Over the past year, we've seen the barefoot shoe market expand to golf. While almost any barefoot shoe can be used for golf (and I've golfed in most of mine), the nature of their minimal design means barefoot shoes are often missing several key attributes needed for comfort and performance on the course. But adding these features understandably moves the shoe further from barefoot feel and function. So just how minimal can a golf shoe actually get? Earlier this year, Vivo Barefoot set out to prove just how "barefoot" a golf shoe can be with the release of their Hybrid golf shoe. Read on for the full review.
Having previously reviewed the first barefoot golf shoes from TRUElinkswear (here and here), I couldn't help but make direct comparisons while testing Vivo Barefoot's new Hybrid golf shoes. TRUE has a leg up in being a startup specifically created for the golf community, whereas Vivo Barefoot has an advantage of being the "original barefoot shoe" with an already broad consumer base. [Note: I'm personally a huge Vivo Barefoot fan with six different shoes.] Given how their other styles fit and feel, I was very excited to see what they could do with a golf shoe.
The Hybrid definitely has the look of a Vivo Barefoot shoe. It has a vegetable tanned leather upper with ripstop nylon trimmings. The ripstop nylon runs on the inside half of the shoe supposedly for increased durability. It may add durability, but I think it gives the shoe a nice unique look. The tongue of the shoe is gusseted up to the fourth eyelet for "360 degree water-resistant breathability." My white model came with sturdy black and white "round cord" laces. The black version comes with all black laces. The inside of the shoe is lined with woven nylon and polyester that's thin and soft to the touch. Combined, this liner and the leather upper are still very thin and flexible.
Unlike some other models, the Hybrid heel contains a rigid "heel cup" material that provides structure to the heel. It's not noticeable and doesn't affect the feel of the shoe. I only noticed it when I tried to mash and roll it up like all good Vivo shoes can. The structure seems to prevent the heel from collapsing when putting on the shoe. Surprisingly, there is no "toe cap" stiffness to provide rigidity to the front of the shoe.
If you aren't familiar with Vivo Barefoot shoes, they have very foot friendly shaped widths, are zero heel-toe drop, and have absolutely no structured arch. They are also incredibly thin soled across the brand. The Hybrid features the standard Vivo Barefoot puncture resistant sole with a thickness of 2.5 mm plus 4.5 mm lugs for traction. The shoe comes also with the standard Vivo Barefoot 3mm liner, and like all other Vivo shoes, the flat seam stitching allows you to wear it comfortably without the insert. Like other models, you could wear them without socks. Although comfortable against my bare foot, I always wore socks as I didn't want to deal with stinky shoes. The overall weight is listed at about 10.4 oz (I'm guessing for a M42), but they really don't feel that heavy.
One of the minor issues I had with the TRUE golf shoe was that while being very comfortable and way more barefoot than traditional shoes, they still weren't as barefoot feeling as my Treks and Evo II's. In my previous review, I even questioned how the upcoming Neo Trail sole might work as a golf shoe. Well, Vivo Barefoot must have been listening, because the Hybrid shoe now sports the same "V" lugged sole as the Neo Trail. The V-shaped lugs are laid out in different directions to provide multi-directional grip while "providing maximum proprioception with protection."
While the Hybrid sole is technically the same thickness as the TRUE golf shoes, it feels much thinner. This may be due to the thicker and "foamier" insert that has to be worn with the TRUEs. The Vivo Barefoot insert is very thin and removing it does improve the ground feel of the shoe. The Hybrid sole is also extremely flexible. Unlike the various TRUE versions which folded up at pivot points (due to toe caps or the lug layout), I was able to completely roll up the Hybrids. I was also able to pinch the sole in half down the midline; something I could not do with the TRUE sole. Despite having an aggressive tread, they are incredibly flexible.
The Fit (Sizing)
The Hybrid shoe sizes similarly to other Vivo Barefoot shoes. For reference, I wear a Vibram 43, a TRUE tour 10.5, and Vivo Barefoot 44 (Evo II, Neo, Aqua Lite). If you aren't quite sure about sizing, you can use the "How will it fit?" utility on any product's page (right under select size box). It allows you to compare the fit to almost all other shoe brands you might currently wear. As for width, I've found Vivo shoes to fit both average and wide feet well. I'm halfway between a D and EE width, and the Hybrids fit me perfectly fine. The shoe has great shape and is wide in the forefoot.
The Hybrids were immediately comfortable out of the box. The upper leather material is thin and really flexible, and the shape of the shoe just allows your foot to feel free. There's a tiny bit of toe spring, but it's not really noticeable. My toes felt free to wiggle and move about in the wide forefoot and toe box. This toe freedom may have been due to the lack of a "toe cap." This was one of the big differences I noticed comparing to the TRUEs. After alot of back and forth, I decided I would actually prefer the rigid structure over the toe. As long as there's still adequate room for your toes to dorsiflex, the structure really does improve comfort as you pivot onto your toe through your swing.
