Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review

I reviewed the Feelmax Kuuva 3 almost two years ago and found them to be a great pair of waterproof minimalist winter boots. In fact, they continue to be my favorite winter boots to this day.

Not one to stand on their laurels, the Finnish team at Feelmax have updated their popular boot yet again with some much-requested features for handling tougher winters.

Overview

Here's what Feelmax says about the Kuuva 4:

All new barefoot hiking boot. Improved waterproofing, new lacehooks and more durable laces. New Feelmax NatuRun Sierra outsole with "lugs" for improved grip.The outsole is zero-drop, with 2,5mm thickness, on "lugs" the thickness is 4mm. Higher design. Very comfortable and light. Waterproof inner lining and leather. Leather upper with fabric trim.

Weight | 14.2 oz (42 Euro, US 9.5)
Total Stack Height | Roughly 4mm
Barefoot scale | The best waterproof barefoot boot in the world gets updated for another season of winter fun!
Ideal Uses | Great for hiking, shoveling, catching the train, and playing in the snow.

Pros:

  • Taller and more durable than the Kuuva 3
  • Good traction with improved tread design
  • 100% waterproof
  • High-slung tongue
  • Thin, yet protective sole
  • Lightweight
  • Flexible

Cons

  • Not very breathable
  • The Heaviest Kuuva yet
  • Still no heel loop
  • Laces become untied easily

Price | €169.98 at time of review ($180 US)

Sizing | My size 42 Kuuva 4 (I upped one size from the Kuuva 3 I reviewed for more space and comfort) is an excellent fit for my wide feet. There is a generous toebox and a pretty wide ankle area.

If you have wide feet or odd ankles, this shoe will be a great fit for you. There is a very large opening for your feet and you can increasingly tie down your foot with the ample lacing points. It has a great anatomical fit.

Get acquainted with the Feelmax Kuuva 4 via these photos:

Sole

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review
The updated 2.5mm Naturun Sole

The Kuuva 4 features an upgraded version of Feelmax’s NatuRun 2.5mm “Sierra” outsole that is also used in the Vasko II. This is paired with a new lug design that has deeper treads and extra traction “nub” textures for good grip.

Like previous Kuuva boots, this sole is very flexible and provides a amount of ground feel that rivals many other minimalist shoes and is a standout for a true winter boot.

One of the weaknesses of the Kuuva 3 was its shallow logs and somewhat poor traction, especially for a winter boot. The newest version of the Kuuva features deeper lugs, a more aggressive sole, and the addition of small textures to aid in traction. All things being considered, they were great for climbing on snowy rocks and setting up sled runs. The lugs are still not as aggressive as traditional snow boots, but they do a great job and are a definite improvement over the older sole. As an additional benefit, while the treads have been redesigned for better traction, they are still not as deep as heavy duty boots, which means you won’t track in as much of the nasty stuff when you come home or get into your car.

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review
The more aggressive Kuuva 4 sole vs the smoother Kuuva 3 sole

Small details like twigs, variations in snow and ice, and small pebbles can be felt underfoot, especially if you wear thin socks. The overall thinness of this sole does not detract from its toughness as the treads get a bit more aggressive in this iteration and the boot gets a tougher build all around; while you feel a lot, you will be protected from the elements. You cannot smash things like with more block-like boots, so be careful when kicking ice or jamming your heel into a snowbank!

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review

The groundfeel for the Kuuva 4 is similar to a Vibram Bikila LS (and better than the Bikila EVO and V-Run shoes); roughly equivalent with anything in the 4-6mm stack height range.

The boot is so thin that I actually decided to take it for a test run of a couple miles during a hailstorm and they can do well to help you catch a runaway train or lyft. They are not quite as good for this purpose as the Kuuva 3 because the 4 is a bit taller, but you can still run around quite a bit in them.

They are excellent sledding boots: When you need to feel what your feet are doing, but still need to jam your heels into the hill, or dash off to reach ramming speed.

The boot itself is very flexible and you can easily do an upward toe flex, but not a downwards flex.

