Review of the Vibram Five Finger Classics
Review: Vibram FiveFingers Classic
Vibram FiveFingers Classic
Review, originally posted 2007-09-07 (Revised 2008-04-09) on tjespter.com
Style: Men’s & women’s
Sample Size: EU44 / UK10 / US10.5
Design: Vibram (Italy)
Country of production: Unknown
Weight per shoe*: 175 gr. (6.17 oz.)
Thickness of sole*: 4 mm. (0.15748 in. - measured at the front foot)
Upper material: Abrasion-resistant stretch polyamide fabric
Outsole: Vibram TC1 performance rubber compound
*Weight and thickness are always measured without insole when possible (since I usually recommend losing the insole, thus making the shoe more minimal). The weight is found using electronic scales from OBH that weigh down to 1 gram. The thickness is measured with a one-handed bar clamp. Thickness and especially weight are of course dependent on shoe size (See above). NB. FiveFingers have no removeable insole.
The product comes in a neat little cardboard box including a brief information/instruction pamphlet and a bag for storage. Reading the pamphlet, there’s no doubt about it: Vibram Fivefingers support the concept of this very site – they are minimal shoes for the barefoot people. This is a unique approach – different and innovative.
A lot can be said about this approach. There definitely is a market for a shoe with a philosophy like this, if we consider the barefoot wave, including Pose Method running and Chi running etc. There are also the whole health, nature and wellness segments (including sports in general), which could be possible target groups. Finally there are the fashion aspect – considering the different color combinations available, for instance. Could FiveFingers become fashion? Perhaps – they absolutely do look different, which could appeal to some fashion avant-gardists (I promise: people will look at your FiveFingers and even ask you about them. Not saying that I’m avant-garde (which I’m definitely not)).
If we consider the design of the FiveFingers, there are several distinct features. They don’t look like any normal shoe, first and foremost due to the sole (which more or less makes the whole shoe). It is shaped like a foot and is supposed to wrap around you like a thin protective layer of rubber. Sounds good so far, considering that this is what we want when acquiring a shoe for our purpose: just a little protection that doesn’t interfere with our feet’s abilities or functions. Also, the sole is very flexible and you quickly notice the small grooves in the material. They are probably there to make the material more elastic or perhaps just for the looks, because the sole is just as flexible where there aren’t any grooves (under the toes and the arch of the foot). The same can be said about the notches near the edges around the sole. They are supposed to increase skid resistance, but their seize and depth considered they probably won’t make a difference in this aspect. Finally you notice that the sole is supposed to look like a foot from underneath. The parts supporting the heel, the ball of the foot and the toes are raised.
The upper material is glued to the sole, which makes sense. It reduces irritating joints and there is plenty of surface for affixing. The inner part (not exactly an insole) is a suede-like material and it is quite pleasant (without being too soft). Besides the sole wrapping around your foot, an elastic band helps keeping the shoe in place and it can be loosened and tightened for better fitting. The toe slots are a very fine piece of needlework, and you wonder how long it took the designers to figure out exactly how to create pockets for the individual toes. They succeeded, though, and the product overall seems very sturdy.
The Vibram FiveFingers are light, flexible and innovative shoes indeed. From the mere looks, the touch and the feel they come out as a very inviting product. So let’s see how they do in practice.
I’ve had the FiveFingers Classic for more than 3 months now (I bought the first pair in May 2007) and I have used them for both walking and running. I first discovered them in a short article in a Danish science magazine and waited patiently for their arrival on the Danish market.
The feeling of having your toes move independently is great. A whole new world opens up, and you start thinking of shoes in a completely different way. I have no idea whether or not the Italian company, Vibram, was the first to adopt the idea but they have definitely succeeded in mass producing it (I saw another product they made that resembles the FiveFingers, but I don’t know how far they got with that). A minimal shoe with toes is a nice idea, though it’s not the only way of having your toes move freely. A big problem with normal shoes is that they generally don’t allow your toes enough room, which is really weird, when you think about it. How did the idea that our feet were supposed to be pointy arise?
Anyway, separate toes in shoes is interesting, and FiveFingers really help your feet to a better shape. But there is an issue. Because the sole extends way over your toes and because your feet tend to slide forward in the shoes, your toenails are squeezed a bit. It made me change to a bigger size, but it didn’t help. And the elastic band can’t save you here (the built-in straps in big brother FiveFingers Sprint could prevent this).
Another problem is the fact that the flap in the rear end of the shoe irritates you (the one that keeps the elastic band on the outside - see picture below). It crawls way too high up your Achilles tendon, which is one of the primary things usual running shoes try to avoid (we will return to this in a moment). Even the much cheaper Nika Holding water shoe avoids this. FiveFingers are also way more palpable. You are never in doubt that you have something attached to your feet.
