for a good explanation)

That sounds great, but what if you have __________ (fill in the blank: high arches, flat feet, pronation, weak ankles, etc)? Well, I would ask you this question: why would you be born with feet you couldn’t use as is? What do you do for arch support? Use your arches. What do you do for ankle support? Use your ankles.

I have high arches myself (my footprint in the sand is two unconnected imprints) and have not had a single problem. Two days after my track workout (complete with sprinting) my arches were killing me. And then a strange realization – was this the first time in my life I’d ever felt the need to stretch my arches? It was. The next day I felt fine – and my feet were stronger than ever before.

The best part is that my occasional lower back pain is gone. Heels on our shoes push our hips forward, arching our lower back. This doesn’t happen with my VFFs. Why are we wearing footwear that is bad for our posture and makes our feet weaker? Pretty crazy when you think about it!

The cons:

  1. Don’t overdo it. It takes a little while for your feet to get stronger. Work up to longer hikes and runs.
  2. Unwanted attention. Extreme introverts might have a problem with strangers approaching to ask about your Vibram Five Fingers. In particular, I catch women and children staring at my feet constantly.
  3. If you wear them for more than a few hours consecutively, you’ll need to wash them. Your feet won’t be hot, but the shoes will be stinky.

Find a store and try them on for sizing purposes (for reference: I wear an 11 mens US, but ended up with size 42 five fingers – your situation might be different). There are 4 different styles. I own the KSOs but have not tried any of the others, so I can’t enumerate the differences, other than saying that the Flows are thick neoprene on top and more suited for water-only activities.

Expecting to walk home in the Classics, I went with KSO because I did not want an open top which would likely collect dirt and pebbles on the trail.

Anyone else own these or seen them around? I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the last few weeks.

You can order the Vibram Five Fingers online from Amazon.

Special thanks to Ryan Wanger of Everlater for writing this guest post. I’m still not 100% sold on these shoes, but he’s been doing a good job trying to convince me!

Previous Article

How to Clean Carabiners

Next Article

Treatment of Climbing Injuries Increases

31 Comments

  1. I just got my first KSOs and, like you, have found myself wanting to walk more. I have some knee problems and typically when walking put on a knee brace and then my walking shoes. I’ve not used my brace yet while walking with these. I’m not claiming that I’m healed, merely that walking with these on makes me pay more attention to how I’m walking (trying not to heel strike). I’m looking forward to wearing these when hiking as well.

  2. I own a pair of the classics, and I just love the feel of the “barefoot” experience. As yourself I find I get less aches in my lower back from wearing them. Also I really notice I’m walking differently compared to wearing normal shoes, using my foot in a better way. I’ve used them for everything from hiking, running, walking in the city, swimming, bouldering (did a steep 7A in them not long ago where I could use my toes on edges for grabbing).
    I have only positive things to say about this footwear! I’ll probably get my 3rd pair soon 🙂

  3. That’s all very well but – let’s be honest here people – they look a little silly. Shoes have heels because years of refinements in fashion have concluded that they look the best, not because of any deep-seated desire to make them ‘ergonomic’. Who wants an ergonomic shoe?! I just wanna go out in groovy trainers that give me bunions and blisters; at least I can cope with the pain and hold my head high knowing that I’m not walking around with sweaty rubber gloves on my feet! 😛

  4. @Bobby,

    You make a good point — though I think the style-factor of high-heels came full circle and turned into a “shoe science” factor for companies like Nike — I mean, how is it that Nike’s “Free,” which is intended to be a barefoot shoe, STILL has a heel? Doesn’t make much sense.

    Nice review, Ryan. And I think you *are* doing the world a favor by increasing awareness of VFFs though I could also see a day when you actually miss the automatic icebreaker with complete strangers that VFFs provide. For my part in trying to increase awareness of VFFs, I’m running a VFF fan site/community/forums that includes news, user stories and photos, mods, etc. Please check it out if you get a chance – birthdayshoes.com.

    I’ll be throwing your review in with the latest VFF reviews from the past week (shows up every Sunday).

  5. I had my first pair like 2 year ago, and loved this things. Used them at the city and at the beach, for running, over sand, dirt and pavement, walking, etc. Have used them to run over rocks, but it turned painful after a while. I used them for camping too. They are easy to clean and they dry quick. I have no experienced any pain in my arch or knees, eventhough I have flat feet.

