Monthly Archives: September 2011

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail Review

A True Minimalist Trail Shoe with Traction to Spare
There are very few truly minimalist trail running shoes on the market so it’s exciting to me (because I love trail running) when the company who brought us the original barefoot shoes, dips its feet into the trail shoe waters. I’ve been waiting for these for a long time, since I first heard rumours about them last year. I had high hopes and even higher expectations of the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail and they most definitely did not disappoint! VIVOBAREFOOT has created a truly minimalist, off road running shoe that is extremely comfortable and has grip to spare.

Comfort
The Neo Trail is one of the most comfortable minimalist shoes I’ve tested. The liner on the inside of the upper is luxuriously soft against the skin. There is no need to wear socks and there are no worries about blisters or hot spots either. There are no uncomfortable seams to be felt. The inside of the shoe feels more like a slipper than it does a trail runner.

Width
The shoe is wide in all the right places, allowing your feet and bones to spread and move naturally. The toe box is particularly wide with plenty of toe wiggle room. For a running shoe, it’s awesome. For a trail running shoe, you have to cinch the laces pretty tight to keep your foot from slipping forward during technical downhill trail sections. While participating in a trail race I couldn’t tie them quite tight enough My toes felt sore by the end of the race. If you can tie them tight enough around the midfoot they’re perfect. If you’re feet are a little too narrow and you can’t, they are fabulous for flat, uphill, and short downhill sections but I wouldn’t recommend them for prolonged downhill running.

Sole
The sole is 2.5 mm thick with 4.0 mm lugs for traction. It has an added piece of material under the arch to, I assume, protect from stone bruising as it’s a little more dense than the rest of the soling material. The angle of the lugs is such that it delivers added traction going uphill on the forefoot and on the downhill on the heel, which is a great idea for a trail shoe.

Flex
Despite being 6.5 mm thick in total, the sole is still incredibly flexible. This shoe easily conforms around rocks and contours in the ground. The added material to protect from stone bruising on the arch is less flexible than the rest of the outsole, but if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be doing that good of a job protecting your arch from rocks.

Weight
At 8 ¼ ounces or 234 grams for each women’s size 39 shoe, this is not the lightest minimalist shoe we’ve reviewed. However, the weight is well balanced and does not feel heavy when running. The only time they did feel heavy was after they picked up a lot of mud in the rear lugs. I easily washed it off in the next stream and they were back to their usual lightness.

Support / Insole
There is no support built into the shoe, like all VIVOBAREFOOT products. The insole feels significantly thinner than that in the Performance line, including the Evo and Evo II. The new insole is a 3.0 Press EVA insole with less cushioning than previous models I’ve tested. It is removable for easy washing or for added volume and greater ground feel. Although, it feels so thin, it barely impedes ground feel at all.

Barefoot Feel
You wouldn’t think that with 4.0 mm lugs there would be much ground feel. I was incredibly surprised at the rock perception I had while running on gravel trails. I could feel very small rocks and contour changes in the ground. This is probably due to the amazing flexibility of the sole. I was definitely impressed with the sensitivity of the outsole despite its thickness.

Grip
The Neo Trail delivers excellent traction. This shoe has phenomenal grip on the slickest mud; the lugs just bite into soft ground. Even on hard, rocky ground these shoes perform! I have had no grip issues on any of the surfaces I’ve tried them on, even in dry or wet conditions and on all sorts of trails. I’m really looking forward to trying them out in the impending snow! 

Breathability
The material directly against the skin in the upper and the material of the tongue breathes fairly well but I found that the material on the outside upper of the shoe does not. Air can get trapped inside the shoe along the sides and toe box if the shoe is tied tightly. My feet haven’t been uncomfortably hot but if your feet are normally hot, you might want to keep these for running in cooler temperatures.

Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
The quality of materials appears excellent.  I expect great durability and I’m confident the materials will last a long time in rough trail conditions. The quality of the stitching is fabulous but there were some extra glue errors along the edge of the upper where it is attached to the soling material. Esthetically, it’s not a significant issue.  After I went running the first time I  was unable to pick out the error.  Given a history of quality manufacturing I would expect this issue to be rare.

Water Resistance
This shoe is made of a hydrophobic material that literally repels water. I ran in the rain and the water drops beaded right off. I dipped my toes in a river and the water rolled away from the material and my feet didn’t get wet. I suspect that unless you’re standing in water over the edge of the upper where the tongue is, your feet will not get wet. Again, I’m looking forward to trying these out in snowy conditions and seeing if I can get my feet wet.

Sizing
These shoes run small; the VIVOBAREFOOT website says “Runs one full size short.” I usually fit a size 38 and the size 39 Neo Trail fits perfectly. For comparison sizing, I falso fit a size 39 in the Evo and Evo II and a size 38 in the Kali and Jazz models. Always check sizing notes on the website before ordering.

Price
At $130 USD on the VIVOBAREFOOT website, these are comparably priced trail running shoes. For a durably made, high quality, comfortable shoe, this is a great value.

Style
Trail shoes aren’t designed to be stylish but for this purpose I like the style of these shoes better than most. There is great attention to detail. The choice of materials and over-all design details all seem well thought-out. The thoughtful design even includes added protection for the toes along the top edge of the upper.

They are currently available for men in light grey/red, olive, royal blue/yellow, navy and black, and for women in light grey/crimson, olive, navy, black/purple, and black.

Break-in Period
There is no break-in period needed for these shoes. If they are not comfortable right out of the box, they are probably not the right size for you.

Shoe care
These shoes should be washed by hand in cold water and air dried. This should be sufficient to remove most trail debris and mud. You can always use a nearby stream, lake or river, too.

Warmth
I found these shoes to be quite warm. I generally have cold feet so this is a great feature for me. They are going to be great for winter running here in Canada. For added warmth on extra cold days, there is plenty of volume for socks, as well.

If your feet are usually hot, you might find these a little too warm for running in warm weather.

Uses
These are designed to be trail running shoes. They are not casual, lifestyle, or on-road running shoes. Although they can be used for road, and are comfortable for that use, you’ll probably wear the lugs out before their time if you use them much on asphalt or concrete.

Summary
The Neo Trail is another phenomenal product by VIVOBAREFOOT. They are extremely comfortable (with or without socks), have fantastic ground feel, and incredible traction on all wet or dry trail conditions including mud, roots, dirt, and gravel. It’s obvious to me that extra thought went into the design of these shoes in the angles of the lugs, the choice of materials, and the added protection for the arch and toes. The hydrophobic properties of the upper are really going to be handy in wet, snowy winter conditions. They are durably made and comparably priced. If you’ve been craving a truly minimalist trail shoe with excellent grip, the Neo Trail delivers.

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

Originally posted on LivingBarefoot.info

Ghosting the Second 5 Peaks Canmore Race

Back in June, I ran the first 5 Peaks Canmore race. Last weekend, I ran the second 5 Peaks Canmore race. I ghosted the race again, meaning I ran the race without a race number. I find it really takes the pressure off and makes the ‘race’ more enjoyable for me. I’m out there to run a fun course on my own terms at my own comfortable speed and don’t have to worry about times and categories and all that jazz.

I woke up super early again for the race because I was volunteering at registration (as always). But this time, I rode my motorcycle to the race! My motorcycle is a relatively new acquisition and activity for me and I was super excited to ride by myself the 80 km to Canmore from home (and then back again after the race!). Despite the small amount of rain on the way there, it was a glorious ride.

Anyway, back to the race.

