Review Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lite Shoes
My first pair of Vivo Barefoots were the blue-suede Vivo Barefoot Aquas (reviewed over two years ago). Back then, there really weren't a ton of casual, barefoot-minded shoes available that featured thin soles, a wide toe box, didn't have five toe pockets, and actually looked fashionable. Fast forward to today and there are tons of minimalist shoes out there. That said, while original Aqua was a great "barefoot shoe," it could stand to be improved. The proof? Meet the Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lite!
The Aqua Lites are lighter, more flexible, more stylish/refined, and easier to put on than the original Aquas. In short, Vivo Barefoot took an already solid shoe and made it a great shoe. It's so good, in fact, that Vivo Barefoot's running guru and barefoot running certifier-in-Chief Lee Saxby has blessed the Aqua Lites as his "go-to, on road, running shoe."
And while I can see how running in the Aqua Lites would serve you well, given their mild-mannered (or hip colored) aesthetic, I've always seen them more as a casual shoes that keeps me close to being barefoot without toe pockets, crazy sole and lace configurations, or slipper-like looks.
Does something like that pique your interest? Read on for a detailed review including over 50 photos of the shoes, how they pair with jeans and pants, how they contrast to the Aquas of old, and even a set of the Aqua Lites in the updated blue-upper, white-soled colorway! Read on!
The Aqua Lite features a 3mm TPU outsole (they are neutral or zero drop from heel-to-toe so they have no elevated heel), a removable 3mm PU insole, and a 100% vegan upper that almost completely lacks any sewn together parts. They have a sizeable toe box for quality toe splay.
Vivo Barefoot bills the Aqua Lites as "King of hard, flat surfaces, the Aqua Lite is perfect for the treadmill, road running and every day gym workouts." And with Lee Saxby's "go-to" blessing, this makes sense. On the other hand, am I the only one who thinks the Aqua Lites just don't look like a running shoe? I think my perspective is grounded by the fact that Vivo has the Neo and the Evo II for multi-terrain running and both look a little more like a running shoe. More on aesthetics later.
Photos of the Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lites (in grey and red):
The marketing around "barefoot shoes" where manufacturers bill certain models as suitable for running while others for general fitness, casual wear, or water wear can be a bit confusing. The question, "Can I do X in Y barefoot/minimalist shoe?" misses an important point about shoes that let your feet function as they would naturally: if your bare feet can do some activity (i.e. walk, run, play, lift weights, go to the grocery store), a shoe that keeps your foot close to the barefoot condition should also work for that activity. It's when shoes start specializing that it gets a little dicier — see minimalist shoes meant for hiking or trail running.
My point is that Aqua Lites are versatile shoes — just like your bare feet. I didn't run in the Aqua Lites but I don't need to to know that they'll work for running. The lack of tread makes them more suitable for smooth surfaces without loose dirt or debris (though that wouldn't be a deal stopper, I'm sure).
The Aqua Lites will also work for weight lifting, walking, general fitness, or casual wear. They work for any movement in which you want to preserve natural bio-mechanics.
As for specifics ...
The Aqua Lites are easy to put on (I often leave them tied and just slip them on and off). This was not the case at all with the original (comparison is below). They have a tongue that is attached to the inside walls of the shoe, but in a way that still allows you to put them on easily (see this image).
The Aqua Lites can be worn with or without socks. I prefer wearing minimalist footwear without socks. Socks just detract from the experience of "lacking" materials on my bare feet, so this is my preferred way to wear shoes. For my reviewing of the Aqua Lites, I rarely wore socks. They are certainly comfortable worn this way; however, I continue to wish that Vivo Barefoot would create a more comfortable sockliner. I'd take the Dri-lex liner you get with many FiveFingers models. Even better, outfit these Aqua Lites with the kind of liner you get with most of New Balance's Minimus line (see: leather Minimus MT10s, which I love for sockless wear). There's just something about wearing the Aqua Lites with the insole intact or with it removed that catches my sockless foot's attention. There's almost too much texture on both fabrics and I swear my feet get just a little too balmy (it's not terrible, just noticeable) against these polyurethane-backed insoles (or outsoles with the insole removed). This is far from a dealbreaker on these shoes, but I feel they'd be so much more comfortable with a nicer on-skin feel for their innards.