The Kuuva 4 strikes a nice balance between insulation/warmth and moisture management. After shoveling for a couple of hours and hiking for the better part of a day in 20 degree weather, my feet never felt cold, but they did start to get a bit sweaty as time went on the day became warmer. This boots are fantastic for late fall-to-winter wear.

Fit and Materials

The Kuuva is comprised of a soft inner lining fabric, the waterproof mid layer, the 2.5mm NatuRun sole, and a combination leather and nylon upper. The leather extends from the sole of the shoe and about ¾ up the shoe and ankle (up the metatarsal guard in the front the and back stay). The Nylon takes over around the hinge point of your foot and in the construction of the tongue.

The tall collar is nicely padded and feels great. It does a great job of keeping out snow. The tongue was smartly designed to start quite a bit more than halfway up the entire boot to prevent any water or snow for leaking in. However, this does make it a little bit more difficult to put the boot on; this is a boot that may require kneeling or sitting down to take on or off. Overall, I found the mouth of the boot to be more than large enough for me to put on and take off with ease, but not in a hurry. I do wish that they would include a heel loop so this process can be even faster. There is a little tab in the back, much like the Kuuva 3, but it’s not really usable because of how small it is.

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review
The high-slung tongue starts about 2/3 of the way up the boot; higher than a standard boot for added protection from puddles and snowbanks

Because the waterproofing is in the mid-lining, the leather and nylon upper can get wet. The leather and nylon is water resistant, but not waterproof. You will find that they will soak in a bit when you are active in the snow for a while, but your feet will stay dry, except for perhaps some sweat. I highly recommend that you treat your boots with some sort of waterproof treatment to help the leather last a long time and to further enhance the waterproofing of the boot. You can try sprays, such as Kiwi, Scotchgard, or Nikwax, but I highly recommend using wax for extra peace of mind and to toughen up various materials as well; I use boot beeswax for most of my outdoor gear and all of camera bags—just rub some on and use a heatgun/hairdryer to soak it into leather, canvas, or nylon.

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review
The cushy, padded collar keeps stuff out and keeps feet warm

The Kuuva 3 has a "Cleanport NXT" organic anti-odor treatment in the insole, which is removable. The insole is very thin at around 1mm and I just kept it in for the extra odor protection.

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review
The Cleanport NXT-treated insole

Because of the waterproof lining, the boots are not as very breathable. After wearing The Kuuva 3 for an extended period of time, my feet did get a little sweaty, even with socks on, but it’s a compromise to have a truly waterproof boot.

The Kuuva 4 has six metal eyelets that run from the arch of the metatarsal guard to the collar: three set, three hooked. I only used five of the eyelets for better mobility, but utilizing all six will give you the most security and waterproofing. I did notice that the somewhat stiff and rounded laces tend to get untied more often than my other boots, but a double-knot kept them in place for hours. In the future, I hope that Feelmax tries out some new lace options. Personally, I find that plusher, squishier laces, like those found in the Vibram Trek Ascent Insulated, to have excellent tying retention and durability.

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review
The Kuuva 4 features six metal eyelets for lacing. Three are set/fixed and three are hooked. I only utilize five of the eyelets for my own personal comfort.

When placed side-by-side with its older brother, the Kuuva 3, it is immediately noticeable that the Kuuva 4 is a more substantial, rugged, and overall more attractive boot. The Kuuva 4 is a good deal taller than the 3 and it looks more premium and less busy that the rather flat-looking Kuuva 3. Interestingly, while the Kuuva 4 is taller, it actually has two fewer eyelets for its laces than the 3. One of the eyelets in the older boot actually snapped off when I was tying them in a hurry last winter, and Feelmax has improved the durability of the latest Kuuva with thicker metal in their eyelets.

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review
Kuuva 4 vs Kuuva 3. The Kuuva 4 is taller, more substantial, and durable

In terms of fit, the Kuuva 4 has a bit more vertical space in its toebox than the Kuuva 3, but less arch space halfway into the boot; you can always increase this space by loosening up the first set of laces. The tongue is also more padded for comfort and security.

