The Inaugural Asheville Marathon at the Biltmore - in Luna Sandals (Venado/original)

The Inaugural Asheville Marathon at the Biltmore - in Luna Sandals (Venado/original)

You're out on a run. Your nose is getting stuffy, so you lean to the side for a quick farmer's blow. It's cold out, but you didn't realize how cold until you go to wipe your nose with the back of your glove to clear off any additional moisture -- only to find that it's already frozen around the edge of your nostril in mere seconds.

Welcome to the inaugural Asheville Marathon, held on the grounds of the beautiful Biltmore estate. "Well," I thought dramatically at around mile 20, "At least I'll die somewhere majestic."

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Soft Star Moccasins Review

Soft Star Moccasins Review
What's that on my feet? Those are Soft Star Moccasins — giving my Classic FiveFingers a break and enjoying the comforts of a soft soled, sheepskin inner footbed, "barefoot shoe."

I first heard of Soft Star shoes back in early June of this year via Rocco, who mentioned them as his "barefoot shoes" of choice outside of his KSO FiveFingers. I sought out Soft Star and got in touch with Tricia, one of the Soft Star "Elves," so-called as the Soft Star shoes have a decidedly elfish look to them. I asked Trish if I could be sent a pair of Soft Stars to test for a potential review for BirthdayShoes.

Tricia obliged and sent me a pair of the Grippy Suede Roos in "chocolate.", which retail at $63 (unless you have larger feet — say size 13 men's or higher) and size similarly to regular shoes (a welcome relief to VFF-calculus!). Now that I've had a few months to put these Mocs through the ropes, it's high time I reviewed them, so allow me to introduce to you to a monotoed "VFF alternative" — Soft Stars!

A close-up of the "Soft Star" logo on my Grippy Suede Roo Soft Star Moccasins. Soft Stars are the "ultimate in high quality soft soled leather shoes," and are handmade in Oregon.

Construction

Though Soft Star has a number of non-moccasin offerings, the Grippy Roos have a two-piece moccasin leather design whereby the ankle is wrapped by one piece and another piece covers the front and top of the foot, overlapping the ankle piece. Both parts are connected at the lip, ankle of the Moc via a set-length elastic band, which comfortably secures the Moc onto your foot.

This design looks very Moccasin-like — for you parents out there, they might remind you of Robeez. Anyway, here are a couple of photos to help paint the picture (click for larger):

The "Grippy" part of these Moccasins is derived from the fact that they feature a T-Rex soling, which is "a soft black rubberized non-slip surface" that is bonded to a layer of suede, that is then covered with sheepskin insole, which is what you feel on your feet. All said, based on some caliper measurements, the combined footbed is a mere 2mm thick at the heel — by way of comparison, this is on par with the heel thickness of the FiveFingers Moc and thinner than my oldest Classics (they are 4mm thick).

You can actually see the layers come together by looking inside the Soft Stars:

Here you can see the inner sole construction of the Soft Star Grippy Roo. The outermost line is the outsole suede, the dark black line is the T-Rex sole material, then, a thick layer of tan suede, and finally the sheepskin. Total thickness under the heel only 2mm!

The T-Rex soling material has a diamond/gridded/bumpy structure to it, and true to form grips well to otherwise slipper surfaces. It also seems to be fairly durable though I'd expect it to wear through if you were a heavy walker or dragged your feet much. Below are two photos of the soles, the photo on the left when the Soft Star Grippy Roos were received back in June and the second photo taken today:

Overall, the Soft Star Mocs employ a simplistic, Moccasin-styled design, one that is lightweight, and feels well-made from nice, almost completely natural materials.

The Soft Star aesthetic

Seen bare-legged, it's easy to understand how Soft Stars look decidedly elfish — it's a different look, but one that I find grows on me. And worn with pants, or jeans, they look great (see below).

The moccasin aesthetic of the Soft Star Grippy Roos as worn with shorts or "bare-legged" as pictured above is one you may either love or hate. Personally, the look has grown on me, but I also see it as sort of a moot point as I tend to wear my Soft Stars with jeans or pants.

Where the Soft Stars aesthetically shine is as an inconspicuous barefoot shoe that you can wear to casual or maybe even business casual events.

As you can see me modeling to the right (How embarassing — click for a larger version), Soft Stars work well with pants and are aesthetically normal looking. They actually look a great deal like Birkenstock Boston suede clogs, which have been a go-to casual to business-casual sandal for me for over a decade.

