Vibram Five Fingers KSO Barefoot pictures and hands-on
Forget over-pronating, or under pronating, the rage at the moment is all about running barefoot. That might work on the beach or the more sandy climbs of Africa, but running your usual route barefoot in the UK is more than likely not possible or advisable.
In steps the Five Fingers KSO Barefoot Shoe from Vibram, a shoe that promises to give you the feeling of running barefoot, without the bare bit. Do they work? Pocket-lint donned a pair to find out.
Costing £95, the shoes are available for both men and women and are made of a thin, abrasion-resistant stretch polyamide material and breathable stretch mesh to keep out gravel and grit.
If the name Vibram sounds familiar it is because the company produce all the soles on the Merrell shoes.
According to Vibram: "The strong grip means that you can use them whether you like climbing, trekking, running, canyoneering, yoga, pilates, kayaking, canoeing or surfing."
We opted for several different tasks in our play with the Five Fingers, including going for a 2-mile run and walking about town - including a swift half down the pub for good measure.
The biggest thing to note is that you can't wear socks with the Five Fingers unless you get special five toed socks as well - something you are unlikely to have, but they're easy to buy and recommended, especially if you live in colder climes. Like putting on a pair of gloves, the idea of the shoes is that they fit snuggly on your foot.
There is a strap to ensure a tight fit, although we found ourselves with a bit too much strap and having to loop the Velcro on itself to stop it flapping when running. This is more likely down to the fit. Cotswold Outdoors, from whom we borrowed the shoe, sent us a size 10 (we are normally a size 10) but without socks a 9.5 might have been better. Research on the Vibram Five Fingers site also recommends that men should consider wearing the women's models because there is no difference apart from width.
Apart from testing them without socks in the cold British weather, wearing the Five Fingers around the house and out and about is comfortable, but cold.
We've ordered some socks and will update this hands-on when we get them.
In our play we went for a fast 7-minute, mile-paced 2 mile run on a mixture of grass, tarmac, gravel, and dirt.
The experience is very different from running in regular trainers.
The Five Fingers offer virtually zero cushioning to your foot fall, and while you might have a layer of "materials" between you and the ground that protects your feet, you really will feel it when you land on a stone, or hit a bump in the road. The closest feeling we can compare it to is riding a racing bike with very hard tyres.
But it's not just about experiencing a "hard" ride. Failing to run on the balls of your feet (which you should be doing anyway, of course) causes the shoes to be quite loud (certainly on tarmac) and we soon noticed a slapping sound on the road while running. Changing our running style mid-run to what it probably should be, quickly reduced the noise - interesting.
Other points of note worth mentioning is that it is also very strange to see your toes theoretically on display when you look down at the path in front of you. Not a bad thing, but different nonetheless.
Our final takeaway was that 30 minutes after our run our calves ached more than they normally do after even a 3-mile run. We suspect this is due to our changed running stance.
Of course running is just one sport, and we could easily see the Vibram Five Fingers working very well for water-based sports like boating or canoeing. The mesh upper dries quickly and works well to stop dirt getting into the shoe. The soles also offer decent grip.
Would we run in them again? Yes.
So that's exercise, what about social?
Like Marmite, the reaction has been very polar with the majority of people telling us that they are "just wrong".
These aren't the kind of shoes you wear down the pub unless you are happy for people to say something to you, normally mocking, and normally something along the lines of "Ewugh".
The verdict is still out on the Five Fingers. We like the concept, and they are very comfortable to wear - more so in the summer if you aren't going to opt for the socks option. But there is a fear that, conditioned by society, we are supposed to have cushioning in our shoes; that technology is helping correct our over-pronation or under-pronation; and that we aren't supposed to have our toes on display like this.
If you fancy being that guinea pig, and socially different for the time being, then you are unlikely to be disappointed, however you've got to be brave.