In a waterproof test, I stood in a puddle with a Kuuva 3 on my left foot and a Kuuva 5 on my right foot…and waited, and waited, and waited. According to Feelmax they improved on the waterproof elements of the Kuuva 3 with the Kuuva 4 and I can say that both boots are 100% waterproof and my favorite boots for winters in Boston. The Kuuva 4 does have a higher collar and some updates to the materials that will contribute to it being better for deeper snow and puddles, but this comes at the cost of weight. At 14 oz, the Kuuva 4 is still lightweight, but it is nearly 3 oz heavier than its predecessor. This puts it in the same league as most minimalist trail shoes, which is an achievement considering the capabilities of the sole and the waterproofing.

In terms of durability, my untreated Kuuva 3 boots are holding up nicely and should last a few more years. I expect the more substantial Kuuva 4 to last even longer. Unlike other chukkas or minimalist boots in my collection, I do not have to baby them; they can handle every game of king of the mountain, sled run, or the worst brown water that the city can offer. I will probably maintain a nice layer of wax to keep them waterproof and handsome for future adventures.

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review
My favorite winter boot

Future Improvements

For one, I would change the laces for better durability and tying management and, of course, add a heel loop. Besides that, there is not a lot that can really add to this nearly-perfected winter boot.

To be honest, they are a bit on the pricier side, However, you are getting a premium boot that will keep your feet dry and happy when things get cold. If you love your shoes comfortable and flexible, then you probably see tons of thick, plodding boots around town and view them as strapping on cement blocks just to play in the snow. The Kuuva 4 bucks that idea with something that is more comfortable, just as durable, and just as playful as you are.

Summary

If you are a minimalist enthusiast looking to keep your feet happy during the winter months, the Feelmax Kuuva 4 are just about perfect.

With a 2.5mm sole, you get a super flexible and lightweight boot, while its waterproof lining and interior fabric keeps your feet warm. While it is not as light as its predecessor, the improvements that Feelmax implemented in terms of durability and usability more than make up for it.

The Kuuva remains the best waterproof boot on the market and the only boot I wear for my messiest, and most fun, winter adventures. If you're interested in picking up a pair, head over to the Feelmax website!

Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot Review

A huge thanks goes to Feelmax for sending me the Kuuva 3 for review!

  • minimalist sandals!

    Xero Shoes - Barefoot Running Sandals

Nike Zoom Waffle Racer VI Review

Waffle Racer
Nike Zoom Waffle Racer VI

Only a few months back, lightweight racing flats were one of the few non toe shoe options for barefoot minimalist runners. Though they may still have a place as a transitional shoe, the recently released Merrell Barefoot and the New Balance NB Minimus lines provide more and better alternatives. Read the following guest post by Joey about his experience with both.

My Journey to the Waffle Racer

after the jump.....

Read the rest of this post »

Why Toe Shoes? The Benefits of Toe Separation for Barefoot Feel and Shoe Functionality

A pair of smartwool Classic FiveFingers grip to a stony ledge.
A pair of smartwool Classic FiveFingers grip to a stony ledge.

"What are those — toe shoes?"

@bdayshoes And so, it begins. My boys and I noticed this on t... on Twitpic
The recent Fila Skele-toes billboard advertising campaign is running the tag, "What the heck is that?" alongside a picture of Fila's four-toed shoes.

It has to be one of the first questions that runs through the minds of someone when they see those "shoes that look like feet" or "toe shoes" for the first time. And no, I'm not talking about ballet shoes and certainly not "steel toe shoes," but the latest iteration of footwear, complete with articulated toe pockets. I'm talking about the pioneers of toe shoes — Vibram FiveFingers which first showed up around 2006 and could be said to have spawned the whole "barefoot running shoes" minimalist shoes market single-handedlyfootedly. I'm also talking about Fila Skele-toes, which arrived in early 2011, or the Fall 2011 Adidas Adipure Trainers.

Believe it or not, there are no fewer than five manufacturers of shoes with toes these days (You can track which ones we've covered here), and I'm sure there will be many more to come. You'll know toe shoes are here to stay when Nike and Reebok finally put out their own versions.

The question: "What are those — toe shoes?" is, of course, just the beginning. The better question is: why do your shoes have toes? While that's a good question; it presumes that shoes shouldn't have toes. The reality is that we live in a time when shoes are more about form than function; style rather than purpose.

