Help me find some minimalist footwear?
November 10, 2010 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Help me find the right pair of minimalist shoes! I've been a member of a Crossfit gym for six months, which means I've been exposed to the peer pressure regarding Vibram FiveFingers. Plus, I'm starting to travel a lot (and lightly) and want a pair of running shoes that have a small footprint (heh) when packed in a suitcase. Recommendations for this recreational runner? Are Vibrams a good option? Which model? How do I size them? I'm training for next October's Portland Marathon, if that makes a difference. Bonus points for shoes available at REI (though that's not a requirement).
posted by jdroth to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
From what my friends have told me, the sizing can be really hit or miss since everyone's toes are different. You really need to be able to try on a range of sizes, too.

The KSO's seem to be quite popular.
posted by just.good.enough at 12:37 PM on November 10, 2010

Make sure you break them in slowly. FFs engage a lot of little muscles that regular running shoes don't, and the first few weeks can be pretty painful if you don't ramp up slowly (like Jeff Galloway run/walk slowly - that's what the shoe guy told me, and it worked).

I love my FFs - I have had plantar fasciitis off and on for 30 years, but have no problems with the FFs, except that I've had to cut off the back tab and shave out some of the material over the left Achilles to stop a chronic hotspot. Next time I'll get the ones with the strap.
posted by catlet at 12:44 PM on November 10, 2010

I found these martial arts shoes a nice compromise between 5 Fingers and Nike Frees.
posted by klarck at 12:45 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've been trail running in the KSO Trek model with no pain (other than the occasional sharp rock and a period of adjustment for my calves).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:57 PM on November 10, 2010

I have the Classic FF and really love running in them. (no more shin splints!) I had mine fit at Hanig's in Chicago, but I imagine the folks at REI had training or whatnot for this. I recommend having someone who has been taught how to size fit you first (smaller stores maybe?) and then buy them at REI if you would rather.
posted by bolognius maximus at 1:03 PM on November 10, 2010

I got great help fitting mine at REI. The best part is that REI has such a generous return policy that I was able to get over the "what if these don't work for me" fears. I wouldn't say I'm a convert yet, but I'm giving it an honest try. I bought the Classic Smartwool ones because the feel of the others ones kind of creeped me out.
posted by advicepig at 1:07 PM on November 10, 2010

I REALLY like my Vibram Bikilas. I chose them because the balls of my feet didn't seem to sit properly over the sole "pads" of the KSOs. The Bikilas are really well formed to my feet. I don't even need the strap. I was really glad I tried all different models on at the store because the Bikilas are really well made and have the most "neutral" sole design (meaning is the flattest, if not the thinnest).

The only issue I've had with them is that my very wide feet caused the fabric to dig into the side of my 4th toes in a weirdly painful way. I was able stretch all the toes out by jamming a couple of fingers into each of them and this fixed the problem.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:09 PM on November 10, 2010

I love my KSOs. I do all CrossFit workouts in them or the kayaking shoes I have in my garage gym. The transition was a little easier for me than it is for others, because before I got them I focused on trying to run with POSE technique. I still haven't run 10K in them yet, but I'm working my way up slowly with 5K runs and tuck jumps. The only snag I've found in a CrossFit workout so far is that the toes tend to catch the rope when I'm doing double unders. They're amazing CrossFit shoes because your proprioception (your perception of your position relative to the ground) is exponentially better in shoes like that. I've never rolled my ankle or buckled in a squat in Vibrams.

If you don't own a pair, find a retailer and go try on several pair. According to the website, I take a 41, but when I tried them on, I ended up buying a 42. Now, I can order online if I like. If your feet are weird, like mine, you're better off trying them on at a retailer first.

