Vivobarefoot are the ‘original barefoot shoe’ having pioneered the barefoot movement since 2004. Their range of footwear is impressive; providing ‘barefoot’ shoes for a variety of uses including a children’s range. They don’t offer varying degrees of barefootness. There’s no half-way shoe offering simply ‘less drop than our others’. All VB shoes are fully flat to the floor with nothing underfoot but their patented non-puncture rubber sole (and the removable insole if you choose not to remove it). I have reviewed the men’s Gobi boot; indeed I still enjoy the daily barefoot office experience wearing them for work. I have also reviewed the Achilles sandal; although with the winter approaching I can’t see them getting much use for a while.
Some runners might not entertain the idea of buying running shoes from a company which isn’t wholly a running or sports company, but Vivobarefoot have a very successful range of running shoes for both road and off-road. They may not be a running company but they are a barefoot company, so like the proverbial three mice, I was very keen to see how they run.
First off, they look great. The mens’ Neo Trails come in two colour schemes. I didn’t know which I was going to get, but was delighted to have received the blue ones. The most striking thing about them is the colour – not just the blue uppers, but the bright red sole which wraps up around the shoe providing an all-round bumper.
To me the sole is the most important part of any shoe, but more so of a ‘barefoot’ shoe. As a barefoot runner you should be running without shoes, but that’s not always practical. You should only be wearing shoes as a tool to provide what your naked foot cannot. And that is protection and grip. What goes over the top of your foot is largely cosmetic.
These look like very pretty shoes from on top and I feared the sole would be lacking the all important grip. But the sole is surprisingly aggressive. When I first saw a picture of the soles I was a little concerned that their bark would be worse than their bite, but I was wrong. The bold chevron shaped lugs which cover the whole of the sole are deep and angular and bite into soft and loose ground with remarkable holding power.
I’ve taken them through a variety of terrain in autumnal conditions and cannot fault them on anything but wet rock. I haven’t tested these to destruction but the sole compound feels like it won’t fare too well against mile after mile on road. Less than half of the sole connects with the road surface, so don’t expect to stay upright if you take corners too fast on road. With that in mind, they’re not a road shoe, but why would you think that they are?
Although they are truly zero-drop barefoot shoes with no cushioning in the 2.5mm (+4.5mm lugs) underfoot, the uppers are relatively luxurious. The suede-esque material is soft and supple (technically the uppers are a ‘hydrophobic mesh and microfibre’), the heel cup is nicely padded, as is the tongue. The laces are not super-light thin fishing lines designed to save weight and not absorb water, they’re chunky stretchy soft laces, which means they don’t slip undone mid-run. The hydrophobic qualities of the upper’s material means that you can come away with dry socks after running through wet grass or shallow puddles, but on the flip side when you do go in deep, the water takes some time to ooze out.
Their fit is as you’d expect from VB. A wide toe box to allow your toes to splay out as you run, with snug fitting elsewhere around the foot. The sizing is maybe a little on the large side, but you’ll be fine buying your usual shoe size. A pair of winter running socks makes my size 10s fit my feet perfectly.
All in all these shoes will do you well throughout your winter training. They may not be the lightest minimalist shoes on the market at 250g, but with grip like this they can compete with the off-trail shoes from the likes of inov-8 and Salomon. They are called the Neo Trail, but I’d be inclined to re-label them the Neo Off-Trail on account of their proper gnarly grip. My only problem is that they look too nice to give them a proper off-trail thrashing.