BodyGlove 3T Barefoot (3-Toed Shoes) Review
The BodyGlove 3T Barefoot "three toe" shoes first crossed my path back in mid-February. It wasn't long before I got an email from BodyGlove wondering if I'd like to try out their first product geared towards the water-loving barefooter — after all, BodyGlove has a substantial history of making surf- and beach-related apparel. Really, given how often people think FiveFingers (or Sockwas) are watershoes and/or the early attempts to find a cheap minimalist shoe by turning to aqua shoes from Walmart, in a way BodyGlove is just closing the loop with the 3T Barefoot.
And less you think your eyes are deceiving you, rest assured that they're not: the "3T Barefoot" only has three toe pockets, granting the smallest three toes a single pocket and the biggest two toes a pocket a piece.
Meanwhile, as I live in Atlanta and don't make a regular practice of watersports (sadly), BodyGlove sent me the 3T with the express understanding that I'd just be evaluating them as a minimalist (toed) shoe.
And so I've gotten acquainted with these three toed shoes. They're a bit unusual, but perhaps worth your consideration. Let's go!
A three-toed shoe: Design and Features
The original toe shoes (FiveFingers) of course had five toes (duh). Then, in what was either a means to differentiate themselves or the result of a decision-maker struggling (perhaps a tender moment) to seat their pinky toes in a fifth toe pocket, Fila released the four-toed Skeletoes, combining the littlest two toe pockets into one compartment. Meanwhile, Tabi boots (Colloquially known as "ninja shoes") have been around for nearly a hundred years (Cool Boston Marathon fact about those here).
Creating a toe shoe with three compartments was almost a foregone conclusion, right? BodyGlove thought so and developed their 3T Barefoot. And three compartments actually make some sense. If you remember watching Waterworld you'll recall that the protagonist was a "mutant" with gills, webbed feet, and a receding hairline (Kevin Costner). Well, if you consider that BodyGlove makes apparel for waterwear, webbing the toes — at least some of them — could provide a better "fin" for swimming than fully individualized toe pockets. As I wasn't able to try them this way, I can't really say for sure so that will remain up in the air (as far as this review is concerned).
Suffice to say that the three toe compartment design is a unique feature of the 3T Barefoot.
The other particularly unique feature of the 3T is its Integrated Drainage System or "IDS" — through-the-sole drain holes to let out water (or let air circulate). Where these holes in the soles reside, there is a metal mesh barrier, but otherwise, things can pass through (more on this later). Check it out:
The 3T Barefoots also have a bungee cord around the ankle that can be tightened to keep stuff (sand, dirt, or water sludge presumably) out of the shoes. The strap over the instep can also be used to adjust fit and is made up of a sturdier leather-like (not leather) material.
The general upper material is a stretchy synthetic — it's not neoprene — and is soft to the touch, carrying a slight shimmer with it. The insoles aren't removable and the outsole is very flexible rubber. Finally, you'll note that the toe caps are exposed fabric (the soles don't wrap up and around the toes as with FiveFingers).
All told, my skinfold calipers peg the total stack height of the sole at around 7mm in the heel and 6mm in the forefoot. Honestly, it's not at all clear whether or not these measurements are exactly right and there truly is a heel-to-toe differential with the 3T Barefoot. Have you noted how thick a millimeter is recently?
The 3T Barefoots lack arch support, too, in case you were wondering.
Barefoot and Ground Feel
That brings me to ground feel. At 6-7mm thick in the sole, the BodyGlove 3T Barefoot is comparable in ground feel to KSO FiveFingers if not marginally better (and more like a pair of Classic or Sprint FiveFingers). In other words, it's about as barefoot as you can get whilst still wearing a shoe.
That said, the IDS has an unintended consequence when it comes to wearing the 3T Barefoots on grass. Basically, blades of grass can poke your feet through the mesh guards in the sole holes. This was a little surprising to me (particularly that blades of grass were so pointy), but it is what it is. I'd almost say that the mesh helps channel the grass to be even more rigid when it pokes the soles of your feet!
Really, this takes "ground feel" to a whole different level. Actually, I can't help but wonder if a feature like this could help "wake" the nerves in your feet up (in a neuroplastic sense), helping speed the rehabilitation of your feet to a more barefoot-like existence. It's probably a long shot (just go barefoot to do that!).
