Monthly Archives: January 2014

VIVOBAREFOOT Ryder Boot Review

A women-specific, stylish, knee-high boot with superior proprioception
I have a bit of an obsession with minimalist boots, as evidenced by my recent Winter Minimalist Boot Comparison post, within which is included the new VB Ryder Boot. It is an incredibly stylish knee-high boot made of leather and waxed canvas with a thermal control mesh lining and faux fur top. It has VB’s familiar superior proprioception with a thin and flexible outsole. But how well does this advertised “winterproof casual” boot fair in real winter conditions?

My first experience with a knee-high winter minimalist boot was back in 2010 with the VB Brooklyn Boot (reviewed here), which after a few months of wear, prompted me to write another post about Building a Better Brooklyn Boot. In that post, I made two suggestions for improvements of their knee-high boot design including a wider toe box as well as laces and/or a zipper for better fit adjusting. Did VB hear either of these suggestions during their creation of the new Ryder? Read on to find out…

Quick Details
Price: $225.00 USD or £175.00
Width: Average to Wide
Sole Thickness: 3.0 mm
Drop: 0 mm
Weight: 15 oz or 425 g (Size 39)
Insole: Thermal Plantar-Protection™; Not Removable
Sizing: 5–11; Full sizes only; True to size
Category: Minimalist Boot

Comfort & Fit
These boots are wonderfully comfortable with their wide and roomy toe box, and soft materials throughout the interior. However, although quite comfortable to wear, their fit requires some trial and error in the sock department to work well functionally. They do have a 9.5” or 24 cm zipper along the medial side for easy donning but it does not function at all for personalized fit adjustment. The heel is quite wide as well so I find that the whole boot slips down off my heel with every step and crashes into the ground before my foot does. I eventually worked out the correct two-sock combination to get the boot to fit well without heel slippage while still providing enough room for my foot and toes to splay properly. I am confident that most customers will have to work out a similar situation to get the boot to fit properly as there are no personal fit adjustments to be made.

Despite the last being quite wide, I found the circumference of the top of the calf area to be on the narrow side. My calves measure a modest 14” or 36 cm around at their largest point (I’ve never thought of them as particular muscular) and I find the 16” or 41 cm circumference of the top of the boot just right. However, I do realize that women with larger and more muscular calves are going to find these uncomfortably tight in the calf area. The boots do include a small elastic area at the top of the boot but it is quite tight and stretches just over an inch or 3 cm wider. If your calves are much larger than mine, these boots may not work well for you.

The EUR size 39 fits my generally US-sized 8 feet extremely well. VB is trying to standardize their sizing a bit more as most of my VB footwear is now size 39.

Insole
The Ryder is the first VB product I’ve reviewed that has an unfinished footbed. What this means is that the insole is not removable. The Ryder also is the first product to feature a new Thermal Plantar-Protection™ footbed. It is approximately 4 mm thick and appears to be two layers of foam sandwiching a shiny reflective material between with a nylon-like material on top. Despite a thin 3.0 mm outsole, this new insole does a great job at insulating feet from cold ground temperatures while preserving VB’s superior proprioceptive properties.

Barefoot Feel & Function
Even with the insole that can’t be removed, the Ryder has excellent ground feel. They feature VB’s 3.0 mm road outsole with a hexagonal traction pattern of 1.5 mm grip depth. I find it a bit odd that VB would call these boots “winterproof” suggesting they are appropriate for winter conditions when they have a minuscule grip depth of 1.5 mm. There is so little traction with these on snow-covered sidewalks they are a bit dangerous. They’re great for dry conditions, even thoroughly wet conditions, but ever-so-slightly slippery terrain with snow and a little ice and these are not the safest choice in the minimalist boot option closet. As I only have Canadian winter to test these in, I can say that the grip on these is definitely not appropriate for my kind of winter.

