Sign In

Barefoot Running: dealnews Tests the Vibram FiveFingers Shoes

Published
By the dealnews staff

Barefoot running is currently one of the most talked-about fitness trends, at the forefront of which is Vibram and its ubiquitous FiveFingers shoes. Known for their unique design of cutouts for each toe, the shoes purportedly promote a more natural style of running as they re-teach athletes to land on their forefoot rather than their heel. We say "re-teach" because many of today's sneakers have cushioned heels that encourage runners to strike with their heel, which increases the chances of injury.

There are currently 13 styles of Vibram shoes designed for everyone from hikers to runners. We've posted various deals on Vibram shoes with prices on select styles starting as low $30 — an all-time low that we saw three weeks ago for women's styles. With the holidays fast approaching, we wanted to see whether these shoes lived up to their hype and if they make for an ideal gift for your fitness-oriented friends and family. So we had Vibram send us four different pairs of its shoes to test out. Below is a summary of what we found.

Tyler Thacker
Mileage: Walking and Hiking
Shoe: Vibram Men's FiveFingers Sprint
Current Low Price: $49.96 with free shipping
Lowest We've Seen: Current lowest price

I love my Vibrams. They are by far the goofiest-looking shoes I've ever had, but also one of my favorites. Since I started wearing them, I've noticed that I walk and run differently. I spend more time on the balls of my feet rather than my heels, so my legs are rediscovering new muscles they had forgotten about. It took a few weeks of wearing them before I even wanted to attempt some running/jogging, as I had heard horror stories about rushing it, so I didn't want to try.

I love being barefoot so these shoes have allowed me to keep that feeling all the time, which is pretty cool. I've actually started to prefer wearing them to being barefoot because of the snug feeling in my toes. If you like being barefoot I can't recommend them enough.

The biggest downside: the smell. For the first couple of weeks my Vibrams didn't smell ... until I started wearing them regularly. Fortunately, the Vibrams can be cleaned with a simple wash in a standard washing machine. On average, I can wear them about three times before washing them.

Pros: Look totally goofy and drive my wife crazy, snug comfortable feeling that's better than being barefoot, machine washable, very durable, improved walking posture
Cons: Start to stink after a few weeks, putting them on the first time takes 20 minutes because your pinky toe doesn't want to cooperate

Mark LoCastro
Mileage: 2-3 miles per week
Shoe: Vibram Men's FiveFingers KSO
Current Low Price: $57.99 with free shipping
Lowest We've Seen: Current lowest price

I was excited to try Vibram's FiveFingers shoes for quite some time. After my first trial run, I was impressed. Some muscles in my legs, presumably that I've never used before, were sore the next day. This was a good sign to me.

However, the Vibrams require some breaking in and as a result, I got a few blisters, but overall not bad. I never enjoyed running in the past because I would get painful shin splints. I feel that the Vibrams have eradicated that issue for me. I now run outside and on a treadmill at the gym, pain-free. The Vibrams certainly help me avoid heel-to-toe running, making for a better workout. Also for weight-training, I've noticed that the Vibrams provide me with a lower center of gravity (I'm 6'1"). Next, I plan on using my Vibrams for beach-related activities.

Pros: Lightweight, helps me run on my toes, provides a low center of gravity, eliminates shin splints
Cons: Blistered toes after first use, shoes need to be broken in

Chuck Phillips
Milage: 3 miles per week
Shoe: Vibram Men's FiveFingers KSO
Current Low Price: $57.99 with free shipping
Lowest We've Seen: Current lowest price

I'll start off by saying I really like these shoes, but not for running. It might be because I don't have great running fundamentals to begin with, but the shoes rubbed blisters on my feet. I'd try them for a few short runs once a week, then I'd have to swap back to regular running shoes the next.

However, I could really notice the difference in the muscle groups used while running in the Vibrams. The fact that there's little to no padding in the shoes forces you to take smaller strides and cushion your steps by bending your knees more, thus working your quads. Believe me, I paid for it after the first test run. Overall, I think that with a little more padding in the soles, coupled with a pair of thin socks, I'd use Vibrams as a change of pace from running in my normal shoes.

For me, the shoes really stood out while at the beach. They were so versatile! Since the condo where I tested them was about 100 yards of straight asphalt to the beach, it made the walk over easy — no burning feet! Plus, I didn't have to take them off when I got there. They were equally impressive in the sand. These are definitely a must in the vacation department.

Pros: Snug fit, lightweight, versatile, breathable, awesome in sand
Cons: Caused blisters while running, not enough padding in the soles, could use thinner material between the pinky toes for a more comfortable fit.