Since I'm sure you're wondering how these compare to Fila Skeletoes, I'm happy to report that the 3T Barefoots are fantastically more flexible than the Skeletoes (both the original Skelies and the 2.0). They're even more flexible than the more built-up Vibrams (Bikila-, KomodoSport-, or Trek-soled varietals). That also puts them as being more flexible than the Adidas Adipure Trainers (Adidas' toe shoes). I've gotta tip my hat to BodyGlove on this front; way to start out strong!
How does the 3-in-1 pocket work?
The BodyGlove 3T's 3-in-1 toe pocket makes for an unusual feel on your foot. I've waxed poetic on why toe shoes work: it has to do with how the toe articulation allows the shoes to adhere more closely to the foot thereby moving more dynamically with the foot as your move your toes through their natural range of motion. Well, when you merge three toes together — even if they're the three littlest toes — you're going to lose some of that. In other words, the 3T Barefoots don't move quite as dynamically with your foot when you wiggle your toes.
Perhaps the surprising aspect of the 3T 3-in-1 toe pocket design is how it puts two "inlets" on either side of your second biggest toe. I have a fairly long second toe — it's finger-esque. Something about it being given it's own toe pocket feels a little weird. The oddest sensation, though, is how the two inlets on either side of this second toe put a little pressure (nothing uncomfortable, just a little "hello") on my foot. Whereas this is "normal" to my foot when it comes to having pressure on the foot between my biggest and second toe, it's unusual between the second and third toes.
I know what you're thinking: don't other toe shoes do this, too? They do, but it's not as noticeable. Perhaps that's because you've got more inlets bumping into the crevices between your toes, so it's less noticeably "weird." I think the more likely reason is that more "inlets" means a better distribution of pressure on the crevices between your toes.
Either way, it's not that annoying but it always catches me a little off guard when I put on the 3Ts.
I like a number of things about the 3T Barefoot. They're quite comfortable and BodyGlove did a really great job minimizing seams in the toe pockets of the 3Ts — in my pair there are no notable ridges where the sidewalls of the pockets hit the insole (Vibram could improve here). The upper seems pretty breathable to me, too — it's a thicker synthetic material than you'd get with the coconut fabric of a Bikila LS or the thin stretchy material of a KomodoSport LS, so it's marginally warmer than other toe shoes out there (black also doesn't do a lot for reflecting heat from light).
I only briefly ran in the Barefoot 3Ts and what I can say is that the experience is similarly "barefoot"-like to running in FiveFingers. The lack of toe articulation on the smallest toes makes the 3Ts feel a little less locked on to your foot on the lateral edges of your feet, but did not detract much, if at all, from the toed experience. It was also in this running (on asphalt) that I noticed the 3Ts running a bit warmer. Note I didn't have any issues with rocks or other debris poking through the IDS system.
So can you run in the 3T Barefoots? Yes, I think you can. If you've got a solid barefoot, forefoot (or midfoot) stride already, you shouldn't have any problem with these. As with any ultra minimalist shoes and running, if you're new to running minimally shod, you need to awaken your feet and your body to the experience, which ultimately may mean a lot of rehabilitation — it often takes conscious effort to overcome years of heel-striking biomechanics and literally rewire your brain to utilize your legs and feet in a more natural way. And that says nothing of the physiological changes required — stronger feet, rehabilitated arches, and a full stretch of the Achilles tendon.
I've also heard of one individual completing a triathlon in the 3T Barefoots. I'll also say that given their overall flexibility, anatomical shape, and minimal or non-existent heel-to-toe drop, these should make fine barefoot-style running shoes, if you want them for that.
All in all, if you can wrap your mind around the three toe pockets (and what that design means for the dynamic nature of your foot), the BodyGlove 3T Barefoots are a pretty great toe shoe. Oh, and though I didn't go into it at length, I'll say that aesthetically the 3Ts have a big of a waterwear look to them due to the BodyGlove branding and the slight shimmer of the upper. They actually do look like water shoes to my eye. That said, and this is saying a lot I suppose, but I felt a little self conscious wearing three-toed shoes — they look a little strange!
Perhaps the clincher is that they're retailing for only $50. For that matter, they just started selling them online today, so if you're the kind person who wants to try the latest new-fangled toe shoe designs, well you know what to do.
That's my round-up review of the BodyGlove 3T Barefoot. It's an interesting entry into the toe shoe market; I applaud BodyGlove for coming out the gate strongly.
What do you think? Want to try on some three-toed shoes and see how they compare? Did I miss anything? Let's hear it!
Photos and Video
Here's a quick video of the 3Ts I snapped while at the gym:
And a slew of photos!