As an aside, VB does have a “V Multi 1” outsole included in their Karma and Mia boots that would have been much more appropriate for winter conditions, especially if the product is being advertised as “winterproof”.

As these are a knee-high boot, their weight compared to other minimalist products is not really comparable. I can mention that the way the heel slips and hits the ground with every step makes them feel and sound much heavier than they are. Proper fitting, with an adequate sock thickness solution, alleviates this heavy feeling somewhat.

Upper Qualities
The upper is made of a leather and waxed canvas exterior with a thermal control mesh lining interior featuring Thinsulate and a faux fur topline lining. These boots have surpassed the harshest water-resistance test I could (accidentally) think of: stepping in a 4” deep, slushy puddle at the curb during a significant snowfall melt. My feet stayed wonderfully warm and dry. The only time my feet have been cold in these boots is during -20C and it was surprisingly only the tops of my feet that felt the chill. The bottoms of my feet couldn’t feel the frigid ground temperatures and my ankles and calves stayed warm. I think because the “Thinsulation” doesn’t cover the tops of the feet, that’s where the cold seeped through. From OC to -15C, my feet were warm enough (with two pairs of socks at the lower temperatures).

These boots require no break-in period as they are comfortable right out of the box. However, as mentioned above, they may need some trial and error with sock thicknesses to find the perfect fit.

As these are a high-quality leather product, they could use a good leather protector to keep them looking their best. I would not recommend walking in crusty snow in these as the leather will scuff and scratch quite easily (sadly, another situation in which they are not the best Canadian winter-appropriate footwear).

I have noticed that the canvas part of the upper picks up dirt quite easily (from rubbing against a dirty car, for example). A damp cloth cleans them quite well, however.

Sole Qualities
The outsole is VB’s 3.0 mm road sole with plenty of flex and no arch support. There is ample proprioceptive feedback. However, why VB opted to include the road sole on a knee-high boot advertised as “winterproof” when they could have chosen their deeper grip depth V Multi 1 sole, I have no idea. If the boot were designed as more fashion footwear than winter functional, I would understand but the Thermal Plantar-protection insole, the thermal control mesh lining, and the faux fur topline make this boot plenty warm and clearly a winter marketed product. Perhaps this sole is more than adequate for a UK winter, where they were designed, but it is not appropriate for anywhere with significant accumulations of snow.

Overall Quality
The quality of both the manufacturing and materials is impeccable; there are no flaws in the review pair. These boots will likely last multiple seasons with some appropriate leather care on required areas. If the plan is for them to last many seasons, I would recommend not wearing them in abrasive snow as the leather will deteriorate faster.

My only other comment regarding quality is the unfinished look of the boot with the zipper open. Granted, nobody is going to be walking around in these with the boot unzipped and it is included in the design for easier donning only, but I remember my first impression of this boot being one of wondering if the design was quite finished as the view of the thermal control mesh interior is less than a professional finish. Since the zipper makes no difference to me getting them on and off, I haven’t had the thought since first opening the box but I thought I’d include it as an oddity of the product.

Style
I love the style of the Ryder Boots. A black (or brown) knee-high boot is a great piece for leggings, skinny jeans or even skirts, weather permitting. The leather strip along the length of the back of the boot lends a classic look to the warmer canvas upper. The zipper with the hex design on the back side is pure VB styling and a nice detail. They are mostly slim-lined but I find they are a bit loose around the ankle and can bunch there but they are designed as a cold weather boot and the extra room will help them fit a wider range of customers.

Uses
The Ryder Boot with their road outsole is a quandary for uses. They are warm enough for cold weather excursions but are likely too hot for much indoor, room temperature wear. They are well-suited to wet conditions with their excellent water-resistance but are definitely not suited for any kind of slippery terrain. Their design is very stylish but to keep them looking new, they are best not worn in snow that might scuff or scratch the good-looking leather. I do like that they are so fast to slip on and off (a feature not generally included in winter footwear) so I have been wearing them for quick trips around town and I try to walk carefully where it might be slippery.

