Meet Lems Boulder, the "Barefoot Shoe" Boot

Meet Lems Boulder, the "Barefoot Shoe" Boot

I got good news from Andrew Rademacher, founder of upstart minimalist/barefoot shoe manufacturer Lems Shoes* ("Light. Easy. Minimal.") — the first batch of the much-anticipated Lems Shoes Boulder Boot are now available for order! I say "first batch" because it's only the first few hundred pairs of production (more to come, of course, within a few weeks).

The release of the Boulder boot marks the first of a new line of Lems hitting the market in 2013! What's so exciting about the Boulder? Aside from it being a "barefoot shoe boot" that is super lightweight, zero drop, minimally and flexibly soled, and a boot, well, what else is there to say? If you've had a pair of Andrew's barefoot shoes, you're expectations are likely through the roof for these boots. We've reviewed the first offering from Lems that hit back in 2011 — the Primal (see reviews here and here) and had nothing but good things to say.

Andrew has a pair of Boulders coming my way, so I hope to share more about it soon, but if you're eager to snatch up a pair without further adieu and want to know the scoop, read on!

UPDATE: I got the boots! If you want to jump straight to my full review of the Lems Boulder boot, go here!


The official Boulder Boot specs from Lems!

Read the rest of this post »

Go Spider-Man. Wall Crawling (Climbing) in KSO Vibram Five Fingers

Carl climbs a wall in KSO Vibram Five Fingers at Everett Vertical.
Carl climbs a wall in KSO Vibram Five Fingers at Everett Vertical.

Here's Carl on using his Vibram Five Fingers KSOs to go wall climbing:

Took my VFF KSOs out on the rock wall at Everett vertical world! Just found one more use for them and saved some money at rentals.

They worked pretty well, especially since you could put your individual toes into cracks and crevices. The only issue I had was that the rock climbing shoes had a hard rubber sole that was like a platform, while the vibrams did whatever your foot did. The rock climbing shoes also had rubber up on the sides, while the VFFs only had them on the bottom.

I've had my VFFs for about 2 weeks now and I use them in kickboxing and running. People think they're awesome and ask where I got them. I think this may become the new hot thing in the nation!

My adjustment's been good. Normally I wear flip flops and whatnot, so it was easy to get theses babies on and go around in them. I don't have the trouble that most people do of putting them on and off. The only trouble I have is that they get cold easy, soak up water like a sponge, and stink after using them for a week.

-Carl

Ah yes, the stink of KSO Vibram Five Fingers is the stuff of legends.

Glad you are putting your KSOs to such good use. Though they aren't rock climbing shoes, I'm sure the flexibility of Vibram Five Fingers will force your feet to be stronger on those holds! Keep it up — and keep washing your VFFs!

Vibram Five Fingers Fury! Couple runs the Great Urban race in Phoenix in KSO VFFs!

Jenn and her husband pose on a slide in Phoenix in their Vibram Five Fingers KSOs.  The slide was the location of a clue in the scavenger hunt race to benefit St. Judes called the Great Urban Race.
Jenn and her husband pose on a slide in Phoenix in their Vibram Five Fingers KSOs. The slide was the location of a clue in the scavenger hunt race to benefit St. Judes called the Great Urban Race.

Vibram Five Fingers KSO fan Jenn sent in the following VFF user story:

Hello from Arizona,

My husband and I competed in the Great Urban Race here in Phoenix this past weekend. We both proudly sported our KSO throughout the race. As a matter of fact our team name was FiveFinger Fury!! The Great Urban Race is a scavenger hunt type event to benefit St. Jude's Children's Hospital. The attached picture is us sitting on slide - one of the clues for the event. We had a great time and of course the VFF's were a big hit!

Great team name and way to sport your Vibram Five Fingers! It's always good to see smiling couples wearing VFFs.

Glad to hear the FiveFinger Fury had a great time racing and spreading the VFF word!

Why are so many of Ultramarathon Man's readers running in Vibram Five Fingers?

A few days ago Dean Karnazes, also known as Ultramarathon Man — you might remember him as the guy who went for a 30 mile run in his undies on his 30th birthday — posted survey results comparing his reader base to results from a survey by Running USA. You can read Dean's post here.

The gist of the comparison is that Dean's readership "tends to work out longer, work out harder, and participate in more rigorous events." For example, the Running USA respondents average 26 miles a week compared to Ultramarathon Man's readership averaging 44 miles a week. Or when asked about favorite race distance, only 2% of Running USA's athletes cited the ultramarathon as their favorite race distance compared to 13% of Dean's readership.

