Hiking Despite Osteoarthritis in Barefoot Shoes

Hiking Despite Osteoarthritis in Barefoot Shoes

I recently got the above photo from Ron. Ron is a 60+ guy who was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in one knee—after some 32 years of running.

What follows is his story about what the doc's had to say about how he should handle the news, and as you might guess, some FiveFingers came into the picture:

I call this my victory photo.

Last year, at age 60, and after 32 years of running, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the left knee. It hurt to walk, let alone, run. My general practitioner doctor suggested minimalist footwear as part of a program that included stretching and strengthening. [Meanwhile, both the] knee specialist and the physical therapist said to back off and use orthotics.

I took my general practitioner's advice.

Well, here I am a year later, relaxing at over 14,000 feet on the top of Mount Bierstadt in the Rocky Mountains. This was just one of several hikes I took during a 6-day vacation. I totalled nearly 35 miles of hiking and every step in my Vibram KSO Treks.

I proved to myself that I wasn't too old to make such a big change after 32 years of walking and running in the most expensive and most cushioned shoes. Of course, I still have osteoarthritis in the knee, but I am back at it, thanks to the therapeutic value stretching, strengthening, and minimalist footwear.

(I go barefoot alot, too!)

Ron A.

Fantastic to hear, Ron! And kudos for following your intuition and having success despite adverse conditions.

Hope you have many more successful hikes!

  • minimalist sandals!

    Xero Shoes - Barefoot Running Sandals

Marc says, "Tough to beat a Classic"

Marc says, "Tough to beat a Classic"
Marc points his brown and walnut Classic Five Fingers up to a beautiful blue sky after running sprints.

Marc sent in the above photo of his brown/walnut Classics pointed skyward towards a palm tree (beautiful shot!). And just like me (See my tribute to Five Finger Classics post), Marc loves his Classic VFFs:

Hey Justin,

I’ve been enjoying your site for a while and never sent in a picture.

After a heavy sprint session in my classics this morning, put up my legs against a nice palm tree and stared at the clouds for a while. I enjoy all the new models ... but it’s tough to beat a classic, was my thought this morning ;-)

Have a good one and keep spreading the good word.

Will do, Marc! And thanks for sharing! You can follow Marc via twitter @MarcVanDam or check out his blog Feel Good Eating!

Thanks for sharing!

Christopher McDougall is making the rounds on his book tour

A lot of you read the Roving Runner piece from the NY Times this past weekend (as well as other press), which featured Born to Run author Christopher McDougall and barefoot running convert showing running through central park with Brian Fidelman — barefoot, of course.

Well, it seems Mr. McDougall passed through Atlanta on his book tour this past Friday on his book tour (and I just found out today!). I assume that's when this CNN video interview of him was shot:

e some nice photos in the video from Luis Escobar of the Tarahumara Copper Canyons Ultra that is one of the main stories in BtR. If you're paying attention, I think I saw some fivefinger Sprints on the grass there, too.

Finally, Charleston, South Carolina's Post and Courier had an article today titled Vibram hits its stride, which is a fun read about the growing success of VFFs:

Half-Moon Outfitters owner Beezer Moulton has been offering FiveFingers for more than a year and admits that his stores, and Vibram itself, can barely keep up with demand.

"It started blowing up in the Savannah store about 12 months ago. Special Ops forces came in and got two or three pair at a time before being deployed," recalls Moulton. "(FiveFingers) were originally designed for water sports, but more and more people are buying them to run or to experiment with running."

I'd like to point out that Robert Fliri, the original designer of fivefingers, had hiking in mind with the VFF design. I think it was the fact that Vibram's present head honcho was into sailing and saw a use for them as boat shoes that drove the actual production of VFFs. Ultimately, it's being proven time and time again that VFFs can be used for just about anything, which is really just to say that our feet are strong enough on their own and need next to nothing to be used to do anything!

Finally, I've not been to Half Moon Outfitters here in Atlanta—will need to check them out soon! I was recently in Abbadabba's looking for a pair of KSOs for Mrs. Birthday Shoes and one of the store employees (?) had actually been to the site!

Both strange and cool at the same time!

Be sure and check out my interview with Christopher McDougall!

In it, Chris talks about denying your nature, the sports shoe industry, getting to barefoot, cross-pollinating ideas, and more!

The Classic, Everyday Greatness of Classic Fivefingers

My two pairs of Classic Vibram FiveFingers—my all-time favorite, go-to VFFs!
My two pairs of Classic Vibram FiveFingers—my all-time favorite, go-to VFFs!