And what's the primary purpose of a shoe but to support the function of the foot and the movement of the human body?

Enter the world of "barefoot shoes" or "minimalist footwear," of which "toe shoes" are perhaps the most popular iteration. The defining characteristic of these types of shoes is that they fundamentally get out of the way of the foot's natural or innate functions. They let feet be feet in all their dynamic, sensational glory. Why? Because that's what God/Mother Nature/Evolution intended and allowing for this "design" means we have healthy feet, more efficient movement, and less injury or pain.

Since "toe shoes" are to "barefoot shoes" like a square is a rectangle, let's take a step back and talk about the bigger picture.

READER BEWARE: this article is long because it goes in depth on not only toe shoes, but what it takes to make functional footwear. If you just want to get to the point and read why toe shoes work, well be my guest and jump straight to the punch line!

Most Shoes don't work.

© n3uma — "Linked" — a stunning portrayal of the human body as both organic and mechanical.

When you think about it, it's obvious that shoes aren't necessary for getting about — we can run and walk and play barefoot without injuring ourselves. If this wasn't true, the human race would have likely gone extinct a long time ago. The bottom line is that we are born barefoot, that Nikes and all modern footwear (having elevated heels, cushioned soles, etc.) have only been around for hundreds of years. The emergence of Homo erectus was something like 1.3 to 1.8 million years ago. Homo sapiens emerged a couple hundred thousand years back.

The bare foot state is the default human condition and shoes are a technology created by humans to adapt to different surfaces.

If barefoot is the default state of our feet, it follows that the default design of footwear should be to provide some benefit to the foot (protection, insulation, or even style) while still allowing for the default (bare) function of the foot.

It's just that most shoes don't do this at all. Modern shoes have crazy hard soles shaped like wedges elevating our heels. Or they ram our toes into narrowing boxes. Some shoes use springs or air to bounce us from step to step while others intentionally make us walk funny to tone our butts. Shoes that allow for feet to flex dynamically with each step and sense the ground — they are the exception.

The naked human foot is a bone-filled, muscular, nerve-laden body part; one that has five appendages (toes) and interacts dynamically with the earth in all its variations. It does this thousands upon thousands of times a day each time bearing our brute weight multiple times over. Creating a shoe that allows for the full dynamic functionality of a bare foot would be an incredible feat of engineering.

What typically happens when we add to our naked feet—our "birthday shoes"—prosthetics in the form of external soles is that the natural state of the foot is circumvented and the foot and body are forced to compensate in often weird and painful ways. Somewhere down the line things start to fall apart.

Feet are complicated and alive; shoes are dead and simple; can we even design a "smart" shoe?

What Design Needs Must Shoes Meet in Order to Let Feet Function Naturally?

Image © Howard SelinaCCL — Imagine a tree's roots bound up together. How long would it stand?

Can a shoe be designed that simultaneously improves on the default state of the bare foot while still letting it function naturally? I'm skeptical. Thankfully, we finally are seeing some true experimentation in designing and manufacturing foot friendly footwear. Below are a few criteria I find important, but I trust if I'm omitting some core concept someone will chime in. I'll also go ahead and disclaim my bias: I'm skeptical any shoe (as yet in existence or theoretical) could provide for the full functionality of the bare foot.

Design Req. 1: The Bare Foot Feels the Ground

Feet are sensitive. Test this out by taking off all footwear and walking outside onto pavement or concrete. If you own a pair of minimalist shoes like Vibram FiveFingers and haven't done this, you really need to take a moment and go outside barefooted. Do it already.

The sensations you'll experience actually barefoot are profound even relative to what you feel wearing a pair of minimalist shoes (like Vibram FiveFingers Classics or Soft Star Mocs). Your feet will feel the rough texture of the cement and the dustiness of the dirt. As you walk around barefoot you'll find yourself stepping more gingerly; you'll adjust your gait without even paying much attention to it. In the event that you step on something sharp you will instantly correct your weight and reduce impact (and avoid pain). It's instant, natural, and sorta awesome.

