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.
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
I’ve used 3 different models of Five Fingers:
- Sprint [open top with velcro strap over the instep]
- Flow [neoprene top fabric comes all the way to bottom ankle]
- KSO [cloth top fabric comes all the way to bottom of ankle]
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
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
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
- 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]
- 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
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.
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.
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.