Freet Connect 2 for kids

Freet Connect 2 kids shoesThe Freet range of minimalist and barefoot footwear has thankfully extended recently to include kids. I was very pleased to be offered a pair of the new Connect 2 shoes, not just for me, but also for my young son. Needless to say, he was delighted to have a new pair of shoes exactly like Daddy’s.

As the name suggests, the Connect 2 is an upgrade from the Connect shoe. If you haven’t read my review of the adult version already, I am mightily impressed with the Connect 2.

They are a ‘normal’ shoe, in as much as all the toes are together rather than Freet’s distinctive 4+1 design. The chassis is nice and wide around the toes, allowing free movement and toe-spread, while the uppers are supple and soft, allowing them to fit snugly without feeling tight and restrictive. They are sized a little small, so on the advice of Freet I went for an EU-size larger than usual, plus an extra size up to allow my son’s feet room to grow!

The sole is very thin and flexible, as one would expect from a ‘barefoot’ shoe. You can really feel the detail of the ground beneath you, and I am comforted in the knowledge that my growing boy’s running gait is not being affected by the stiff, clumpy and unforgiving shoes that every other kid seems to wear.

Freet Connect 2 kids shoes

These come with a removable foamy insole which can be used for additional comfort and/or insulation from the cold, but more importantly for the kids’ range, they can used to ‘pad out’ the shoes while their feet grow into them and can be removed when the feet have grown a bit (top tip for economising on the number of shoes that kids get through!).

Freet Connect 2 kids shoes

The outsole is a soft rubber compound with a moderately rugged tread, affording him reliable traction on most of the surfaces he races around on; tarmac, grass, mud, trees, climbing frames, bike pedals, scooters, skateboards, skateparks, walls, furniture…

Freet Connect 2 kids shoes

The uppers are a thin, light and airy material, allowing the little feet to keep cool. This does mean that they soak through quickly, in the rain, wet grass and deep puddles, but they don’t gain a lot of weight when wet, and they also dry very quickly.

They come with elastic ‘quick laces’ which can be pulled tight and secured with the spring fastener, and the flappy end has a neat little clip to stop it being flappy. Once fitted, there is enough give in them to just slip on and off without having to loosen and retighten. A huge benefit where kids are concerned.

My son loves these as much as I do mine. They are his new favourite shoes, and he’s convinced that they make him run faster. He’s not wrong. They’re bare, light, comfy, wide, and if you ask me, every child should have a pair. My daughter’s pair are on order already.

Freet Connect 2 barefoot shoes

Advertisements

Freet Connect 2

Freet Connect 2 barefoot shoes

It’s been a few years since I last reviewed a pair of Freet shoes. The company has been busy developing its brand and has extended its impressive range of minimalist and barefoot footwear, not least to include kids. I was very pleased to be offered a pair of the new Connect 2 shoes, not just for me, but also for my young son. Review of the kids’ version here.

As the name suggests, the Connect 2 is an upgrade from the Connect shoe. I haven’t had a pair of the original Connects, so I can’t compare the upgrade, but I am mightily impressed with the Connect 2. If there’s any question about first impressions, I had these delivered to my work address and within a few minutes of me opening the box, one of my colleagues went on to the Freet website and bought himself a pair.

They are a ‘normal’ shoe, in as much as all the toes are together rather than Freet’s distinctive 4+1 design. The chassis is nice and wide around the toes, allowing free movement and toe-spread, while the uppers are supple and soft, allowing them to fit snugly without feeling tight and restrictive. They are sized a little small, so on the advice of Freet I went for an EU-size larger than usual.

Freet Connect 2 barefoot shoes

The sole is very thin and flexible, as one would expect from a ‘barefoot’ shoe. You can really feel the detail of the ground beneath you, more so than in some of the Vivobarefoot shoes I’ve worn whose soles are just as thin but a little stiffer with their integrated puncture-proof layer. These come with a removable foamy insole which can be used for additional comfort and/or insulation from the cold. Even without the insole, the Connects have a certain softness underfoot, making them feel like your favourite slippers.

Freet Connect 2 barefoot shoes

The outsole is a soft rubber compound which grips well to most surfaces that I’ve been on. The tread is moderately rugged, suitable for walking and running in soft mud, loose material and grass, as well as on hard surfaces. They are great for road running, trail running, gym, walking, or pubbing. I would be cautious about taking these running in wet muddy conditions, but otherwise they’re pretty much all-rounders.

