Vibram Five Fingers Review

10 09 2010

Vibram Five Fingers Flow...

Read my Vibram Five Finger KSO 2yr Review here.

Vibram Five Fingers are a very unique type of sport sandal that allows you to walk, run and play as if barefoot, but with some extra grip and protection from sharp things!  I’ve been using them since last spring and have really enjoyed the benefits of barefooting.

Theory

I’m not an expert in how the human foot works so I won’t pretend I really understand all the details of the Vibram Five Fingers.  Have a look at the videos above/below and check out the links I provide below if you are keen to learn more about the technology behind the design:

If in doubt talk to your doctor before trying these shoes out.

The Five Finger Basics

There are quite a few models of Five Fingers, but they all have some basics in common:

  • rubber Vibram sole [very grippy]
  • individual toe boxes for each toe
  • upper fabric that keeps foot it and debris out
  • heel pull tab to assist in getting them on

Models

I’ve used 3 different models of Five Fingers:

Vibram offers the Five Fingers in 11 different models.

Five Fingers Sprint...

Sprint

The Sprint is an open top Five Finger model that features a velcro strap on the instep and the heel to get a secure fit for athletic pursuits.  This is important when you can’t afford your footwear coming off such as in a river.

  • they are a great general purpose model of Five Fingers for folks that are active
  • I’ve skateboarding, run, biked, SUPed and hiked in these sandals
  • they stay securely on your feet
  • the sipped rubber sole is very grippy wet or dry
  • the open top allows debris to enter which is a problem if you use them in a place with small rocks for example – ouch!
  • the velcro strap means they take a moment longer to get on than Five Fingers that don’t have this strap

Vibram Five Fingers KSO model...

KSO

The KSO [Keep Stuff Out] model of Five Fingers is very similar to the Sprint discussed above, but it features a mesh fabric top that reaches the bottom of the ankle to keep debris out of the sandal.

  • all the points noted above for the Sprint apply, except the problem of debris getting in
  • the mesh top keep most stuff out without being hot
  • occasionally small rocks can get in and you will have to remove them, but it’s 98% better in this regard than the Sprints
  • fine sand will also get in, but this doesn’t hurt – however at some point enough gets it that it must be removed as well
  • because of the extra fabric it takes a bit more effort to get these Five Fingers on

Flow

The Flow model of Five Fingers is similar to the KSO, but the whole top fabric is made of 1.2mm neoprene for warmth and the insole is 2mm EVA to provide additional insulation.

  • these are the warmest Five Fingers I’ve tried
  • all the notes under the KSO apply, but the neoprene fabric keeps out sand and small rocks much better
  • because the material used is thicker top and bottom these fit tighter than the same size Five Fingers in the Sprint or KSO model
  • I found I couldn’t get a good fit since my toes didn’t have enough room in the toe boxes and if I bought a bigger size they’d be too loose on the rest of my feet to stay on well
  • using them in water for 2-3hrs I actually injured the skin of my toes as it became soft and was squeezed by the tight Flow toe boxes
  • Vibram needs to make the toe boxes bigger to account for the thicker materials used in this model
  • I ended up returning them and rec’d the KSO’s in exchange which fit much better

Pros

  • Once I got used to them I really enjoyed how the Five Fingers felt on my feet
  • revolutionary design with nothing similar on the market
  • I don’t wear shoes at home so it’s nice to be able to go out and feel the same way, but with some protection
  • being able to feel the ground or board under your feet lets you interact with it in a way not possible with thicker footwear [fun while walking and critical for board sports]
  • provides good protection from typical debris in the city and on the trail/beach incl scorching hot pavement/sand
  • my feet feel better when I walk barefoot a lot and the Five Fingers allow me to do more of this
  • excellent customer service [Vibram replaced my Flows with KSOs even though I was outside the warranty period]

Cons

  • requires some practice to get efficient at putting them on
  • requires some break in time to get your foot used to them if you don’t walk barefoot much
  • won’t fit odd shaped feet/toes [only one option for shape is available]
  • doesn’t provide cushioning so you have to use your body to absorb shock [not a real con, but be aware of this]
  • if debris does get inside it cannot get out unless you remove the Five Fingers and dump it out
  • debris inside is painful as you are forced to walk on it
  • durability problems [see my detailed explanation below]
  • fit problem with Flow model due to thicker material used
  • takes more time to get on and off than other sports sandals [might be a problem if you have to remove them many times a day]
  • expensive considering the materials and construction

Sharon wearing KSOs to kiteboard...