The sensations in your feet direct how you step. The sensitivity of the foot, perhaps more than anything else, is why running barefoot teaches you proper, impact-reduced form. Abrasive friction (dragging your feet across the ground, pulling, or pushing the pads of your feet against the earth) will cause damage. A bare foot is susceptible to being rubbed raw if friction isn't minimized. And of course there's the risk of stepping on a sharp pebble or rock that could puncture the foot, but those are one-off problems often avoidable by a watchful eye.

One of the biggest selling points of a shoe is that they protect the foot, but the protection of a shoe comes at a price. Protection impairs the sensitivity of our feet, reducing the need to minimize friction against the earth.

Is it possible for a shoe to both protect the foot without muting feedback from the ground?

Design Req. 2: Feet Sense Their Place in Space

Beyond just experiencing the ground directly, our feet have an awareness of where they are with respect to the rest of the body and surrounding objects. This perception of space is called proprioception. Proprioceptive sense reminds me of being coordinated. Proprioception is what makes it seem easy to perform delicate procedures quickly and without conscious effort. It enables us to catch an accidentally dropped glass before it crashes and facilitates touch-typing 100 words per minute without looking at a keyboard. How is the proprioceptive sense of the foot maintained when wrapped in a shoe?

Design Req. 3: Feet are Mechanical, Organic, Dynamic, and Alive!

Feet flex and bend and have toes that splay naturally without any conscious effort with every step taken. Toes give your foot purchase on the ground as they expand, stabilizing the foot with an instantly customized grip—like the roots of a tree. How do you replicate this rooting of the foot while wearing a shoe?

With a thick tendon at the heel (the Achilles) and all the arch-supporting internal musculature and bones, our feet and legs are awesome springs — pistons perhaps. How do you maintain the springy energy caught via the elastic design of the arch or the rubber band-like tendons?

Functional, "Barefoot" Shoes Must Account for the Natural Design and Function of Feet

Mis Huaraches BW
A homegrown approach to footwear — some sort of huaraches.

Taking the above general criteria and applying them to footwear, you could argue that a barefoot-like shoe must:

  • Allow the foot to feel the ground — not simply because the ground is interesting to feel, but because sensing the ground directs the foot how to step.
  • Allow the foot to sense it's surroundings — just as clown shoes would be extremely clumsy as they would extend far past the ends and sides of the foot, so must functional shoes fit well enough that a foot's sense of it's surroundings remains intact.
  • Allow the foot to move naturally — if the arch of the foot wants to flex (like a bow) as it bears your weight, then a shoe should let it. If your toes want to splay out on impacting the ground, they should be free to do so. If they want to flex upward, that, too, must be considered.

These criteria are simple enough, right? Just remember why we're even bothering with shoes in the first place: protection. How do we add protection and provide for function?

Two primary solutions have been offered to solve this problem: toe shoes and traditional, mono-toed shoes. Let's talk about both — and I'll finally argue why I think toe shoes are the present, best solution for minimalist footwear.

A Thin Soled Foot Mitten—or Sandal

Take a look at these ancient forms of footwear—five thousand year old leather shoes:

Talk about vintage footwear—an international team of archaeologists has discovered the world's oldest leather shoe. One thousand years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the 5,500-year-old shoe was perfectly preserved by the cool, dry conditions in the sheep dung–lined cave in Armenia where it was found.

Moccasins are an ancient form of footwear, and while this may not be the canonized truth, this factoid on moccasins from Wikipedia seems to nail their purpose: "Moccasins protect the foot while allowing the wearer to feel the ground."

It's remarkable how little improved modern shoes are from the ancient design of a leather moccasin. Mocs work extraordinarily well as protective coverings for the feet that still allow the foot to function naturally. They are roomy on the inside, transmit a great deal of ground feel due to the sole being leather or fabric, and are neutral from heel-to-toe.

Fast forward to today and you can get some truly retro-yet-updated Soft Star, fabric-soled, sheepskin lined Moccasins; or for a slightly less-soft experience the RunAmocs, which feature a Vibram rubber sole. These represent a modern moccasin. These mocs function as expected—zero foot support, zero-drop from heel to toe, and a great deal of ground feel (an enormous amount for the fabric-soled varieties like Roo or Grippy Roo). These are great "barefoot shoes" so long as you don't mind the aesthetic of a moccasin.