The benefits of a soft and flexible sole are always balanced by the material’s resilience to wear on hard surfaces. These are at the softer end of the spectrum, and consequently the lugs are beginning to show signs of wear. That said, I have worn them almost every day since I received them in November.

The uppers are a thin, light and airy material, allowing your feet to keep cool. This does mean that they soak through quickly, but they don’t gain a lot of weight when wet, and they also dry very quickly.

They come with elastic ‘quick laces’ which can be pulled tight and secured with the spring fastener, and the flappy end has a neat little clip to stop it being flappy. Once fitted, there is enough give in them to just slip on and off without having to loosen and retighten.

Freet send a set of conventional laces in the box, if you prefer those, but you’ll have to cut the elastic laces to remove them, so there’s no going back once you’ve switched. If these are for use as everyday shoes, or for the gym or for road running, the elastic laces are ideal, but if they are to be used for off-road or trail running I would recommend switching to the conventional laces for fear of the elastic yielding too easily and allowing the shoes to be pulled off in mud or if snagged on something.

I love these. They are my new favourite shoes. They’re bare, light, comfy, wide, and they are just as well suited with a pair of jeans as with running kit. There’s nothing I don’t like. Well done Freet, this should be a top-selling shoe for everyone.

Freet Connect 2 barefoot shoes

Freet Mudgrip Boot

Freet Mudgrip Boot

Walking boots. I have always had a problem with walking boots. Everyone seems to have a pair. Everyone who ever goes for a walk in the countryside seems to default to their stout, sturdy, supportive, old faithful walking boots. It is instilled into you that when you go for a proper walk you must wear your boots to support your ankles, to protect your feet, to make the walk as comfortable as possible. People spend a lot of time choosing the right pair and then spend a lot money on their boot of choice.

It’s ironic that just about everyone I know ends up complaining of blisters, aching feet, sore toes and tight muscles after wearing their ‘protective’ boots. It has always defied me why we are expected to armour our feet with such heavy, bulky, inflexible bricks for doing the most natural, inherent activity that humans do – walking. You’re going for a walk, not working on a construction site.

Yes, I have such a pair, just like everyone else. I’ve had them for about 12 years. But I haven’t worn them for walking/hiking for about ten of those years; not for the Three Peaks Challenge, not for walking the South West Coast Path, not for backpacking across Dartmoor, not the Brecon Beacons, not the Cumbrian Fells, Scottish Munros, the Australian Bibbulmun Track. I could go on. Even before I learnt about minimalist footwear I preferred to feel what my feet were walking on, to be able to move my feet and to use them to grip and to balance. My ankles are strong enough to cope without being braced, and I would rather have as little weight as possible around my feet.

It’s been just about four years since I saw the light of minimalist footwear. In that time I’ve taught myself to run naturally in minimalist / barefoot shoes, or in no shoes at all. I walk in minimalist / barefoot shoes, or in no shoes at all. In fact I spend my life in minimalist / barefoot footwear, or no footwear at all. I even wear barefoot shoes for work. All of my old shoes have long gone because I have minimalist / barefoot shoes for every occasion. There is just one exception.

Walking boots.

The only time I wear walking boots is for their waterproof qualities. When out walking in the wet, wearing waterproof trousers is great, and even waterproof shoes are fine (waterproof running shoes are another story). But with the over-trousers and shoes combo the water soaks through your socks, and your shoes if not waterproof, so your feet end up soaked anyway. For me, the big decision has always been whether to accept that I’ll have wet but light and unrestricted feet for most of the walk, or whether to have dry but heavy and bound feet. Light, unrestricted and dry has never been an option (unless you’re prepared to wrap your feet in plastic bags).

Freet have the solution. This is their brand new minimalist walking boot. And I love it.

Freet Mudgrip Boot

For all intents and purposes it is a walking boot. Ankle-height, waterproof, durable, rugged, aggressive tread on the sole. But pick them up and you’ll notice they’re not normal. They’re refreshingly light weight, and their sole is thin.

As their name suggests they are based on the Mudgrip shoe which I reviewed last year. They have a low profile 4mm drop from heel to toe, and the thinness of the sole unit gives it far more flexibility than any standard walking boot. Freet have used Phylon for the midsole rather than the more mainstream injected EVA. This offers both cushioning and flexibility but in a thinner unit. They have the same super-aggressive outsole as their shoe cousins, which gives tremendous traction in all terrain. As I wrote in my review of the shoes, the sole is made from a rubber compound which sticks remarkably well to wet rock, and the spacing of the deep lugs allows mud to fall away without clogging.