The water-resistance of the shoes seems to work great, and I've never had an issue of my feet getting wet. I usually play in dry conditions but tested the water-resistant properties occasionally with normal morning/sprinkler "dew" as well as some swampy/muddy spots. Because the leather upper is not listed as fully waterproof, I didn't stop for long in standing water.
Most minimal shoes lack the extensive traction usually found on golf shoes. While I've found that I don't need much grip for my golf swing, I do like having more stability than my Trek and Evo II soles provide (especially when it's a little wet). The V-lugged sole of the Hybrid provides a pretty amazing level of traction in almost all conditions. The TRUE soles provided more than enough traction for my golf game, but I felt like the Hybrid sole had even more grip. I don't know that anyone buys golf shoes solely based on traction, but you can't go wrong either way.
The large 4.5 mm lugs did make me nervous a few times when I played on really soft greens. Every time I stepped, I left little "V" indents in the green. I suppose this isn't really an issue, because other shoes also left cleat marks. Also, this only happened on unusually soft greens, and even though it didn't happen too often, I was a little self conscious about it. Over almost all typical green conditions, I didn't ever see any marks or tread pattern.
One major factor contributing to the great barefoot feel of the Hybrids is the flexibility of the sole. I guess you don't really need your golf shoe to roll up into a ball, but the fact that it can just shows how well it lets your foot flex and move as it wants to. The Hybrids are definitely the thinnest most flexible golf shoes I've worn. See it for yourself:
Overall, the Hybrids are awesome shoes on par with the barefoot feel and function of all other Vivo Barefoot's I've worn. I do want to point out one minor issue I had, but need to note that I am being extremely nitpicky here. This will probably not be an issue for most people out there, but if you have flatter feet you might be interested. The only issue I had with the Hybrids was occasionally having sore feet after wearing them for several hours. This surprised me as I wear my Evo II's or VFF's almost every day all day, so it certainly wasn't due to a lack of foot conditioning. One thought is that maybe the lugs are spaced a little too far apart. This could create pressure points where some parts of the foot could sag a little in between lugs. It's hard to say if this is actually happening, but with a 2.5 mm sole, it's definitely a possibility. Another possibility is due to the midfoot being potentially thinner than the heel and forefoot. I noticed the lugs in the middle are about half the thickness as on the heel and forefoot. I have pretty flat feet, so the middle part of my arch is expecting to touch the ground at the same height as my heel and toe. A difference in height with such a thin sole could cause some sagging of my foot there (the same reason the Vibram Bikilas soles hurt my feet through the arch). This is a design flaw I've run into with several minimal styles lately, but it was never enough for me to stop wearing the Hybrids.
The Hybrid may not look like traditional golf shoes, but you can tell it was made with golf in mind. With a price of $170, the Hybrids are definitely on the upper end of the price range offered by Vivo Barefoot. The question I immediately raised was whether the golf look and features are worthy of the hefty price tag. I haven't had a chance to test the top tier TRUE Stealth shoes ($199), but I've read that the materials and styling make it more comfortable than their other models. The Vivo Hybrids are very comfortable and I would put them ahead of the True tours. So the price point might be justified as a competitor to the True Stealth. However, these upper tier golf shoes target a specific type of consumer and high level golfers are probably less likely to be true barefoot minimalists. Understanding this, TRUE was quick to release a cheaper barefoot golf shoe for the average golfers out there.
The one problem I have with the Hybrid price point is that two other Vivo Barefoot models have the exact same sole, and the Neo Trail (MSRP $115) and Off Road Mid (MSRP $150) are both cheaper than the Hybrid. Plus, both of these models offer the two most important golf shoe characteristics of the Hybrid: the awesome traction and water-resistant uppers. Compared to the Neo Trail, the Hybrids absolutely win when it comes to looks and fit with the way the upper feels around your foot. But is that enough to justify the price difference? Depending on where you play, you may not get away with wearing the Neo Trails on a course (I have them, but I wouldn't wear them where I golf). But honestly, if you aren't a serious golfer then the Neo Trails might be just fine what you need. I could justify paying up for the clean look and feel of the Hybrids (but maybe not quite up to $170). I think they would be better priced near the Off Road Mid at $140-150 or less. Regardless of what you pay for them, if you are a fan of Vivo Barefoot shoes, then you will probably love the Hybrids for golf.
After wearing and testing the Hybrids, I'm not at all surprised that Vivo Barefoot could make a barefoot golf shoe. Vivo Barefoot was able to add some of the features necessary for golf while maintaining the truly minimal nature of their brand. The Hybrids have a great fit and amazing traction given how flexible and they are. They also appear to be holding up very well with repeated abuse. I do think a more rigid toe cap would help when finishing the swing up on your toe. I'd also like to see the lugs all equal depth across the entire sole. Overall, the Hybrids are great shoes on par with the barefoot feel and function of all other Vivo Barefoot's I've worn. If you've been looking for a truly "barefoot" golf shoe, you should certainly give these a look. The thin sole provides great ground feel and makes them the most barefoot feeling golf shoe I've worn.