After I finished my volunteer duties, I had about 10 minutes to change and get ready to run. I could have taken as long as I wanted, I suppose, but it didn’t end up taking me very long to get ready. My friend that was there racing even commented on how fast I was. :)

I started the race very shortly after the last of the racing pack left. It didn’t take me very long to catch up to them. And then I started passing people. And pretty much kept passing people. This year is the first year I’ve been fast enough to pass anybody (thanks Lee!) so I still get a kick out of how much faster I run this year over previous years. I’d say I’m a middle-of-the-packer now instead of finishing very close to last.

The course was some rocky hills and some wide paths but mostly dirty, rooty, evergreen needle-covered single track. In other words: my favourite type of trail! I chose to wear the new VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trails for the course to test them out for my upcoming review. They had amazing traction on the slick rocks, roots, and occasional mud. They were very comfortable on the flats, downhills, and not steep downhills due to their glorious wideness. On steep, technical downhills, however, my feet tended to slide to the top of the shoe because I couldn’t tie them tight enough to keep my foot from slipping forward. Other than that, I would say they are the most comfortable trail shoes I’ve tried yet.

By the end of the 6th km, I was feeling like I would be happy to be finished running. There was one more km to go, though. I know when my body is tired because my form starts to fail: I start to lean forward instead of straight up and my trail leg gets longer instead of as close to my centre of gravity as possible. I stuck it out and ran the last km.

The Canmore Nordic Centre is a gorgeous place to run and has awesome trails!

That’s it for the 5 Peaks Trail Running Series this year in Southern Alberta. I hope all the runners had great races and hope to see you all next year!

At the end of the race. Happy to be done…

Tired form could definitely be better :)

ENDURE Review – Inspiring Athletic Theatrical Experience

I recently had the pleasure and honour of participating in a presentation of ENDURE. The show is an athletic theatrical experience where the audience is as much a part of the production as the outdoor scenery in which it’s set. I say ‘participate in’ rather than ‘watch’ because, as the audience, you flow with the show as a part of it rather than a bystander seeing it pass by.

ENDURE is a 50-minute walking/running theatre production set outside, conceived and written by my friend Melanie Jones. I believe that Melanie’s original idea for ENDURE was to produce a piece of theatre that reflected her experience leading up to and including her first marathon. What she created was an emotion inducing, inspiration evolving, life reflective journey composed of sound, action, movement, and nature.

I had the singularly humbling experience to help Melanie choose the path for the production of ENDURE in Cochrane. When I attended the performance, even though I knew where we were GOING, I had no idea WHERE we were going. Melanie lead us on a journey through her thoughts, feelings, and life during moments of elation, desperation, despair, and epiphany that can reach ANY audience member on an emotional level.

The theme of the production might be getting through a marathon but it really parallels the challenges and journey of life.

ENDURE is starting it’s fall production run this weekend in Brooklyn, NY. If you need a little inspiration or want to experience a wholly different kind of theatre, check out http://www.runwomanshow.com/ for details or to buy tickets.

#ENDURE

AnabelFitness TheShu Review

A Unisex Slipper for Enhanced Grip Indoors
There are a few occasions when one would like to go barefoot indoors but it’s not appropriate for hygiene or social acceptance reasons. In these cases, it’s handy to have a compact and convenient pair of minimal shoes to carry around. This is where one might like a product like TheShu by AnabelFitness. TheShu comes in several styles and colors with a very minimal design to easily fit in gym bags, carry-on luggage, or even a purse. I’ve been given the opportunity to review six pairs of TheShu, first I’ll describe the models and then get into the review.

