by frédérik sisa
Strictly speaking, Vibram FiveFingers are probably not what come to mind when it comes to footwear that is “fashionable.” (Unless, that is, you can take the view that even sportswear has its fashionable side – cue all that fancy yoga wear.) In fact, fashion isn’t so much the point. Rather, it’s about an anti-shoe, barefoot philosophy that sees shoes as corrupting the natural biomechanics of the foot. Like a glove for the foot, FiveFingers provide protection without hampering the foot’s natural mobility. Runners who have adjusted their running techniques for barefoot running swear by them. Of course, given how quirky these things look, it’s not surprising that they’ve achieve a similarly quirky trendy status. Aqua, of course, will now be running out of the room trying to decide whether to vomit or merely gouge her eyes out with knitting needles, but speaking as someone who finds toe socks so much more fun and comfortable than regular sausage casings, I can see the appeal of FiveFingers both functionally and aesthetically. So when I learned Adventure 16 received new stock, I went to try them out.
I have to say that my intentions really weren’t about any sort of fashion – FiveFingers, with one exception, are definitely sportswear – although I did hope they would have a bit of sartorial flexibility. My mission was to evaluate them against my hiking shoes because I could definitely see the advantage of having better toe grip and range of motion in walking or climbing rocky, steep trail sections.
Although they have different FiveFingers with varying amounts of coverage and straps, I tried on the KSOs because I though they were the best option for hiking:
They were really hard to get on. (My wife was surprised as I normally don’t have issues with toe socks.) But from the rubber sole that goes from sole to toe pads, the FiveFingers have a certain stiffness that makes it harder to get toes into place than with socks. Still, once they’re on, they’re on – just as intended. They literally do fit like gloves.
I walked around, tried them out on the sample stone inclines, tested their mobility. They felt strange, but comfortable (more or less). Yet after months of eyeing them, I chose to pass on them. Reason the first had to do with the fact that I think they’re much better suited for runners than hikers. It’s not that they would be bad for hiking in terms of actual walking. But for those areas that have poison ivy and ticks, the exposed skin above the ankle can be a problem. In order to be nicely sealed in, you need shoes, socks, and the proper pants. It would be possible to wear socks with a slightly larger-sized KSO, I suppose, but I think it would hamper the barefoot feeling as well as the possibility of wearing the KSO without socks in less rugged terrains.
Reason the second had to with the fact that I while I could envision wearing these in places other than the trails, those places seemed a bit limited. Besides, I really prefer to actually be barefoot, or wear nice, airy sandals, and I have some shoes I like to wear during those times when sandals won’t work.
Altogether, and given the fact that I bought a pair of hiking shoes not too long ago and they’ve worked out very well for me, I simply couldn’t justify shelling out money for these bad boys. The fashion factor isn’t quite high enough on its own without the function factor. Maybe I’ll reconsider when it comes time to replace my trusty pair of hiking shoes.
One thing, though. Vibram does have the FiveFingers MOC, which is geared towards indoor use. I would have liked to try this one on, since they would make for a very nice indoor shoe. However, Adventure 16 didn’t have them and the uppers are made of kangaroo leather – I struggle with having animal products in my apparel.
That sound you hear is, of course, Aqua heaving a sign of relief. As for me, well, you can’t win them all...maybe someday I’ll consider the classic if a practical reason presents itself:
For now, my venture into the strange land of FiveFingers is a bust. But I'd love to hear from you runners out there. Have you tried FiveFingers? What do you think?
Note: Images borrowed from the Vibram FiveFingers website for illustrative purposes.