Durability Problems

My main problem with Vibram Five Fingers is that they use a sole that’s good for 3 seasons of hard use and top fabric that is not going to survive 1 season of hard use without multiple repairs.  If you use your Five Fingers for any activity where small bits of rock or other sharp debris get between the toes you will have rips forming in short order.  Unfortunately if you use these sandals anywhere other than in a yoga studio, sailboat or on pavement/grass you will have small bits of debris abrading the fabric between and around your toes.  I’ve also had the seams give out on my KSO around a couple toe boxes simply due to stress from movement of the foot.  So I’ve pulled out a needle and thread to repair my Five Fingers a few times already and expect it will continue.  The sad part is as I’m fixing the uppers the soles looks nearly minty fresh and will clearly out last the fabric on top by several years.

What Vibram should do:

  • wrap the rubber sole up between the toes so debris between the toes wears on rubber not fabric
  • use reinforced stitching on toe boxes or use all rubber toe boxes
  • make the soles thinner for better ground feel since we don’t need soles that out last the tops by a factor or 3x
  • thinner soles will also provide better board feel for surfers, SUPers, kiteboarders and land longboarders.

Why I wear Five Fingers kiteboarding...

What do I think?

I’ve got some real criticism for the Vibram Five Fingers in this review and I cannot give Vibram 2 thumbs up, but this product is so revolutionary and so much better than anything else out there for sports like kiteboarding that I’ll continue to support Vibram in the hopes they correct the main short comings of this footwear.   I use neoprene surf booties when I’m kiteboarding and the water is too cold for my Five Finger KSOs.  They work okay, but being able to feel the board underneath you and use your toes independently is a huge huge benefit so I’m always grabbing my Five Fingers if I can handle the water temperature.  A lot of kiteboarders go barefoot because of this, but at most beaches there are sharp rocks, glass, coral, barnacles or other pointy things to cut your soft feet.  I’m just not willing to deal with multiple foot injuries so I can kite barefoot and with my KSOs I can get 80% of the board feel with 0% of the injuries.

So in general I think the benefits of Five Fingers out weigh the problems.  My feet are healthier and happier wearing them and they provide excellent foot protection with most of feel of going barefoot.  Since I wear my Sprints mostly on pavement or grass they are going strong and should last a few more years.  My KSOs have only seen 1 summer of kiteboarding [which keep in mind is 99% on the water with no debris around] and have been repaired a few times.  I’ll keep them going as long as I can.  My hope is by then Vibram will have improved the design so that they last longer.  I’d love to have a pair of Flows since they are warmer and the water in Canada is cold, but until they redesign them I simply can’t use them.

Note my feet are Five Fingered!...

Should you try them?

Yes. They are worth a shot.  Start with a basic model like the Sprint, the Classic or the Moc.  Use them around the house, yard and around town to strengthen your feet and let you see what you think about the Five Finger concept.  Since this type of use doesn’t cause a lot of top fabric wear you won’t experience the durability issue I talk about.  After some use your feet will be happier and you’ll be 100% on the sizing you need. At that point you can check out some of the more sporty versions of Five Fingers.

When you get your first pair of Five Fingers wear them for a short time and then take them off.  Start with 1hr a day and increase slowly.   If you don’t walk barefoot a lot your feet will get tired and sore.  As long as it’s not acute pain this is normal. Just wear them for shorter durations until you get used to them.  Eventually you’ll be able to wear them all day.

SUP fingers!


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11 responses

10 09 2010
crosius

Hmm. These look interesting, but I will have to wait for them to offer a version for folks with Morton’s Toe.

10 09 2010
thelazyrando

I think due to the low volume of manufacture and costs associated with specialized foot beds you are unlikely to see anything other than the current version. I have short toes and so except for my big toe the other toe boxes are too long. Doesn’t affect my use of the Five Fingers.