Though KSO Treks are an elegant suede solution that compliment dressier occasions, for more stealth-barefoot applications, the Soft Stars work well in a pinch.

Where and when to wear Soft Star Mocs, and how do they feel, anyway?

The Grippy Roo is designed for indoor and outdoor use. When I first got the Roos, I tested them on a mile walk to a nearby park where I randomly decided to climb a tree. The Soft Stars performed perfectly and felt good if not slightly warm in the Georgia heat (this was in June!).

The soft soling of the Soft Stars transmits surface conditions extremely well. With only 2mm of material between your foot and the ground, there is no "cushioning" in the soles so if you walk on a rocky path, you feel it all in high-def with just a tinge of softness from the sheepskin insole.

Over the past few months, I've worn my Soft Stars on walks, to run errands, and to events requiring a dressier shoe than FiveFingers or where I didn't want to bring a bunch of attention to my relatively shy feet.

More than anything, though, where I've worn my Soft Stars the most from a time-perspective is in my house. I'm wearing them right now and they are keeping my feet quite comfortable despite the cold hardwood floors.

Generally, the design of Soft Stars affords my feet a great deal of freedom within the shoe. I can scrunch up my toes inside the Soft Stars, wiggle my toes with aplomb, and my feet feel completely unconstrained. The utterly flimsy soles don't push back on my bending feet in the least. To put it plainly, the Soft Star Mocs are super comfortable.

Special considerations for VFFers

The barefoot feel of Soft Stars is what you've come to expect from FiveFingers, if not even a little more "barefoot" feeling due to the thinner and flimsier sole materials.

Perhaps the biggest difference is simply that the spacious feeling and comfort provided by the Soft Star design means that the leather extends beyond your feet a bit, which is just to say they're not on-the-skin or wrapping-the-foot as tightly as with VFFs. Mind, this isn't a complaint. If anything, it's a testament to the requirements of "barefoot shoes" — they need to be big enough to keep your feet free and unrestrained by tight toe-prisons (a.k.a. toe boxes).

Overall thoughts

I'm quite pleased with my Soft Star Grippy Roos. With it getting cooler outside, they've quickly become my footwear-of-choice inside my house to keep my feet comfortably warm.

If you're looking for an alternative to FiveFingers that maintains the barefoot feel while providing a more "normal" aesthetic (with pants or jeans!) or just want an all-purpose indoor and outdoor barefoot shoe, check out Soft Star. And though I've not had a chance to test them, note that they also make Soft Star boots, Vibram-soled "Ramblers," suede-soled Mocassins, slippers, and more, including a whole array of barefoot shoes for babies or toddlers. Because Soft Stars are handmade to order, you can even mix-and-match leather styles by model and design your own Soft Stars. Custom-made shoes — how cool is that?

On sizing — Information on how to size Soft Stars straight from the source!

Check this video out for a four minute tutorial (really only the first half is how to size for adults) on how to size Soft Stars:

[video:youtube:CWVougJGI0A]

An information video on Soft Star Shoes!

Finally, you might like this short video from Soft Star that talks about the company and introduces you to a few of the Soft Star elves. I really like how personable Soft Star is and it's easy to get behind them as a cobbler. I confess: I love my Soft Stars!

[video:youtube:LW6p2tVBwH4]

If you have any questions about my Grippy Roo Soft Star mocs reviewed here or just want to inquire further into my experience with them, please let me know by commenting below.

Ben Walks Beijing in KSOs FiveFingers

Ben Walks Beijing in KSOs FiveFingers
Ben's VFF KSOs pictured atop a manhole in Beijing, China.
Ben Walks Beijing in KSOs FiveFingers
Tiananmen Square as viewed a la Vibram FiveFingers KSO.

Ben sent in the above photos snapped in the Forbidden City (Beijing, China). Ben was travelling through and went on a six mile walk from his hotel to Tiananmen Square.

I noticed a bit of wear on Ben's KSOs, so I asked him what he'd been doing in them — turns out, a bit of everything:

About of year's worth of constant wear; little tear on the left pinky, seam rip on the right big toe ... Still going strong. Bought them last October and I've been running and working out (Martial Arts, Weight Lifting, CrossFit-type stuff) with them ever since.

I travel a lot for work, which is why I was in Beijing. I had a few hours to kill and though I'd like to see the world's largest public square; I did think it was a little closer to the hotel though ...

It's tough to travel light and bring an extra pair of shoes with size 13 feet, but the 5 Fingers pack up so nicely.

