Have you ever caught yourself staring at someone in the gym for a little longer than you should because you can’t quite figure out what it is they’ve got on their feet?
Vibram or “five fingers” are the toe shoes which I’m sure would have grabbed your focus at some point by now as they’ve gained popularity with the latest wearable technology craze, but do they do what they say? Should I be wiggling my toes into individual pockets?
The History of Vibram Five Fingers
Five fingers design starts at the very beginning with feet. Before the shoe, feet were sprawled with toes separated. After the shoe, we suffer with bunions and other health issues as the foot adopts the shape of the shoe it’s in, hence why Chinese women bind their feet and young children are encouraged to wear correctly designed footwear to help their feet grow with proper alignment.
Robert Fliri was the designer who first had the idea of creating shoes with individual toes in 1999 after researching foot anatomy and spending a lot of time outdoors in the mountains of Italy barefoot. He said: “We have five toes: when they can move and grasp the ground independently, and when you can really sense the surface under your feet, your body is able to do what it is designed for by nature. That is a powerful feeling." The concept he came up with was that if the feet were designed to experience the world naked, why were we covering them in so much cushioning in our footwear?
Fliri’s idea remained but a figure of the imagination until 2004 when Fliri met Bramani, founder of Vibram. As the legend goes, Bramani believed that "Five Fingers" (because the Italian word for "fingers" is the same as that for "toes") might make a novel choice of footwear for use on sailboats or in other activities that required greater ground-feel. Bramani brought Fliri into his grandfather's company to develop the world's first toe shoes.
In 2006 Vibram first entered the market as the strange, but novel barefoot shoe. Since then they have grown in popularity to become phenomenon they are today.
What do Vibram say?
“We believe that moving and running in FiveFingers can make us healthier, happier, and more connected to our bodies. We hope to help you discover how you can safely explore the joys of natural movement.
Wearing FiveFingers for running, fitness training, water sports or just for fun will make your feet stronger and healthier—naturally. And while we do love our Vibram FiveFingers, we don’t believe it is the only footwear you will ever need. There are many times when you need the protection and security of a shoe or boot. Like all things in life, there is a balance, and Vibram FiveFingers provides a healthy alternative to traditional footwear.”
What it’s like Wearing FiveFingers
Let me start by introducing you to my relationship with feet, trust me, it’s relevant. I can NOT stand feet, I’m not afraid of them as such, but I’ve been known to request socks over going barefoot and I just don’t like them. I’m sorry.
So when the time came to review the Five Fingers, I was dreading the thought of 1) Being able to see my toes separately and 2) Not wearing any socks. Now I’ve set the scene, let’s crack on with the review.
Step 1. Putting the FiveFingers on.
I’m a size 4, with what I would call ‘normal’ feet, with the toes decreasing in size as you move down the foot. The FiveFingers are made with the largest toe and second toe at equal length and then the toes decrease in size as you move down the foot. This is the design they found works for most people. My toes fitted in each pocket with about a cm spare at the end, but I think a size down would have been too small. The shoes have their own unique lacing system which is really easy to use, simply pulling a toggle locks the shoe closely to your foot and prevents and slipping. It takes a little practice to get used to putting each toe into the pockets, but once you’re doing this on the regular, it becomes second nature. The shoes are also really easy to slip off, release the toggle and you’re out in seconds. So far, so good.
Step 2. Getting used to being ‘barefoot’.
Whilst I do hate feet, the Vibrams really were comfortable and even on a short distance run, I noticed I was running with better form, I could feel myself pushing off the ball of my foot and keeping my back up straight, rather than hunching over as I often do. The shoe is incredibly light and it does make you feel lighter as you run along, think more spring to your step, less plodding along. Despite the fact the shoes have 0 drop, I didn’t feel unprotected. Yes, you feel very close to the ground, but the shoes soles are a strong barrier between your foot and anything nasty. The key with getting used to FiveFingers is to ease them in. The website says it can take anywhere up to 6 months to make the transition to barefoot and overdoing it can lead to injury.