I'll speak more to the insole-in or insole-out wear below in "Ground Feel," but either way the Aqua Lites are incredibly flexible-soled. It's easy to twist up, around, and flexes readily both horizontally and laterally — you can get a sense for this in the images to the right. It's also fairly easy to bend the shoe in half using only one hand.
The upper materials are comfortable against you bare skin, fairly breathable, and flexible. You'll note there are two types of fabrics used in the upper. The darker grey fabric has a bit more structure to it. The lighter grey is super flexible. The toe box of the Aqua Lites is covered in the thicker fabric up to the base of the foot's instep where it switches to the light grey fabric. This is the flex point of the upper as you can see below:
For whatever reason, some Vivo Barefoot styles (the original Evo caused some blistering here) would crease on the top of your foot at this point and irritate the foot. I've not had this problem with the Aqua Lites likely due to the overall malleability of the upper fabrics (both styles).
They've got an upsized toe box. I can maintain a great deal of toe splay in the Aqua Lites. Every once in awhile I feel like the Aqua Lite toe box curves in a little too much on my big toe, but that could be my foot orienting oddly inside the shoes. One aspect of toe shoes is that your toes are in very predictable places due to the toe pockets. Remove these locking pockets and have a mono-toed shoe like Vivo Barefoots and your foot can slosh around a bit — not that I ever felt my foot had too much toe box.
For the record, my foot, which is (I think) pretty average, I find most all Vivo Barefoot toe boxes to be more than adequate.
Aqua Lites don't degrade your natural bio-mechanics! This more or less follows from the fact that they've got no arch support and are zero-dropped, low profile (not thick-soled) shoes. So for walking around, my barefooted bio-mechanics seem mostly unaffected by wearing the Aqua Lite. Not changing my natural movement is a pretty important null characteristic for a barefoot/minimalist shoe, in case you are new to the category.
Not a lot needs to be said about the Aqua Lites ground feel—it's just really, really good. TPU seems to lend an overall harder feel to the Vivo Barefoot soles than the rubber soles I'm accustomed to from FiveFingers and many other options. However, with the sole at only 3mm thick plus another 3mm of EVA, you're still looking at a fully loaded stack height of about 6mm. 6mm is awfully thin (Comparable to the thinnest Vibrams or the these 6mm huaraches) so it's no surprise that the Aqua Lites should pass on a similar amount of "barefoot feel" through the soles. Since some opt to wear their Aqua Lites with the insoles while others take them out, I'll take a second to speak to the feel in these two different scenarios.
With the 3mm EVA insoles in place (this is what the insoles look like removed — here and here), you get what you'd probably expect — a plush ride. Mind, you're not walking on marshmallows but you feel the slightest bit of "sink" when you walk as you feel that 3mm compress. Mind, the ground feel is so good with the insoles in than unless you're just trying to max out ground feel, I'd actually say just leave them in. They basically just pad all surfaces with the slightest bit of cushion.
Boil it down and while you might not be able to get a good feel for things like seams in concrete, you'll certainly notice any pebble you step on. Textures of surfaces will readily pass through, too. Aqua Lites make any walk more interesting — and that's with the insoles in!
Take the insoles out. Don't expect for the ground feel to transform to "ultra barefoot!" simply by taking out the insoles because really, when we're talking about only 3mm of TPU sole vs. 3mm sole plus 3mm of EVA insole, well, it just doesn't make a huge difference. Of course, with no insole, you get fantastic ground feel because the sole is so incredibly thin that it'll deform readily when it comes into contact with the varied terrain over which you walk, run, play, or stand.
Subjectively speaking, I'd still say that Classic FiveFingers, the insole-less Altra Adams, or 4mm Connect huaraches might provide marginally more ground feel, with a slight bias towards the toe shoes — how is that possible given 3mm with the Aqua Lites is less than the 3.5mm, 3.4mm, and 4mm*? My hunch is that it's just a difference between rubber and TPU. My hunch is that rubber just lacks the structure of TPU and therefore conforms more to surfaces. If only things were as simple as sole thickness when it comes to ground feel! It's just not the case.
