I bought a FiveFingers Sprint pair a little more than two years ago. It was somewhat of a challenge then, spending several hours to track down an online shop that had the right size in stock and would ship to Europe. The package arrived a few weeks later and I was ecstatic. I immediately started wearing them around the house so my feet could get used to their new equipment.
A few days later I decided to ignore the advice of other barefoot enthusiasts, as well as the brochure that came with the shoes, telling me that I should take it easy with this barefoot thing. I went out for a run with my new shoes, I mistakenly chose a route with extended lengths of gravel mixed with dirt and I returned home thinking “this wasn’t too bad after all”. My heels were somewhat sore, which seemed reasonable. What followed was three weeks of painful walking, a visit to a doctor that insisted human feet are not meant to be used without padding on the heels, an x-ray that revealed no heel damage and many doubts about running barefoot.
Fast forward two years, I’ve now walked many kilometers wearing my FiveFingers, hiked through unfriendly terrain, worn them while swimming in the sea and of course, I’ve been asked countless questions about my weird shoes.
I believe that our feet are meant to carry us through jungles, rocky roads and all manners of uncomfortable surfaces. We can’t run fast but we can run long distances and that’s why we can hunt deer. It’s a fact that we can run barefoot. Some people take this the wrong way, arm themselves with some “nature knows best” bullshit and go on to declare war on shoes. Please stop doing that. Shoes are good for us, except that we’ve started making really bad designs and marketing the hell out of them.
A good shoe:
- is not tight
- is not too loose, it must stay on your foot
- has ample room for your toes
- has a flexible sole
- the sole is not too narrow
- has as little padding as needed
- is flat, doesn’t have more padding on the heel
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem many shoes fit that profile. I remember when I was young and I’d fall for the “shoe will fit after you wear it” routine that my mother and various salesmen did so I’d buy a damn pair after trying on dozens. Don’t fall for that. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t buy it.
What I like most about the Vibrams is the fact that they made me question what I knew about shoes and the way I use my feet. Products that do that are few and far between. I remember when I first put on my FiveFingers, I thought to myself “Okay, now I will have to hack the way I walk“.
I mostly land on my forefoot when I run now and it feels better. I don’t run regularly though, so I still have to work on that. When I walk, I mostly land on my midfoot but it varies. It’s actually okay to land on your heel while walking . The way I used to walk was fairly awful and I’m glad I managed to improve. My problem mainly stemmed from the fact that I walked too fast and took wide steps, which resulted in hard heel strikes. Wearing shoes with thick soles takes the edge off, however you are still doing damage to your knees and back, and you may end up with sore heels if you walk too much. Compared to before, I now can walk longer distances, get less tired, my legs get a lot less sore, my knees never hurt and it just feels more like the right way to walk.
At first, I started walking slower and taking smaller steps. That was a big help and it made it possible to land on my midfoot. I can’t really explain the difference between lifting your feet and pressing down with them, but that was what I focused on next. It made my landing a lot softer, which is something you need when wearing minimal shoes. You need to lift your foot, keep it relaxed, land softly on your heel/midfoot with a slight rolling motion towards the forefoot and repeat. After you practice enough you will have a smoother gait that feels more natural.
I think my FiveFingers have been a fairly good product, however this summer the sole developed various cracks and holes. I also started riding a bicycle with them, which seemed to create a lot of additional wear from the studded pedals and foot braking. I guess only lasting for two years is not too bad considering the cost (about $60 at the time) and the physical limitations of such a thin sole. I certainly got plenty of use out of them.
There were some issues with the yellow-colored antimicrobial microfiber footbed. For the first few weeks, it didn’t smell at all and I thought it was magical. Then it started smelling pretty bad and I had to start washing the shoes regularly. It’s manageable if you wash them often and you don’t put them on with dirty feet. I like being barefoot around the house so I’d often wear them with not-so-clean feet and the dirt would end up sticking to the footbed along with sweat. I washed them with a bar of soap, a toothbrush and some running water, which would take a good 30 minutes to do properly. They are also machine-washable, so I’ll have to try that in the future.
Vibram have fortunately introduced new materials such as kangaroo leather, Smartwool and Dri-Lex. I’m guessing these are better than the classic yellow microfiber but I’m not sure which one I want to try in my new pair. I do love my Smartwool socks but the one pair that uses it, seems to be mostly suited for indoors use. I’m leaning towards the KSO Trek with kangaroo leather or the Bikila with Dri-Lex. I would love to hear from you if you’ve bought one of the new designs.
I think the FiveFingers are a well-executed project overall and a good quality product. I will soon be buying a new pair or two. If you are considering getting a pair for yourself, I say go ahead. Don’t worry about people giving you funny looks or that you won’t be able to learn how to walk with them. You will figure it out. Feel free to ask me any questions.