After agonizing over the decision for months (and receiving a generous gift card to REI), I finally broke down and purchased my first pair of Vibram Five Finger. I’ve decided to go with the Trek as opposed to the classic KSO since I’m looking for something more versatile and rugged. Something I can hopefully wear as my main footwear on our upcoming round the world trip.
My concerns were:
1. I have weirdly shaped little pinkie toes. Would it take me 10 mins every time to put them on?
2. Would they be warm enough to wear in winter (we’re talking Californian winter here)?
3. Would I able to wear them as approach shoes?
1. Ease to Put On/Off At Home — 4/5
The first couple of days it took me 15 sec for each shoe. But at the end of the first week, I’ve managed to get out of the front door after 5-6 sec each time. The instruction reads,
“…often best to start with your big toe and work down to the little toe, gradually inching forward as each toe finds its place…”
and it is truly the best way to get these suckers on. The drawback is that you inevitably need to use your hands to put on/off, so a person with a bad back or knee might have a hard time bending down.
2. Ease to Put On/Off On The Road — 2.5/5
I made a huge mistake taking my Treks camping, especially when rain was in the forecast. At first I thought it’d be a good test for these, but I underestimated how much of a pain they turned out to be. The thing is, getting in and out of tent becomes a lot more troublesome than usual — and the rain just made it 10 times worse.
See, I prefer to only bring a pair of footwear with me when going camping to save space and weight. So when I needed to take a leak at 3 in the morning and it’s pouring rain outside, the first thought that came to my mind was, “How am I going top put those things on with my freezing wet fingers, with all of this dirt and water all around me?”
With all of the water, stuff sticks to the shoes, and they found their way inside. So you’re walking, and walking, and you realize there’s a piece of stick jammed between your pinkie toe and the shoe’s pinkie toe. And of course being outdoors in the rain, it’s frustrating to have to plop down on the ground to wrestle with your footwear with your gloved fingers.
3. Warmth — 4/5
They’re actually a lot warmer than you’d expect as long as you keep them dry. I was wearing them in 40 degree weather and was only slightly uncomfortable. And I wasn’t wearing any socks. If you get one of those Injinji socks, I’m sure they’ll be a lot warmer. Get the ankle length one though because the wind bothered my bare ankles even more than it did my toes.
4. Waterproof-yness 1/5
They’re not waterproof. At all. Not designed to be, but I guess it’s still worth mentioning how un-waterproof it is. 5 min of light drizzle and my feet were already damp. 15 mins of light drizzle and they’re soaked. The rubber doesn’t go up high enough on the side, so stepping on a a wee puddle would result in water soaking through the fabric around the toes.
5. Traction — 4/5
On a slightly wet ground, I’d give this a 3. The thing is, a couple of times when the Vibram slipped, I knew on similar terrain and condition my Tevas would not have.
The traction is much better on a dry surface. It has a little problem on steep dusty trail and smooth slabs. It could be they require a slightly different technique or maybe I’m just not used to them, but again, I found my Tevas much more reliable for scrambling around on 2-3rd class scramble.
Another thing that I discovered was that since there’s less protection for your toes, slamming your feet against rocks as you slip become a lot more painful — a lot more — than if you’re wearing regular shoes. So you become more timid in your steps — which counter intuitively, actually reduces the friction between your shoes and the ground, which makes you slip even more often. It’s a vicious cycle.
6. Comfort — 5/5
They’re extremely comfortable. They just felt right. Like walking should be. You can feel grass blades between your toes, and the branches and sticks you’re stepping on. I never had to break them in much either… I hiked 8 miles in them with no socks, on a variety of terrains, after a week of getting them and did not get any blisters or feel any discomfort whatsoever.
Many articles suggest wearing them a little bit at a time when you first get them in order for your feet to get used to the different way of walking, but I never had any problem. Maybe because the soles are thicker so they’re more like shoes compared to the other model?
They are extremely comfortable and would make a good compromise between a regular shoes and the thinner, more of the barefoot experience classic KSO. If you’re looking for something to wear to work, hike, or scramble around in the summer, or in a situation where they won’t get wet, I’d recommend them. However, even though it’s in the name, I wouldn’t bring them as my main walking shoes on any trekking expedition. Maybe as camp sandals, but for me personally I prefer flip flops for that.
I guess in the end, I’m just not sure how they are going to fit into my outdoor activities. They made me realise that the only thing that’s lacking in my footwear collection, and what I actually need, is a pair of waterproof shoes. So I might return them in exchange them for one of those. (update: I did return them and am shopping around for a pair of Gore Tex lined trail runners)
But don’t take my words for it. Check them out for yourselves: Vibram Fivefingers KSO Trek