  • Ballet Limited – Orange lycra upper with thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) tread. The Ballet has a lower neck and full cut sole with an elastic in the upper to hold it on your foot
  • Ballet EcoShu – Grey bamboo spandex upper with TPE tread
  • Athletic Original – Black lycra upper with TPE tread. The Athletic has a higher cut and a tapered sole with an elastic in the upper to hold it on your foot
  • Athletic dela Cushion – Black and red patterned lyncra upper with a TPE tread and some neoprene for added cushioning

Comfort
On all the models, the upper is quite comfortable against the skin and doesn’t pinch anywhere along the foot or ankle. The sole, however, is not as comfortable. The Ballet model sole is an oval shape whereas the Athletic soles are cut in more of a peanut shape than a foot shape. You can feel the edges of the sole material where it does not conform to the foot’s shape along the forefoot and toes. Although the upper is made of very stretchy material, you can feel it pull a bit in places where the sole is too narrow, especially along the toes. The slipper stays on the foot well enough but doesn’t stay in place on the foot and moves around a lot such that the heel of the slipper often sits too far back so the toes aren’t even on the sole material anymore. Also, the TPE material does not hold its shape so, while walking, it bunches underfoot. Only the dela Cushion model holds its shape because of the added neoprene sandwiched between two layers of TPE. Compared to the Ballet and Athletic designs without any neoprene, the dela Cushion model is more comfortable because there is that modicum of structural support in the slipper.

Width
There is plenty of room in the slipper for your foot to move naturally and toes to splay but because there is no structure to the sole, it wraps around in a way that makes it feel not wide enough in the forefoot and the toes. The slipper does not stay in place on the foot so the width underfoot changes as the slipper moves forward and back.

Sole/Flex
The sole on the models we received are all a thin, texturized TPE with some fabric on the inside for a footbed. The whole sole is less than 1 mm thick. The TPE feels like a rubbery material with as much malleability as a thick cotton fabric. The soling fabric doesn’t stretch but flexes in every way. You can crumple the whole slipper into your hand if you wanted.

Weight
All TheShu models are incredibly light with the uncushioned models weighing under an ounce and the cushioned model weighing just under 2  ounces. They weigh closer to that of a sock than a shoe.

Support / Insole
There is no support in this shoe and no structure at all. There is no insole included and the footbed is a fabric material overlayed and attached to the TPE outsole.

Barefoot Feel
As the sole material is probably close to 1 mm in thickness, and feels and acts more like material than a sole, there is plenty of barefoot feel. These slippers are more like grippy socks than they are a shoe so you can feel everything that you step on.

Grip
These slippers have great grip on all indoor surfaces I’ve tried them on including carpet, linoleum, wood, and tile. I have not tried them outdoors as they are designed for indoor use only.

Breathability
The thin lycra material of the upper breathes very well. There should be no fear of sweaty feet in these.

Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
TheShu is handcrafted in the Phillipines. Of the six pairs that were sent for reviews, there are no manufacturing defects. There are very few seams: one attaching the soling material to the upper, one attaching the elastic in the throat of the upper, and one along the back of the upper to presumably close the material, and they all lay flat and straight. The materials are all thin and stretchy, and function well as an indoor product. There is nothing outstanding about the materials or the manufacturing for this simple slipper.

Sizing
The women’s size 9.5 barely fit my size 8 feet in length and do not fit the widest part of my foot. There is a size chart on TheShuStore website to help you pick an appropriate size but I would recommend getting the next size up from your regular size as the chart suggests a medium for a size 8 and the large doesn’t fit me very well. If these were more foot-shaped in design, sizing might be easier to figure out.

Price
TheShu footwear products are priced from $17-34 USD depending on the model. I do not like this product enough to spend any amount of money on them so even the lowest priced products are overpriced for me.

Style
These slippers are made with the simplest of styles. They are essentially a piece of lycra sewn to a thin piece of rubbery plastic in either an oval or peanut-shaped design. They look simple because they are simple.

Shoe care
TheShuStore recommends hand washing in cool water with a gentle detergent and hanging to dry.

Warmth
These slippers are as warm as a thin pair of socks. If you wanted additional warmth, you could wear a pair of socks with them.

