flickr: Allen Gathman
OK, not that literal.
I get asked about what shoes I recommend pretty often, so it makes way more sense to provide a general overview of which shoes I have used and my thoughts on them. There is no perfect shoe for everyone. You should take into consideration your own preferences and specific activity requirements when trying to choose which shoe to wear; with that in mind the information here is based on my own subjective experience of all these shoes. Have any experience with some of the models talked about here? Share your thoughts on them! I will add any extra useful information to the notes.
Note: this post only covers minimalist shoes. I haven’t worn any other kind of shoe in years so I cannot offer an informed opinion on any of the more conventional shoes on the market. (You would have to glue them to my feet to make me wear them long enough to properly test anyway…)
I will be regularly updating this post as I try out other shoes and when I get feedback about them from the community. More likely this will get turned into a page in the future.
**Currently testing: Onitsuka Tiger Ultimate 81
Brief thoughts: Amazing durability and grip. Great shoe, with the major cons being the heel padding (somewhat removable, but required me ripping out the insoles) and narrowness of the shoe.
KSO (Keep Stuff Out)
The most minimalist, in terms of rubber between you and the ground, of the shoes I have tried. Overview: Extremely good ground feedback, second only to actually going barefoot. Super lightweight with a good breathable cloth upper that keeps most of the random crap out except those pesky sand particles. As with all VFFs they are washable, so getting absolutely wet and muddy isn’t a big deal. They require washing occasionally anyway as they get stinky quicker than most other shoes.
Grip: Great. Solid grip on just about everything, and they handle wet conditions well.
Durability: Good. Despite the very thin rubber it seems to last forever. Took me over a year to start to wear a hole into it.
Special Considerations: Fitting is very precise and for some people these just won’t feel right. The articulated toes have some pros and cons.
Parkour specific considerations: Most VFF models (especially this guy) have a big weakness: the stitching around the toes. Wall passes, traversing, and tic-tacs are all extremely hard on the seams in the sewing. It only took me a couple of months to bust open the inside seams on the big toe and second toe. Expect 2-3 months out of them with regular training, not really worth it given the price tag (~$90).
KSO Trek / Trek LS
Vibram has phased out the original KSO Trek and replaced it with a similar model, the Trek LS.(Side note: I’ve spotted a different model at REI that might be a cheaper and better version, will update soon) Basically the same, except the laces, so the overview here should largely still be the case. A tougher variation on the KSO design; it replaces the cloth upper with leather and has thicker weaved fabric around the toes. The bottom is thicker and more rugged. Still very light but sacrifices some ground feedback for extra grip and durability from the rubber. Like the KSO they handle water and dirt super well; it is surprising how easily cleaned the leather is even after becoming coated in mud.
Grip: Excellent. Another all around good grip on every surface with good wet weather grip too. The Trek rubber seems to handle rougher surfaces much better than the normal KSOs. Way better for any kind of rock climbing or wall traversing.
Durability: Excellent. After over a year of regular use the bottom isn’t even nearing worn out. The sewing around the toes has also proven to be far more resilient.
Parkour Specific Notes: If you are going to wear VFFs for Parkour this is the best pair to get. They won’t die early on you because of the weakness in sewing and the grip is noticeably better on urban surfaces. With the price increase from the new model ($125 to $140) is harder to recommend over other options unless you absolutely want to rock the feet glove look for some reason.
Marketed as wushu (martial art) shoes they are surprisingly good all around shoes, especially when you consider the price tag ($20 on Amazon). These have a thicker sole than the other options, so they give weak ground feedback, but that means they are a good choice to gradually transition from thick soled shoes to barely there soled shoes. Also (marginally) the heaviest of the shoes I have tried, but that really isn’t saying much.
Grip: Good. Particularly grippy on painted metal and otherwise solid.
Durability: Mediocre. The rubber will last you 2-3 months (see the Parkour specific note), but they are so damn cheap that three pairs could cost less and last longer than one better pair of shoes.
Special Considerations: As they get worn out the grip on some types of floors (waxed wood, polished stone) gets totally ridiculous. Bad combo with any kind of spinning movements (what? I’m get bored sometimes and practice kicks while waiting).
Parkour specific notes: The Feiyeus get most of their traction on walls from the ripple like pattern of the rubber. The overall durability is crap because it doesn’t take long to completely wear away the pattern, leaving a very flat surface that offers much less friction for wall passes. As that happens they gain a freakish amount of traction on painted metal, to the point where you almost can’t slip off of some rails. Seriously, I tried.
Crossfitters absolutely love these things, so if they are ever out of stock, blame them. The 230 designation is their exact weight, in grams (because they’re British, of course), which makes them almost as light as the VFFs – they have a lighter model, the 195s that I haven’t tried. They use climbing rubber for the soles and have a thin mesh upper. This model, despite being extremely light, has a small amount of heel drop and some padding in the heel. Not 100% minimalist but still excellent.
Shoes I haven’t personally tried, but know are good:
Merrell Trail Glove
The number of Fifth Ape students with these seems to increase all the time. Haven’t heard anything bad about them yet.
Five Ten Dæscent (Beluga)
Sometimes I think Five Ten doesn’t want this to ever be found in searches, because of the æ character. I’m cheating and using a French keyboard layout so I have quick access to it. The rubber on these is supposed to be amazing. The joke being that it’s cheating to wear them when talking about wall passes, as the extra grip will add upwards of a couple inches to the maximum heights you can reach. A bit weak on painted metal, but superb grip on most other things, while still being pretty light.
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