My journey to qualify for Alcatraz

Vibram Five Fingers Review

Posted in Uncategorized by ottojungsf on December 2, 2009

It has been over 3 months now since I took the plunge and purchased a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. Exciting! Before I dive into the details of the review, I thought I would start with a quick way to put on the shoes (quick is relative).

Putting on your Vibrams


Step 1: Pull the strap to unlatch the Vibrams

Step 2: Put your foot into the Vibrams, but leave your heel hanging out. Unlike traditional shoes, the Vibrams employ “toe boxes” which force you to slide each toe into them before fully putting the shoe on.

Step 3: Pull your finger between each toe to force the toe into it’s “toe box”. When your first try on your Vibrams you’ll probably have trouble getting your toes to wiggle into the shoes. Don’t get frustrated. It becomes easier overtime, but don’t try to use these in your T2 during a triathlon.

Step 4: Pull up the front of the shoe to get rid of any loose fabric, then pull the back end of the shoe over your heel.

Step 5: Tighten the Velcro strap until it fits snugly.

A benefit of wearing Vibrams over barefoot running is their ability to prevent sharp objects from piercing your skin. I don’t recommend trying to stick a pair of scissors in your foot!

The Vibrams come in a package exactly 50% the size of Nike Frees. Not exciting, but a benefit the Environmentally-aware crowd will appreciate.

The back of the Vibrams package screams, “ATTENTION! MOVING BAREFOOT IS DIFFERENT – PLEASE READ INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE USE”, but their “instructions manual” as far as I can tell is only a marketing brochure for their other models.

One of the biggest differences between the Vibrams and the Nike Free 3.0 is the approach they take to arch support. The Vibrams hug the arch, while providing a thin protective layer. This is great if you have a normal arch like myself, but may not be as comfortable for other arch types. The Free builds cushioning into the arch to allow the shoe to absorb most of the impact force. If you’re searching for a close to ground feeling while  protecting your feet, the Frees will likely seem too traditional for you.

The Vibrams really stand out when you compare them to a traditional running shoe (Pearl Izumis in this case). Whereas the Vibrams are <1cm in heel thickness, a traditional running shoe is 4.5cms thick. A traditional running shoe mutes the feeling of the ground whereas the Vibrams give you full feedback of the ground.

Styling

I tell my friends the Vibrams are “ladies man killers”, because whenever I run by girls in them I get confused looks and expressions. If styling or public image ranks highly on your list of desirable traits the Vibrams probably aren’t for you. The shoe design isn’t inherently ugly, but what people tend to dislike the most based on asking runners and friends are the individual toe holes. I think Vibram will eventually be forced to design a shoe with a traditional toe box (like the Free 3.0) if they hope to expand beyond their current niche. I believe competitors such as Skora (Link) will likely take some of their marketshare if priced competitively when released in 2010.

Durability

It has been over 3 months since I purchased the Vibrams and I have not had any durability issues yet. One area that I am potentially concerned about is the glue holding the fabric to the sole. I think this could be an area of weakness due to stresses placed on it from flexing while walking or running.

The anti-microbial fabric seems to be doing it’s job, since I have not had any awkward smells coming from them.

Pricing

It probably isn’t a coincidence that the prices of the Vibram Five Fingers and Nike Free 3.0 are the same price in Silicon Valley. Nike who invented the Free based on feedback from Stanford University  has begun to notice the Vibrams and priced the Free 3.0 competitively (prices include CA sales tax).

Running in Vibrams

When I first purchased the Vibrams, I had a dream that I would be able to run barefoot on a regular basis. One of the problems I have run into (no pun) living in the Bay Area, is that I have to drive in order to get to any non-paved running trails. The Vibrams work fine  on dirt and grass, but I wouldn’t recommend using them on cement unless you have a well developed technique and have not had problems previously.

Instead of using them for running I now use them to walk around town, going to the pool, and other daily tasks. Coming from the Free 3.0 to the Vibrams I have not had any significant discomfort, but that may differ for customers moving from a traditional running shoe to Vibrams.

Conclusion

I had intended to use the Vibrams for running, but as the past 3 months have gone by I have used them more frequently during my daily tasks, while still getting the barefoot feeling I enjoy. If Vibrams intention was to create a polarizing product their goal was achieved. For many the individual “toe boxes” will turn them off from trying on the product, but for others they will see it as a revolutionary product offering a barefoot experience at a reasonable price. I believe with minor design changes, the Vibrams could appeal to a much wider audience, but don’t expect  to see them at a triathlon anytime soon.

Price (including CA Sales tax):

Vibram Five Fingers:  $92.86

Nike Free 3.0:  $92.86

Sole Thickness (Name, Max Thickness, Min Thickness)

Vibram Five Finger, <1cm, <1cm

Nike Free 3.0, 3.0cm, 1.5cm

Pearl Izumi, 4.5cm, 1cm

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