Moccasins aren't the only ancient, low-tech options. Take the huaraches sandals of the Tarahumara Indians, for example. Huaraches are little more than a thin strip of rubber custom-cut to your foot size with a single lace to attach them to your feet. How's that for minimal? And if you're looking for a minimalist sandal that is foot friendly, grab a tire and some string and roll your own. Want a pre-made kit to make your own? Try the Invisible Shoe or go fancy and get some p leather-strapped Luna Sandals from Barefoot Ted.

Beyond low-tech, old-school solutions (Again, solutions that have scarcely been improved upon over the ages and go a long, long way to being the "best" barefoot shoes for the money), there are modern "foot friendly" options to consider, too — like Vivo Barefoots or the newly introduced Merrell Barefoots or NB Minimus shoes. For other shoes worth considering, just peruse our write-up on barefoot running shoes.

There are some fantastic "5-in-1" minimalist shoes that go a long way to allowing feet to do their jobs — this being, again, the primary goal. Unfortunately, they all suffer from one central problem—their soles don't fully mirror the dynamic functionality of the foot.

Just how varies from barefoot shoe to barefoot shoe, but generally the problems can be exemplified by focusing on the two basic aforementioned solutions: moccasins and huaraches.

« The Venerable Moccasin »

Leather moccasins afford an immense amount of ground feel thanks to the flimsy nature of their leather-skinned, fabric-like soles. Mocs have a super roomy toe box that provides plenty of room for toe splaying, are lightweight, and don't feel constricting on the foot, either. They're meant to be worn barefoot. For barefoot feel and comfort, my "elf shoe" moccasins (Grippy Soft Star Mocs) are basically unbeatable. So how don't they allow feet to be feet? Well, when you get super granularly analytical about it, my awesome moccasins suffer from a critical lack of functionality that seems intrinsic to their single-toe-boxed design.

Simply put, while the single, roomy toe box allows my foot to move independently from the shoe, it allows my foot to move independently from the shoe. Here's what I mean:

  1. When running or walking, the sole has a tendency to drop away from my foot — even if only marginally — as my foot lifts off the ground.
  2. Because the toe box is so roomy, the foot can move laterally within the shoe.
  3. Because the shoes extend beyond the foot on the front and sides, the foots sense of place in space is impaired.

These three issues affect how the foot "senses" it's surroundings. They mean that the shoe hits the ground in advance of the foot thanks to the "dangling" sole. And the marginally extraneous material on the front or sides of the shoe can snag or stub on the ground.

Solving the problem of roomy-toe-box-leads-to-a-loose(and/or extra)-shoe represents a significant design challenge (particularly for manufactured shoes which aren't custom fit to a foot). Generally, most shoes use some binding mechanism (straps, laces, elastic) over the simplest, least dynamic section of the foot (the middle) to "tie on" the soles.

Once you see this problem, you start noticing how other "barefoot shoes" have tried to solve it. The Merrell Barefoots are snug around midfoot and have a sole that curves up around the arch. The Merrells match their snug midfoot with a roomy toe box; thus, the foot has room to wiggle at the end, but the shoe still stays "locked on" thanks to wrapped-on middle of the shoe. The New Balance Minimus Trails use a similar approach with a stretchy rubberband-like material immediately before the roomy toe box.

Finally, there is the heel problem — how do you keep that heel up on the foot? Most shoes use a cupping mechanism that also puts some pressure on the Achilles tendon. I actually think this usually works pretty well though putting pressure on a tendon doesn't strike me as ideal. Generally, shoes wrap around the ankle and then use the tightness at the ankle to keep the sole at a certain distance from this point.

Perhaps there's still some solution to adhering soles to heels.

« The Elegant, Uber-Minimalist Huarache Sandal »

Of the 5-in-1 solutions, huaraches arguably provide the most ingenuitive solution for sole attachment in that they pull the sole up via one strap through the big toe slot (thong) and two straps on either side of the heel. Elegant in it's simplicity, the huaraches sole stays right on the foot at the foot's two least dynamic points, which are also the primary points of contact with the ground. Thus, the huaraches sole provides an ounce of protection where it's most desired while leaving the foot almost entirely bare everywhere else, free both to breath in the air and flex, twist, and bend.

