Barefoot B.E.R.B.S. Minimalist Golf Shoes Review
More and more companies are releasing barefoot style shoes, and it should come as no surprise to see more being offered to golfers. We've previously reviewed barefoot golf shoes by TRUE linkswear and Vivobarefoot. Another option in this minimal golf category is called Barefoot B.E.R.B.S. designed by owner Jeremy Berbert. According to their website, they've "created the world's most comfortable golf shoe." Do they stand up to that praise? Read on for the full review.
Besides looking like a nickname of the owner/designer of the shoe, B.E.R.B.S. stands for Better, Energy, Recovery, Balance, and Stability. While designed to be zero-drop and very thin for the barefoot shoe consumer, the B.E.R.B.S. definitely feel like they are also designed to woo the experienced golfer. They come with a vented storage bag, which is helpful to keep your golf bag or car from getting dirty after your round.
One of the most common concerns people have with barefoot golf shoes has been a worry about traction. Most traditional golf shoes have removable soft spiked cleats, and the recent barefoot golf shoe releases clearly do not. The B.E.R.B.S. are definitely the first soft spiked barefoot golf shoes. Again, this feels geared toward experienced golfers or anyone who prefers the enhanced traction Softspikes provide. The spikes are removable, but this is for replacement and would actually cause a traction problem if they weren't there (more on that later).
The comfort of the shoe comes from a few aspects of the design. First, they are flat and wide with a very wide squared off forefoot. And, there isn't too much structure to the shoe other than a small firm heel cup. The upper consists of two materials: water-resistant leather and neoprene. The leather over the toes is one piece and the stitching is entirely decorative. The thinness and layout of the leather means you can see individual lumps when you extend your toes (similar to the Soft Star Mocs?). It doesn't bother me, but is a little different from the structure of other golf shoes.
The rest of the upper (heel and ankle) is neoprene with two hook and loop straps for adjusting the fit. If you've worn Vivobarefoot Oaks, you know how comfortable this stretchy wrap feels around your ankle (it hugs the foot like a slipper). As a bonus, they claim this snug neoprene fit helps keep sand out, which I didn't have an issue with and didn't think to purposely test. The neoprene opening is cut low on the foot, which is comfortable, but exposes an awkward bit of socks (I wore grey to exaggerate the cut in the pictures, but black is the way to go). While the neoprene is very comfortable, it does have a downside in that it's very flexible and lets the foot slide around. That's where the straps come in.
Like FiveFingers, there is a strap across the top to secure the foot into the shoe. There is also a heel strap to further customize the fit. I must admit I was initially caught off guard by the straps. I'm a huge fan of FiveFingers, so the look shouldn't have shocked me. I guess I just really wasn't expecting to see them on a golf shoe, but it totally makes sense based on the design. The tradeoff for the comfort of a solid neoprene upper means finding a way of securing the shoes without laces. The straps definitely helped keep them tight, but I still had some issues with the neoprene during my swing (more about this below).
The toe box is very roomy but does taper in depth toward the tip with the toe spring. I didn't find it an issue as I had extra length which provided plenty of wiggle room. The only major design issue I had was the leather tab at the achilles. The leather on the heel gives structure to the neoprene, but it extends up too far above the heel. The first time I wore these on the course, they rubbed me pretty raw. Most shoes have a U shaped notch there to prevent this, and I wish it had stopped just below the neoprene. The leather does soften up a bit over time, but I expect barefoot shoes to be comfortable in every aspect out of the box.
The shoe is designed to be worn with the insole, which tapers nicely into the sides of the shoe. They don't seem designed to be worn without socks and they recommend wearing a light weight sock for a better more comfortable fit.
The TPU outsole is pretty thin but is also pretty firm, and tapping the sole makes a solid knocking sound. I'd estimate the thickness with insole somewhere around 5-8 mm. The thinness of the sole does give it pretty good flexibility although the firmness does limit its flexibility compared to other shoes I've tested. The BERBS don't roll up as easily, but can fold completely in half (they cannot fold at all along the long axis). Another interesting part of the design is the staggered bumps in the rubber representing toes.