When it comes to weight lifting Arnold Schwarzenegger famously trained barefoot in order to maximise his lifts. Some bodybuilders argue that because your feet are the only point of contact between your body and the floor on most lifts, some of your lifting success is dependant on the foot's proprioception (the ability for your feet to sense of where they are in space). The more precisely your feet work to grip the floor, the better you will activate the muscles farther up your kinetic chain. Weight training with the FiveFingers allows you to feel the force of the weight you’re lifting, pushing through your heels and maximising your effort.
Vibram’s number one rule is to “Listen to your body” and I think for someone who is ready to make the switch to a barefoot running style, then these are a great pair of barefoot running shoes. They do look weird, but Vibram have their reason for that and if you can handle it, you’ll reap the rewards. I still don’t like feet, but, I did experience the benefits of the FiveFinger design.
Common Vibram FiveFinger questions answered
What on earth are on your feet? Vibram FiveFinger trainers.
Do you wear socks? No. But you can if you want to, specially designed socks can be bought here.
Can you feel the ground? Yes, if you run over a rock you know about it, this is the entire point of sensory feedback and barefoot running. The idea is the FiveFinger sole protects the foot whilst still mimicking a barefoot ride.
Do your feet get wet? In this version of the shoe, yes they will. However there are other versions such as the trail runner which provide more protection against rough terrains and wetter weather.
Are you worried about stepping on something sharp? When should you not be worried about stepping on something sharp? Believe me I’ve had glass slice through a flip flop and wedge into my foot before and it hurts. As you run in the shoes you do tend to find yourself looking down to scan the path ahead and knowing you have a reasonably thick sole does encourage you to be more cautious as you run.
What if you have oddly shaped feet? The shoes are designed to fit most feet, but they won’t work for everyone. If your second toe is longer than your first one, you’d be better off finding an alternative barefoot running shoe such as the Vivobarefoot which we’ve reviewed.
Why do you look so small? I’ve just lost an inch of height from my trainers and at 5ft 2, every inch counts!
If you are new to running with a barefoot running technique then try reading our guide to barefoot running shoes.
Before Adidas got to offer us the Adizero Adios 3, they passed by and have hopefully exceed the previous Adizero Adios 2 and Adizero Adios 1.
Adios Boost 1
Advertised as neutral shoes that have been designed for marathon running. The technology of the moment was ADIPRENE®+ in the forefoot to fuel your stride.
- Weight: 7.8 ounces (size 9)
- Lightweight mesh upper; ADIPRENE®+ in the forefoot maintains propulsion and efficiency; Non-slip lining
- TORSION® SYSTEM for midfoot integrity; Compression molded EVA midsole; Molded EVA sockliner for anatomical fit and great step-in comfort
- ADIPRENE® under the heel for superior cushioning at impact
- ADIWEAR™ outsole offers the ultimate in high-wear durability
Adios Boost 2
The Boost 2 introduced the energy-returning boost™ foam midsole, a super-breathable Coolever mesh upper with earth-friendly synthetic suede overlays, and extended TORSION® SYSTEM support in the midfoot.
- boost™'s energy-returning properties keep every step charged with an endless supply of light, fast energy
- Coolever mesh upper for maximum breathability
- Extended TORSION® SYSTEM for energy return in the forefoot and natural integrity in the midfoot
- Coolever mesh shoe lining; Moulded responsive EVA sockliner for anatomical fit and great step-in comfort
- QUICKSTRIKE outsole decreases weight and increases flexibility and durability; Continental™ Rubber for optimal grip in wet conditions
Adizero Adios 3 - Boost 3 - The Claim
Again developed for marathon-running and in keeping with the heritage of the style. Low profile for a neutral runner featuring a breathable mesh upper and full boost™ midsole.
- Weight: 230 g (size UK 8.5)
- boost™'s energy-returning properties keep every step charged with an endless supply of light, fast energy
- Open mesh upper for maximum breathability; Synthetic overlays for durable support
- Coolever mesh lining for superior moisture and heat exchange between the foot and the outside air; TORSION® SYSTEM for midfoot integrity
- ADIWEAR™ outsole offers the ultimate in high-wear durability; Continental™ Rubber outsole for extraordinary grip in wet and dry conditions
- Runner type: neutral; Stack height: 27 mm / 18 mm (9 mm differential)
So the new feature introduced on paper seems to be the partnership with Continental™. No one can argue with Continental’s ability to sell us rubber. Let’s hope they work as well in footwear as they do in our car and bike tyres.