I always get some weird looks, but I'm always telling people I don't care what they do, what kind of exercise or sports they do, they got to get a pair.

Thanks for sharing, Ben!

Brandon's 5.5 mile road race in KSO FiveFingers

Brandon's 5.5 mile road race in KSO FiveFingers
Brandon shows off his KSO FiveFingers pre-race with a nice VFF kick!
Brandon's 5.5 mile road race in KSO FiveFingers
Here's Brandon running the Tarzan Brown Mystic River Run in his VFF KSOs.

Brandon Marshall (@bmarshallpf on twitter) recently finished his first race running in his KSO FiveFingers. Brandon emailed me to let me know about the race saying, "Love the site! I just wanted to send you a few pictures from a 5.5 mile road race I did in black KSO's this past weekend. It was my first race in them and it was awesome!"

Further, Brandon wrote up his race results at his blog. Here's a snippet from that post:

The results for the 2009 Tarzan Brown Mystic River Run have been posted and I ended up finishing the race with a net time of 46:29 at an 8:27 minute mile pace (the results say a pace of 8:34, but that is based on my final time, not my net time.) My time is the first entry on “page 8″ of the results. Not too shabby for my first race in the Vibram Five Fingers I guess! I’m getting pretty comfortable running in the VFF’s now and with longer and longer runs, I’m noticing less pain the next day or so compared to how I used to feel in my Nike’s. Hopefully the same is true after this race!

Well done, Brandon! Glad your recovery time is improving and best of luck on your future races!

Admin note: For all you RSS subscribers who might miss the updated post, Women's Treks and extended sizes for Men's KSO Trek has indeed been greenlighted for production by Vibram!

Women's KSO Trek Greenlighted for Production by Vibram!

A stock photo of the Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek for women!
A stock photo of the Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek for women!

Updated 7/19/2010

The Women's KSO Trek Five Fingers are out!

Updated 11/2/09

Vibram has released an announcement on their facebook page. Here's the snippet you all are waiting for:

We are happy to announce the release of the Women’s KSO Trek, beginning in late Spring 2010. Additionally, the Men’s KSO Treks will be made available in sizes 38 & 39 beginning in March 2010. We know it’s a while off, but it takes a little while to develop the tooling necessary for this new product. We heard you, and we are moving as fast as we can!

Read the rest at the official Vibram facebook page.

Thank you, Vibram! It's great to see they've got their ears to the ground of the VFF community. Congrats to the women and smaller footed men in the VFF-land!

Original Post 10/30/09

A lot is going on this weekend — the NYC Marathon is on Sunday and as what is certainly no coincidence, Born to Run author and barefoot running—or more generally, human—enthusiast Christopher McDougall has been at a number of events in New York the past couple days at both the New York City Marathon Expo as well as the City Sports at the Rockefeller Center. By the way, if you haven't caught Christopher and are in New York, you've got one more opportunity tomorrow (5 - 7pm at City Sports).

And if that's not enough to get excited about, the good word is that Vibram is also in NYC—and has made appearances alongside McDougall at City Sports.

So where am I going with this? Well I've just received information from a "little bird" that Vibram is greenlighting production of the women's KSO Trek and plans to make an announcement to this effect as soon as Monday. It seems my source was a fly on the wall at some of these recent events and picked up this bit of intell—thank you for sharing it with BirthdayShoes!

Now, lest we all get too excited, allow me to add a disclaimer: I've not yet received confirmation of this tip. Until I get confirmation, which may simply happen by way of an official announcement Monday, we all have to hold our breath.

But maybe Tim's petition got the job done. And if so, a great number of women and small-footed men VFFers will soon have something big to smile about.

Stay tuned!

Army PT Heel-Toe Running and Running in 5-Fingers: A VFF Story

Army PT Heel-Toe Running and Running in 5-Fingers: A VFF Story
Dirty black KSO FiveFingers after a run.

From Lou:

Hey Justin,

I want to start off by saying that I think you are running a great site. I enjoy submitting photos of my VFF adventures and reading other’s experiences in them. I love these shoes. My KSOs and my iPhone. If I could wear them everywhere I would and I never part from my phone LOL. Now on to my story.

