Category Archives: Winter Minimalist Footwear

Lems Shoes Boulder Boot Review

One of the best minimalist products reviewed to date
The Lems Shoes Boulder Boot is a just-above-the-ankle boot available for both men and women. In my over four years of experience writing minimalist footwear reviews, it has not been often that I have nothing to note in the dislike department but I am stumped with the Boulder Boot. They have very quickly become one of my all-time favourite pairs of footwear and I’ve worn them quite often this season already and look forward to many seasons of comfortable, minimalist wear. If you have been looking for a fantastic fitting, cozily comfortable, wonderfully warm and water-resistant boot with great ground feel for a tremendous price, the Boulder Boot is IT!

Quick Details
Price: $115.00 USD
Width: Average to Extra Wide
Sole Thickness: 9.0 mm
Drop: 0 mm
Weight: 7 7/8 oz or 224 grams
Insole: Removable
Sizing: 36–48; Full sizes only; See Lems Size Chart for Sizing
Category: Minimalist Boot

Comfort & Fit
Everything about the Boulder Boot is comfortable from the perfectly padded upper to the wonderful width of the last to the fantastic fit of the lacing system. The boot moves well with my foot and ankle without slipping in the heel or feeling sloppy in the toe box. They feel more like slippers than boots they fit so well.

I fit a size 39 in the Lems Mariner and Sweet Jane, which are both built on the same last as the Boulder Boot, but I chose a size 40 in this product for extra sock room in colder temperatures. The lacing system easily accommodates thin or thick socks without ever feeling loose or too snug.

The Lems 3.0 moisture-wicking insole is removable for extra boot volume but provides a nice thin cushion for the feet as well as additional insulation from freezing ground temperatures.

Barefoot Feel & Function
The LemsRubber™ outsole is fantastically flexible and provides more than enough ground feel for winter conditions. With a 9.0 mm stack height, it is a bit thicker than many of the other minimalist outsoles but it is quite bendy and flexes easily over ground contours while allowing the foot to function naturally inside the boot.

The outsole has a 3.0 mm grip depth which provides sufficient traction for snowy conditions. During this particularly cold and snowy winter, I have not felt the least bit insecure in the grip department while wearing the Boulder Boot.

Weighing in at slightly over 220 grams, these are one of the lightest minimalist products I’ve reviewed and they’re an over-the-ankle boot! Their lightweight is simply amazing.

Upper Qualities
The upper is made of water-resistant nylon with a cotton lining. Water and slush easily beads off the outside but if you step in a puddle that goes up to the laces, your feet will get wet as the water will enter at the junction with the tongue. The non-waterproofness ensures breathability within the boot which keeps sweat from chilling your feet but does limit the depth of puddles one can walk through while keeping dry feet. These boots are wonderfully warm from 0C to -20C (with an additional pair of insulating socks) but also quite comfortable for extended periods at room temperature (with just a thin pair of socks).

There is no break-in period necessary as they were instantly comfortable right out of the box.

The Boulder boot is treated with a water-resistant coating and will wear off over time. A new treatment with a spray of Scotchguard or Nikwax will restore their water-resistance.

Sole Qualities
The outsole is a zero drop, 9.0 mm Lems injection rubber with a 3.0 mm grip depth. They are extremely flexible for this thickness allowing for good ground feel. The last is designed with no arch support at all. The lateral heel features a tougher rubber for enhanced durability in this high-wear area.

Overall Quality
The quality of both the materials and manufacturing is excellent and there are no flaws in the review pair. After many walks in crusty snow, the only sign of wear is that the nylon material along the seam along the top of the boot is just starting to fray. Considering the extreme abrasiveness of this type of use, I can understand this type of wear and am confident that most people will not encounter it in any other season and only if you live in a climate where winter snow crusts significantly.

Style
I adore the styling of the Boulder Boot: functional yet ruggedly fashionable. In fact, they received a completely unsolicited compliment from a friend at a recent outing. They are perfectly suited for a pair of jeans or leggings. They are currently available in black, grey, or brown.

Uses
These boots are the perfect walking companion whether it be around town or around the mountains. They are also comfortable enough for extended standing as I tested them for five continuous hours of standing at a local exhibition. My feet were only the slightest bit tired at the end and perfectly comfortable the entire time.

Value
At $115.00 USD they are priced at the mid-range of minimalist footwear and the ultra-low range of minimalist boots. Considering how comfortable and versatile these are, they are an incredible value!