Anyway, you can expect to feel every pebble you step on and seams in concrete will also be discernible.
If you're after a first-class barefoot-feel while still wearing shoes, the Aqua Lites are an excellent choice no matter how you slice'em. And while it should go without saying, any "barefoot shoe" is going to dramatically mute ground feel as compared to being actually barefoot. Shod in the Aqua Lites or barefoot, you can expect your feet to pay attention. It's just that walking or running on a sandpaper-like surface like concrete when shod in them will feel considerably less sensational than it would barefoot (An incredibly important point if you're really trying to rapidly learn barefoot-style running — the "barefoot" part makes a difference!).
The Aqua Lite Style!
I dig the style of the Aqua Lites. They've got a simple, minimalist design to them that actually fits right in with casual attire without looking like a runnning shoe. They're subdued enough that I think you can pair them with a lot of different clothes and in particular with jeans, pants, or khakis. The upper material, while not being leather, has a suede-like look to it that lends a quality look to the overall build. I think this goes a long way — plus the lack of extraneous embellishments — to making them pair well with anything (while obviously not slacks or a suit!).
I didn't wear my Aqua Lites much with shorts outside of some gym time in them, so I can't supply photos of that look. I think they work well enough with shorts, but perhaps a little dressy, if that makes sense.
As fashion is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, you be the judge. Here are some photos of the Aqua Lites with a couple or three different pairs of jeans, pants, and khakis:
Comparison to the old Aquas
The old Vivo Barefoot Aquas have been discontinued, but you can still find them around the 'net if you're in the market. At the time of my original review, I liked them a lot and I still bust them out from time to time.
However, they weren't perfect. The most annoying part about the old Aqua was how the tongue worked. It basically ran from either side of the base of your foot up and over your instep and back down. It wasn't really a tongue at all, when you think about it. I found this made them a real pain to put on and take off.
The Aqua Lite solved this problem while maintaining the gist of the original design. It's hard to explain just how the new tongue works, but if you look at this picture you'll get the gist — there are these cutaways that allow the tongue to move up and forward while still being attached to the rest of the upper. This works flawlessly and I routinely put the Aqua Lites on without ever untying them — a nice plus.
While I personally like leather, I imagine this is one of the factors that made the original Aquas a bit heavier than the redesigned Aqua Lites. Lighter shoes make for less fatigue on your legs and feet —
and you'll be less anxious to shed your shoes after wearing them all day. So whether ditching leather accomplished this change or an overall reduction in build materials, this is a nice improvement for the Aqua Lite.
The actual sole shape and mold is the same on the old Aquas and the new Aqua Lites, the new Aqua Lites are much, much more flexible in the soles. Just look at the flex photos to the right and you'll see what I mean.
Overall, if you're after a good-looking shoe that has everyday versatility, top-notch ground feel, and allows you to preserve your natural bio-mechanics, posture, and "barefoot" movement, the Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lite is worth your serious consideration. My only gripe with it is that I wish it had a more svelte interior; however, this is a gripe that comes with having tested a hundred plus minimalist shoes and is in no way a dealbreaker.
If you're after the Aqua Lites, they MSRP for $115 and can be found at VivoBarefoot.com. Sometimes you can even find them on sale at online retailers like EMS.com (and if you want to hear about periodic big sales, consider subscribing by email to BirthdayShoes). As for sizing, I'm a 10.5 and tend to fit between a EU 43 and a 44 in Vivo Barefoot shoes. In the case of the Aquas and Aqua Lites, a 44 fits me just right (Whereas I fit a 43 in the Ultra Pures and Oaks).
Questions or comments? Have the Aqua Lites already? Anyone use the Aqua Lites as their go-to road running shoes? Please post your thoughts in the comments section below ... and check out the bonus photo gallery of the shoes in the blue/white colorway!