Value
At $225.00 USD, they are priced at the high end of minimalist footwear products but the mid-range of leather boots. If they had been made with a more appropriate winter outsole, I would have said that they were well worth their price for a Canadian winter-appropriate minimalist boot. However, considering their limited use where I live, I think the price is kind of steep for their limited uses. If you live somewhere wet and need a water-resistant boot for cooler but not freezing temperatures, the Ryder may be a worthy purchase for you considering their stylish design and potential for multi-season durability.

Summary
I must admit to having high hopes for the Ryder Boots. I was hoping for a Canadian winter-appropriate boot that fit well. I am extremely happy that VB made the last wide enough for a midfoot as wide as mine but the equally wide heel area makes the boot slip down with every step. This can be alleviated with a sock thickness solution but does require some trial and error. I was also hoping for an outsole that would be safe in snowy conditions but the road outsole is simply not sufficient for this type of use. The Ryders look beautiful and are warm, water-resistant, super easy to get on and off, and have great proprioceptive feedback but I can’t safely wear them often where I live because they are not safe in slippery conditions. Even with their 3.0 mm sole, the rubber is not soft or sticky enough in colder temperatures to allow my feet to grip contours in the ground. I do enjoy wearing them for quick trips around town but I’m extremely careful where I step.

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

Winter Minimalist Boot Comparison

This article has been years in the making. I started writing minimalist footwear reviews in 2009 and only recently has a winter minimalist boot comparison been possible as the options for this type of footwear have been extremely limited. I finally have six pairs of currently available models to compose a comparison review of this all-important category of footwear. (Keep in mind, I live in Canada where winter footwear is worn at least five months of the year and can conceivably be worn all year depending on the weather :) ).

On to the boots, listed in alphabetical order (click on the name for my review and the picture to view larger):

Feelmax Kuuva 2Feelmax Kuuva 2
This unisex, low-calf boot from Finland has an extremely minimal rubber outsole, is made of water-resistant leatherbuck and suede, and features ten pairs of lace eyelets and hooks placed from below the toes to the top of the boot for a very personal fit. It has a roomy toe box and last, and a very comfortable feel throughout. It is currently only available in black and retails for 169.00 € from Feelmax or $165.99 USD from Gifts from Finland.

 

Lems Shoes Boulder BootLems Shoes Boulder Boots
This just-above-the-ankle boot is available for both men and women. It is made of water-resistant nylon with a cotton insulating layer throughout the interior. It has a 9.0 mm rubber outsole with 3.0 mm grip depth. It features seven lace eyelets for a custom fit starting at the midfoot to above the ankle. The last is very wide in the toe box but the laces allow a personalized fit to keep the boot firmly in place on the foot. It is currently available in black, grey, and brown for $115.00 USD from Lems Shoes.
 

OTZShoes Troop LeatherOTZ Shoes Troop Leather
This low-calf boot is available for both men and women. It is made of 1.8 mm oiled, full-grain leather with an internal stretch sock, water-resistant liner and a TPU compound outsole of approximately 10 mm in thickness. It features ten lace eyelets for an extremely adjustable fit. It has an extremely wide last and roomy toe box. It is currently available in black, brown, and red for $245.00 USD from OTZShoes.
 

OTZ Shoes Troop ShearlingOTZShoes Troop Shearling
This women-specific, low-calf boot is made of shearling sheepskin and a TPU compound outsole of approximately 10 mm in thickness. It features three lace eyelets and a wrap-around leather lace design for individual fit and lacing preferences: left loose for easy donning or tied tight every time. Like the Troop Leather, it also has an extremely wide last and roomy toe box. It is currently available in grey, black, tan, and sand for $270.00 USD from OTZShoes.
 