The traction design is pretty unique with five Softspike cleats arranged in a "motion-flow layout" from the heel to the ball of the foot. In addition to the cleats, parts of the outsole are smooth and slick with raised bumps at the heel, forefoot, and under each toe. The cleats are removable and how often they need to be replaced depends on your usage. One downside to having the cleats is that the shoes really can't be worn anywhere but on the golf course.
The Fit (Sizing)
The B.E.R.B.S. I tested (men's 10.5) size similarly to most other shoes I wear. For reference, I wear a Vibram 43, TRUE tour 10.5, Original Stems 43, and Vivobarefoot 44. I have very flat feet and worry about the edges of shoes causing discomfort, but the outsole flares out to comfortably accommodate a flat or wide foot. I'm halfway between a D and EE width and I think the B.E.R.B.S. could easily accommodate wider feet.
Knowing I was wearing spikes made me very aware of the level of traction on the course. Softspike's are advertised as giving you better traction which translates into better control and longer distances (that might be why so many professional golfers use them). I've never worn golf spikes before and definitely noticed the enhanced traction, although there were a few times when my foot would actually slip in my follow through (when coming up on my back toe). It didn't happen very often, but it's worth mentioning. The most forward cleat is placed under the ball of the foot, so as you roll past that, the only thing providing traction are a small number of nubs under your toes. I'm not sure why they didn't put one or two more cleats further up as it probably wouldn't affect the feel of the shoe. Also, it seems like the only part of the sole providing traction is the cleats. Despite only a couple slips, they definitely had a pretty amazing grip on the ground.
That being said, I've never really had an issue with traction even in FiveFinger KSOs. Maybe I'm not getting the most out of my swings, but I feel pretty good where I'm at as an average golfer. Plus, the "cleatless" shoes, like TRUE Linkswear and Vivobarefoot's Hybrid, can still have some pretty aggressive tread. Besides, PGA golfer Ryan Moore goes "cleatless" in his TRUEs and he's currently ranked 50th in the world (although the 49 golfers above him probably all use spikes). Even though my game doesn't always demand cleated traction, there are many other golfers who would not want to give up their cleats.
As already mentioned, the neoprene upper is very comfortable and feels like wearing slippers, but one issue came up when I was playing. As my back foot rotates during my swing, my heel sometimes felt like it was wanting to slide off the "platform" or sole of the shoe. It seems like they planned for this, because the lateral side has leather stitched over the neoprene, as well as the stiff cup at the heel. But despite this added structure, the shoe wall is very flexible and the straps don't do much to prevent the feel of sliding. I also wonder if this effect was exaggerated by the enhance traction, and my foot rotating harder against the wall of the show as it stayed grounded with the cleats. Not a huge problem for performance, but something I haven't experienced much before.
Styles and Cost
B.E.R.B.S. are available for men and women and cost $119. This is right around what other barefoot golf shoes have been pricing at, and much less than many traditional spiked shoes. Currently there is one model with three "bear themed" color options. I tested the "Polar Bear" option (called "Panda Bear" for women), which has white leather uppers and straps with the black neoprene. The "Kodiak Bear" option is similar but with black straps. The "Black Bear" option as you can guess is all black leather. The women's "Teddy Bear" version is like the "Panda" but with pink neoprene and white sole.
So, are the B.E.R.B.S. really "the world's most comfortable golf shoe"? I always have trouble setting such absolutes, and although they are definitely a very comfortable shoe, I wouldn't say they are the most comfortable. The leather tab at the heel was a bit of a pain, but the neoprene upper fits and feels like a comfortable slipper. The Softspike cleats give outstanding traction, but the shoe might benefit from one or two more cleat placements. Overall, the B.E.R.B.S. fill a gap in the "barefoot" golf shoe market, by providing the thin, flat, and wide minimal shape with the enhance traction of Softspike cleats. This gives "barefoot" golfers another footwear option, and the cleats should definitely draw the attention of golfers who currently use spikes and want to go toward the more comfortable world of "barefoot" golf shoes. If you want to move to a barefoot shoe with really good traction, or don't want to give up the Softspikes, you should check out the B.E.R.B.S.