What is the Boost Technology?
Adidas say their boost technology features thousands of visible energy stores that store and unleash endless energy every-time your foot hits the ground.
On the Adidas website there are some very positive reviews from Adidas customers. This is a pair of training shoes I am looking forward to running in.
Why the Adizero Adios 3?
These are trainers that are designed or a neutral foot position / foot strike. This means when you run your heel is the not first point of contact and is arguably a better, more efficient way of running.
To test yourself if you should let your heel strike when you run get a skipping rope. When you skip you are (more than likely) bouncing up and down on you toes. If you try and land on your heels it is likely your mind will stop you. If your heel strikes first the impact will shoot right up your body, through your knees on the way up. If your toes or forefoot hit the floor first then it will absorb a lot of the impact from the foot strike and save your keens and cartilage giving you more healthy, pain free years in the future. If you are interested in reading more about bare foot running (changing running style) we have a post here on changing to a barefoot running style.
The Adidas running shoes we have to test are colour Bright Royal/Core Black/Ftwr White (AF6555)
The adidas adizero Adios 3 running shoes have arrived. Time to run and time to review.
Adidas Adizero Adios 3 Running Shoe Review
Adidas full boost midsole
The low-profile design when sitting the trainers next to other pairs of shoes do not seem too low-profile. But I think they are classing them as low-profile compared with a typical air cushioned / cushioned running shoe. Not necessarily a neutral shoe.
Their Boost technology is also a new addition and a groundbreaking innovation in cushioning. Adidas claim more energy return than any other foam cushioning in the industry. When it comes to running, however, typically your feet are not firing back in the air direct where they land. They are travelling under your body for a split second. So if there is a special energy system maybe it will work better for skipping.
Running in these shoes however, the cushioning is definitely noticeable. They feel very padded with each strike, but I can not say I feel my feet firing into the air with their energy return. The thousands of energy capsules can been seen in the following photos. They look like a bit of natural sponge. They definitely do offer a lot of support.
Adidas full boost midsole
Size and Fit
When it comes to size options Adidas have them all. That’s right. UK half sizes that seem to be getting forgotten about more and more by most brands as the dominance of the Euro sizing kicks in. It has been a while since I have hand the option of ordering a half size, so I go for the 9.5 UK. The length is spot on, but trying these shoes on for the first time I haven’t had my feet so crammed in on the width for a long time. Day to day I wear VivoBarefoot shoes. So plenty of room to move. But even compared against the New Balance Vazee Pace shown below the Adidas are about 1.5 cm narrower. This may be fine for you if you are not used to a particularly wide fit trainer, but if you want your feet to have space to flex then it may be a deal breaker.
These shoes are advertised as a neutral shoe and most people I know who run with a forefoot strike do prefer a wide shoe.
The adidas adizero Adios 3 running shoes have a typical ‘adidas’ originals look about them. Even though they are running shoes. They have that type of look about them that will only be enhanced once they are a little muddy and tatty from all your road running. These are definitely cooler looking than the New Balance but you should be buying a running shoe for function over style. YES you should!
The first thing I noticed when I put on the Topo Speed Trainers is a hugging feeling I hadn’t felt since putting on some Birkenstock sandals for the first time many years ago. If you have not tried on them, most people have the same reaction. And that is the feeling of comfort from the high arch. It is almost a massaging feeling of your arch. I am sure if you wear arched footwear most of the time the sensation will wear off, but if you are used to more minimal barefoot trainers with a flat sole enjoy the experience.
When I went on some training with VivoBarefoot they were very much anti arch. Unnatural, stops the job of your muscles supporting your foot and therefore leads to loss of natural support. I have been wearing flat Vivos for several years so maybe the feeling was extra pronounced when putting on the Topo with their high arch. The high arch and feedback from Vivo is definitely controversial. Many running coaches will take one look at my (and many peoples) foot strike in slow motion and prescribe some high arch, supported trainers. I think it comes down to personal preference. Listen to and take on all the advise and test it out.
