As with most Saturdays where I’m not traveling, I can be found biking around Charlotte with my Vibram Five Fingers. Since purchasing them a little over a year ago (August 2009), this has been a common site for me. I like these shoes a lot. And after a little more than a year with them, especially in the context of how I wear them, it’s possible that I can offer a position on shoes that’s sometimes not as easy to step on.
When I purchased my Five Fingers, I had done so on nearly an impulse moment. I’d seen them online a number of times, and though I could not do the barefoot sporting thing, I did have an appreciation for many of the proclaimed benefits of wearing them. After taking a trip into Great Outdoor Provision (at the time this was the only place in Charlotte selling them), I purchased them – seriously, I walked around the store and made the decision to purchase them right there. The model that I purchased then was the Flow, because they were waterproof. Though there wasn’t the all black kind, I was fine with the grey (top) and green/yellow camo (bottom sole) colored shoes. What I didn’t expect was the attention.
An aside about Charlotte: doing anything too different here is apt to get attention. I was called everything from Avatar to “frog-feet.” And aside from a few foot specialists and runners, most had not heard of Vibram’s Five Fingers until a number of TV programs started speaking on the benefits of walking and running barefoot. Charlotte is in the midst of patching together its greenway system, and many folks here are interested in keeping some type of wellness, despite the regions “larger portion” leanings.
I handled the attention in stride, and in time it got to the point where there was nothing else that I’d rather wear on my feet. A crowning moment came in my previous job where I attended our quarterly meeting/party in them. Aside from one person who was utterly repulsed by them, most folks received them quite well. I got to talk to a lot of people about the benefits of these shoes and many exclaimed how they used to feel as a kid doing everything barefoot, and longed for that kind of joy. What I hadn’t realized is that I was getting that joy the more that I wore my Five Fingers, and it was something that I wasn’t likely to give up easily.
I purchased a second pair (KSO model) in March after making it through the winter wearing them. Yes, my feet got cold. And I even found it interesting to take a trip and wear them outside in a foot of snow while putting gas in my car. You don’t realize just how much you are insulated from not just the ground, but the temperature in regular shoes. As long as my feet were moving though, I didn’t realize the cold. I purchased toe socks to go with them, and these helped to keep that warmth.
When I stopped working at that previously mentioned gig, one of the exclamations that I had was that my new work uniform would include the wearing of my two pairs of Five Fingers. In the months since leaving that gig, I’ve probably worn regular shoes maybe 5 or 6 times. Even for something simple like taking the trash out, I’m wearing these. And that’s a good thing mostly – it’s in all of this wearing of them that I found out where some areas of the Five Fingers needed improvement.
For example, because of the thin soles, the tread lines in the soles could be worn down pretty quickly, which caused a problem for me slipping off my bike pedal or when walking up muddy slopes. I’ve also suffered holes in the toes of both pairs after falling or sliding against tar or concrete while riding. If the toe areas were made of or wrapped with the same rubber that the soles are, this might help those kinds of moments some.
Odor can be a problem if not careful. Five Fingers can go into the wash, but you really want to make sure that you use powder detergent, and take a sufficient amount of time to dry them. My Flows needed about 6-8hrs to ensure that the neoprene would dry sufficiently before you add new sweat. My KSOs were a bit better in this respect since they have just a mesh fabric top. That also seemed to keep them from holding odor like the Flows.
The Reason for the Reflection
I was compelled to write a review today because I got the kind of hole in mine that means that I need to get another pair. Unfortunately, I’m not in the financial position to purchase another pair (they range from $75-125 depending on the model). While riding I brushed up against a curb while doing some good speed and ripped a hole in the little toe that also happened to put a hole in the socks I was wearing under them. It isn’t a bad thing, but it made me realize just how comfortable and refreshing that it has been to wear these over the past year.
Could these be better? Sure. I’d love for them to work a bit better in corporate settings (probably not happening). Or, at least to get a bit better availability of darker colored models that work well with this guy’s wardrobe. It seems as if the newest models have addressed having a thicker sole that has better tread patterns. Thing is, I wonder how much those take away from the feeling of being barefoot.
Do you need to be a runner or hiker to wear these? No. I wear mine for everything, and totally prefer to bike in them over other shoes. They are light, and many times don’t even feel as if there’s something on your feet. They’ll cause all kinds of attention, so you’d need to get your explanations and excuses ready. And if you want to be so bold to wear them to a church service or slightly-more-than-casual function, then be ready for the amount of people you won’t get a conversation with.
But, I think that’s kind of the point of Vibram’s Five Fingers. Sure, they allow you the kind of motion and approach to wellness that you just can’t get elsewhere. You’ll look weird, and cause all kinds of differing opinions. But, when it’s all said and done, and your Five Fingers come to the end of their lives, you’ll be hard pressed to go back to a conventional shoe for all but the most formal of affairs. And it should be like that. Comfortable to live and walk should be the default setting for what’s on our feet, and Vibram enables that.
For more information and to find retailers which sell Vibram Five Fingers shoes in your area, visit their website; and take note, there are several shops that sell non-authorized and knock-off versions. I’ve not tried those, but wouldn’t recommend them. You get what you pay for in this case – and Vibram is worth it in my opinion.
Plug: These are great shoes, and you might not necessarly need something like these. But, if you do want to like these and have a penchant for just purchasing shoes, a great group called Samaritan’s Feet exists which will put shoes on the feet of people who don’t even have that much. Lots of us have several pairs of shoes, many that get worn once or twice before we decide they aren’t worth it any more. In this past year of wearing Five Fingers, I’ve seen not just how much I don’t need other kinds of shoes, but am also more aware of just how important feet can be when they are/aren’t protected. So even if not for yourself, purchase a pair of these for someone(s) for this program. They’ll appreciate it.