Why am I posting on the greatness of Classic fivefingers?

Because they are the unsung star of the Vibram FiveFingers line-up— under appreciated and frequently overlooked.

Not today.

I've been operating birthdayshoes.com now for almost six months. In that time, I've seen a ton of VFF photos, heard a lot of stories, and enjoyed interacting with many a fivefingers fan both through email, on the forums, and through twitter. One of the things I've learned from these interactions is that the majority of VFFers choose to go VFF KSO (and Black, "Ninja" KSO Five Fingers, at that). In fact, roughly half of respondents to the sizing and fit questionnaire I ran own KSOs. I even considered my KSOs my favorite for awhile.

Indeed, selecting KSOs over Classics as your only pair of fivefingers makes a lot of sense. First off, most people initially see their fivefingers as footwear for use in a specific sort of activity. Throw in a bit of overall "foot glove skepticism," the pricepoint of buying a pair of Vibrams, and wanting to be able to do the most number of things possible in whatever model you select, and you get people generally opting for the slightly more expensive, but also more universally functional KSOs.

It's reasonable to go KSO — no argument. However, today I'd like to point out what makes the Classics so very classic, and in my opinion, the all-around must-have fivefingers model, one you'll wear more than any other, the last model I'd give up over all the others, and the perfect compliment to your KSOs ("Standard issue" or KSO Treks), Flows, or Sprints.

A brief digression—my Classics progression

I first reveiwed Classic FiveFingers in mid-2008. At the time, I was using them predominantly for CrossFit, kettlebell exercises, hill sprints, and bodyweight exercises. Put differently, I mostly wore my Classic fivefingers for a particular sort of activity, usually revolving around some sort of exercise.

Over a year later with the option to wear any FiveFingers model except the Flows (One day I'll get a pair!), I find myself continuously returning to the Classics. I spend more time in my two pairs of Classic VFFs than in any other style of fivefingers. I sport my Classics to do all of the little things of life like heading to the grocery store, going for a walk, taking out the trash, grilling out on the deck or heading out to a restuarant—you get the idea. And I still opt for my Classics as my de facto choice for weight-training or bodyweight exercises. I frequently even wear them in the house — usually because I just forget to take them off.

For me, my Classic fivefingers have just about replaced my Birkenstock sandals and even my trusty flip-flops — they've become my go-to everyday shoes.

Okay so you obviously like Classic VFFs. Why?

There are a few reasons. For all the KSO or Sprint owners out there who don't have Classics, consider these points. And for all other Classic lovers, please chime in with anything I'm missing.

First, I'd like to argue in favor of the Classics aesthetic.

I think there is a hang-up on Classic fivefingers due to their unique look: they lack a real cousin in the traditional world of footwear. Perhaps the nearest counterpart to the Classic VFF design is women's "flats," a perfectly acceptable comparison for female VFFers but sometimes a dealbreaker for men; indeed, Vibram's new Moc fivefingers has a higher vamp to help make the open-topped fivefingerse style more masculine.

To me, this problem is overblown. It's important to keep in mind that FiveFingers are a whole new breed of footwear. They look weird to the uninducted no matter which style you're wearing. It's for this reason that for all VFF models, you have to crank up the confidence and "own" the look, a subject worthy of an entirely separate blog post.

Even still, the question remains: do Classics looking feminine? Eh, I don't think so. Looked down on from above (like so), Classics can look the strangest and, well, ugliest. Yet this is not how most others view Classics-clad feet. From a third-party observer, they just look like rubber-toed feet—different.

FiveFinger Classics look stylish with shorts!

Having completed a few months of "style and error," I'd argue that Classic VFFs look best with shorts (For example*, see Tripp, Shawn, and Jason) — I always opt for Classics over KSOs when I wear shorts. This is both because Classics are uncovered on top and thereby cooler (A precursor to wearing shorts in the first place) and also because I think Classics are easier to understand by non-VFFers as footwear.

Comparatively, KSOs worn with shorts come off more like socks. I can only speak from my own experience, but the few times I've happened on someone wearing KSOs with shorts, my instant reaction was "This guy is wearing nothing but ankle socks—oh wait those are VFFs!" Even more telling, many VFFers have passed through TSA security without taking off their KSOs; few have accomplished the same feat in Classics**.

As for wearing Classics with pants, it can be done. I think they look best with bootcut jeans or cargo pants, particularly if the hem of your pants can cover the exposed part of your foot (Sometimes this requires cutting your jeans, if you're into that look!).