VIVOBAREFOOT Off Road HiVB Off Road Hi
This just-above-the ankle, hiking boot is available for both men and women. It is made of waterproof leather and nylon. It has a 7.0 mm outsole including a 4.5 mm grip depth. It features seven lace eyelets and hooks for a personalized fit. It has a narrow last and a tight feel from the toes to the ankle. It is currently only available in dark brown (although additional colourways used to be available) for $175.00 USD or £160.00 from VIVOBAREFOOT.
 

VB RyderVIVOBAREFOOT Ryder
This women-specific, knee-high, water-resistant boot is made of leather, waxed canvas, and a thermal control mesh lining with a faux fur top interior. It has a 3.0 mm road outsole with minimal grip depth. It features a medial side zipper for easy donning but no personalized fit other than a small elastic area on the inside of the upper calf. It has a medium-width last and a somewhat loose fit due to the lack of adjustments. They are currently available in black and brown for $225.00 USD or £175.00 from VIVOBAREFOOT.
 

Now for some comparisons:

Comfort
Rather than an individual most to least comfortable list, I would say that the Kuuva 2, Boulder Boot, Troop Leather, and Troop Shearling are extremely comfortable while the Ryder is somewhat comfortable (depending on the correct sock combination), and the Off Road Hi is not at all comfortable for me. I like footwear with wide lasts and roomy toe boxes, and the first four are just right while the VIVOs are a little on the narrow side for my wide feet.

Fit
In terms of fit, lacing systems are key! The Kuuva 2 and Troop Leather both have ten lace eyelets and/or hooks but both fit a little differently. The Kuuva 2 eyelets start just below the toes and go all the way up the boot, which is made of a soft fabric that hugs my feet and ankle contours. The three hooks at the top allow for just the right amount of tightness around the calf. The Troop Leather eyelets start at the midfoot, which doesn’t allow for personal adjustment further down the foot but also doesn’t interfere with metatarsal splaying. The soft leather upper is thicker and less malleable than the Kuuva 2 so doesn’t mould to my feet and ankles quite as well but the interior liner does provide a soft hugging interface. Both take a considerable amount of time to lace up and take off unless you prefer to wear them with the laces quite loose and leave them tied.

The Boulder Boot and Troop Shearling both have laces that start at the midfoot but the way they adjust above the ankle differs. The Bolder Boot has lace eyelets all the way up and the Troop Shearling has an extra long lace that you can choose to wrap around your ankle and calf tightly every time or loosely for easy slipping on and off.

The Off Road Hi feels like the thickness of the material dominates interior volume so have never fit quite right. The waterproofing system takes up substantial volume and the last was not widened to accommodate it. The tongue is also quite padded making it necessary to tuck it in just right to keep folds from bunching against the foot and ankle.

The Ryder has no lacing system at all and the only adjustment for fit is to wear different thicknesses of socks. I’ve determined that, although the boots fits great in length, because there is no adjustment around the ankle, I have to wear two pairs of socks to keep the heel from slipping down and crashing into the ground with every step. I find the zipper is completely non-functional as I can slip them on easily with it done up. In addition, I don’t have the widest calves and although I find the circumference of the upper calf area just right, I do think that many women will find the top of the calf constrictive.

Ground Feel
Without a doubt, the absolute best ground feel is with the Kuuva 2. They have a 2.5 mm, soft rubber outsole that easily bends around EVERY ground contour. The next best would be the Ryder with their 3.0 mm road outsole. The remaining four boots have similar levels of ground feel but significantly less than the first two.

Warmth
As a winter minimalist footwear option, there MUST be insulation, both from the ground and from the air. However, the degree to which a boot feels warm can be modified by the type(s) of socks one is wearing. I have found that the Kuuva 2 is warm enough at -20C as long as I have two insoles and two pairs of socks, and with only one of each, is comfortable at room temperatures. The Boulder Boot is warm enough at all tested temperatures with a single insole and is likely warm enough at -20C with two pairs of socks. The Troop Leather, with its interior, stretchy sock liner is warm enough down to -10C with one pair of socks but would need two for colder temperatures (which I can’t test because there simply isn’t room in the review pair size in length for more sock volume). I have found that even with two pairs of socks, the Troop Shearling and the Ryder aren’t that warm on the tops of my feet despite being plenty insulating from cold ground temperatures. As the Off Road Hi is too narrow, a second pair of socks is not an option and therefore definitely not a cold winter weather footwear option for me.

