Monthly Archives: May 2011

VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra Review

The Ultra is truly the first of its kind in the minimalist shoe market: it’s an incredibly light-weight running shoe made to go in and out of water easily and can be worn in three different ways. You can wear the upper-outsole by itself, the sock liner with its puncture resistant sole by itself, or the two combined. It’s also exceedingly comfortable. VIVOBAREFOOT suggests it is suitable for light trail running, water sports, long runs, or any urban exploration and I would totally agree.

Comfort
I’ve been unexpectedly surprised at how comfortable the Ultra is to wear, no matter what configuration I’ve tried it in. The inside of the sock liner feels just like a slipper; I can feel no seams or sharp edges and it fits my foot perfectly. The inside of the upper-outsole has little hexagon-shaped bumps on the footbed that, although noticeable, are not the slightest bit uncomfortable and provide traction for your feet within the shoe.  If you want to wear the shoe without the sock liner, the Ultra package comes with a removable, plug-in stretchy mesh tongue for added comfort and to avoid pinching, although the outsole is quite comfortable without it.

Some have noticed uncomfortable creases in the upper of the Evo or Evo II models.  The Ultra seems to have fixed this issue as the shoe is very comfortable while walking or running.

If you wear the Ultras without the sock liner or socks and have long toe nails I could see how long toe nails might catch on the holes of the upper.

Sockless
The Ultra is perfectly comfortable without socks. The seams are all flat and in unobtrusive locations within the sock liner. I actually find wearing the Ultras without socks more comfortable. The sock liner hugs my foot just as socks do and so I find no need to wear socks with them (unless it’s cold out). Running in the Ultra without the sock liner or socks caused no blisters for me.

Width
The Ultra is wonderfully wide and even wider than the Evo model. My toes and metatarsals have plenty of room to splay. Because of the adjustable elastic cord and lock-lacing system, the shoe is easily adjusted to the width of your foot. My foot feels secure and stays in place. I was initially concerned at how much longer the upper-outsole is compared to my feet but when I ran in them with the elastic cord a little tighter to accommodate the loss in volume, the shoe stayed on my foot securely.

Sole
The upper-outsole is a fully moulded, anatomically shaped, dual density, abrasion resistant ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). The sole part of the outsole is a higher density material than the upper part for, I’m assuming, better durability. The puncture resistant part of the shoe is embedded in the sole of the sock liner. The outsole and sock liner combined sole thickness is 6 mm. I think is a good thickness for light trail running while still allowing for adequate ground feel for urban walking or running.

Flex
These shoes are incredibly flexible in every conceivable direction. No matter what way you bend them, they bounce back to their original shape.

Weight
Each size 39 Ultra, with the sock liner included, weighs 4 ½ ounces (128 grams), which is amazingly light for a fully uppered running shoe. The sock liner alone weighs 1 ½ ounces (43 grams) and the upper-outsole alone weighs 3 ounces (85 grams). I’ve run in the Ultras with and without the sock liner and either way, they feel amazingly light and practically non-existent on my feet.

Support / Insole
As with all VIVOBAREFOOT products, there is no arch support. The insole could be considered to be the removable sock liner, but otherwise, there is no other insole included.

Barefoot Feel
The degree of barefoot feel depends on how you’re wearing the Ultra. In descending order of barefoot feel: the sock liner alone has the best barefoot feel, then the upper-outsole alone, then the two combined. Even with the two combined, there is still great ground transmission through the 6 mm of combined material as they are both incredibly flexible sole materials.

Grip
The grip depends on how you’re wearing the Ultra. The sock liner alone has more than enough grip for indoor surfaces, which is the only way I’ve worn it. I don’t believe the sock liner is made for outdoor adventure durability. The grip of the upper-outsole is great for indoor or outdoor road or light trail adventures. I do not recommend these for mud of any kind nor technical, rocky trails.

Breathability
You can hardly get better breathability in a shoe than when you wear the upper-outsole of the Ultra alone, it’s full of holes! The sock liner is quite breathable as well, I have often felt breezes on my feet when wearing the sock liner and upper-outsole combined as most of the material making the sock liner is a double layer of mesh.

Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
The quality of the materials and manufacturing of the Ultra is impeccable. The EVA is long-lasting and durable while able to hold its shape. The sock liner is made mostly of double-layered mesh and neoprene. There are no manufacturing errors in the sample pair.

Water Resistance
The Ultra is not water resistant, in fact, it’s the opposite. This is an amphibious shoe designed to easily let water out of the shoe while trail running through puddles. If you wear the sock liner while doing so, the material will hold some water, but if you run without it, water will flow out as easily as it flowed in.

Sizing
The Ultra fits one size smaller than true to size, so I recommend ordering a size up from what you normally wear. I usually wear a size 38 and the size 39 Ultra fits perfectly like a slipper. If you are familiar with VIVOBAREFOOT shoes, it fits the same as the Evo and Neo models.

Price
At $90 USD on the VIVOBAREFOOT website, the Ultra is a great value considering its extreme versatility as a minimalist shoe, not to mention quality and durability.

Style
I can honestly say there is no other minimalist shoe on the market that looks like these! This is a kind of shoe styling you’re either going to love or hate for their particular uniqueness. I love them! I’ve worn them not only running but all kinds of errands all over town. All my friends have said they suit me.

They come in a wide array of colors as well: red, pink, purple, grey, white, and black.

Break-in Period
There is no break-in period required for these shoes. The sock liner is instantly comfortable and the upper-outsole EVA is not going to change shape throughout the life of the shoe.

Shoe care
The upper-outsole could not be easier to wash: just rinse the mud off. The sock liner can also easily be washed in the sink with soap and water. I don’t think I’d want to put either through the washing machine but there probably isn’t any need for it when a wash in the sink will do just as well and be gentler on the mesh of the sock liner.

Warmth
This is the ultimate climate control shoe! If it’s really hot out and you want the most ventilation, remove the sock liner. If it’s cooler, put the sock liner back in. If it’s really cold, put on a pair of socks and keep the sock liner in. How warm you want the shoe will depend on how hot it is outside and how hot your feet normally feel.

Uses
This shoe is pretty much good for anything you’d wear a casual minimalist shoe for barring muddy or technical trail running. They are great for running through puddles or long walks around town. I’ve been on several runs with them and really enjoy their comfort and versatility as a running shoe.

Summary
VIVOBAREFOOT has outdone themselves in creativity and innovation with the new Ultra. This shoe is incredibly comfortable, light-weight, and versatile. You can wear it either of three different ways depending on the amount of proprioception you want or climate control. The Ultra is an excellent addition to the minimalist footwear industry and really a category unto itself.

For more information about the Ultra, you can check out the VIVOBAREFOOT website.

Originally posted on LivingBarefoot.info

Merrell Pace Glove Review

Merrell has been a maker of high performance footwear since 1981. The company recently developed a barefoot line of shoes to satisfy the needs of the consumer-driven minimalist footwear market. The Barefoot Pace Glove is Merrell’s natural adventure shoe specifically designed for women. Although there are some excellent features in the Pace Glove, a few improvements to the width and sole design would greatly improve their comfort and minimalist intentions.

Comfort
The feel of the inside of the shoe against the skin is quite comfortable: there are no rough areas or seams that dig into the skin. The inside of the heel cap is covered with a soft material and contains a nice amount padding.  It is quite comfortable to the inside of the foot. The synthetic mesh of the upper is also soft with no rough seams. The edge of the tongue on the inside of the shoe is designed so that you can’t feel it with the top of your foot.

That being said, functionally the shoe is not comfortable due specifically to the width and sole pattern of the shoe. Each of these issues I will explain in greater detail below.

Width
Although there is plenty of room in the toe box for my toes themselves to wiggle and splay, the width of the shoe at the metatarsals and at the arch is quite restrictive. While walking, I can feel quite a bit of pressure on either side of my foot at the arch. With every step, I can feel the middle of my foot being constricted. While running, my metatarsals (the area just behind my toes) are so constricted that my feet experienced a lot of cramping. When I run, my metatarsals spread out because of my lateral forefoot landing, because there is not enough room in the Pace Glove for my bones to do this properly, it causes quite a bit of pain. No amount of lace loosening alleviated this constriction.