Still not convinced? Okay. Let me point out that Classics are the most minimal Vibram Five Fingers that can still function in outdoor use.

We could debate the merits of fivefingers for hours—why not just be barefoot? Why not just wear shoes? Where do VFFs fit into the overall footwear spectrum? And perhaps the greatest question, is there a balance to be struck between being barefoot and being shod?

Without going into the nuances of these questions, I'll just say it: I think Classic fivefingers are the closest thing (yet) to striking a balance between the joys and freedom of barefootedness and the protection of footwear. And this is largely due to Classics being little more than a sole with a smidgeon of fabric upper.

It's the thin Vibram sole that provides some protection and the bit of nylon upper that keeps the foot glued to the VFF. The combination is an exercise in design constraints amounting to something wholly different in the world of footwear, neither really a shoe nor a sock.

If you go for less than the Classic, you gain flexibility but sacrifice durability (See the Moc and Performa). If you go for more, you lose flexibility but gain coverage and protection (See the KSO and KSO Trek). The Classic, more than any other fivefingers model, represents a solid balance between being barefoot and being shod.

And if you're still not convinced why Classic fivefingers are fantastic, I've got two last reasons for you.

Classics are convenient to wear, which is the number one criteria for any "default footwear." The open-topped design of the Classics makes them the easiest to put on of all fivefingers models. For seasoned toe-slot finding Vibram Five Fingers fans, Classics can be put on without hands (like slip-on sandals or loafers), making them the automatic choice for an impromptu need for footwear in a hurry—like when you've got your hands full of keys, trash, food, or baby. Even if you're not as adept at pulling off the no-hands Classics feat, Classics are still super easy to put on as compared with either Sprints or any of the closed-top varietals of fivefingers.

Ryan relaxes in his favorite VFFs, the always comfortable Classics!

Lastly, due largely to their convenient open-topped design, Classics are the most comfortable VFFs. I know, I know, you immediately object, "What about that elastic band digging into the top of your foot?" And I say, what about it? If the elastic band bothers you, you can either eliminate it entirely or just wear it at it's most loosest. A few have objected to the heel tab on the Classics, but generally, for non-active, everyday wear, the heel-tab is pretty innocuous, and even that can be modded away. Any seasoned Classics wearer will tell you that once you've broken in your Classics, these two objections disappear, leaving you often completely forgetting that you're even wearing "shoes."

So where does that leave us?

Given that most of our time is spent doing mundane, everyday things, the kinds of things that don't require a velcro strap, given that we are creatures of convenience and comfort, and finally that we desire the freedom of being barefoot but also need to find balance in a world with cultural norms (and broken glass), Classic fivefingers are must-have VFF model for any fan of this funky footwear. I know wouldn't give up my Classics for anything (and I want more).

If you don't yet have a pair, you don't know what you're missing, and if you're looking to pick up a pair of Classic FiveFingers, start your search for a reputable online retailer via the Birthday Shoes virtual Vibram Five Fingers storefront!

* I cite all male examples as there's generally no debate about their aesthetic on womens' feet — even though Classics look virtually the same across the sexes (some color combinations excepted).
** To my knowledge, no one has tried putting an actual pair of socks on over their VFFs and then trying to pass through TSA security! Any takers? (H/T to Ryon Day for the idea)

See our post on "Barefoot Running Shoes" to see where Classics fall on our Barefoot Running Shoes Continuum.

Max hits the Zoo in Black KSO Vibram Five Fingers

Max hits the Zoo in Black KSO Vibram Five Fingers
Max's black KSO's at the zoo. Clockwise from the top left we see a rhinoceros, some [what are these?], a duck, and a polar bear. Don't step on the duck, Max!

Max sent in the above photos taken at the Indianapolis zoo:

Me and my fivefingers at the Indianapolis zoo. I can only imagine what people were thinking when I was taking pics of my sock looking shoes with the animals!

I'll tell you one thing, that duck is starting to look a little nervous!

Thanks for sharing, Max!

John Strolls around a Bazaar in Afghanistan in his KSO Vibram Five Fingers

John Strolls around a Bazaar in Afghanistan in his KSO Vibram Five Fingers
Above are John's black KSOed feet photoed as he strolled about an Afghanistan bazaar in his fivefingers.

John (Zyxistal in the forums) sent in the above photos taken of his black KSO fivefingers as he strolled about a bazaar in Afghanistan:

Friday I took my Black KSO VFF's out to the local Bazaar we have here weekly. Of course all the locals loved the shoes, most of them are wearing hand-made sandals or nothing anyway. ...

