This post was inspired by my friend Mitch, who’s looking into getting a pair of Vibrams (‘vee-brums’) for playing Ultimate (Frisbee). I can’t ever say enough good things about Vibram, but I’ll try right now. I’ve worn the KSO’s (Keep Stuff Out) for eight months now, and I’d like to think I’m somewhat of an authority on how they perform. Although I don’t play Ultimate, I’ll take my best shot at highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve only worn one other shoe that uses a Vibram sole and emulates barefootedness. That shoe is the Terra Plana Button. I bought a pair for my trip to London, so that when I slipped on my three-piece suit for a fancy dinner, I wouldn’t look like a weird derivative of Mr. Rogers and an ape, with my black Vibram KSO’s on. The Terra Planas were much too narrow, and they didn’t offer multiple widths. I should have sent them back, but alas, I’ll make time at some point to get them stretched.
Because the Terra Planas were so uncomfortable, I’ve been wearing my Vibram KSO’s almost exclusively. The only other shoe I’ll wear is a thong sandal occasionally, and I don’t really like wearing those because of the unnatural muscle action they force me to engage. I wear the Vibrams (with injinji toesocks) to work (engineering office), to the grocery store, to the movies, on the town, etc… I’m almost always in them, so I’ll give you my breakdown of how they perform.
Everyday Normal Wear
When I say ‘Everyday Normal Wear’, I mean the time I wear these shoes which occupies the highest percentage of overall usage. I am at my work office about forty hours per week, and I stand up at my desk. This ‘work’ time constitutes my ‘Everyday Normal Wear’. I started standing up on the job about 5 years ago, at a previous job. I was working in a call center, and the provided desks were supplied with an electric motor to convert them from sitting to standing desks. I read in Men’s Health that you burn one extra calorie for every minute you’re standing versus sitting. So I decided to stand.
Who knows if that factoid is actually true? I do know that I’m helping my posture by standing all day. I’m also more alert for more of the day. I can’t fall asleep at my desk (or at least I haven’t yet!), and I’m a constant talking point in the office. You might wonder if my feet are getting ‘proper support’ for all this standing I do. I don’t believe in foot support. Read Born to Run, and you’ll understand why.
While I’m standing at my desk, I can roll around on the balls of my feet, stretch my toes, and stand on the sides of my feet with ease. Conventional shoes don’t allow this, and it makes a huge difference in the comfort of my feet. Also, when I take walks (around the building, or the entire complex), I can walk on my forefeet, rather than my heels. I know walking on my heels isn’t as damaging as running on my heels, but avoiding it engages more muscles and forces me to think more, so it’s a win-win for me.
When I’m walking up stairs, I have a much smaller chance of tripping than someone in shoes, because my toes can grip onto the steps as I ascend. This sounds silly, but I’ve noticed how much easier it is to walk up stairs since getting the Vibrams. Grab a pair, you’ll see.
Despite all the controversy over barefoot versus ‘shoed’ running, the answer is very clear. Humans were designed to run on their feet. Complex cushioning and support technology simply confuses our feet and causes injuries to our feet, knees, and legs. Although running with Vibrams is not a trueform of barefoot running (the true form is… doing it barefoot), it is the closest emulation you’ll find without running on your skin. The Vibram sole is only 3.5mm, but it’s just enough to spread the impact of small rocks and debris on the road. It won’t stop a nail from going through your feet, but neither will a tennis shoe.
My first run in the Vibrams was incredible. I smiled throughout the entire run, and my feet felt rejuvenated like they never have before. After the initial acclimation period – take it slow! – I never got foot/leg pain again. I ran two half-marathons, with shoes, and you’d better believe my legs were hurting after those. However, with the Vibrams, my legs always feel ‘exercised’, not ‘painful’. It’s really quite fantastic.
They also allow me to grab onto my running surface much better than ‘running’ shoes. If I have to hop onto a curb, I can hop onto the edge, and the balls of my feet will wrap around it, forming a tight grip. One downside is that water does seep into the FiveFingers if you’re running through puddles/in rain. You can’t do much about this. Wearing Injinji toe socks with them almost makes this worse.
I’ve only been hiking once in my Vibrams, but it was loads better than my previous hiking trips in tennis shoes. The FiveFingers wrap around each rock I land on and allow me to grip in ways that would not be possible with regular shoes. I can apply equal (or not) pressure from all my toes for a great grip all the way up the rock. On the way down, I’m able to walk on the front of my foot with ease. The gill-like slits on the bottom of the Vibram sole adds extra grip going up and down any rock.
With these ‘toe shoes’, you’re able to put your feet in crevices you wouldn’t be able to with a regular shoe.
The only downside of owning a pair of these gorilla shoes is that they reek like no other after only a month of usage or so. I have tried shoe-freshener spray, shoe-freshener pods, baking soda and vinegar, running through the washing machine, and baking all day in the sun. I’ve heard that lemon juice works wonders on getting rid of the funk, but I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t vouch for it. For all the positives these shoes have going for them, the stink brings them WAY down.
What is a vig anyway? I love these ‘shoes’. I’ve been wearing them for about eight months now, almost every single day. I don’t have to take them off at the security checkpoint at the airport, and they’re so comfortable that I sometimes forget I’m wearing them. They won’t have the same traction as a soccer cleat on a grass field, but if you’re looking to spice up the way you move around and feel some muscles you didn’t even know you had, I would highly suggest you go out and snag a pair.