Water-resistance
In addition to cold temperatures, Canadian winter features A LOT of snow. Therefore, a winter minimalist boot must be water-resistant to keep feet protected from snow and slush. The only advertised waterproof boot included in this list is the Off Road Hi. I thoroughly tested this feature last winter and can attest to their rugged waterproofness in the slushiest of puddles.

Boots advertised as water-resistant include the Troop Leather, Kuuva 2, Boulder Boot, and Ryder. In all tested slushy conditions, these boots have kept my feet dry and warm. The Troop Leather water-resistance is attributed to the lined bootie within the footwear rather than the leather exterior. This boot definitely requires a leather protector in order to maintain a quality leather look and is not the best choice for deep, abrasive snow as the leather will get worn quite quickly. The water-resistance of the Kuuva 2, Boulder Boot, and Ryder is attributed to coatings applied to the upper materials so I imagine that additional layers of coatings may need to be applied with frequent and/or multi-season wear.

The Troop Shearlings, however, are not the least bit water-resistant. I have sprayed them with leather protector and they are fine in a light rain but winter snow conditions are out of the question for this product unless you care nothing for how water will ruin the suede finish. These are more my fall/spring boots in dry conditions.

Grip
There can be no doubt that the Off Road Hi has the best grip with their 4.5 mm lugs that easily bite into snow. The Boulder Boot would have the next best grip but their traction pattern is a little close together for significant bite into snow. The remaining four have basically the same lack of snow traction due to limited grip depth. However, because the Kuuva 2 has such an amazingly flexible outsole, I haven’t had any traction issues on slippery snow because my feet wrap around small bumps in the snow providing enough grip for most winter conditions encountered so far.

Insoles
An important feature for winter minimalist footwear is how well they insulate from the ground. This can most easily be accomplished with the insoles included with the product. However, I’ve had to make some modifications to some of the boots in order to make them accommodate walking in deep snow or on frozen ground after a week or so of -20C temperatures.

The original Troop Shearling insole, as mentioned in the review, is the opposite of minimal and was therefore chucked. The new OTZShoes minimal insole made of a flat, relatively thin layer of cork that the company supplied with their latest review products is more than adequate for cold ground insulation and will likely suit most minimal customers well. They do reduce the ground feel of the boot compared to a felt-like material insole, therefore one or two of these will also provide good ground insulation and more ground feel. This boot absolutely requires some sort of insole because the footbed is unfinished and quite holey.

The Troop Leather footbed with the lined bootie does not require an insole so the anti-minimalist insole can easily be chucked and the boot worn as is. The new OTZShoes minimal insole or a felt-like insole could be added for additional ground insulation if required but will significantly reduce interior volume, which feels somewhat limited in height rather than width.

The Kuuva 2 absolutely requires a second insole for cold ground insulation. This is not a question as the extremely thin insole that came with the product is great for summer but not the least bit adequate for freezing temperatures. I wisely ordered a size bigger than normal of this boot to accommodate the extra volume of an additional insole and double socks.

The remaining three models, came with insoles that, in combination with their outsole thicknesses, provide sufficient insulation from cold ground temperatures. The Boulder Boot comes with a Lems Shoes insole made of a moisture wicking foam, although they do feature small bumps that some people will like and others not so much (I’m of the latter group). The Off Road Hi comes with VIVOBAREFOOT’s standard, high proprioception insole that is removable for even more ground feel (and less insulation). The Ryder, however, comes with a new Thermal Plantar-Protection™ insole that is both surprisingly thin and proprioceptive, made of an unknown shiny material sandwiched between layers of foam. In addition, this is the first VB product with an unfinished footbed making the insole not-so removable.