The dirt "moon dust" is kept out pretty well with a combination of KSO and Injinji socks. Usually by the end of the day my shoes and socks have chaged from their original colors to 'dust' but my feet are always happy and dust free.

Looks like lots of colorful items to be had at the bazaar. Good to know the injinji/KSO combo stops dust in its tracks.

Thanks for passing on these photos, John! And thanks for your forum contributions!

Why isn't Vibram making a women's fivefingers KSO Trek?

Ever since the VFF community heard that the new fivefingers KSO Trek would only be available for men* back in late August, many women and not a few men (with smaller feet) have voiced their frustration and concerns:

Why isn't Vibram making a women's version of the fivefingers KSO Trek?

It's a good question, and fortunately, after Vibram marketing rep Gerogia Shaw's interview with LivingBarefoot (highlights here | podcast here — interview starts around minute 53), we have an answer.

In short, the decision on the KSO Trek was made in early 2008 based on existing demand for the then available fivefinger models as broken down by gender. Specifically, as the full-coverage KSO fivefinger was the top seller for men but only a distant third place for women, Vibram made the determination to produce the KSO Trek for men only.

If you want to read the specifics, below you'll find a transcript of what Georgia Shaw said in the podcast about the KSO Trek decision (Bracketed portions are my paraphrasing of the questions asked):

Transcript start:

[First, Georgia Shaw makes some comments about customer feedback regarding the KSO Trek]:

I would personally love to see a women's Trek in the future. Since the release of the Trek for men we've heard feedback from women who are asking us to acknowledge them in the line and we certainly hear that. So while I can't ever make promises about future products what I can assure everyone is that we always listen to our consumer feedback very closely and make a sincere effort to make products that meet the demand of the market so the more we hear back from women who are interested in trying this model, the more likely it is for us to answer that.

[In response to a question about how the decision on the KSO Trek was made:]

Absolutely and it wasn't a decision that was made lightly. Like I said before, we've always done our best to stay very close to the consumer to drive the direction of the brand. So early last year when we were making plans for the Trek line, the full coverage KSO was, and actually still is, the most popular style for men, so for women, the most popular style was the Sprint model followed by the Classic and the KSO was a distant third. So at the time, there was no evidence that a full coverage KSO Trek would even sell as a women's shoe. And then alternately we had all the confirmation that it would be a top seller for men because of the proof we had in the KSO model. So it really was a consumer driven decision.

[Do you know the actual gender breakdown on sales?]

Not off the top of my head but I do know that it was very very clear that the women's Sprint model and the Classic model were the clear winners for women. And for men it was just a very blatant difference between the two genders. And not to say we didn't have women wearing the KSO but it was glaring that the men's KSO, that full-coverage model, was really the more popular model for men. We really wanted to make sure that when developing a shoe like the KSO Trek that does have a much higher price point that we do have a market for it. We didn't want present anything to our women consumers that they weren't going to be interested in.

[If women want the KSO Trek they should make their voices heard]

Right I always recommend that. We take it very seriously.

Transcript end

I think this transcript is important for a few reasons. For one, it illustrates that Vibram is keenly interested in supplying VFFs that meet customer demands—think about it this way: despite tripling their sales on existing fivefingers models, Vibram is still working actively to add compelling new models like the Moc, Performa, KSO Trek, and Bikila to the line-up.

We can also glean from this transcript just how long it can take to go from making a production decision to having a product to sell (by my count, as long as a year and a half).

Furthermore, it shows just how difficult it is to predict the future. This point may seem trivial at first blush, but it is important to understand: when Vibram made the KSO Trek decision, their sales were a mere fraction of what they are today when the KSO Trek is finally available for purchase — it's this inability to predict future customer needs that has bottlenecked the availability of VFFs, generally.

Understanding that Vibram is trying to gauge future demand for a wholly-new product that, surprise, is growing exponentially in demand despite an abysmal economic environment isn't going to change the fact that people still would like their FiveFingers today (but can't find their size/color/model) or that want KSO Treks in women's sizes (but can't have them because they don't exist — yet anyway). But it may make you feel a bit more sympathetic to their predicament.

Then again, maybe not.
Update: Vibram greenlighted the KSO Trek for women and small-footed men!

Either way, if you would like to have your voice heard in a very tangible way, someone has set up a a petition in favor of a women's KSO Trek. I see this more as a poll than anything else, so if you want to be heard, here's your chance.

* Or women who wear sizes 41 and 42 in women's KSOs — see the sizing chart)