Louis Ramirez
Mileage: 10 miles per week
Shoe: Vibram Men's FiveFingers Bikila
Current Low Price: $69.95 with free shipping
Lowest We've Seen: $39.99 with $6 s&h

I decided to break in my Vibrams with a 30-minute indoor run on the treadmill. The first five minutes were odd in that it really felt like I was barefoot. I also became self conscious about how loud I was running. Every time my foot hit the treadmill (I'm a flat-footed heel striker) it sounded like someone was punching the treadmill.

There was no soreness or bruising after my initial run, so the following week I took my Vibrams out into the streets of New York for a 6-miler along the West Side Highway, which runs the gamut from pavement, to boardwalk, to dirt road, and cobblestone. The boardwalk was the softest on my feet. Everything else was, to be brutally honest, painful. Without the cushioning of my New Balance 940s, it felt like my naked heel was grinding the pavement with every step I made, and I could feel each heel-strike course through my body. (I wouldn't recommend running on cobblestones, by the way, as it's easy for a toe to catch on one of the cracks between stones.)

By the time I finished, the strap had chaffed my right foot pretty badly, to the point where I bled through the upper mesh of the shoe. I also had three blisters on my right foot — one forming above my heel, one on the side of my pinky toe, and one below my big toe. My left foot fared better, but it wasn't completely unscathed as I had a few light bruises and redness on the part of my foot below the strap.

The next few days my legs were noticeably sore, in particular my calves and quads. Subsequent runs were still painful, but after a month of gradual training, I noticed my stride had changed. I became more aware of my posture and without really trying, I started landing on my forefoot instead of my heel. The Vibrams encourage you to run with proper form, and for that reason, I'd recommend them in a heartbeat — if you're a frequent runner whose willing to patiently break them in, that is.

Pros: Extremely lightweight, machine washable, trains you to run correctly
Cons: Not good on all surfaces, strap can cause skin/foot irritation, shoes can cause blisters


Survey Says...
Give 'em a try! But here are a few things to keep in mind before making your purchase. First, make sure to measure each foot correctly at the end of the day and buy your Vibrams using the larger of your two measurements. (Vibram's website has a sizing chart you can use.) If the shoes feel the slightest bit tight, exchange them. Your chances of getting a cracked/bruised toe nail are very high since your toes will be rubbing up against the shoes. For that reason, you should also consider getting a pair of toe socks. Louis Ramirez said that running with the Injinji Lightweight Mini Crew Toesocks ($10 with in-store pickup, a low by $9) prevented the strap from digging into his foot on subsequent runs. The socks can be difficult to put on and will probably add another minute or two to your prep time, but they're worth it in the end.

Also make sure your first runs with the Vibrams are short (under 3 miles), and you give your legs and feet enough time to recover. Remember, you're learning how to run from scratch and that will tax leg muscles that you probably hadn't used before.

Note that all price information is in reference to men's styles, unless otherwise noted.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
You might also like
16 comments
ivan050
I loved this article.  While Vibrams aren't for everyone, lets face
it...most of us don't even like running.  Vibrams made ME fall in love with
running!!   If Vibrams or any other shoes or "fad" can encourage people to live a more active lifestyle, then I'm all for it!!
CrestonMike
Shoes not for me, but I appreciate your reviews.  Happy Holidays.
phatworm
Somebody mentioned that Vivo Barefoot makes larger sizes (or did with certain lines anyway).  I haven't tried them so I can't recommend them one way or the other.
tartarm
Well there were 2 problems with the Review. Mainly that Dealnews seems to be promoting this product on not so great information.

Like I said, I love Dealnews, but I don't go to them for running shoe reviews (especially fads)
tartarm
Not from Deal news. there are lots of sources of information. No to mention the conflict of interest. They got them FREE.

Look I love your site. I probably buy something shown on her almost once a day. I think if you are going to do a review...it needs to be way more complete.
zchondaboy
Do any of these shoe companies make them in a size 15 or 16 wide? I haven't found any so far.
phatworm
This article isn't a review of the shoes -- it's just commentary on transitioning to barefoot running from a few runners, mostly low-mileage, some of whom really didn't seem to understand the process before they started.  It took me about 5 months to switch to minimalist running, and only now do I really feel like I have anything useful to say about the various shoe options.

