I've been wanting to check out the barefoot hiking experience with a pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes for some time now, but I don't tend to like the feeling of a strap across the top of my foot, so I have never parted with a hundred bucks to check them out. A combination of my REI dividend burning a hole in my pocket, and the introduction of Vibram's new lace up Bikila LS Running Shoes was all it took for me to finally take the plunge. My Men's size 45 weigh just 13.4 ounces for the pair, less than half of what my trail runners weigh...a huge benefit for a gram counter like me!
They recommend you don't over do it when you first start wearing FiveFingers because the muscles you use in these are different than in "normal" shoes. Heeding their warning, Juggy and I went on a little 6-7 mile hike the day after I bought them. The unique experience of walking through trails "barefoot" was pretty cool, and afterwards my feet felt fine. The next weekend I decided to walk a little farther, and took one of my favorite routes through Red Rock from my It's Just Walking post a while back. I figured that this would be a good test because it consists of walking on a rocky trail, 9 1/2 miles out then back. If my feet were starting to feel sore, I could simply turn around and cut it short.
When you first slide your feet into them, the shoes feel a bit weird, but that's because you're used to having your feet jammed inside "normal" shoes all your life. Once you start walking they feel very natural, and you end up walking quite differently...softly is the best way I can describe it, like when walking barefoot. They leave some very cool foot prints too!
These shoes are very much at home in water, and you might find yourself walking right through stream crossings rather than hopping across the tops of boulders.
The dirt that collects on the wet shoes is not bothersome and falls off in short order.
One thing about these shoes is that you feel everything, which is both good and bad. The good part is that you feel much more stable in technical sections because the soft soles help your feet mold to the terrain. The not so good part is that the thin soles are subject to letting thorns and such through easier than with running shoes.
At the 8 1/2 mile point, my feet were starting to get sore, so I decided to turn around. Part of the soreness was from hitting a rock quite hard with my little toe about 4 miles into the hike. I didn't think much of it at the time, as I knew it wasn't broken, but it did bother me the entire way. As I passed the 12 mile mark of my 17 mile day, the bottoms of my feet were getting more and more sensitive. I walked slowly and softly, and took several breaks, especially at stream crossings to soak my sore feet. The last couple of hours were rough, and with each step the pain increased. I took my time and eventually made it back to the trailhead, but I definitely stopped having fun towards the end. Removing my shoes once I got home, my toe looked worse than I thought it would. This photo is from the next day, when I woke up with it swollen and brightly colored reminiscent of Red Rock.
The photo below shows a hole in the little toe pocket, and the rubber starting to separate on the big toe. I was disappointed to see product failures like this so quickly.
So I am planning to return my goofy looking new shoes. If they had lasted longer, I probably would have kept them for lighter hiking, water activities, etc. I'm not sure why they wore out so fast...maybe I'm just too hard on my footwear, but my Foot Pillows sure didn't wear out like these did! It's too bad, because I got some great reactions wearing these...from conversation starters, to little giggles, "ewww", and my favorite comment from a buddy "You know how I can tell you're gay? Look down."
To be fair to Vibram, these are street running shoes, not trail running, but I have successfully used regular running shoes on trails many times. I strongly suggest you do not use these for trails if you are clumsy like me and kick rocks or step on cactus off fall. With a swollen foot and burning calves, my body is not very happy with me right now. Luckily my injuries are minor, and I should be back to hiking next weekend. In my trail runners!