Style
Most winter boots are not known as fashionable footwear but I find each of these boots stylish in their own unique way. The Ryder would probably be considered the most conventionally stylish as a knee-high, mostly slim-lined boot. The Troop Leather is an all-leather boot with punky styling and considerable attitude. The Troop Shearling resembles the trendy sheepskin designs of this season. The curvy, layered designs of the Kuuva 2 exude minimalist elegance to me. The rugged, functional, and deceptively simplistic style of the Boulder Boot appeals to my appreciation of minimalist design (and received an immediate and unsolicited compliment my first time wearing them in public). The Off Road Hi is all hiking boot and the grey and red colourway of the review pair was quite sharp and I’m a little sad that is only currently available in dark brown (maybe VB is out of stock of the other colours that used to be available, including a ubiquitous all black).

Value
These six winter minimalist boot options range in price from $115.00 to $270.00 USD. If I were to consider price as the only determining factor of value, then the least expensive Boulder Boot would be considered the best value. However, I like to consider comfort, fit, ground feel, style, versatility in air temperatures and ground conditions, as well as price as factors when determining value. Including all these factors, I would say that the Boulder Boot is still the best value. My second choice would be the Kuuva 2, which also happens to be the second lowest in price. It also happens that in this first half of this Canadian winter, I’ve worn these two pairs the most no matter the temperature or snow conditions outside. I wear the Ryder the next most often as they are my go-to boot for quick trips around town as they are so easy to slip on and off, not to mention wonderfully waterproof. I would wear the Troop Leather much more often if my feet hadn’t lengthened since receiving the review pair (a well-known hazard of switching to minimalist footwear) and they fit a little on the small size now. Unfortunately, the Troop Shearling just isn’t waterproof enough for winter but is an excellent dry weather fall and spring boot. And the Off Road Hi just is not comfortable enough for me to wear despite their great grip.

Summary
Of the six boots compared here for Canadian winter footwear appropriateness, there are definitely clear distinctions and conclusions. The Troop Shearling is neither warm nor water-resistant enough to be considered a Canadian winter footwear option but if you live in a warmer and drier clime and like the look of the very fashionable and comfortable shearling sheepskin boot, these may work well for you. The Off Road Hi is both warm and waterproof with great grip but the narrowness of the last leaves considerable comfort to be desired. The highly fashionable Ryder is also quite warm and water-resistant but the lack of adjustable fit may leave many experimenting with sock solutions to find just the right amount of comfort. The stylish and comfortable Troop Leather is warm and water-resistant but lack in traction for slippery conditions and is not the best choice for deep, abrasive snow as the leather finish will wear quite quickly.

My go-to boots for harsh winter conditions have been the Kuuva 2 and the Boulder Boot. They are both wonderfully wide and comfortable, have equal water-resistance and warmth (now that I’ve determined the right amount of ground and air insulation via insoles and socks, respectively). They are both my kind of style no matter what I’m wearing. Both are made of strong upper materials capable of withstanding deep, abrasive snow. There really are only two determining factors for which to wear: 1) How much do I want to feel the ground this particular walk? and 2) How long do I feel like taking to put them on and off? The Kuuva 2 has far more ground feel than the Boulder Boot but the Boulder boot takes much less time to get on and off. It also turns out that these two boots are the least expensive of the six with the Boulder Boot priced at $115.00 USD and the Kuuva 2 at $165.99 USD. If you are thinking of purchasing either of these two boots, it is noteworthy to mention that the Boulder Boot currently comes in three colours whereas the Kuuva 2 is only available in black.

It has been a joy to finally write a comparison article of winter minimalist footwear and has been a dream of mine since I started writing reviews. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.