Summary
Lems Shoes has a colossally winning product with their Boulder Boot. They are amazingly comfortable, fit fantastically, and have great ground feel. They are both water-resistant and breathable allowing them to be useful for a variety of conditions from indoor standing to hiking in extremely cold winter temperatures. And they’re available in three colours! They very quickly became one of my favourite minimalist products of all-time.

For more information about the Boulder Boot, you can check out the Lems Shoes website.

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.

Feelmax Kuuva 2 Review

New and Improved Fit and Function in a truly Minimalist Boot
There are very few truly minimalist boots in the market as most footwear companies focus on casual and running models rather than boots. When Feelmax first began creating footwear, they included a boot model in their line-up, called the Kuuva, which I had the pleasure the reviewing. Feelmax has updated their original model with the Kuuva 2 and greatly improved the fit with a wider last and functionality with a more durable outsole while maintaining the same fantastic ground feel.

Quick Details
Price: $165.99 USD or 169.00 €
Width: Average to Extra Wide
Sole Thickness: 2.5 mm
Drop: Zero
Weight: 10 ¾ ounces or 306 grams
Insole: Included and glued in
Sizing: 36–46; Full sizes only; Fits true to size
Category: Minimalist Boot

Comfort & Fit
The new Kuuva 2 is extremely comfortable with the new wider last. The toe box is wide and roomy with plenty of toe wiggle room. The lacing system is designed in a way that allows you to customize the boot tightness from the metatarsals to above the ankle. With such great adjustability, the boot feels more like a glove than a boot and should fit anyone with an average to extra wide foot well. If you have a narrow foot, the boot will have to be laced quite tightly and could probably work for you because of the adjustability in the ankle but it might feel somewhat loose. The inside material is soft with no obtrusive seams and, although minimal in padding, does not bind anywhere along its length.

I chose to try one size larger than my other Feelmax models (the Kuusaa and Osma 2) in order to accommodate thicker socks comfortably. I wanted to be able to manage my own insulation as the Kuuva 2 does not have a lot of padding or insulation of its own. This was an excellent decision and one I am very happy with. I have worn these in temperatures as low as -10C or 14F in wet and slushy conditions with two pairs of socks and have had extremely comfortable feet both in terms of enough room to accommodate the extra material and in temperature control. They are a little long for me with a single pair of socks but with the adjustable lacing, the boot is snugly attached and my feet do not move around inside the boot. I do believe that the Kuuva 2 fits true to size, just be aware of Feelmax’s unique European to U.S. sizing conversion (where a Eur size 39 is a U.S. size 8).

A thin insole is included with the boot and is glued to the footbed. If you really wanted, you could remove it for even more ground feel and boot volume as the footbed seems suitable to go without it. Because it is glued in, the insole does not move around and lays perfectly flat inside the boot.

Barefoot Feel & Function
With their 2.5 mm rubber outsole, the Kuuva 2 has amazing ground feel and flexibility. The foot can easily move naturally inside the boot and around ground contours. The tread design is new and provides enough grip for dry, non-slippery natural surfaces. I did walk in them in about 6” of slushy snow and also had no problem with traction.

At just over 10 ounces or 300 grams, they are not light for minimal shoes but they are extremely light for minimal boots. Once laced up, I have never felt the weight of them and marvelled at how light they feel.

Upper Qualities
The boot upper is made of water resistant waterbuck leather and suede. Their water resistance goes up to the second-last hook as the tongue is attached to that height. The leather around the bottom of the boot is placed in high-wear areas for greater longevity. I did not treat them with leather protector (although you could if desired) and have walked in deep, wet, slushy snow with happily dry feet. They do not have a lot of padding or insulation for warmth, so I recommend choosing a size that allows you to manage your own foot and ankle warmth needs with socks. There was no break-in period required as the boots were immediately comfortable right out of the box. They are easily cleaned with a damp cloth.

Sole Qualities
The outsole is a 2.5 mm rubber compound with excellent flexibility and ground feel. The new outsole has significantly improved grip with the new tread design. The rubber is a little soft for continuous concrete or asphalt walking and is showing some wear in the heel area already. For longer life of these boots, natural terrains might be better than rough, man-made surfaces.

As with all Feelmax products, there is no arch support or rigid structures of any kind included in the design of the footwear.