Ever since my buddy showed up to a bbq at my house wearing his khaki VFF Classics I became interested in them. I wanted to buy a pair for our tubing trip we were planning. I eventually found a pair of KSOs. During my hunt for VFFs I read Vibrams blurb about the health benefits of their minimalist style shoes. So I began doing research out of curiosity. As I researched and read, it made sense to me. I remembered what I as told by my Drill Sergeant about running. Heel – Toe. I wondered about that because when hurrying from one side of my house to the other while barefoot, I never let my heel hit the floor because it would hurt. So it didn’t make sense that we would do that with shoes. But, me being a young Private with no formal training in running prior to joining, I followed orders. I was good to go as long as my running shoes still had cushioning. Once that was worn down I began developing shin splints. Painful shin splints. To the point I couldn’t walk. So ever since, running has been something I wasn’t crazy about. I also found that as I put on weight I was more susceptible to shin splints. To summarize it, I don’t like running in the Army. They don’t give you enough recovery time and their remedy for shin splints is, keep running. Deployments have been good for my legs. I can run at my own pace and distance and give myself the recovery time I need.

After reading and watching videos about running barefoot and how we were designed to run, it really made a lot of sense. Cavemen weren’t running after the Wooly Mammoth in a pair of Jordan’s or New Balance. It really sparked my interest. I wanted to run in my VFFs but was afraid to just jump into it. I had to balance out running every other morning with the Army and running in VFFs. So I decided to try and adjust and improve my form during our morning runs. At first it felt good. My shin pain wasn’t flaring up. The only problem was we ran 4 miles and my calves were not ready for that. I found my legs fatiguing and I eventually fell behind the formation. Once we finished my calves were screaming. I kept at it though. I noticed improvement.

Last week my buddy and I got our soldiers out of doing PT (physical training for those non-military) with the unit and took them out to do PT on our own. I chose to wear my KSOs and brought my regular running shoes, just in case. They all looked at me weird and told me I was crazy. We started off with some sprints on asphalt. I took off, stopped, turned around and bolted back. I was amazed at the fact that it didn’t hurt my feet. It was surprisingly cushioned. The grip was amazing too. It was a great feeling. We did multiple sprints and still no pain. Then we ran around the park. We ran on concrete, asphalt, grass, through mud, over picnic tables, jumped on boulders and ran down a gravel path. My feet held up the whole way. After a while of running on the road and sidewalk my feet began to get a little tender, but that was after a total of two miles of running. To summarize my experience running in VFFs I would have to say it was great. I loved it and plan on doing it more often. I now have a schedule where I don’t do PT with the unit but I have time to do it on my own. This will allow me to run in my KSOs more often. Man I love these shoes. I wish I could wear them more often.

Thanks for sharing, Lou. Many of us can relate to the joy of running with VFFs (or barefoot) — and it comes without pain (aside from muscle soreness from rebuilding your foot, ankle, and calf muscles from years of atrophy!) just makes it all the better.

Latest Vibram Five Fingers Reviews 11/1/09

This past week's latest Vibram FiveFingers reviews includes a Performa review by Tina Dubois:

  • Quick Review: Vibram FiveFinger Sprint at Barefoot and Grounded [Sprint]:

    As a barefooter, I was very interested in trying on a pair of Vibram Fivefingers and putting them through their paces to see just how good of a "barefoot alternative" they are. I have worn them a lot and for many different uses -- and therefore taken longer to post a review -- because I wanted to find out just how versatile a set of toe shoes can be. The answer? Very.

  • Review – Vibram FiveFingers Performa at LivingBarefoot [Performa]:

    The Performa is another impressive product from Vibram FiveFingers. This model evolved from feedback regarding the FiveFingers lineup and suggestions by their customers to develop an even more minimalistic indoor model. I was pleasantly surprised by the comfort and warmth of these shoes and I greatly appreciate the leather innovations included in the construction of these shoes. They are well ventilated yet warm, water resistant, and have superior microbe protection. They have an unsurpassed barefoot feel and I intend to wear them as my indoor shoe of choice when barefoot may not be the best option.

  • Deirdre's Decadent Foot Indulgence, the FiveFingers Performa at BirthdayShoes! [Performa]:

    I wore my Performas for an initial test-run walking around NYC's Time Warner building. The close-to-barefoot feeling isn't neccessarily a good thing when standing on a hard surface for long periods of time or, in the case of Classic, walking miles and miles on concrete.

    Did I need these? Of course not; I just knew instantaneously that I had to have them. I will not be using either model for extreme sports. I will perhaps dance in them, flaunt them subtly. Seduce with Performa.

See last week's Latest 5 Fingers reviews here.