If the last were built wider at the arch and where the metatarsals lead to the toe box, I think this would not be a problem. Considering the current design, the Pace Gloves are too narrow for me to comfortably walk or run in. I consider my feet to be of average width, if you have narrow feet, the constrictive width of the Pace Glove might not be an issue for you.

Sole
The sole of the Pace Glove is a Vibram Trail Glove sole made of rubber compound TC-1. Although it is probably a durable material and will last a long time, the pattern of the sole is not comfortable to either walk or run in on hard surfaces. The Trail Glove sole is not designed with a uniform grip depth across its length or width. This makes walking on it feel rather bumpy. Despite the zero drop differential between the heel and the forefoot, it feels like I’m landing on a small hard plate on the heel and a small hard plate at the forefoot. While continuing my stride, because there is a shallow grip depth between the forefoot and the toes, it feels like there’s a rocker as part of the shoe. In addition, because the sole of the heel is cupped, there is very little stability on the edges of the heel. This is also the case with the forefoot area. The uneven sole pattern is very noticeable on any hard surface, on soft surfaces, however, the feeling is a little less noticeable.

If the sole pattern and grip depth were uniform across the bottom of the entire sole, with no cupping at the edges, this would greatly improve the functional comfort of walking in this shoe.

Flex
The sole has quite a bit of flexibility at the midfoot and forefoot in the upwards direction. There is no flexibility in the heel nor in the longitudinal or downwards directions. Therefore, although your foot is freely able to bend in the plantar direction, there is little ground feel around surface contours.

Weight
Each size 8 Pace Glove weighs 5 ¼ ounces or 149 grams. Anything under 6 grams is ideal for a minimalist shoe weight. The Pace Glove feels vey light while walking or running.

Support / Insole
There is no arch support designed into the shoe, however, there is an upward angled sole area directly under the arch to protect the arch from stone bruising. I don’t feel like this area of the sole supports my arch at all but I do have high arches after so many years of going barefoot and wearing minimalist footwear. If you have flatter arches, this sole area may feel somewhat supportive, although it probably is not the intent of this sole feature.

There is no insole included in the shoe. There is 4 mm of compression molded EVA in the midsole for cushioning, which feels quite minimal while walking on hard surfaces.

Barefoot Feel
Due to the uneven sole pattern and grip depth, and the inflexibility of the sole to bend downwards, there is very little ground feel in the Pace Gloves. In addition, because the edges of the sole are cupped upwards, they do not feel nearly as stable on landing as bare feet do.

Grip
The Pace Gloves have great grip. The TC-1 rubber is sticky enough for both natural and man-made surfaces. The toe grips provide added traction at the end of a walking or running stride.

Breathability
The microfiber air mesh upper is incredibly breathable. There is no need to worry about hot feet with these shoes as air easily passes through the majority of the upper material.

Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
Merrell is known for their high performance footwear. The quality of materials and manufacturing of the Pace Gloves is impeccable. I have no doubt that these shoes will last a long time.

Water Resistance
As the upper is made of a synthetic mesh, these shoes are not water resistant. Alternatively, if you do get water in them, it will drain right out again.

Sizing
The Pace Gloves fit true to size and are currently available in full and half sizes from 5 to 11. I usually fit a women’s size 8 and that is the size that fits me best. I’ve had the opportunity to also try a women’s size 8.5 to see if they would fit wider but they were still not wide enough in addition to being much too long.

Price
The Pace Gloves are listed on the Merrell website at $100 USD. Considering the quality of the materials and manufacturing, and their predicted durability, this is a reasonable price for the product.

Style
I like the style of the Pace Glove for an all-purpose, sporty looking shoe. There is great attention to detail in the design and esthetics of the shoe. They are currently available in yellow, chilli pepper (red), black, and lavender on the Merrell website.

Break-in Period
There is no break-in period required for the Pace Glove. The interior of the upper is quite comfortable right out of the box. The only foreseeable change to these shoes with wear is that the 4 mm EVA midsole will compress over time, which will make them feel less cushiony and more minimal.

Shoe care
The Merrell website says that the Pace Gloves can be washed as needed in cold water, on a gentle cycle and air dried. This is a great feature for a shoe that is so comfortable to wear without socks.