Overall Quality
The quality of the materials and manufacturing seems excellent. There are no flaws in the review pair. Their durability will depend on their use, as mentioned above. The rubber outsole is somewhat soft for extended rough surface use. For a longer life of the upper, you can treat it with a leather protector, although it is quite water resistant right out of the box.

Style
I adore the look of the Kuuva 2; they have a simple yet elegantly functional look to them. They look great under a pair of travelling pants or over a pair of leggings. The shiny black lacing hardware is stylish and the simple red embroidered logo adds a flash of colour. I think they work well as an any-season boot with some consideration for temperature control via sock insulation. They are available on the Feelmax website in all black.

Uses
The Kuuva is truly a boot for all purposes: from hiking in the mountains to completing that casual look. They are perfect for any season because without excessive insulation, they’re not too hot for warmer weather and you can pair them with thicker socks for cooler weather.

Value
At $170, they are competitively priced for a leather boot. They are priced at the upper end for minimalist footwear in general but in the same price range as other minimalist boots, of there are so few. Considering their versatility, extreme comfort, and stylishness, I would gladly purchase these at that price.

Summary
The new Feelmax Kuuva 2 is superior to the original in the only aspects I had concerns with, width and durability, while maintaining the great ground feel and impressive water resistance. I liked the original and I love the update. Feelmax is one of those rare companies that listens to customers’ feedback and improves their products accordingly. I highly recommend the Kuuva 2 for those minimalists looking for comfortable, water resistant, zero drop footwear for winter or any season where you might want a boot for hiking, walking, or completing that casual outfit.

For more information about Feelmax and this product, check out their website at http://feelmax.fi. To purchase the Kuuva 2 in North America, you can buy them at http://www.giftsfromfinland.com.

Vibram FiveFingers Lontra Review

A Water Resistant VFF for Colder Temperatures
When I first saw the VFF Lontra, I was excited that Vibram finally made an attempt at a waterproof model and intrigued to see if it actually works well at keeping feet warm in cold and slushy conditions. When they arrived for review, I liked the flashy colour scheme and enjoyed my first test walks around the house. After I went for my first extended walk in them, I realized that the execution of a water resistant VFF model drastically changes their comfort, fit, function, and that I probably won’t be wearing them again.

Quick Details
Price: $150
Width: Narrow to Wide
Sole Thickness: ~ 1 cm
Drop: Zero
Weight: 5 7/8 ounces or 168 grams
Insole: None
Sizing: 36–47; Full sizes only
Category: Light Trail Running

Comfort & Fit
I’m not sure if it’s just me and the shape of my toes but the Lontras are not comfortable for me. After 15 minutes of walking outside, my pinky toes started hurting and only felt worse as I continued. As a result of that 45 minute walk, my pinky toe nails both haemorrhaged and I might end up losing the left one. This has never been an issue with VFFs before and all my pairs, that have been sized correctly, have never caused this problem. I think the cause is that the upper material is so thick that my pinky toes don’t have the room that they need in that toe pocket. The rest of my toes seemed comfortable and I don’t think it is a sizing issue because my big toe fits perfectly in its toe pocket. I realize that it might just be the shape of my toes but I highly recommend trying these on and walking around in them on surfaces that you can adequately test their fit and comfort. Because there is so much material in the upper of this model, and the outsole is quite thick and stiff, there is very little flexibility in terms of fit. The Lontras may be comfortable if you have a VFF-shaped foot. Otherwise, this model might not work for you even if other models do.

Other than the pinky toe issue, the material lining the inside of the Lontra is luxuriously soft. It is a yellow, micro-pile fleece with no obtrusive seaming. The VFF website claims it helps wick perspiration away from the foot, however, because the upper also contains a water resistant membrane, sweat has nowhere to go and I found that my feet were quite sweaty and wet. Because the upper has so much bulk, there is very little room for the thinnest pair of toe socks unless you try a size larger than your regular size, but then your socks will probably be soaked, too.

Barefoot Feel & Function
With the 4 mm EVA midsole and the Vibram TC-1 Dura outsole, there is very little ground feel. The sole is quite stiff and difficult to flex for a minimalist shoe. The Lontra is intended for use in colder temperatures, however, so although causing inflexibility, there is considerable insulation from frozen surfaces. I found that my feet could not function naturally within the stiffness of this model. That being said, another design purpose of this model is for trekking. Not everyone wants to feel every rock underfoot. If you are looking for a minimalist toe shoe without a lot of ground feel because your treks take you to some pretty rocky terrain, perhaps the Lontra is the shoe for you. It has more than enough grip for almost any natural terrain, unless you’re expecting fantastic traction in mud, which probably won’t happen with only a 4 mm grip depth.