Freet Mudgrip BootTheir uppers are a light and supple waterproof breathable soft-shell, with Freet’s FDry waterproof lining. I’ve always been a little sceptical about synthetic waterproof and breathable fabrics, so I have repeatedly put these boots to the test. Like water off a duck’s back. After some time in the wet, water does begin to soak through the soft-shell uppers where they bend and crease, but so far I have not had it get through to my socks. Waterproof: yes.

Although the claim is that the uppers are fully breathable, my feet always come out feeling hot and humid, gasping for air. But my feet do that even in my leather desert boots. Breathable: I remain sceptical.

As with the Mudgrip shoes you’ll probably need to go a whole size smaller than your normal size (I’m usually a 45 but with these the 44s fit perfectly). Other than that I can’t really find fault with these. They’re comfortable to wear all day, they keep the water out, they’re minimalist, they grip well, they’re light, and they look good. With this boot Freet have provided the answer to the problem you may not even know you had.

For anyone who is looking for a new walking boot, whether they’re looking for minimalist or not, these have to be the ones to go for. Based on their minimalism, weight, water resistance, and traction, I believe they surpass any standard walking boot on the market. Personally I will still always choose to wear minimalist shoes for walking and hiking in the dry, but I won’t hesitate to put these boots on when it’s wet.

Freet Mudgrip Boot

Freet Mudgrip Boot coming soon

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/e14/38656411/files/2014/12/img_2356.jpg
An early Christmas present just arrived. The new minimalist mid-height walking boot from Freet. Based on the Mudgrip which I reviewed earlier in the year, this is a rugged and waterproof walking boot with underfoot minimalism like I’ve never felt in a boot before.

Just in time for the season of family Christmas walks! Can’t wait…

Freet Trailgrip

Freet Trailgrip

The Trailgrip from Freet Footwear is one of a few new additions to their range of minimalist shoes. I have recently written about the Buzz – a summer-weight companion to their original 4+1 shoe, and the Mudgrip – an aggressive but minimalist off-trail shoe. To accompany the Mudgrip as a conventional ‘5 in 1’ shoe is this, the Trailgrip.

It is designed as an all-purpose minimalist shoe, suitable for a wide range of terrains, but as the name suggests it is best suited to the trail.

The Trailgrip has its own unique look and styling, with its eye-catching orange on black, but I can’t help comparing it to Merrell’s Trail Glove, especially when you turn the shoe over to see its tread.

Being a minimalist / barefoot shoe, the sole is super-thin with very little cushioning, but there is a surprising degree of give in them. There is a mere 3mm drop between the 8mm heel and the forefoot, giving you an almost flat to the floor ride, and the midsole has just a little bit of softness compared to the Merrells (in comparison, the Trail Gloves have zero drop and 4mm soles).

Freet TrailgripThe source of that cushioning becomes evident after a good number miles in them. Take out the insole and you will see and feel the box-construction of the heel’s midsole unit, creating rectangular voids which provide that little bit of cushioning. After a while this starts to show even through the insole as your feet make a lasting impression.

Freet TrailgripThe tread is remarkably reminiscent of that of the Vibram sole on the Trail Gloves, but the rubber on the Freets seems to be a bit more of a stickier compound which grips better on most surfaces. And it seems to be satisfyingly resistant to road abrasion. I found the Merrells came a bit unstuck on tarmac in the wet, but these Trailgrips offer a bit more wet traction. Off road, they perform well on all sorts of trail surfaces including grass and mud, but the tread isn’t aggressive enough to grip with any conviction in deep wet mud.

The uppers are a soft spongy and lightweight material, which is airy enough over the forefoot to ventilate and thick enough elsewhere to insulate. The material around the ankle and Achilles is nice and pillowy which contributes to the overall comfort of the shoes. For a zero-drop minimalist shoe these are very comfortable to wear, whether it’s for running, walking or just ambling around. The spongy material of the uppers does mean that they readily absorb water and they gain weight quite quickly. Fine, on a dry run with the occasional puddle or stream crossing, but if you’re running in the rain you can expect to be running in quite heavy shoes. My size 10s start at 300g dry.

Freet Trailgrip

 

They fit just about right for their size, and offer a reasonable amount of width around the forefoot. The conventional lacing draws the shoes together snugly around your feet, and their softness makes it difficult to overtighten them. It feels to me as though they are missing one set of lace holes at the top end. Most running shoes that I’ve encountered recently have an extra set of holes at the top end which allow you to double the laces back on themselves to ‘lock’ them in place and to secure the shoe a bit more firmly on to your foot. This may not be an essential feature, especially for a shoe like this with which you’re unlikely to be in the sort of terrain that demands that additional security, but adding two more holes and slightly longer laces certainly wouldn’t hurt.