These trainers are extremely light. And extremely comfortable. To run in, if you are used to a cushioned shoe they may be too lightweight, but they offer more padding than a typical barefoot trainer. They are speed trainers, so not necessarily designed for endurance running and long events, but for my 5ks they have been great.
The forefoot of these trainers is wide and there is plenty of room for your toes to move. The high arch supports your foot position so your feet will be fairly rooted to the floor.
The high arch really helps with your forefoot position. The trainers have minimal cushioning so it is extra important for correct contact when you strike the ground. As they are speed trainers you may be landing harder than a typical slow run.
Their unique design offers support for each of your metatarsals (bones in the front of the foot).
The Topo trainers are lightweight in design and things are kept simple. Support is given at the front and sides of the foot with a very lightweight upper.
As these trainers are built for speed and comfort they are perfect for interval work. Even if you want to switch to a more cushioned trainer for longer runs.
The Topo Speed Trainers are light and perfect for sprinting, but also for ground work and outdoor training the are a good choice.
A simple but effective feature I like with Topo is the extra large loops - so handy for slipping on and off.
Somehow Topo manage to look stylish even with the pops of bright orange.
Hailed as a cushioned running shoe, the New Balance 1080v5 have a lot to deliver on. The first thing you might notice is how light they feel when you pick them up. They weigh in at 258g (for the women's version),which makes them feel light on your feet.
They pack in a lot of technology for a trainer. Sliding your foot in, it is hard to ignore the comfort factor. The feeling of New Balance’s foam is noticeable, as is the N2 cushioning. These two ingredients, mixed together make the trainer soft, yet firm, cushioned, yet flexible. The foam really helps cushion the sole of your foot when running, as well as absorbing any shocks from the pavement.
By design, cushioned style running shoes have a softer midsole, and these have a lot of support in the heel. So depending on how you run will determine if these are the shoes for you or not.
These suited my running style quite well and I found the level of support held up mile after mile. The uppers have a really breathable mesh that allows sweat out and cool air in, which helps keep your feet feeling fresh and dry.
The asymmetrical heel counter helps offer good heel support, with the insole offering decent arch support. These are definitely made for those who run with a heel strike other than a forefoot strike.
The bottom of the trainers looks like a maze of interconnected hexagons. However New Balance came up with this design, it works. The grooves, the dips and the shapes all work harmoniously together to ensure you have a smooth run. I ran over gravel, stones and streets in these and the cushioning is fantastic.
The fit of the shoe is a little narrow. If you have wider feet, then these are not for you. They lace up well and in no way feel like they are going to slip off, allowing for maximum support. The shoes have a removable insole, but it does help with softening heel strikes.
The uppers are mostly made of fused mesh overlays, which does make them airy and adds to the lightness of the shoes. Not to mention it looks great!
Overall, it is a good trainer with a decent price tag. They are like running on air, in that you will be cushioned from heel strikes and they give decent support. Designed as a heel striking trainer, they do the job well.
If you go down to the woods today, You'd better go in the Topo Runventure.
At least, that’s what Topo are hoping with their trail trainer the Runventure. Although they still remain a reasonably new company in the field Topo Athletic are certain to make a name for themselves with their mission to create footwear that optimises the body’s natural movement and despite being a trail trainer, the Runventure still showcases all Topo’s core principles.
The Principles: Shape, Platform and Weight
These three core principals greet you upon opening the box of any pair of Topo footwear and are central to Topo’s fit philosophy.
Shape: The Runventure trainers have the Topo signature wide toe box, allowing for the toes to move naturally and freely. This is particularly useful for the additional balance required in trail running, avoiding sticks, stones and other debris.
Platform: The Runventure has a 19mm platform which is partnered with a TPU midsole plate for extra protection. TPU in case like me, you didn't know, stands for ‘Thermoplastic Polyurethane’. Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s plastic, TPU is more dent resistant than metal, lightweight, shock absorbent, impact resistant and flexible even in colder climates.