Makes sense that readers of man famous for running ultramarathons would lean to running longer distances and pushing themselves harder than the average runner. And here's where it gets interesting. When Dean asked his readership what their favorite footwear was, the top contenders out of the 250 respondents were, in the following order:

  1. Asics (24%)
  2. Mizuno (13%)
  3. Brooks (11%)
  4. Saucony (11%)
  5. Nike (10%)
  6. New Balance (7%)
  7. Vibram Five Fingers (6%)
  8. Everything else (18%)

Vibram Five Fingers came in ahead of Adidas (5%), Newton (2%), Inov-8 (1%), and barefoot (~0%), among others.

Right about now you should be raising an eyebrow or two. Dean was even surprised at the popularity of Vibram Five Fingers. So what is going on here?

I confess my bias — this is a site dedicated to Vibram Five Fingers, specifically, and barefoot and minimalist footwear generally. For that matter, I readily jump (gently landing, I might add) to conclusions. In a nutshell:

I believe modern, thickly cushioned, high-heeled, form-correcting shoes effectively force you to run with a heel-strike. Heel-striking results in greater impact forces experienced by the runner. These added forces result in injury for many, many runners.

What's this have to do with Dean's poll? Simply put: the more you run, the more impact forces will affect your body. Run longer distances in typical running shoes and you increase the likelihood of sustaining injuries.

run naturally and SMILE!Here's my hasty generalization: I'm not surprised to find a large number of Dean's readership base seeking out a foot glove over the standard running fare in hopes of running longer distances with less injury. It's from this perspective that Vibram Five Fingers not only allow you to run with the softer-impact of a forefoot strike a.k.a. natural running — they demand it. You simply must run naturally or reel in pain at heel-striking. The result is less impact on a runner and, in turn, fewer injuries.

I hope Dean repeats his survey a year or so from now. It would be interesting to see if the percentage of his readership running in Vibram Five Fingers grows going forward.

That's my take. What do you think?

Leave a comment below and spread the word. Let's get this discussion going!

(H/T to Joggling Joe Salter!)

Reviewing the Vivo Barefoot Aqua from Terra Plana

Above, in the box, is a pair of Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aquas.  Nice packaging for a nice barefoot shoe alternative to Vibram Five Fingers.
Above, in the box, is a pair of Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aquas. Nice packaging for a nice barefoot shoe alternative to Vibram Five Fingers.

Update July 2012: The original Aquas have been discontinued. Don't dismay: Vivo Barefoot redesigned and improved the original Aqua in a re-release called the Aqua Lite that hit the market in 2012. I've reviewed those, too (as of July 2012) — here.

Original review:

The market for "barefoot shoes" is small. It's in this context that it doesn't take long to discover the main minimalist footwear options and manufacturers. You've got Vibram Five Fingers, but you've also got companies like FeelMax or perhaps you're hearing more about Soft Star Shoes. One of the major players in the barefoot alternative shoes industry is, of course, Terra Plana, manufacturers of the Vivo Barefoot line.

Vivo Barefoot Origins

Vivo Barefoots got their start circa 2000 / 2001 when two childhood friends, Tim Brennan and Galahad Clark, endeavored to create a shoe that fostered the benefits of being barefoot. Brennan and Clark created a prototype shoe around 2004, which eventually led to the first Vivo Barefoot, one with a zip on/off sole. The zippered sole concept didn't quite work, apparently, so Vivos quickly went "zipless."* It wasn't long before Vivo expanded the line in 2005 to include the Dharma and Aqua, two styles that continue to be popular today.

It's been almost ten years since the beginnings of Vivo Barefoot shoes. Today, there is a full line-up of men's and women's shoes, and Vivo Barefoot will soon be releasing a running specific barefoot shoe called the Vivo Barefoot Evo.

I got in touch with Terra Plana back in November wanting to get my feet into a pair of their Vivo Barefoots to test for the Five Fingers fan community here. They kindly obliged and sent me my first pair of blue suede shoes— Vivo Barefoot Aquas. My review of the Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aquas will cover the design and performance, barefoot feel, aesthetic/style, sizing, and price. Let's go!

A front view of the Vivo Barefoot Aquas, you can quickly get a sense that these are well constructed, downright stylish shoes — that look normal despite being built barefoot-ish.
A front view of the Vivo Barefoot Aquas, you can quickly get a sense that these are well constructed, downright stylish shoes — that look normal despite being built barefoot-ish.