  6. Hi Laura,

    Hope youâ??re still enjoying the FiveFingers. I certainly have. Unfortunately they seemed to have a defect though and have started to fall apart! I wrote a review to explain.

  7. I love my Sprints; they’re the most comfortable, best shoe I’ve ever had.

    Except for the stinkies. They make my feet reek really, really bad. If I could just find a way to keep them from smelling so bad… (and yes, I do wash them, but every day? Come on!)

  8. I like the kso’s personally, the sprints are nice and slide in faster but things do get in.. the kso’s actually does what it says.. “keeps stuff out”.

    as far as looks, i think they look pretty awesome.. lotta head turns wherever i go thats for sure…

    concrete I’d recommend normal shoes or nike frees though.. here’s more info on nike free and vibram and how they compare:

    http://barefootrunningshoes.org/2009/10/08/nike-free-versus-vibram-five-fingers-10-points/

    I think their main site for vibram five fingers is here

  9. My fiance purchased me a pair of Classics because I hate using traditional shoes. While wearing them I have found that I no longer have lower back and hip pain, I don’t trip over my own feet while walking, and I can enjoy walking for longer periods of time without my feet tiring. I really enjoy my shoes and I have recomended them to several people.

  10. Tom,

    Looks like your post here got a nice fat spam comment from “heathkim,” who I can only assume is the proprietor of barefootrunningshoes dot org. I say this b/c I track all things VFF and I am constantly seeing comments sprout up on blogs that tangentially link to some sorta post on barefootrunningshoes and are written by â??heathjones,â? â??electro,â? â??jason heathrow,â? â??heesinjones,â? etc. Perhaps the most obvious proof of my point is how heathkim is trying to confuse readers by suggesting that barefootrunningshoes is the official site for fivefingers.

    Anyway thought you’d want to know that All Climbing was unwittingly contributing to a site like that.

  11. I am desperately wanting a pair of these as soon as I can find the $90 to fork over.

    I became interested after reading a great write up in Chris McDougall’s book, “Born to Run.”

  12. So you’re spamming a link to “cheap MBT shoes,” which are like the anti-FiveFingers, while talking about how much you like VFFs? Fail.

  13. I love my five finger shoes. I wear them to my boxing class instead of going barefoot. The mats going slippery when peopled sweated on it and it was dangerous for bare feet. The boxing shoes I had felt like big shoes. These vibrams were the answer!

  14. I bought my Five Fingers a few months ago and love wearing them. I love the attention and opportunity to talk about them with anyone who inquires. I wear mine for basic daily activities that require me to walk and have worn them for full days at a time. I haven’t yet seen anyone else in them – and I love that! I am ahead of the crowd. They are very comfortable. I have flat feet, but have noticed that my arches do not hurt at all when I wear them. My posture is better and my knees and (generally weak) ankles do not hurt. I’ve never been a sneaker fan and am very happy that Vibram gave me this alternative. I wear a size 9 US shoe, and size 41 (women) Five Fingers fits me perfectly. My first attempts at getting them on were frustrating and exhausting, but after a few wears, I can get these babies on with great ease. Just takes practice. Follow the instructions that come with them and you’ll be wearing yours with pride and love in no time!

  15. Nice post Rhetta – FiveFingers can be tough to get on for some people but once you figure it out, they slip on as fast as any regular pair of shoes.

  16. Gott’a give it to Bobby, he got me with this: “sweaty rubber gloves on my feet”. Makes ya think. It may look funny, but then again… sometime back I was looking up MDB shoes. And then something happened, Nike’s new style of sports shoes do resemble that function… got one and it does feel like walking on air. Okay, back to the Five Fingers, I heard some say avoid doing over 1/2 mile on your first time out. I guess it takes some adapting and getting used to. Word has it, it force your toes to be spread open.
    Mark Martinez,
    Testing out best plain creatine like the energizer bunny

  17. I have owned my VFF’s for almost a year now and they are the best things I have ever bought. I own the VFF sprint because I do all types of activities-kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, or even just walking the beaches of maine- and they are perfect. At first my arches did hurt a tad, but after about 3 days it went away and my feet feel stronger than ever!

  18. Hi,

    I was looking at these for climbing. As you say, “Climbing easy routes (these arenâ??t great for cracks, dime edges or smearing)”, was this based on the KSOs?

