Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

minimalist footwear that won't make you look like an idiot

I hate that I like vibram five fingers (VFF)...

Let me rephrase that. I hate that I like what the VFF represent, but I do think the "shoes" themselves are unnecessary, silly, and one of the most ridiculous fads since zubaz (which are apparently coming back into style). I like the idea of eliminating shoes as they are most commonly conceptualized, and have experienced only positive consequences from going to a more minimalist shoe. I was originally intrigued by the VFF's, and even tried them on a few years ago after they were mentioned on the Slowtwitch Forums when I was transitioning into a more and more minimal running shoe. I wanted so badly to like them, but for $100+ dollars, I couldn't justify having gloves on my feet that really were not that comfortable.

Now, anyone who knows me will agree that I do not mind wearing outlandish things. I've been through many "phases" and been sucked into many fads, and also worn loud and obnoxious outfits mostly as a joke and partly to stand out. So the fact that the VFF's are the goofiest footwear available did not completely deter me, I just knew there had to be a better solution that didn't require separating my toes and making me look like a complete goon. I wanted all the benefits of minimalist footwear with none of the discomfort (both physical and mental).

So what did I do? Well, at the time I already had one of the best pairs of minimalist footwear but I went online and looked for other ideas. This will not be the most comprehensive handling of this subject, so I'll direct you to a few excellent blogs and then use this post to add a few pairs of shoes that I have owned for awhile now and have confidence vouching for.
Richard at Free The Animal has a few posts on the subject here and here. Mark Sisson provides some good ideas here and if you google "barefoot shoes" I'm sure you'll come up with more information than you could have wanted. I am going to talk about two of the New Balance Minimus shoes (the Life and Trail versions), as well as the Saucony Hattori.

My minimalist lineup from left to right: NB Minimus Trail, NB Minimus Life, Saucony Hattori

New Balance Minimus Life
This was the first pair of shoes that I purchased, out of the three I'm highlighting in this post, and I bought them because the Trail version was sold out and had been every time I had gone to buy them. I had actually been anticipating this line of shoes to be released and when they finally dropped I had an itchy mouse finger and a heavy wallet, so when the Trail was unavailable I snatched up the Life and am incredibly happy that I did so.

nice simple color scheme on this sneaker, looks just like a casual athletic shoe

These shoes feel like slippers but look like athletic shoes. They are the most comfortable sneakers that I own and they are incredibly stealth. The elastic on the upper  midfoot does not provide any kind of irritation on the top of the foot and the shoe is constructed in such a way as to stay on snugly without requiring laces but also without being overly difficult to get your foot into initially. The sole is incredibly thin, but what little material is there is spongy and comfortable. They are perfect for wearing to the office, slipping on to go run some errands, or just wearing around the house if you don't want cold feet. I've worn them out on gravel trails during lunch time walks and they hold up just fine underfoot, but because of the soft material you can step on some rocks and definitely regret your footwear choice for that day.

soft underfoot, this sole is like walking on a freshly blazed trail
I thought that the sole would wear incredibly fast after the initial month of wearing these around everywhere because the material seemed to be breaking down fast; however, after the break-in period the  foam and rubber have not shown rapid wear.
No laces, no seams, no stitching on the inside. This is like a slipper or some kind of foot condom that dulls the sensation just well enough to prolong your walking pleasure.
The Pros:

  • light
  • extremely comfortable
  • unassuming and stealth
The Cons:

  • the least durable of the three
  • no laces so no choice but comfort (ie, not for use in the gym)
The Bottom Line: 
These shoes are great for everything except trails and gym; they are extremely comfortable and very stylish. 

New Balance Minimus Trail
This has become my favorite shoe of the bunch. Unfortunately, I wanted these so badly that I bought them in orange because it's the only color that was available in my size at the time of purchase. Colorway aside, this pair of shoes is a job well done by New Balance. The vibram rubber sole is a very good balance of hardness, toughness, and cushion. The heel to toe drop is unnoticeable if there is any, and the last is a perfect geometric blending of a narrow-ish mid foot with a wide forefoot for maximum toe freedom. 
I use these shoes for any kind of outdoor activity, as well as in the gym. They are great for deadlifts, because it's like being barefoot and they keep your anatomy in proper form for by allowing your heel to remain on the ground for proper hamstring activation. The rubber sole extends behind the heel, which is a great feature if you are using a rowing machine and don't want a blister on the back of your heel (a feature I only came to appreciate after wearing the Hattori's). 
The tongue is not a separate piece of the shoe, but rather attached to the rest of the upper in a seamless manner. This serves two functions: 1) eliminates irritation from stitching 2) prevents the traditional tongue slippage where the tongue tends to shift to one side or the other over time.

The upper is very light and breathable, which is a nice contrast to the rugged, durable sole. The sole provides great traction and protection from gravel and other hard/sharp debris on the trail. Overall, the shoe is extremely well made and doesn't take up much room in your luggage since they fold down to basically nothing.
The Pros:
  • lightweight but extremely durable
  • great tread on the sole for traction
  • well designed last, fits my foot like a glove
The Cons:
  • get very smelly if you use them barefoot
  • "vibram" logo is visible on the outside of the shoe (picking knits here, I realize that vibram makes great rubber for the sole)
The Bottom Line:
These shoes are the best alternative to VFF's that I've found. They are a complete outdoor shoe that do so much more. Pick them up in black if you don't want to be rockin' the sunburst on your feet.

Saucony Hattori

The first thing I have to say about this pair of shoes is actually a complaint, but I feel like it needs to be voiced because the shoes are otherwise awesome. I could really do without the velcro. The only thing the velcro does is prevent me from getting the shoes on as easily as I could otherwise. Once the shoe is on, it fits so snugly that the velcro becomes unnecessary as a means of keeping the shoe on.
This shoe has ZERO heel to toe drop, and a very thin sole, even more so than the NB Life. Underfoot, they feel very minimal at first, but provide a sort of spring the more you move around in them. The upper is incredibly thin, not much more substantial than pantyhose, and definitely the lightest of the three shoes being reviewed in this post. This shoe was probably designed for triathletes and runners, and it shows in the loud colorway (which I actually enjoy), but also in the lack of material behind the heel. 
Essentially, these are very similar to the NB Lifes, only designed and built more for performance than for style/comfort. They are great to wear to the gym, do some sprinting, lifting, etc; but I wouldn't necessarily put them on to go to the grocery store or do yardwork.
the inside view of the shoe. I really dig the colorway chosen here

I could really do without the velcro

sweet green sole, looks like Nickelodeon slime or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles OOZE
The Pros:
  • thin but springy sole
  • eye catching colorway
  • upper material is almost nonexistent, in a good way
The Cons:
  • the velcro is a defect, not a feature
  • lacking material behind the heel
The Bottom Line:
These shoes are one step away from becoming a real threat in the minimalist shoe market, but definitely worth a look if you're in line for some new gym shoes.
I would gladly purchase both New Balance shoes again, as I pretty much wear one or the other, or both, every day. Saucony would need to remove the velcro straps from the Hattori before I would buy another pair. The addition of some extra material behind the heel would sweeten the deal but that would not increase their value to the target market (runners and triathletes) so I won't hold my breath on that change. All of these would be a fine addition to any shoe lovers arsenal, especially those who have experienced positive outcomes from going to less shoe.

No comments:

Post a Comment