Uses
The purchasing website recommends TheShu for “an excellent option for minimalist shoes, as an alternative for men’s and women’s fitness footwear during Pilates, yoga, tai chi, stretching, in locker-rooms, and for personal recreation.” As these shoes do not fit very well nor do they stay in place on your feet, I would not recommend them for any activity where you might need to depend on your grip. Although the sole is grippy, there is only a small amount of elastic around the throat of the shoe keeping them on your feet.

Summary
TheShu is a simply designed and manufactured indoor slipper. Although it does have excellent barefoot feel due to its extremely thin soling material, it is not comfortable or functional as minimalist footwear because of its non-foot-shaped design and poor ability to stay in place on the foot. They do look more like footwear than socks do so if you’re a dedicated barefooter who just needs to slip something on their feet to get passed certain social conventions, these are a convenient, easy to pack, and easy to get on and off option. For more information, take a look at TheShuStore website.

Originally posted on LivingBarefoot.info

Soft Star Moc3 Review

An amazingly comfortable all-purpose moccasin
Rarely have I slipped on a pair of new review shoes and thought, “This is as close to minimalist footwear perfection as I’ve experienced yet.” The Moc3 is definitely one of these shoes. It is one of the most comfortable pairs of minimalist shoes I’ve had the pleasure of testing. It has incredible ground feel and yet seems durably made with high quality materials. Like all Soft Star shoes, they were lovingly hand made with skilled expertise. The over 25 years of experience making shoes is abundantly clear in this new running and all-purpose moccasin. Surprisingly, especially for a new design, I have no recommendations for improvements and encourage any minimalist runner to give these a try.

Comfort
These are one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. Soft Star got everything right with this shoe’s design in terms of both comfort and fit. The Moc3s feel more like socks than shoes. There is a seam around the edge of the upper where it meets the sole but because of the width of the footbed, I’ve never felt it. The Breathe-o-prene® liner is luxuriously soft against the skin. There are two seams along the inside of the shoe: one along the length of the inside of the upper (along the top of the foot) and another short seam at the back and bottom of the heel. Both are flat and can’t be felt. There are no other seams along the inside of the shoe.

The deep valley in the mouth of the shoe cradles just beneath my ankle bones and allows them to move completely unhindered. The relatively higher front and back of the mouth of the shoe keep the shoe from slipping down or off while wearing them. I’ve had laced shoes that don’t stay on as well.  I’m very impressed.

Width
I ordered the Moc3 size based on the Soft Star sizing chart on the website. The size 7A that I received is the perfect width for my feet along their entire length. These shoes will still fit a narrower foot because of the design of the upper but a wider foot may have issues with the seam attaching the upper to the outsole. I have a normal to wide foot and it’s perfect for me with plenty of room for metatarsal bone splay.

Sole
The outsole is a 2 mm Vibram rubber glued to a thin, flexible, texturized (I believe) rubber material. The Vibram soling material is in a relatively foot-shaped pattern and adds durability and traction while reducing the overall weight and increasing the flexibility of the outsole. It’s a great idea that works really well with this shoe design.

Flex
The flexibility is amazing! There is no rigidity to any part of the shoe. This is because there is very little structure to the shoe other than the cut of the materials. The 2 mm Vibram outsole is incredibly flexible and allows the shoe to bend in any direction.

Weight
Each size 7A Moc3 weighs 4 ½ ounces or 128 grams. This is one of the lightest shoes we’ve tested and I cannot feel the weight of them while walking, running, or lounging.

Support / Insole
There is no support in this shoe, and in fact, very little structure at all. There is no insole included in the shoe but the footbed material is soft against the skin.

Barefoot Feel
The barefoot feel of the Moc3 is amazing! You can feel the smallest of rocks underfoot but still walk confidently on relatively sharp surfaces because of the 2 mm Vibram outsole. The incredible barefoot feel is due to both the thin outsole material and its considerable flexibility.

I have walked on gravel and found them to be adequate protection for my level of foot toughness and barefoot walking skill and experience. I couldn’t run on gravel in these although I know more experienced barefooters probably could without issue. Where you decide to walk in these will be up to your skill and experience walking on difficult terrains and the toughness of your feet.