Warmth
As the upper is made mostly of mesh, the Pace Gloves are not the warmest shoe. However, they can be worn with socks in cooler temperatures for added warmth. If you want to wear these shoes with socks, remember that the narrow last may be an issue with socks even if your bare feet feel comfortable in these shoes.

Uses
If you find the Pace Gloves are comfortable for you, they could be an excellent all-purpose casual, walking, trail running, or hiking shoe. If you’re looking for a minimalist shoe with good ground feel, this is probably not the shoe for you. They are most comfortable on soft surfaces and less so on hard surfaces whether man-made or natural.

Summary
As the first offerings in the minimalist market from a large, mainstream shoe company, the Pace Gloves are good in some areas but do have a few serious shortcomings. As a minimalist shoe, the Pace Gloves are too narrow to allow the foot to function naturally and the sole has a myriad of issues that make them uncomfortable to walk or run in on hard surfaces. As they are now, they are not the most functionally comfortable minimalist shoes. They are, however, soft on the inside so are comfortable against the skin, have great breathability, and excellent grip. If you have narrow feet and aren’t expecting too much ground feel from your shoes, the Pace Gloves may be a good choice for you.

To purchase these shoes, visit the Barefoot section of the Merrell website to purchase the Pace Gloves online or find your nearest Merrell retailer and inquire whether they sell the new Barefoot line.

Originally posted on LivingBarefoot.info

My First Coaching Review

My friend Julie was gracious and generous to accept being my second case study ‘client’, and my second coaching experience ever, on my road to becoming a VIVOBAREFOOT Certified Coach. I actually called her from Manhattan before I left to tell her about the course and to ask if she’d be one of my case studies. She was excited (to say the least). :)

She was so easy to coach. She listened intently to my presentation and practically predicted where I was going next with it. She easily took to the exercises I gave her and incorporated the ‘feeling’ of them into her running.

Julie wrote a review of the coaching session on her blog and you can check it out at: http://runningwithdoggies.blogspot.com/2011/05/run-skills.html.

Thanks Julie for being such a great sport, an enthusiastic athlete, one of my guinea pigs, and for the kind review. :)

VIVOBAREFOOT Jazz Review

A Comfortable, Casual Lace up for Any Woman
VIVOBAREFOOT has truly outdone themselves with this year’s spring/summer collection. This season’s offerings fill desperately needed niches in the minimalist market. The Jazz is one of those shoes. This is a high quality, comfortable, casual, every day, truly minimalist shoe for women with an esthetically pleasing style.

Comfort
The Jazz is amazingly comfortable. Finally, there is a feminine, comfortable, casual, lace up minimalist shoe for everyday use for women. The upper is soft enough to wear with or without socks.

Before I put them on, I was initially considered about the stiffness of the piping along the collar of the shoe and along the edge of the tongue, but after wearing them, I realized that it was not a big issue. Upon putting them on, I did notice the stitching along the tongue on the top of my foot but I didn’t notice it after five minutes of wear. I never felt the piping along the top of the collar anywhere around my ankle.

This is a shoe that can be comfortably worn for many hours of walking without any fear of blisters or hot spots.

Width
The Jazz is made for a variety of foot widths because of its convenient lace-up design. There is ample room in the toe box for appropriate metatarsal and toe splay. If you have an exceptionally narrow foot, you may find the collar a little loose but because the shoe features adjustable laces, there is no fear of the shoe falling off.

Sole / Flex
The sole is the VIVOBAREFOOT vulcanized sole which came out last year but is the first time I’ve seen it in a review model. It is made of latex rubber and TPU abrasion resistant material with a 4 mm thickness. It is amazingly flexible! It flexes easily in any direction including folded in half backwards. It is one of the most flexible soles I have ever seen but with the thinnest sole material.

Weight
The Jazz weighs 6 ¼ ounces (177 grams) with the insole and 5 ½ ounces (156 grams) with the insole. They feel incredibly light and balanced while wearing and are well within the boundaries of acceptable for a minimalist shoe.