The huaraches solution works incredibly well at solving problems 1 through 3 (above) assuming the wearer has acquired the artful skill of huaraches lacing. It's necessary to dial in the lacing of a pair of huaraches in order to prevent the sole from sliding laterally or front to back. This skill requires a good bit of trial and error, in my experience; the pay off is a custom-fit pair of sandals that you can run miles in (or just walk around). Finally, I'll note that huaraches use the strap around the ankle as the "garter" to keep the sole up on the heel. This works very well—I wonder how a custom-molded heel cup attached via the huaraches strap mechanism would function ... Hmm.

My only complaint with the huaraches approach is that when my foot dorisflexes (toes point skyward), the extra inch and a half sole past the strap doesn't go anywhere, and depending on the rigidity of the rubber used in the huaraches, can sometimes snag on the ground, rolling under my foot. Speaking of rubber rigidity, the huaraches require a slightly more rigid, flat (though it may mold/curve with use depending on the material used) sole material than you can get away with in a pair of leather moccasins. So a drawback to huaraches is that ground-feel is reduced.

In short, as 5-in-1 solutions go, both moccasins (and other shoes) and huaraches go a long way towards foot functionality, but tend to fall short when it comes to having soles that reflect the dynamic nature of the foot.

Toe Shoes: Five Pockets for Five Toes Mean Locked-On Soles

Flexing my toes in a brand new pair of KSO FiveFingers.  The toe pockets mean that I can flex my big toe up and my little toe down and the sole will flex in concert with my foot.
Flexing my toes in a brand new pair of KSO FiveFingers. The toe pockets mean that I can flex my big toe up and my little toe down and the sole will flex in concert with my foot.

Moccasins, huaraches, and other new-fangled 5-in-1 toe box shoes work well (Better and better as more producers design foot friendly shoes!) as foot friendly solutions for all activities. However, from where I stand (I am, of course, expressing my own preference and judgment), I think toe shoes are presently the best compromise between a shoe that protects and a shoe that lets a foot be a foot. And it's because toe shoes have a pocket for every toe.

Though that isn't everything (Hold this thought).
 

Why Toe Shoes Work.

A pocket for every toe as with shoes with articulated toes is the hybrid love-child of the 5-in-1, typical shoe solution — a.k.a. the single-toe box — and the thong solution employed by huaraches sandals. The results are easy to see:

  • The sole is locked in place at the ball of the foot as with huaraches.
  • The sole lifts in concert as toes dorsiflex (see the photo above)
  • The shoe ends just past the end of the toes.

Toe shoes move dynamically, in concert with the foot by design and minimize extraneous materials around the foot which helps maintain the proprioceptive ("place in space") of the foot.

But are Toe Shoes Perfect? Not So Fast!

I'm not arguing that toe shoes are the end all be all of minimalist footwear. They aren't. First off, if you glue a rubber sole onto your foot, there are some important additional considerations:

  • You've got to have a flexible sole. Look at Vibram FiveFingers Classics, Sprints, or KSOs for quite flexible rubber soles that minimize resistance against your foot when it flexes. I say minimizes because it takes some work to curl toes down or up in these most basic Vibrams.

    Comparatively speaking, Fila Skele-toes have a too-stiff rubber sole in my opinion (read my review for details), and while some might not mind this at all, for me, it feels too constrictive on my feet. In fact, toe shoes with overly stiff soles start feeling a bit like a custom foot cast (and that's no good). I'm hopeful that future iterations of Skele-toes won't be so skeletal!

  • Ideally you'd have custom length pockets set to your feet. Just as extraneous material on 5-in-1 barefoot shoe solutions can snag and reduces the proprioceptive sense of the foot, so, too, do too long toe pockets on toe shoes. Not sure how to get custom-made rubber-toed soles (yet).
  • For barefoot feel, the sole must also not be too thick or cushy. For feet to function naturally they must feel the ground! Don't forget it!