    According to the Vibram website the kso is good for Running, Light Trekking, Climbing/Bouldering, Running, Fitness, After Sport, Water Sports, Yoga/Pilates & Travel

    Do you think the performance would be the same for the Sprint model (Climbing/Bouldering, Running, Fitness, After Sport, Water Sports, Yoga/Pilates & Travel).

    Has anyone tried these for climbing / bouldering / indoor / outdoor?

    Cheers

    John

  19. I haven’t tried the Sprints, but they are actually the exact same thing as the KSOs, just without the webbing on top of the foot. That webbing doesn’t really provide any support, it’s really just there to keep stuff out. So, yep…performance should be the same!

  20. I have not purchased the five finger shoes, but i’m looking into them. i have a genetic disorder that cause my knees to dislocate. this is a real pain with walking on uneven ground (like woods, etc…) and especially in snow/ice. i am a college student and i don’t have my mom to help me get around in the winter anymore. so i was just curious as to how the shoes do in the winter on ice and snow. do they grip well or are they slippery.

  21. After a few days: Yes, I like being flat on the ground, but I like being barefoot anyway. No issues with ankles, heels or what so ever, had no issues with back, shins etc. so no improvement either. Only one thing: My pinky is not very happy about being abducted. It’s getting better every day and I see it as an orthopaedic therapy…but 4 hours is max for my pinkies.

  22. Hey Noelle-Christine, sorry for the late response. In my experience they have been pretty bad in snow and ice. Have you heard of Yak Trax? Might be something you want to look into…you put them over regular shoes and they give you extra traction in snow/ice.

  23. Love my KSO’.

    Only down side is the strange looks from the podiatry conservatives (herd) and the reformation of my pinkey toe. Me-think they need to re-think the pinky link. Maybe join it to the next toe. Not a big problem, just a thing.

    I’ve been trail running on ice and snow. They work better than trail shoes because you get better feel and sensitivity.

    But I wouldn’t wear them casualy in the snow. Without running or hard walking, my toes get cold.

    Last point. I’ve had back surgery and three knee surgeries. Never enjoyed running as much as I do now with my KSO’s.

  24. In 2008 I had a compund fracture of my Fib and Tib bones I had 3 surgeries to correct the problem to include quite a bit of harware the docs put in my leg. After all was said and done i was informed by pretty much all the doctors that i would not be running as nearly as much as i used too, if at all. When my leg started to feel better i started running again with my regular Nike running shoes but with the shod running style i had it would cause alot of pain after only a half mile or so. So in july of 2009 i was introduced to Vibram 5 Fingers so i gave them a try cause i really had nothing to loose at that point. I bought a pair of Kso’s and started running again after i retrained my body on how to run on a forefoot strike a few months later i was running like a mad man. Now its early in 2011 and its pretty normal for me and my dog to go out and run about 7-8 mile at a time, No pain No problem very natural and comfortable. I Love my five fingers, I cant picture myself running without them anymore.

  25. I agree with everything he posted they are amazing and are catching on fast I’ve had mine for a week and they really are just a great shoe

  26. I got my pair on Christmas. I like the fact that my hips don’t hurt or my knees. I love to run, but unfortunately I am running on my treadmill because of my knees. I am having a problem with my foot though. I don’t think I am over doing it, but it has happened twice and I have to take time off to recover. Any suggestions?

  27. I honestly feel when I see people wearing regular running shoes. Not in a self-righteous way, but in a I-wish-I-could-afford-to-open-everyones-eyes kind of way. I love Love LOVE my VFFs and could not imagine life without them! When I put them on my feet just feel…right. I don’t know how else to explain it. They appreciate being let out of the rubber and leather cage I’ve kept them trapped in.

  28. Vibramhua is a online store that has items on sale online that they don’t really have in stock and they refuse to payback the money payed. I can not recommend buying from this online store.

  29. I was born with really useless knees (dislocating kneecaps) and I survive by working out at the gym a lot. However, I couldn’t really hike downhill on rough ground anymore and hard hiking boots were torture. I’ve had 5fingers for a couple of months now and they’ve changed everything! I feel much more relaxed walking downhill because I can feel everything and I’m not afraid of slipping. I almost feel like a normal human being when I hike now, except for the strange looks I get ;-).