10 09 2010
Jesse

Unfortunately he’s right on that, however there are a couple of tutorials on youtube showing how folks have modified their VFFs to make room for mortons toe. I have a mild case myself, but since my toes are so stubby to begin with, the longer ones just barely reach the end of the toe box!

11 09 2010
Gerco

I’ve been using a set of KSO’s.. I could find a good fitting pair. All my toes fill the pockets except for the smallest toe.. I did a five hour hike on rocky ground this summer.. You definetly have to build up to such a long hike, since you have to walk a bit differently as you do not have the same amount of damping as in regular hiking boots. You wil discover all new muscles, you never used before… :-) I really like them… And for some reasons having five toes on your footwear, it gives start to some really funny comments and conversation…

28 01 2011
Jeff in GR

My big beef with the Five Finger is that they don’t all fit like the Moc (essentially an Isotoner glove for your foot) – all of them should have seven independent pieces on the bottom. And I don’t like the Moc because I can’t run outside in it without voiding the warranty. I have a pair of KSOs but because I have a bunion they rub on it after a few miles of running . . . has anyone had experience running outside in the Moc? Or even on an indoor track or treadmill? I’d buy a pair of those if I was confident that they weren’t going to break down on my after a couple hundred miles.

23 02 2011
eric doucet

I got them from a place called new world runners Burlington Ontario when he exchanged the bikila for my kso at virbram request he told me never to come back again he would not exchange them. so this last pair I got came from vibram them selves and to tell you the truth their very different the inside of the sole lining is orange the original kso he gave me is yellow and the new ones are same size and their so tight they hurt my feet I am disabled and got thees to relive the pain in my leg from it being broken and crocked from this accident barefoot is less pain full because the foam in the shoe done not distort from my inverted leg I so like my bikila much better and that what I wanted but after 2 pairs I opted for different model due to the problem and not being able to return them to new world I cant believe vibram is in business with this guy thee shoes in gas to return them has cost me about 160$ due to the fact any authorized dealer is 1h30mins away so now im stuck with a bran new pair of vibrams in the box and I cannot wear them due to fact they cut off blood flow im scared to call vibram again bucuse they might tell me too bad see ya because they will not cover return shipping from canada for defective product this realy does suck and I think im going to tell pple to stay away from five fingers

23 02 2011
eric doucet

Ive had issue with 4 pairs 1 pair bikila 3 days toes unglued. 2nd pair bikila same thing sole separate right off. for my 3rd pair i exchange for kso instead no toe separation but pull tab came stitching came apart after 2h . 4th pair kso mailed to me same size but material is so tight i manege to get foot in i can only where for 5 min and my foot goes lil numb am tired dealing with the company not sure i will buy another pair seems a lot factory defects and inconsistency i am pissed off at them and i want my money back
such peace of garbage and no i am not a spammer or getting paid for this i am a pissed off consumer and will wright this where ever i can find a revue don’t buy this crap

23 02 2011
eric doucet

.

2 05 2011
Nate

Actually, I love the shoes for running but I’ve had terrible problems with the gluing as I’m now on my second pair of VFF Sprints, which have only been run in twice and are falling apart, much like the first pair did, just by doing a gentle walk. I have a pair of VFF Speeds which seem much better glued. People talk about doing hikes in them, and using them as a traveling shoe; I would strongly advise against that as you could easily be left with a delaminating shoe, half way through a big walk.

1 02 2012
Vibram Five Finger KSO 2yr Review « The Lazy Rando Blog…

[…] As I said in my original Five Fingers review – kudos to Vibram for brining such a novel and highly functional product to market. They rock in many ways and I’ll be buying a new pair of KSOs now that I have shredded and repaired my 2yr old pair so much they can’t be fixed further. I hope Vibram takes some notice of the concerns listed here. Everyone I’ve met on the beach who uses Five Fingers has had the same experience. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

1 02 2012
Vibram Five Finger KSO 2yr Review « The Lazy Rando Blog… | The Info Kite Boarding

[…] As I said in my original Five Fingers review – kudos to Vibram for brining such a novel and highly functional product to market. They rock in many ways and I’ll be buying a new pair of KSOs now that I have shredded and repaired my 2yr old pair so much they can’t be fixed further. I hope Vibram takes some notice of the concerns listed here. Everyone I’ve met on the beach who uses Five Fingers has had the same experience. […]

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