Design and Performance of the Aqua — that barefoot feel

The Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aquas, which I'll refer to as just "Aquas," have a thin, neutral sole (meaning they lack an elevated heel) that is composed of TPU rubber, "puncture resistant" Duratex, and a removable insole. My calipers put the thickness of the sole at the heel at 5mm. Note this measurement is taken having removed the Aqua's insole. I originally tried the Aquas with the insole in place, but preferred the closer-to-barefoot feel of having it removed. If you leave it in, the insole adds another 3mm or so of thickness and cushioning (Here's a photo of the Vivo Barefoot Aqua having removed the insole, which sits to the right of the shoe).

In my testing, I found the Aqua to do a solid job of conveying ground textures to my foot. Pebbles, bumps, gradation, rugs, whatever. It's not as much feel as you get with the VFF Moc or Soft Star Grippy Roo moccasin, but the sole of the Aqua is sturdier than both and after three months shows no sign of wear. Regardless, the Aqua finds a balance betweeen the benefits of barefootedness while still being stylistically shoe-like (I'll get into this more below).

That the Aqua is a shoe means that it has a fairly robust structure above its minimal sole. This upper is comprised of leather (for durability and style) and mesh (to add flexibility and make the Aquas breathable). Though the mesh placement helps the Aqua to flex, overall, the structure makes the Aqua more rigid than what you'll find with VFFs. That said, it's still easy to bend with one hand:

Here I bend the Aqua to demonstrate its flexibility.
Here I bend the Aqua to demonstrate its flexibility.

The lack of heel enabled a natural walking gait, typically landing midfoot (forefoot and heel striking at effectively the same time). I'd put the overall walking feel as similar to the Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek, meaning that I'm less likely to walk with a forefoot gait as I might with Classic Five Fingers, but the heel isn't catching the ground unintentionally, as it would with your typical raised heel shoes which effectively force a natural gait into a pronounced heel strike.

The Vivo Barefoot Aquas have a stout, comfortably wide toe box within which my toes felt free to roam, not confined or cramped. This is a welcome feature compared to your run-of-the-mill, non-barefoot shoes. There are neutral, thin-soled shoes out there, but many of them have painfully narrow toe boxes. Not the Aqua:

A welcome feature of the Vivo Barefoot Aquas is a wide and open toe box.  Compared to the typically narrow toe boxes you find on most shoes, this is a welcome feature of the Aqua.
A welcome feature of the Vivo Barefoot Aquas is a wide and open toe box. Compared to the typically narrow toe boxes you find on most shoes, this is a welcome feature of the Aqua.

One drawback to the simple, hexagon speckled sole of the Vivo Barefoot Aqua is that I found it a bit slippery on wet surfaces. This is a bit unfortunate as one of the most common times I found myself wearing the Aquas was when it was raining (and VFFs just wouldn't cut it).

The only other design issue I had with the Aquas is that the tongue of the Aqua is a stretchy, thick fabric that starts at the sole, goes up and over the instep, and then attaches on the other side of your foot back into the sole (photo).

The upside to this design is that it makes for a comfortable, naturally snug fit once your foot is inside the Aqua. It means you don't really have to tighten the laces of the Aqua much to make it feel attached to your foot. That said, I found it a bit more work than I'd have liked to put the Aquas on — humorous in that I can actually put on Five Finger KSOs faster than Aquas! And incidentally, just like the KSOs, I found the best way to get my foot seated into the Aqua was to push the heel down, stick my foot into the shoe, and then pull the heel of the Aqua up and around my heel.

Aesthetic and Style — How the Aquas look

The Vivo Barefoot Aquas — blue suede with red laces and a yellow stripe at the sole — simply look fantastic. I got many compliments on the Aquas from my wife and her girlfriends, as well as *most* of my guy friends. It's hard not to like the colored suede, the clearly well constructed quality of the Aqua, and the attention to detail. Sure, they're a bit eye-catching in blue, but not in a "Oh my, what are you wearing?!" sorta way as you come to expect with Vibram Five Fingers, but in a "Oh those are unusual -- and I like them!" sorta way.

I found myself able to sport the Aquas to dressy casual events with khaki or brown pants, but also kick back in them in jeans. Either way, they always attracted the right kind of attention. Major points on this front.

Sizing

The Vivo Barefoot sizing can be a bit intimidating to some as the shoes size in European sizes. The reality is that Vivo Barefoot suggests you go a full size up. I'm a 10 1/2 shoe size last time I checked, and Vivo Barefoots run in whole sizes. So that put me between a 10 / 43 and a 11 / 44. I got the 44s and they are perfect for me. For what it's worth, I'm in between on VFFs, too — 43 in Classics, but also 43 in KSOs and my feet are both 10.875" long (People ask these things!).

Compared to the Five Fingers sizing gymnastics you might be used to, simply "sizing up" with Vivo Barefoots is a barefoot walk in the park.