My only gripe with these is regarding the footbed or insole. It didn’t appear to be too thin or flimsy, but I’ve found that it too easily rucks up underfoot. I wore my Trailgrips for an urban orienteering race which took us through a variety of terrain including roads, grassy parkland, gravel tracks and muddy trails. Ideal shoes for this race, I thought. It was pouring with rain so the shoes rapidly soaked through. The nature of urban orienteering is that you make lots of changes of direction as you run round street corners, in and out of alleys, around trees, park benches etc. It didn’t take long for the insoles in both shoes to start to creep. With every change of direction I could feel them creeping further and further from under my feet, and after 40 minutes of running one had wrapped itself over the top of my smaller toes and the other had twisted around and rucked up under the forefoot.

That was the only time it has happened. Maybe the saturated material had stretched a little, allowing my feet to slide around inside, causing the insoles to creep. I don’t know. But it did make me wonder if Mark II of these shoes could do away with the insole altogether, like many of its minimalist peers have done. That would save a bit of weight, but would also involve a redesign of the sole unit which could address the problem of the rectangular construction pressing through.

For a debut minimalist multipurpose/trail shoe these are pretty good. They’re a fully deserving member of the minimalist shoe movement, providing a very comfortable ride with just a touch of underfoot softness. These should appeal to novice barefoot runners and old timers alike.  These will definitely be hanging out in my porch with my frequent-use shoes.

 

Freet Buzz

Freet Buzz

In 2013 Freet released into the ultra-minimalist footwear market their very successful 4+1 shoe. Freet sent me a pair to test last winter and I loved them as a very comfy multi-use shoe. Their neoprene uppers and snug fit (albeit a bit too snug for their sizing) kept my bare feet warm in the winter months both indoors and out, both wet and dry.

It’s now Spring/Summer 2014 and Freet have produced a new model based on the 4+1 chassis. They call it The Buzz.

In many respects this is the same as the original 4+1, and I recommend that you read my review of them, but there are some nice changes in the Buzz.

Importantly they have rectified the sizing problem and the Buzz in your usual shoe size will fit just fine.

Freet BuzzThe neoprene of the original 4+1 has been replaced by a thinner, lighter-weight, more flexible mesh material. This comes with the advantage of the whole shoe being lighter (my size 45s weigh 190g as opposed to 200g), it dries a lot more quickly, and the tiny holes of the mesh let your feet get some air to them. During the summer months all of the above is very welcome. Although of course in the winter you would probably appreciate the thermal properties of the denser neoprene.

Which brings me to ponder the potential market for these shoes. I imagine that footwear of this genre will appeal to the more staunch barefooter who would spend the majority of the summer months, if not all year, actually barefooted rather than in barefoot shoes, and who might look for something ultra-minimalist to provide a bit of warmth and protection for the winter months; a niche served by the original 4+1. I guess the Buzz will appeal to those on the next rung down the barefoot ladder, who don’t necessarily insist on being fully barefoot as soon as the sun comes out.

The Buzz is built on the same split-big-toe chassis as the 4+1, allowing your big toe independence of movement and the ability to strengthen the whole of your foot as if truly barefooted. If you take them for an off-road run or walk you will find your big toe gets a decent work-out as it exercises its freedom to do the balancing and gripping that it was designed to do.

Freet Buzz

I have been told that the midsole of the Buzz is lighter density than that of the original, but to be honest the sole unit is so thin I really can’t tell the difference. You still get that near-barefoot proprioceptive feedback you’d expect from an ultra-minimalist shoe.

Freet BuzzThe sole’s sticky rubber offers good traction on most surfaces whether you’re running, walking, playing, or in the water, and although the embossed detail of the ‘tread’ texture will wear off quickly on hard surfaces, the 4mm rubber will take many many miles to wear through to your own sole.

This is a really good choice for an all-round summer barefoot shoe. If you bought a pair of the 4+1s, you can consider the Buzz as an upgrade for the summer. If you didn’t, and you’re looking for something a little bit different to kick around in this summer, I would recommend these over the originals. Maybe wait until it starts to get cold then decide if you like them enough to buy a pair of the originals as well to see you through the winter.