Support / Insole
As with all VIVOBAREFOOT products, there is no arch support of any kind included in the design. There is a removable and washable recycled memory foam insole, which provides approximately 3 mm of added cushioning. Leaving it in slightly reduces ground feel and proprioception but adds a little extra comfort for those of us who are still working on our barefoot walking form. Removing it also gives a little extra room to the shoe for those with extra wide or tall feet.

Barefoot Feel
The new vulcanized sole is amazingly flexible and provides exceptional ground feel. If you remove the insole, there is 4 mm of outsole material between your feet and the ground, which easily contours around even the slightest change in surface texture.

Grip
Although the outsole pattern doesn’t provide much grip in itself, the latex rubber gives adequate grip on any smooth man-made or natural surface due to its rubbery texture. I haven’t had any traction issues on any dry or wet surfaces to date.

Breathability
The Jazz upper is made of eco nylon with a relatively close weave. Although you can feel a cool breeze on your feet through the material, sweat does not easily evaporate or escape this shoe. So although my feet have never felt hot while wearing them, they can feel wet if walking for a long time in warm weather.

Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
Like all the VIVOBAREFOOT products I’ve reviewed and seen, the quality of the materials is excellent and the manufacturing is impeccable. The materials are also eco-friendly as they are made out of as much recycled materials as possible with a minimum of toxins. There are no flaws in the review pair nor any of the other numerous pairs I’ve seen while recently visiting New York City.

Water Resistance
The upper is made of an eco nylon with a relatively close weave. If it’s pouring rain outside or you step in a deep puddle, your feet are going to get wet. Light rain rolls right off, however.

Sizing
The Jazz fits true to size in length and anywhere from a narrow to wide foot in width due to its adjustable laces. If you are familiar with VIVOBAREFOOT products, it fits similarly in length to the Kali and a size down from the Evo line.

Price
At an online price of $100 USD, this may seem expensive for a minimalist casual shoe but the durability, quality, and styling make it an excellent value. This is a shoe with extreme casual versatility and will last a long time.

Style
I love the simple design of the Jazz. It is the epitome of casual design and works with anything from slacks, skirts, or shorts. In addition to black, they also come in white, beige, and pink.

Break-in Period
There is a warning on the VIVOBAREFOOT website regarding their break-in period:
Note: Great for narrow feet. Adjustable lacing. Trim of top part of shoe needs breaking in to prevent any blister issues. Please wear socks first to prevent any issues.

I admit that I was initially concerned with the trim on the top part of the shoe as it is somewhat stiffer than the nylon material of the upper. I did not, however, experience any blister issues wearing them without socks. I found that the trim of the black pair is a little stiffer than that of the white, beige, and pink colorways because it is made out of a slightly different material. In short, despite the black trim being the stiffest, I still did not experience any break-in period regarding the trim or any other part of the shoe.

Shoe care
I would not recommend putting these shoes through the washing machine but dirt can easily be wiped off with a damp cloth. If they were really dirty, you could wash them in the sink with the soft brush. The insole is removable and machine-washable.

Warmth
You can definitely feel a cool breeze through the upper material, so if it’s cold outside, I would recommend wearing socks, which are easily accommodated with the fit of this shoe.

Uses
The Jazz is a comfortable, all-purpose, casual shoe. They’re great for long urban walks or just sitting around. The hard part will be picking which shoe color goes with the most outfits (or you can get more than one).

Summary
VIVOBAREFOOT has perfectly filled the previously empty niche of a comfortable, casual, all-purpose, stylish, lace-up, minimalist feminine shoe in the release of the Jazz. In terms of my criteria of the perfect minimalist shoe: it scores high marks for superior proprioception, appropriate shifts in the body’s centre of gravity with a zero drop and uniform sole thickness along its length and wide, as well as more than enough room and flexibility to accommodate natural movement of the foot. The only room for improvement would be in its heat dissipation: it does hold in foot sweat somewhat. Despite the one flaw, I love the Jazz and look forward to plenty of spring and summer wear this year. It is great that VIVOBAREFOOT listens to the needs of their customers, recognizes a gap in the market, and beautifully fills that gap with a superior product.

For more information, take a look at the VIVOBAREFOOT website.

Originally posted on LivingBarefoot.info