To the extent that toe shoes aren't flexible and compromise ground feel, they begin to lose that which makes them great shoes in the first place: they let feet be feet! So here's hoping toe shoe manufacturers are paying attention and remembering the core qualities that make for foot friendly shoes (Hint: wheels are still round: that's why they work!).

To date, the design concept behind toe shoes is the best solution for functional, barefoot-friendly footwear. Matched with a flexible rubber sole (as with Vibrams), you get a great deal of ground feel while wrapping the foot in some protection and still maintaining the dynamic flexibility of the foot and proprioceptive sense of the foot.

So over three thousand words later, that's my very complicated answer to a very simple question: "Why toe shoes?"

In short, it is my opinion that toe shoes are the present best solution (Which is still a compromise of the full functionality of the bare foot) for optimizing the natural function of the bare foot while still being shod — toe shod as it were.

If you're looking to pick up some toe shoes, might I recommend starting your research by reviewing the toe shoes we've covered here at BirthdayShoes here.

Trekking through New York City in Vibram Five Fingers KSO Treks

Paul and Mallory
Paul and Mallory in the Big Apple.

Mallory and Paul recently traveled to New York City in their new Vibram Five Fingers KSO Treks and sent us the following report:

A few months back my friend Paul introduced me to the wonderful world of barefoot running. He and I were planning a week trip to NYC and decided we wanted to do the whole trip in our VFF. The pair I had been running in were Sprints but my friend decided for the amount of walking we’d be doing we should get some Treks. We were surprised, being in one of the largest cities in the world, how many people asked us about them. Everyone from tour guides and other tourists to the locals in the subways were asking us about them. Whenever we’d catch people watching our shoes, but for whatever reason didn’t want to ask us about them, we would give them a "show." We’d wiggle our toes around or lift our feet up so they could see the bottoms. Once, to the delight of a man visiting The Statue of Liberty, I picked up a piece of trash of the ground with my toes and dropped it in a trashcan. The Treks ended up being perfect for our trip. I only wished I’d have conditioned the bottoms of my feet a bit more before we left due to the amount of cement pounding we did each day. Our last day there we went for a run through Central Park, a perfect way to end the week. The VFFs not only made our feet lighter and packing lighter, but also helped us meet a few friends along the way.

Thanks for letting me share!

Mallory

Thank you Mallory!

Here's how you can send us your story.

Vibram Five Fingers to Lose Weight and Get in Shape

July 12, 2009
Chris says, "Here's a photo of me in the VFFs July 12, 2009 at Carolina Beach. It's a little frightening to look at even for me."

The BirthdayShoes.com forum is chock full of great information from the most passionate minimalist shoe fans around. Sometimes the stories are so compelling that they need to be published here on the main blog. Chris's story is one of those. He has been through quite a journey to lose weight and get in shape over the last few years and Vibram Five Fingers were a key component of his regimen.

Read Chris's story and see pics of him today after the jump!

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New Balance NB Minimus Life Give Away!

165 people entered the NB Minimus Life Giveaway!  Look at all those old shoes!
165 people entered the NB Minimus Life Giveaway! Look at all those old shoes!

The NB Minimus Life Winner is jracecar! (3/7/2011)

JRaceCar's caption - I admit that I was wrong about you, airshoes.
JRaceCar's caption - I admit that I was wrong about you, airshoes. [Editor's comment: note the razor blades and bubble wrap -- interesting photo and I think the NB Minimus Lifes are going to a deserving pair of feet!]

Jracecar or "Adam" had a bit more to say about his photo:

The photo came from me finding the worst example of a running shoe that I owned and attempting to indicate a break from that part of my life. I paint pictures on occasion, and when I do I often use razor blades to apply and remove paint. So that is oil paint on the blades I had leftover from a recent project. The bubble wrap is just something that was in the art space, and promised a much more relevant and interesting texture than the basement carpet that was the alternative.

Very cool, and congratulations Adam!

We received more than 165 submissions (though those received after the 165 came after the drawing cutoff time!). Each photo was submitted with a description or tag that describes the shoes being submitted. Some great, fascinating submissions below—which ones are your favorites? Vote by name in the comments and we'll elevate the best below. Here's one to kick it off:


Andrei

Lindsay
Todd

More Pics after the jump!

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