Good luck!
posted by phoebus at 1:19 PM on November 10, 2010

Saucony Shay XC

A million times. I really wanted to find a minimalist running shoe, but was skeptical of the FiveFingers and had too much residual anti-Nike sentiment to go with the frees. I read every review I could get my hands on and finally bought a pair of Shay XCs. After running in them for a month or so, I was so in love of them that I bought a second pair just to keep in the closet for when the first pair wore out. I have since put in more than 300 miles of street running wearing them and they practically look like new.
posted by 256 at 1:21 PM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

I love my FiveFingers. I have a weirdly long middle toe and very flat feet, too, so I was also worried about sizing. Careful, careful measurement of your foot length per the instructions at the website is key. Then you need to be patient initially. They will feel weird and too small and tight at first but after a couple of runs or walks they will feel more like a perfect glove for your foot. And after that you are golden.

I admit I own three pairs -- KSOs for everyday runs/walks, Flows for cold and wet running or beaches, and KSO Treks for trails.

On the other hand, I'm never going to buy another running or sport/walking shoe, so they are a bargain in the long run.
posted by bearwife at 1:28 PM on November 10, 2010

I love my Vibram Five Fingers, I don't know which model 'cause I can't find a label on them beyond "Vibram". They've got the Velcro strap, which I think is a good idea. However, I have a friend who can't use them because of how his feet are structured.

If I were buying another pair right now I'd get myself a set of toe socks and go try a bunch on. If you plan to wear them barefoot (I vary back and forth), get them snug. So what everyone else has said: find some place to try on a bunch of different sizes.

Interestingly, my Dad looked at my FFs and said "except for the toes, that's about what we used to call running shoes when I was a kid". So the thin sole thing is not a new concept.
posted by straw at 1:32 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

The like the KSO's. The only other one I tried was the Flow and that actually tore up my toes from the rough stitching. I needed months to get used to my KSO's for running and my feet still get quite sore over long distances on concrete. But I know other people who were able to use them pretty much immediately for whatever they wanted.

In any case, I love them. I've abused my pair for two years now, and they're in great shape.
posted by zeek321 at 3:32 PM on November 10, 2010

Oh, one note--my KSO's are a couple sizes above what their sizing chart says I need. (I have wide, flat feet.) They were just the most comfortable. It's been no problem. My toes stay snug and I don't trip.
posted by zeek321 at 3:34 PM on November 10, 2010

I have two models of VFF's: the KSO's and the Bakila's. Running a long race, like the marathon, will be a lot easier in the Bakila's. The Bakila's are much easier for running, especially on the concrete. The KSO's get kind of painful on longish runs (but are totally okay for 5k's).

Remember to get some sort of odor-spray. the VFF's will SMELL after a while.
posted by unexpected at 3:53 PM on November 10, 2010

I bought my KSO Treks right before leaving on an extended international backpacking trip, to save space in my bag and whatnot.


- I love them for frequent 10K runs and gym/crossfit activities.
- It took a few weeks, maybe a month, to break them in.
- Great without socks for indoor activities, or non-strenuous outdoor activities.
- Even after breaking them in, if I'm going to be running long distances on hard surfaces (e.g. city) I *NEED* to wear Injini toe socks or I'll start to blister up around 4-5 miles in.
- They WILL smell bad after awhile. Even after washing/cleaning/deodorizing them they still don't smell GREAT, but it helps.
- My current pair started to bleed black dye. If my feet get sweaty or I step in a puddle on a run the dye will transfer to my feet and takes awhile (days) to come off. It's a bit weird. I'll be getting a new pair eventually, hopefully without this issue.
posted by adamk at 4:56 PM on November 10, 2010

I love my VFFs, and was wearing them for over a year until I started running in them. Shortly thereafter, I developed capsulitis and was unable to make it across a Home Depot, let alone walk anywhere or run. A cursory web search shows I'm not alone, so I no longer run in them, but I do use them walking, hiking, and at the gym.

YMMV, but be careful.
posted by metarkest at 6:21 PM on November 10, 2010

I've heard really good things about Nike Frees and am currently saving up for my own pair. I don't like the forced toe-spread of the Vibrams either. I can't even tolerate those toe sock things that yoga people wear.
posted by blue_bicycle at 7:07 AM on November 11, 2010

Seconding Feiyue. Cool-looking, and only $20!
posted by exceptinsects at 8:45 AM on November 11, 2010

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