Upper Qualities
The upper is made of a laminated stretch mesh, a water resistant membrane, and a micro-pile fleece liner. Although advertised as wicking, I found my feet were soaked with sweat after little activity. They are, however, quite water resistant as noted on the VFF website. I stood in a 2” puddle of cold water and did not feel the cold nor the wetness. If you’ve experienced the rushing cold of water between your toes in other VFF models and wished for a more water resistant material, the Lontra delivers. There is a neoprene heel cuff to keep out snow and debris for added warmth and safety.

The Lontras are also quite warm with their multi-layered laminate insulation. My feet are generally cold and even sockless, had no trouble at 5C or 41F temperatures. I don’t know how low you can go with these as it is now spring and I doubt I’ll be wear testing these again (I like my pinky toe nails firmly attached) but I suspect near to below freezing is reasonable. As mitts are warmer than gloves, keep in mind that separated toes will feel the cold sooner than ones that share their warmth.

There is no break-in period with these shoes as they will not soften much with wear. If they are not instantly comfortable for you right out of the box, there is little chance that they will become more comfortable with wear.

The Lontras are easily machine washed and air dried. Considering how sweaty my feet got in under 30 minutes, frequent washing may be a requirement.

Sole Qualities
The sole is Vibram’s TC-1 outsole, first included in the Trek and TrekSport models. It is 4 mm thick and most flexible at the toes and across the middle of the shoe and barely flexible at all at the forefoot and heel areas. The outsole has a variety of grip textures for excellent traction on natural terrains. There is also a 4 mm EVA midsole to protect your feet from sharp, rocky edges if you are looking for a shoe with less ground feel than most minimalist footwear. As with all VFF products, there is no arch support designed into the shoe.

Overall Quality
The materials and manufacturing of the Lontra seems excellent, there are no flaws in the review pair. All the materials chosen seem rugged and long-lasting even under rough conditions. This VFF model is probably the most durable of all the models I’ve seen to date and will likely last the longest.

Style
The Lontras are certainly not inconspicuous footwear. The women’s version, with the flashy pink polka-dotted enclosure strap and stripes of pink and purple scream, “Look at me!” Even in the dark, they’re hard to miss with reflective strips on the heel and enclosure strap. The men’s version is slightly less flashy in a more subdued black and grey but still have the wild pattern. Toe shoes are generally conversation pieces, so why not go loud? I like the colourful details on the heel quarter and find the patterned vamp interesting and fun.

Uses
The VFF website suggests the Lontras’ use for running and trekking. If you find the fit of the Lontras comfortable, they are well suited for cold and/or wet weather activities on rugged terrain. Keep in mind, however, that they do not breathe and although water will not be coming in, sweat will not be going out either.

Value
At $150 USD, they are priced at the high-end of the VFF price range as well as the minimalist market in general. They have a limited range of fit and uses with their minimal ground feel and lack of breathability, but they are the most durable model of VFFs I’ve seen to date. If you are a hardcore VFF fan and have been pining for a water resistant model, they might be worth the price for you, and they will undoubtedly last longer than most of your current pairs.

Summary
The Lontras are VFFs’ first attempt into a water resistant model. Although it is a wonderful idea, the execution caused some issues in both fit and comfort that are not problems in other VFF models. The toe pockets have less room because of the bulky upper material and there is very little flexibility in the shoe itself. There is also poor ground feel in this thick model. They are, however, quite water resistant and warmer than any other model I’ve tried yet. Unfortunately, that water resistant membrane also keeps all your sweat inside the shoe with nowhere to go.

As a shoe reviewer, I’m human and subject to bias when a shoe causes me pain, like the Lontras have. Objectively, the water resistance, improved warmth, and extreme durability are all great features. Subjectively, these really hurt my toes and I probably won’t wear them again. I had high hopes for the Lontras and it’s difficult to admit my disappointment in them.

Do you have a pair of Lontras? Do they feel more or less comfortable for you compared to other VFF models? Maybe my comfort issues are due to oddly shaped pinky toes and I’m the only one with this issue. I’d like to hear from others who have tried the Lontras and other VFF models, too.

For more information about the Lontras and all the other currently available VFF models, please check out their website at VibramFiveFingers.com.