Price

At a retail price of $150, the Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aquas can be a tough pill to swallow for many would-be buyers — that is a chunk of change. Having said that, astute shoppers often find good sales, and I've heard of some folks finding extraordinary deals on Vivo Barefoots. If you're interested in taking the plunge on a pair of Aquas, you can buy them up directly from VivoBarefoot here.

Here are a few more photos, a couple close-up shots to show quality (Note the double-stitching, for example), and a look at accompanying literature on the Aquas from Vivo Barefoot:

Overall thoughts on the Vivo Barefoot Aqua

Let's face it, as much as you may want to be barefoot or in your favorite five toed footwear all the time, there will inevitably come times when you've got to put on regular shoes. Thankfully, with the Aquas, the sacrifice you make wearing "real shoes" is almost welcome: you can simultaneously free your feet and impress friends with a bit of style. It's nice to go out in public and have my wife not cringing about my VFFs! You can't go wrong.

Also, though I didn't do run in the Aquas, I did burst into the occasional short run in them. They felt great — no binding of my toes and a welcome barefoot-ish, natural running feel.

If you want to pick up a pair of Vivo Barefoot Aquas, the bad news is that they have been discontinued. The good news is that Vivo Barefoot redesigned (and improved!) the Aqua in a re-release called the Aqua Lite. I've reviewed those, too (as of July 2012) — here.

As always, if you have any questions or want me to answer specific questions, I encourage you to comment below!

* If anyone can find a working model of these original Vivos, I'd love to see some photos!

Megan starts a revolution in VFF Classics

Photo inset: Left Classic Vibram Five Fingers at Colorado Springs, Colorado (August 2009); Top right Classic VFFs at Red Rocks Amphitheater waiting on a show to start (August 2009); Bottom right Classics at Angel Fire, New Mexico (May 2009).
Photo inset: Left Classic Vibram Five Fingers at Colorado Springs, Colorado (August 2009); Top right Classic VFFs at Red Rocks Amphitheater waiting on a show to start (August 2009); Bottom right Classics at Angel Fire, New Mexico (May 2009).

Megan has been a fan of her Vibram FiveFingers for some time, grabbing her first pair of VFFs for her birthday way back in August 2007. Since then, Megan has gone on to accumulate three pairs of Classic Five Fingers for everyday use. I asked Megan to share her Five Fingers user story with birthdayshoes and here is what she had to say:

I bought my first pair in August 2007 as a birthday gift to myself. I've always been sort of hippy-ish and have walked around barefoot for years. I don't know how I found the shoes, I was cleaning out my bookmarks and stumbled across vibramfivefingers.com, and it was love at first sight. Shoes I could wear and be barefoot at the same time - what an awesome idea! I bought my second pair in September 2007 and my third pair in August of 2009. I had back problems from an injury and I have no day to day pain anymore and my posture has improved. I wear them everywhere - errands, work, park, road trips, family events (I'm the one with the weird shoes' but I don't care), pretty much everything that requires shoes).

I'm starting a revolution at my office - three co workers have bought pairs after seeing how happy I am in mine.

I walk my dogs in them often and I'm starting to research running, I've never been a runner so I've got to make sure I do it right!

Thanks, Megan! It's great to hear that using Vibram Five Fingers on a everyday wear basis has enabled you to overcome your back problems!

As for running, just ease into it slowly and expect sore calves. Since you're not a runner, you are likely to have fewer heel-striking habits to overcome. Just take short strides (and have a high cadence) and don't worry about being fast. If you're feeling frisky, you can even kick off your Classic Five Fingers, take them in hand, and try a stretch of barefoot running to maximize the ground feedback. This should help you work on your running form!

Glad you've shared the great barefoot shoe magic of Vibram Five Fingers with so many friends! Long live the revolution!

Two Five Fingers fans make friends in a bar

Making friends is easy when wearing Five Fingers to social settings - even easier when they're post running events as they make great conversation pieces.
Making friends is easy when wearing Five Fingers to social settings - even easier when they're post running events as they make great conversation pieces.

Logan relays a recent VFF experience he had in his KSO Treks:

I ran into another Vibram wearer on Saturday during the Myrtle Beach Marathon after-party. The other fellow and his wife from upstate NY have not seen the Treks up close yet. Upon touching my VFF sole they vowed to find them.

Logan

Ah yes, the fancy Trek sole always impresses at parties!

Have you happened upon other Vibram Five Fingers fans at social gatherings? Though FiveFingers are oft-cited as bringing on too much attention, they also alert other fans to your astute understanding of the power of being barefoot. It's in this awareness that they bring like minds together!

Power to the bare feet!