VIVOBAREFOOT Stealth II Review
It's been almost two years since my last post here on BirthdayShoes. Reason being that I've transitioned almost completely to barefoot living. Or, at most, a pair of light running sandals. I mean, I'm no barefoot activist. I'm not going to be that person that goes into a grocery store barefoot and makes a scene about it just because.
Anyway. What I'm saying is that I can't really do shoe reviews if I'm rarely wearing shoes anymore. My last post was a review of not having shoes, for chrissakes. And if I do a shoe review, those poor shoes have their work cut out for them. Because they'll have to convince me that they're better than barefoot now.
All that said, the Vivobarefoot Stealth II caught my attention. Not the least of which because they manage to be a super thin, extremely packable shoe that doesn't look like it's made out of paper. This may not be a big deal to some minimalist-minded folks, but if I'm going to bother wearing a shoe then I want it to look like a shoe. I don't want it to look like I stuck my foot into a deflated balloon. Just, no.
That's not to say that I came into this review with only warm and fuzzy thoughts. Oh, no. I've had some issues with Vivobarefoot in the past. So much so that a pair of Vivobarefoots were the last pair of shoes I tossed before going with barefoot or huaraches full time. More on that later.
What you get
Here's the de-buzzworded version of Vivobarefoot's specifications for the Stealth II.
Upper: EVA "cage" strung together with a thin mesh.
Sole thickness: 3mm
Heel to toe drop: 0mm
Traditional lacing. Insole is included but you can take it out for even better groundfeel. Vivobarefoot also managed to answer one of my longstanding prayers about minimalist shoes: you can take the insole out and what's underneath still looks like a shoe! I always hated that when you remove the insole of some shoes the underneath portion looked like you'd accidentally gone into the "employees only" section of a grocery store.
And for those who care about such things, Vivobarefoot also touts that these shoes are "100% vegan." But meat eaters will also enjoy them. I wore them while eating bacon and they still performed fine.
Full disclosure: my beef with Vivobarefoot
I currently own three other pairs of Vivobarefoot shoes aside from the Stealth II. Two of those are nicer pairs that don't get a lot of heavy traffic. The third is a pair that is more performance-based/casual... but I'm scared to wear them.
You see, I used to own around six pairs of Vivobarefoot. What happened to those other three pairs, you ask? They fell apart.
Vivobarefoot has not been good to me in the past when it comes to performance. Whenever I was just starting to really enjoy a pair of their shoes I'd think, "Okay, it's time to really put these puppies to the test!" Then I'd run them hard, or spend a month or two wearing them in the gym. It would start with something small, like the lace breaking. Or the side of one sole would start peeling. Soon after that, the whole damn thing would disassemble itself.
I've always felt torn about them. (Get it? Torn?) I think Vivobarefoot has the best toe box in the business. It's wide and natural without feeling like too much. The tread were always *just* enough -- some grip without getting too thick. And their shoes have sleek, classy, innovative style.
It was a frustrating cycle. Buy these good-looking, well-fitted shoes... then watch in agony as they disintegrate too fast.
So when I got the chance to review the Stealth II I said yes. But I had a caveat: I would wear them near-daily for at least two full months. I was going to put these suckers through their paces.
I touched on this in my introduction, but the fact that these are minimalist shoes that actually hold their shape well -- like, you know, actual shoes -- that means a lot to me. It makes them easier to put on, it gives the wearer a boost in confidence that the shoes actually offer some protection, and they stay in place on your foot.
The mesh structuring on the upper makes the Stealth II one of the most breathable running sneakers I've ever owned. With the unseasonable warmth and rain that the southeastern United States has been trapped under, this has been a huge blessing. On warm days my feet stay more dry than with any other full-coverage shoe I own. And on rainy days, this is the only pair of shoes that don't feel like they become waterlogged and heavy. Oh sure, the mesh means your feet will still get wet -- but the water gets out of there much quicker and easier and doesn't seem to affect performance.
As is usually the case with Vivobarefoot, these shoes also look great and were versatile for almost any situation. I could wear them on a run, shower, then put them back on with jeans for later.
There's another small thing that I very much appreciate: the insoles. I usually take the insoles out of my shoes. For most brands, what's under the insole reminds me of a peek behind the "employees only" door at the back of the grocery store. It's not pretty. But for the Stealth II, underneath the insole is a well-manicured bottom that still looks like a legit shoe. Awesome!
I'd like to see some more color varieties. But that's a small quibble.
Honestly, I'd fully expected for this section to be about how the Stealth II also started to fall apart. But... (drum roll) they didn't. There's no real sign of wear at all. It's entirely possible that I'm just getting old and not beating up on shoes like I used to, but I doubt it. I think Vivobarefoot has fixed some of their longevity issues.
With that being the case, I've got to admit: I actually have no major complaints!
For cross training
I ran in the Stealth II a fair amount, but I tried them out with some kettlebell work even more. Usually I'm barefoot when training in the gym. (Surprise!) But the Stealth II did really excellent under the stress of cross training.
There're two main things I look for when it comes to in-gym performance by a shoe:
2) Does it feel like it gets in my way more than it helps?
As I mentioned above, the tread was just enough. Grippy without feeling cumbersome. And aside from the occasional general awareness of wearing a shoe after two years of hardly ever doing so, the Stealth II never got in my way even once.
If you like minimalist shoes in the gym, especially for things like kettlebell swings, deadlifts, and get-ups, these are great at offering that little bit of protection while staying flat and firm on the ground. I would very strongly recommend these for strongman, powerlifting, and CrossFit.
It should take a really great shoe to bring a stubborn barefoot-all-the-time athlete in from the cold to try wearing shoes again, much less to write about them. But, Vivobarefoot has done it. I love the Stealth II. I feel like I could gush about these for a while, but I think I've said it all above. If you're in the market for a new pair of as-minimal-as-possible trainers, these are the ones you've been looking for.