Vibram Five Finger KSO 2yr Review

1 02 2012

Click on image for my previous review...

Let me summarize my long term review of the Vibram Five Finger KSO booties/slippers by saying 3 things:

  • if you kite, windsurf, SUP or surf on the beaches I frequent in Canada and Mexico you either wear something on your feet or you get cut up badly.
  • these KSOs are the best footwear solution I’ve found for these sports in warm to cool water.
  • there is significant room for improvement of this product for the water-sports crowd.

If you want to read my pervious review click on the image above. I’ll only be discussing my long term experiences with the KSOs in this post.

Virtually no wear on the Vibram sole...

The Good:

  • they fit my odd shaped feet reasonably well
  • they don’t interfere with the bindings on my twin tip kiteboard
  • they provide decent board feel on my strapless kiteboards, SUPs and surfboards
  • they provide excellent traction
  • they provide excellent protection from sharp rocks, coral, urchins, glass, etc…
  • soles are very durable
  • available in black so you don’t attract too much attention!
  • reasonably priced for specialized sports footwear

Shredded fabric lets toes our and rocks in...=-(

The Bad:

  • they don’t fit some people
  • not much good in cold water
  • sole is much thicker than needed for protection or durability for board sports
  • thinner sole would provide much better board feel with no downsides
  • fabric tops are not very robust [mine have been ripped open between the toes several times now]
  • once the fabric rips small rocks and sand get in as you walk down the beach and get into the water. This really irritates the feet while you are riding for 3hrs and your skin gets soft.
  • glue is letting go between rubber and fabric along the sides

Bottom line I love how these slippers work compared to a regular neoprene surf bootie, but it’s sad to know I’ll shred the tops after a couple months of beach use while the soles are good for 10 years of abuse. I’ll keep buying them because for now there is no better alternative for warm and cool weather water-sports.

My KSO's have seen better days!

Here is how to improve them for water board sports:

  • make sole 30% thinner for better board feel.
  • they rip mostly between toes when a rock gets in there are rubs the fabric so wrap a thin layer of rubber up the sides of each toe to add to the durability.
  • change top fabric to something 50% more abrasion resistant.
  • to make the Flow neoprene model better increase size of each toe box to account for thicker neoprene material compared to KSO. Currently Flow toe boxes are too small for many people’s feet.
  • make a high top side entry Flow so you can tuck the top under a wetsuit leg to stay warm in cold conditions.

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.



14 responses

1 02 2012
John White

Hey, nice review of the KSO’s! I use mine for running and on the beach, and my experiences match with yours. Best experience with them was a whole day spent cliff-jumping and cliff-climbing.
I wouldn’t like the sole thinner, though, since I’ve already almost worn through it; it won’t last 10 years if you walk and run in them! I think the sole thickness is a good mix given the variety of activities it’s used for.
I’m hoping Vibram comes out with a better watersport-focused shoe, though.
Do you do anything special to avoid any odor issues, or is that more of a problem with runners?

1 02 2012

I don’t have any odor issues as 95% of the time I am wearing them I am in the water hence my feet don’t sweat and they get flushed with fresh water constantly.

For water based board sports folks there is almost no sole wear even after years of use. A board is smooth and simply doesn’t chew away at a sole the way rocks do. As it stands there are so many land based Five Fingers models with very thick soles that it seems a lighter thinner soled model would be a good addition to the line up.

1 02 2012

These were made for runners .when the barefoot running craze began. Taking the less is more route most running shoes are now ditching the big heavy soles. These vibrams are also great for building foot strength which is lost on most athletes who have worn shoes for sports since a very young age. I think wearing them around all day would help build foot strength and also help with your kiteboarding in a functional way as well. Hopefully they come out with the ones you describe. It would be a whole new market for them so they would be foolish to ignore this input…IMHO. Great ideas here and love this blog. Keep it coming.

2 02 2012

Surely you’ve thought of dipping the toes in something as a preventative until something better comes along?

2 02 2012

No I haven’t dipped them in anything. The critical spot for wear is between the toes which is limited in space and hard to access once the bootie is constructed.

Shoe Goo [my old repair standby] would simply glue all the toes together which is not what I am after.

If this was a normal shoe or bootie fixing a wear area DIY would be far simpler.

2 02 2012

I work in the footwear retail industry. We sell a ton of Five Fingers! I think your points are valid, although I think I can add a little bit to them. Instead of changing the rubber for all the shoes, Vibram should make a water sports specific model with heavier duty material an thinner rubber. It he rubber on the current shoes is intended for running, creating an “impact” zone for the foot. Changing this across their whole line of shoes may decrease the use and comfort while running. Anyways, great review and insight. I love this blog!

2 02 2012

@Graham – I didn’t suggest they change the sole on all the Five Fingers. Currently there are 14 men’s FF models of which 2 [KSO and Flows] have water sports applications. All I am after is 1 model designed to be optimized for use on the beach and in the water for board sports. The other 13 models can be land specific for running, hiking and casual use.

It would make no sense to use a thin sole for a hiking optimized Five Finger.

2 02 2012

I notice they now have a See Ya model with lighter sole, but it’s mated to an ever lighter duty top fabric. If I could only have one improvement for kiteboarding it would be a more durable top/toe fabric not the thinner sole.

2 02 2012
Steve Fuller

I’ve had my VFF KSO’s for about a year now. I’m using mine on land, wearing them around the house and at work. I also like packing them on the bike in case I want to not run around in cycling shoes at the local farmers market.

For odor about all I do is toss them in the washing machine once in a while. I’ve also heard that just washing them in water with a bit of vinegar thrown in helps with odor prevention as well.

There’s a site dedicated to eradicating the VFF stank too –

2 02 2012
John White

I think you should send Vibram Customer Service an email with the suggestions and maybe a link here. I’ve contacted them on their website and gotten a human via email after a few weeks, so they do exist. I could probably send you the email address I got. You’re right about the huge variety of FF’s for runners vs the relatively small changes that would make a perfect water shoe!

3 02 2012

@John – I did send Vibram customer service a 2 page letter with photos and my last pair of Five Fingers to demonstrate the problems as well as offer solutions. That was 2yrs ago.

I’m thinking about doing that again with the current pair except I’m weighing the benefits of sending them back with keeping them as a back up pair if I lose my new pair and am on a long trip.

If I has a sense Vibram was receptive to the information and interested in improvement for a water sports model I wouldn’t hesitate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my old FF’s just got thrown out 10mins after they arrived at Vibram and my letter recycled.

10 08 2013

Rando, maybe get your friends who have the same experience as you to also send emails detailing the issues related to their water sports. I’m surprised you plan to get more KSOs though – why not get the VFF Signa?

10 08 2013

now i’ve realised how old this comment thread is, i’m guessing signas and maioris weren’t available at the time

7 06 2014

I see that this is an older thread, but if anyone is still reading this: has anyone tried the VFF Maiori’s for surfing? I’m a learning to surf on Vancouver Island. I know in winter I would need something warmer, but for the summer months they *might* be perfect. I find the neoprene booties fill with water and have poor flexibility compared to a natural foot feel, resulting in sluggish feet on the board.

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