Grip
On all tested man-made and natural surfaces, the Moc3’s have more than enough grip. I would not recommend them on slippery surfaces like mud or snow but for any indoor surface and dry outdoor surface, they have sufficient traction.

Breathability
The materials used in this shoe are extremely breathable. The liner is made of Breath-o-prene® which is advertised as a “high performance, wicking, stretch fabric”. In addition to its flexibility, the material is also porous and “allows moisture laden air to pass through”. The outside of the upper is perforatedl leather and allows the moisture that passes through the liner to easily escape the shoe.

Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
From what I can tell, the quality of the materials is great. The quality of manufacturing is excellent. These are hand-made shoes with no visible flaws. They seem extremely well put together and, although don’t have a mass-produced look to them, every stitch looks perfect.

Water Resistance
I’m surprised and puzzled at the water resistance of these shoes. I’ve walked in pouring rain and on soaking wet (relatively) tall lawn grass and my feet have always stayed warm and dry in the shoes. The leather upper is perforated and should let water through and the Breath-o-prene let’s air pass through quite easily and yet water has not gotten through these shoes. I have stopped short of walking into a creek or through deep puddles, however. It is suggested on their website, “These are NOT very good at stream crossing as they get heavier when wet and take about 1 hr to dry – so if you plan on fording streams, you may want to consider a lace model shoe.”  While they are not technically waterproof, especially for such a breathable material, they turn out to be very water resistant in most wet conditions.

Sizing
Soft Star’s Sizing Chart page is very helpful and accurate in ordering sizes. I typically where a size women’s 8, and my feet are 9” in length so chose size 7A based on the chart and they fit perfectly in length and width.

Price
The Moc3 is priced at $94 USD on the Soft Star site. Considering this is a high quality, hand-made moccasin, this is a great price and a great value. Considering this is a running shoe and all-purpose minimalist shoe, this is a great deal!

Style
For hand-made moccasins, the Moc3s have a unique and distinctive look. They do not have the commercial-type product look to them. The style will appeal to some and not others depending on your preferences. I like their simplistic design. I also like the thoughtful touch of the reflective strip on the back for added safety. At the moment, they’re only available in all black.

Break-in Period
There is no break-in period required for these shoes. They should be comfortable as soon as you put them on.

Shoe care
I don’t think you would want to put these in the washing machine but a wipe with a wet cloth should get them mostly clean. If needed, you could probably hand wash them in the sink and let them air dry. I’ve worn them almost every time I’ve gone out in the last two weeks and they still smell like new leather (and, thankfully, not like feet).

Warmth
These have been comfortably warm in cooler temperatures and yet not stifling in hotter weather (around 30C which is as hot as it gets where I live). If you need added warmth, the Moc3s are just as comfortable with socks as without.

Uses
The Moc3s are a comfortable, all-purpose shoe and a fantastic road running shoe. Depending on the toughness of your feet, you can take them on grass and dirt without a problem. Gravel will probably be a bit much for those without tough, usually barefoot soles. Although if you do habitually go barefoot and wanted a little more protection for rougher terrain, these shoes would fit the bill nicely.

Summary
The Moc3s have been one of those pleasantly surprising new discoveries and fun to wear and test footwear products. I’m blown away at the comfort and barefoot feel of these shoes. Not only are they a great option for casual outings but an incredible road or not-too-rough natural surface running shoe. I don’t know how it’s done but they have phenomenal breathability and yet your feet stay dry in wet conditions. They are not the best choice for heavy wet conditions or stream crossings but through wet grass, they keep feet dry. They have a competitive price for a running shoe and are a great value in the hand-made moccasin department. Soft Star has exceeded all my expectations with the new Moc3 design. For more information, take a look at the Soft Star Shoes website.

Originally posted on LivingBarefoot.info