Better than Barefoot: My Review of the Vibram Fivefingers KSO

I love doing things that are totally different, cutting edge, & that make better sense than what the status quo does.  These odd shoes are pretty much gloves for your feet… These protect your feet from rocks and such… think of them as a super callous with better grip.  They don’t really provide much as far as protection from cold though, so I’m not throwing out my winter boots, but they sure beat flip-flops in the winter (yes some guys wear flip-fops in the winter.

Barefoot Running & Walking

I run barefoot on my treadmill.  When you run barefoot you have to re-learn how to run… you land on the front of your feet (ball and toes) and your heal generally never touches the ground (which is how we were designed to run) and your toes splay outward to provide balance.  Barefoot running and walking develops stronger lower leg mucles and allows your calves to absorb shock rather than joints or bones  This prevents shinsplints pain, reduces injury, strengthens your feet and ankle muscles, increases balance (toes can spread out and do their job).  I have heard it is common for marathon runners using regular shoes to lose their toenails while running… that has to be uncomfortable.  Also, ankle injuries have increased with the use of running shoes rather than decreased.  Also, many top track teams are switching to training barefoot.

Comparing Them to Others

Toes need room… I hate scrunching up my toes in uncomfortable shoes.  My most comfortable shoes are my Vibrams, Nike Free (Nike’s stretch toward the barefoot trend), & Crocs (all of which modern runners are known to use).

How do the Vibram Fivefingers compare?  Well they have no cushion, while the Nike Free’s and Crocs are like walking on marshmallows.  The Nike Free’s annoy me because when I stand up straight my toes do not rest on the ground.  They were designed to be similar to barefoot running, but they have a huge heel pad, which prevents you from being forced to avoid landing on your heal.  They do however make a great walking shoe because we do naturally use our heal when walking.  My biggest gripe with crocs is that the rubber sole does not allow the foot to breathe well, even in socks, so they get sweaty.

What about flip-flops?  Well with flip-flops you always have to hold them on with your toes.  Try moving backwards quickly, or jumping in flip flops.  You can’t let your toes splay out naturally since you have to use two of them to keep the sandal on.  Driving in flip-flops can be a pain sometimes too.  Vibram Fivefingers are effortless.

The challenge with picking a Vibram shoe

Sizing and fit are a big challenge… too tight or too lose and they won’t feel very nice.  They need to be snug enough for good movement but loose enough that no toe’s movement is constricted.  You need to be able to bend your toes up and down comfortably.  Most people will find as I did their feet are not exactly the same size.  Someday, perhaps Vibram will offer the ability to buy a different size for the right & left foot, but that day is not here yet so go with the larger foot’s size.  I tried on maybe 4-6 pairs before I found the ones I wanted.  Each shoe has minor differences which can be unfomfortable.  One shoe that I tried on did fit well, but had a weird stitch or excess fabric on the seam in the pinky toe.  Another shoe I tried on that fit had a weird top over the big toe and my toenail would catch on it.  Also they feel differently once you stand up in them.  So you really need to try them on.

Do you need socks?

There are some cool socks designed to work with the Vibrams called Injinji Toe Socks.  These socks would also be great in other shoes that had larger toe-space.  Realize the Vibram Fivefingers KSO shoes breathe well, especially while walking or running, they are washable in cold (air dry), and they have microbial protection, but I would recommend socks if you want to wear the shoes more frequently between washings, you want more warmth, or you have super-sweaty feet.

Which Vibram Fivefingers model is right?

For your first shoe do what I did and get the KSO (stands for Keep Stuff Out).  If you plan to use them mostly just to do outdoor trek or hiking then get the Treksport or KSO Trek, their hiking shoe models.  The KSO Trek is a leather shoe in brown or black, while the Treksport is like their others with mesh and such.  They both have serious rugged tread.  If you are a serious, hardcore runner, then get the Bikila, which is their take on a running shoe.

So why the KSO?

The KSO can be used for most anything, it moves easier than the others mentioned and is more comfortable.  I can actually curl my toes under in these shoes.  It is less rugged of a tread than the two trek models, but unless you are walking around climbing on jagged rocks or hitting the trails the trek models are overkill.  The Bikila looks cool and I have not tried it on, but I am guessing it would be a fine starter shoe too and closer to what people are used to as a shoe, but not as versatile as the KSO, which can be used for walking, running, water sports, yoga/pilates, traveling, and after sport.

You Will Love Them

If you like being barefoot, wearing flip-flops, or just socks you will love these, because now you can do that outdoors, in the gym, and everywhere without the danger of stepping on a rock or rough ground.  You also have to have a flair for being different – if you are overly concerned about what others think you may want to stick to your really uncomfortable shoes.  Many wear them because they are hippie tree-huggers, but I wear them because they are cool new technology. There is just something I find cool about using our amazing bodies the way they were designed – it just seems right.  I have found my feet get tired and ache more when I use shoes that do not allow my foot and toes to move freely.  I also find my legs eventually start to ache when I wear things that are too tight on my feet.

From my experience the key to bodily comfort seems to be movement & use, rather than more padding… and these shoes do just that.