You’d be forgiven if you’ve not heard of Freet before. Indeed, I only recently became acquainted with them, and I’m very glad that I did.
A small set-up based in the north of England, run by a husband and wife whose passion for natural running is very apparent. They have designed and tested these shoes themselves, and having proved to be very popular, they have exciting plans for a range of new models for 2014.
These 4+1s are a truly minimalist multipurpose shoe for walking, running, watersports or just about anything you want.
Reminiscent of the Five Fingers at first glance, the 4+1s have a separate big toe while the other four share a more conventional toe box: hence the name 4+1.
I was intrigued about the reasons for this design which I’d seen before only in the Achilles sandals from Vivobarefoot but never thought to ask. So I asked Freet. Here’s their response:
“We believe split toe 4+1 with the hallux separate is the ‘ideal’ for a barefoot shoe. More toe separation adds little biomechanically and too much toe separation of the smaller toes can be an issue… The hallux operates separately, as well as part of the overall foot unit, but the other toes tend to ‘hunt as a pack’. It’s so much easier taking on and off and over time in the 4+1 shoe, less chance of rubbing on the smaller or next small toe. By giving the hallux its own pocket you get better posture and allow the big toe (& everything else in the foot of course) to flex, condition and strengthen properly. Its the foundation block of good foot function.”
The sole is a ‘sticky’ rubber compound moulded to match the contours of your own feet, while the uppers are a soft supple and insulating neoprene with a Velcro-type fastening.
They are astonishingly comfortable. When I received them and first put them on in the house I didn’t want to take them off. I’m not a slippers man, but I’ve found myself wearing these to pad around the house when it’s cold.
The rubber sole is about as thin as you’ll get from any serious barefoot shoe and as such you feel everything through it and get near-perfect proprioceptive feedback.
Running in them is a pleasure. You get that wholesome true barefoot feel that I’ve only really experienced in bare feet and in the Xero Shoes huaraches.
The neoprene uppers insulate your foot well. My first run was on a crisp frosty January morning off-road through a park. It wasn’t long until they were soaked through with near freezing dew but my feet stayed comfortably warm.
Their traction on Tarmac, gravel and rock is very good, but not being specific off road running shoes they lack the tread needed to hold fast in mud. Having said that, the theory about the big toe’s independence is nicely demonstrated when you find yourself slipping and sliding on wet mud without the benefit of big chunky tread biting in. I find myself using my big toes to dig in and get some purchase when climbing or descending muddy slopes. You see our primate cousins using their big toes independently and I guess this is much the same. We’re just not used to it, having had our toes bound together in shoes and socks all our lives.
The sizing is a little tight, which is an issue acknowledged by Freet and which will be fixed in their new range. For these 4+1s the advice is to go one EU size larger than your normal size.
As far as I am aware, these shoes are a unique design. They’re supremely comfortable, versatile, and practical for just about any activity you might want to put them through. They’re light weight and light on your bank account too. They should be a serious consideration for anyone looking for a true barefoot shoe.
All that’s left to say is, watch this space for their new range which includes some conventional running shoes, as well as some more like these. Definitely a brand to keep your eye on.