Freet Mudgrip

Freet Mudgrip

Following the success of their inaugural 4+1 purists’ barefoot shoe in 2013, Freet have produced an exciting new collection for 2014 which includes two conventional shoes. Here is the first of those to have adorned my testing feet; the Mudgrip – an aggressive, robust yet minimalist off trail shoe.

Writing my review it is impossible not to compare these to some of the other shoes that I’ve reviewed. It is clear to see in both their name and design where Freet have taken their inspiration from in creating this shoe. There are elements of the Mudgrip which I’ve seen in a number of shoes from other leading brands.

The name ‘Mudgrip’ echoes the well established Mudclaw from Inov-8, and in many ways so does the overall look of the shoe, but in terms of descriptive naming, this is spot on and there aren’t many other names you’d want to give it.

Freet Mudgrip
The tread on the sole is reminiscent of the Acceleritas from Icebug, with its deep lugs arranged in a chevron pattern, its bright green colour, and its sticky rubber compound. Icebug make a feature of their sticky compound which adheres remarkably well to wet rock, better than any other I’ve tested, but the rubber used under these Mudgrips seems to perform just as well as Icebug’s. The large lugs bite into and hold on to soft terrain and the spacing between the lugs is big enough to not get clogged up, but they also hold fast onto wet and dry rock. Freet should make more of this fact.

Freet MudgripThe sole is 14mm thick under the heel with a 4mm drop to the forefoot. Not as minimalist as one might expect from the makers of the 4+1, but this is certainly towards that end of the spectrum. You don’t get the ‘Princess and the Pea’ underfoot sensation that you do from the likes of Inov-8’s Baregrip and Trailroc 150 or the Vivobarefoot Neo Trail or Trail Freak, but you don’t always want to know about every little lump and bump, especially when you’re hammering it down a steep rocky hillside. In that respect the Mudgrips offer a welcome balance of minimalism and protective cushioning.

The uppers are a new material to me. Water resistant, soft, supple, and light, not unlike my softshell jacket. I like this material’s suppleness and resistance to abrasion and I’d like to see greater expanses of it than is presently visible. It’s just a shame that the merits of a nice lightweight material seem to be a little lost in the 350g of the whole shoe, which isn’t especially light.

Having said that, I’ve never seen much value in buying running shoes with waterproof material. Personally I’d rather have uppers which are non-waterproof and which don’t retain water and therefore don’t gain weight when wet, and which will dry quickly ready for the next day’s run. Waterproof shoes are fine if you’re running in nothing wetter than grass or shallow surface water on the trail, but that’s not me. My runs tend to take me through deeper water and wet foliage, leaving me with wet feet regardless of what material my shoes are made from.

The lacing follows the trend of many of its peers by using a quick-lace system; a drawstring with a quick-release fastener. The difference with these is that it’s an elastic drawstring and the loose end isn’t loose like the others’. It’s fastened down to one of the lace loops further down the shoe, giving the benefit of no flapping and no need to tuck the end in to another part of the shoe.

Freet Mudgrip lacing

These shoes do come up large for their size and I would recommend buying a half size smaller than usual. I have my usual size 45 and my feet have room to slide around inside. This can easily be prevented by pulling the laces tight, but the elastic does yield and stretch when you’re running on an incline or when the shoes are wet and heavy.

I chose to wear mine for an orienteering race recently which took us through some varied terrain including marshes. The shoes quickly filled with water and the water resistant fabric retained the water, making the shoes feel very heavy. And because the shoes are a bit big and the laces are elasticated, the muddy marsh didn’t have to work too hard to suck one of my shoes completely off my foot. Not your ideal race situation when you have to crawl around in the mud trying to retrieve your shoe from under the stampede of feet behind you!

So my advice to potential purchasers would be make sure your Mudgrips fit snugly and to wear these shoes where you’re confident that you won’t be running through water deeper than your ankles.

I would personally prefer to see this shoe with non-elasticated laces (although this opinion is largely based on my shoes being a bit too big), and although I love the lightweight water-resistant material of the uppers and would prefer to see more of it visible on the shoe, I would think no less of them if they featured a different lightweight but not water-resistant material.

Freet MudgripIn all other aspects this is a highly eligible debut off-trail shoe from Freet which has outstanding grip, a minimalist yet adequately cushioned sole, and which will give its peers a serious run for their money in a variety of terrains.

 

Freet 4+1

Freet's 4+1 shoe

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. Freet 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.”

Freet 4+1 footprintThe 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.

Freet 4+1

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.