Yet another issue I found is that the raised part on the sole underneath the ball of your foot becomes way too tangible when running fast. You risk getting accumulations of blood along the line that the raised part forms before the toes (not that this is such a serious matter in itself – blood accumulations can happen very easily when running barefooted as well – but I just don’t like the feeling of this slightly raised part of the shoe). This only happens when sprinting, which is why I avoid FiveFingers for interval training. I wish they would have made the sole completely flat. It would have been much smarter, considering the thinness of the sole. Also, I feel that this raised part forces your feet a bit outwards when landing.
Due to the low weight and the flexibility running in FiveFingers feels much freer than conventional running shoes, though. And they offer more protection than the Nika Holding water shoes, because of the harder sole. The hardness has yet another benefit, because your skin really gets used inside the shoe. It becomes tough almost as quickly as running completely barefooted. A downside is that the sole becomes more tangible.
So how did I end up incorporating FiveFingers in my daily life? Well, first and foremost they have become some of my favorite minimal shoes for mere walking. I like their good breathability (they do hold a bit of smell, though) and the fact that the toes are kept apart. The black pair I have even looks quite neutral with my black Feelmax toe socks that I bought for the very purpose of being able to use socks with FiveFingers (yes, neutrality is a nice thing, if you find incredulous glances a bit annoying in the end. But in a way it is a bit funny as well). As a shoe for walking they are just perfect. You don’t feel all those irritating things that become apparent when running.
This certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t run in them. If I hadn’t discovered other alternatives, I would have been much less critical. They score very high on weight, breathability, flexibility (see picture below) and even on skid resistance (not because of the so-called “razor-siped” parts of the sole, though, but because the sole has an overall good surface contact – even when it rains). And they are innovative, almost a stroke of genius, and in my opinion very healthy, because of the consideration for the shape of your feet. They are also durable – they still look almost new when they come out of the washing machine. Overall very good quality, though the price is too high in Europe. Half of the price is the concept, I think. It’s definitely not the amount of material.
So what you get is a healthy minimal shoe (if you believe that a thin sole and a natural shape is beneficial) that, besides some smaller annoyances, feels very comfortable. Considering that the shoes are so different and innovative I actually think that the Vibram Company pulls it off. There’s no doubt however, that they overdid the bottom of the sole. I think they tried to make it look cool, but it would have become much more usable if it was just flat. And the tall rear-end is a flaw, because the back of your feet is a very sensible place – it is a soft region that flexes all the time when you move – and especially shoes for running should keep a low rear profile (remember that not only is the rear flap high it is also made of somewhat hard rubber, which makes you feel it more). The elastic band also irritates you a bit, and I actually think that the shoe would have worked better if it just closed around your feet a bit higher up, like the Nika Holding water shoe. The upper material had to be more flexible though, and consequently more vulnerable, perhaps, or less breathable. And FiveFingers look cooler with their open design, I think.
I want to love the FiveFingers Classic because of the unique concept and the courageous step towards actually producing the shoes and distributing them. And I do love them, but with reservations. Considering the bottom of the sole, I imagine that Vibram thought too much of the expression of the shoes, and thus made them less practical (not deliberately, of course. Maybe they just put too much effort into making them look like an actual foot). Some design features reveal this. The overall problem with Fivefingers is the feeling. They just look better than they feel. Imperceptibility isn’t the keyword describing your feet’s connection with FiveFingers, though some features support it (as a whole there is also too much rubber around your foot, so I guess it is a matter of preferences. I like to step on the sole, not have the sole wrapped around me (unless it is soft, like in Feelmax shoes). This particular problem would regard the Sprint model as well. I understand the idea, though, because the extended rubber protects the upper material and helps making the shoe more durable).
A unique thing, however, is that your toes are forced apart – in a good sense. And the front is very wide – just like your feet are. In my opinion they are healthy and perfect for walking. They are just not that good a running experience, although they have a lot of cool characteristics.
When it comes down to it, FiveFingers are a highly subjective experience. It is hard to say some general things about them, simply because they are so different. However, this is their actual force. This is why people would want to try them. You chiefly buy an experience. To return to the new world, that I mentioned opens up in front of you: FiveFingers make you realize that shoes can be so many things. I really hope that this innovative wave rubs off onto other manufacturers. I would like to see both well-established and whole new companies try a lot more unusual ideas.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the Sprint model seems more comfortable and less likely too fall off your feet (It can happen with the Classic model), so if you want a more practical minimal shoe choose this one. The bad news is that it is even more expensive.