It's critical to learn how your stride should change, and just putting on the shoes and going for it is really, really dangerous.  If you don't switch to forefoot strike, it'll hurt like hell, as Louis learned the hard way.   If you do actually switch from heel strike to forefoot strike and then run 3 miles the first day, you'll probably end up limping for a week with calves so strained you can't even walk downstairs, as well as possibly injuring your Achilles tendon, developing Plantar Fasciitis, etc.  A more sane recommendation is something like walk in them for a few weeks, and when you start running your first runs should be more like 1/4-1/2 mile.

I know switching shoes seems like a minor thing, but it's a surprisingly dramatic change.  Don't underestimate it. 

This article was very useful; it fixed my stride.

www.nytimes.com/...gall.html?pagewanted=alll[/url]
efithian
I bought my first pair last March, planning to do the Bolder-Boulder. I now have four pair. First and second pair were Bikila LS, which have a lace that fits my feet better than a strap. My third pair was a cheap pair with no strap or laces, which I use for washing the cars. My fourth pair was a new laced model KomodoSport LS. The cheap pair is not comfortable for me except for car washing. The most comfortable is the KomodoSport LS. 

I don't normally run, but I do fast walking. I reviewed the YouTube videos and other info on the internet before doing anything serious with them. It is definitely a different way of walking, called the Pose method. You move your knee in front so that your foot is never past your knee, push off with your forefoot and raise your leg more than normal. It sounds really weird, and you think people will be laughing at your strides, but they can't really tell from looking at you. It becomes normal after a couple of weeks, even with normal shoes.

Buy your first pair locally so you can be sized properly and take them for a test run at the store. It may take up to 5 minutes to figure out how to get them on your foot with the toes in the right location. After a week on so they go on in a few seconds, and you don't need to lace them up. Beware of walking in the rain - they get wet and become squishy and uncomfortable. The only time I take them off is at bedtime and outdoors in the rain/snow. The Bikila LS need to be washed every 3-4 days; the KomodoSport LS once a week. Be prepared to have people stop you and ask what you are wearing, even at age 72.
robfrank
Much of the elements of the reviews here apply to the general category of "minimalist" or "barefoot" shoes from a wide swath of companies. You need to take care whenever you're making significant changes to your running style...or just starting up running: Be patient and go slow. Personally, I live in the upper Midwest and the winter is just too chilly for my toes in the Vibrams, so I go with the Barefoot line from Merrell, which use the Vibram soles but have a traditional toe box.
dealnews-Louis
@granitemonkey Agreed. Their videos are very informative (for all runners, not just ppl w/ Vibrams). Prior to trying the Vibrams I ran. Straight and simple. Now I'm a lot more conscious of my posture / how my foot strikes the ground, etc. It's very hard -- but not impossible -- to readjust your running technique/form.
granitemonkey
In response to the review by Louis Ramirez, I really want to emphisize how important it is to read up on and adjust your running technique if you are going to use VFFs.  If you continue to run with a heal strike you will not have a good experience.  VFF has done a great job recently of generating videos, through fans, on their Facebook page about getting used to barefoot running and using VFFs.  Go there.  Education yourself.  Your feet will thank you.
kristiquantaylor
Wow, its just a shoe. Everyone has their opinions on the Vibram and these are opinions of Dealnews. You really don't have to go with the reviews of these guys. I like mine, my husband doesn't like his. They are not trying to sell anything to you, tartarm.
bloemker76
I just wanted to say, that I have been running in Vibrams for about a year now, and all of the things that were mentioned in the review were an issue with me for the first couple of weeks.  I now run pain free on any surface.  Most of my runs are on country roads, for 3-13 miles, 3-5 per week.  I also love them for plyometrics and weight training.  I run in the KSO and Bilkia.  Maybe not for everyonel, but I won't run in anything else now.
dealnews-Lindsay
These shoes are always high-click deals on our site, meaning the average reader, who likely isn't a cross-country runner, is intrigued by them. Is it not worth reading, then, how the shoes fare for a moderate runner?
ba1onypony
what a tight ass
tartarm
No offense, but 2 miles/per week, 10/miles per week???? Give me a break. That is not enough to really do any kind of real review. These are pretty much a fad in running right now, but a fad doesn't make it the smartest thing to do. Ramping up too fast and too far in these shoes is a recipe for injury. A lot of sports doctors are seeing injuries on the rise because of the barefoot trend.

A lot of newer running shoes are lightweight and provide much more comfort and protection than Vibrams...and they promote the type of running that can be beneficial to some. Note the word CAN, if you look at photos of many elite runners they often have a heel strike and it works for them.

Come'on Dealnews. I look to you for finding great deals NOT running advice nor advice on how to improve my bio mechanics. Please stick to the deals. 
Leave a comment! or Register