Weight: The Runventure are a light pair of trainers for a trail shoe weighing in at just 210g (W5).
Rubber Outsole: 4.5mm
Midsole: 9.5mm EVA (Heel) / 7.5mm EVA (Ball)
Total Stack Height: 19mm X 17mm (2mm Drop)
UK Sizes 4-9 inc. half sizes
The Runventure trainers have a completely unexpected classic look, unlike my first pair of Topo trainers the Speed Trainer, these trainers have a mainstream design and come in two colour variations, black/turquoise or wine/grey.
The trainer slips on easy thanks to the large loop on the heel and is a snug fit, hugging the foot nicely through the heel whilst allowing a loose fit to the large toe box. Where the Runventure boasts a neutral ride, there is no arch support which some runners may be more adapted to, however, the laces are easy to fasten tighter over the arch of the foot to add a little more support. The TPU through the centre of the sole means the trainer lacks flexibility from the heel to the arch, however, the ball of the foot and toes offer more flexibility and are capable of moving freely. The lugs are small with just a 2mm drop, unusual for a trail shoe, but I mustn't be too quick to judge, so I will wait until I’ve seen them in action before forming an opinion on that. My foot feels very sturdy in the shoe, sturdy but not cushioned. There is minimal padding as Topo stick to their barefoot roots, the aim being to give the runner just enough protection whilst not detracting from their minimalist feel. Time to get them dirty.
The Trail Trial
Being a trail shoe, the Runventure is designed for technical terrains mud, rocks, grass, woodland, hills, meadows to mountains and anything else a natural terrain can throw at it. Being based in Essex however, I’m afraid I don’t have any handy volcanoes I can go explore around the corner, nor do I have a mountain up my sleeve, but what we do have is rocks, gravel and mud and thanks to all this rain, more mud. During my adventure in the shoes, the first thing I realised was that when Topo say their 19mm platform doesn’t ‘sacrifice feel’, they really weren't kidding. Basically, your foot's not very far off the ground, so you can literally feel almost every nook and rock on your path, although the TPU protects your foot from any real discomfort this may cause, with no risk of them being beaten to a pulp. When it comes to getting down and dirty the strong mesh upper protected my foot from getting a soaking through puddles and was fairly dirt resistant. How did the small lugs hold up? Well, they held me up. Despite multiple attempts by the dogs to pull me over, the little lugs are small and mighty and protected me from face-planting a puddle of mud many a time, undeterred by their size.
Whilst the shoes did well during the adventure itself, it’s unlacing that reveals the shoes only real downfall. As with all trail runs, it's natural to expect you’re bringing back your fair share of mud, however, some trail shoes shed their mud faster than others and, unfortunately, the Runventures do hold onto the trail, in fact, they help you keep half of it as a not-so-useful souvenir of your run. Having walked on the concrete I was surprised by how much mud the shoes managed to hold, whilst this may seem like it’s not going to affect your run, as the mud gathers and dries it all adds to the weight of what started as a lightweight trainer, the difference won’t be major, but enough to be considered, plus it’s just a little annoying when you're leaving a trail of mud behind you. Top Tip: Take the trainers off at the doorstep and clap out as much excess mud as you can so it doesn’t dry in your trainer and weigh you down on the next run.
Are these the shoes for you?
If you're into trail runs, yes. It will take a bit of getting used to the lack of cushioning, but that fits with Topo’s principle to get you running more naturally. Due to their barefoot style, I wouldn’t personally take the shoe for a long distance run, as I’d prefer more cushioning. I wouldn't risk my calves with anything over a medium distance, as it can take time for your body to become accustomed to running with a barefoot style without causing discomfort, leave that for more experienced runners or those used to running long distance in a barefoot shoe. I’d place this shoe as a go-between. It’s not quite the cushion you would expect from a trail shoe, but it's more than Topo’s other barefoot style trainers. It would be the perfect transitional trainer to take a barefoot runner into trail running or a trail runner into a barefoot stride.
The best thing about Topo is their evolving, this isn't their first trail runner and it certainly won't be their last. I look forward to seeing what improvements the Spring collection will bring.