SeeYa Vibram FiveFingers Review
After spending a few months or so with a pre-production pair of Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs) , I’ve come to both love and hate the SeeYa. As Vibram continues to expand and diversify their FiveFinger lineup, each model becomes more and more specialized in what it is designed to do. No longer are we limited to "one type fits most situations" but now there are VFFs to suit your specific activity. It’s clear that the SeeYas are designed for pavement running and racing and while they excel at this task, I don’t think I’d wear them for much else.
After the jump, full review and contest to win a pair on the SeeYa release!
To refresh your memory on what the SeeYa is all about, check out my first look review and video recap from a few months back. I'll save you the extra window; here's the video:
Cool first look video, tell me more!
Function and Performance
Let’s take a look at the official pitch from Vibram on the SeeYas. From their Spring/Summer 2012 catalogue:
The ultra-streamlined Seeya is our newest performance option for serious minimalist runners. Designed to bring you even closer to the barefoot sensation, we’ve radically reduced overall weight and material with a more breathable mesh upper to deliver true, performance-driven footwear. Minimum rubber thickness in the outsole maximizes “foot feel” and flexibility, while a soft midsole further reduces thickness and weight for natural movement. A stitched-in insole protects skin and foot tissue during longer runs. For a snug fit, the lightweight, stretch mesh upper has a seamless collar and adjustable hook-and-loop closure. Machine Washable. Air Dry.
The sole is made from Vibram’s TC1 Rubber that you’d find in the Classics, Sprints, KSOs, Bikilas, Speeds and Treksports. The footbed is a 3mm polyurethane insole with antimicrobial dri-lex sockliner which is the same as in the Bikila and the upcoming Spyridon (reviewed by Leah a few weeks ago). The upper is a polyester stretch mesh that is unlike anything Vibram has used in any other previous model. Weight wise, the SeeYa is the lightest pair of outdoor running FiveFingers to date. A men’s size 43 comes in a 4.8 oz and a women’s 38 is a paltry 3.75 oz. By comparison, men’s KSOs and Bikilas come in at 5.7oz and 6.0oz, respectively.
Great, how do they feel in practice?
Well, the first thing you notice when you pick them up are really how minimal they feel. They really are super light and there is hardly any rigid structure to the upper other than the one Velcro strap across the top of the foot. The tremendously breathable mesh lives up to its stretchy title and if you move slowly, you can actually see your foot expanding with each step as it touches down and begins to support your body weight.
The sole is extremely flexible and you can literally crumple or roll the shoes up into a tight ball. To save weight, the rubber on the bottom is limited to the heel, midfoot, and toe area with a tread pattern that is reminiscent of the Bikilas. The arch of the sole is made of an even softer polyurethane which allows for increased flexibility, and while it provides no support, it does offer more than enough protection from most debris you would encounter while road running. In use, the sole does seem very thin and there is excellent ground transmission which I would compare to how my Bikilas feel after I spent 750+ miles breaking them in. And when I go back to putting on a pair of Komodos or KSOs/Sprints there is a world of difference in the perceived thickness.
Thanks! But really, get to the point, how do they feel?
Across multiple models, I prefer my VFFs to be quite tight fighting and snug, and when slipping the SeeYas on each time I’m always slightly uneasy with how elastic and moveable the uppers are, even with extra thickness from wearing socks. To explain a little further, they don’t necessarily feel loose, It’s just that the material is so flexible and it moves with your feet so effortlessly that it’s almost like it’s not there at all, which is actually probably one of the goals and resulting benefits of wearing minimalist footwear.
What I don’t like (what I absolutely can’t stand) is how the heel fits. It’s just not snug enough. I haven’t experienced this with any other VFF models, but the heel is just to flimsy to stay in place if you’re on uneven ground or moving laterally at all. I love the more sturdy heel cup in the Bikila, and Justin has touched on the merits of the TrekSport and KomodoSport when it comes to cutting laterally on loose ground which is something that you simply can’t do in the SeeYas. Trail running or some gym work, and especially during casual wear the side of your feet may brush up against something, can cause your heel to slide sideways or even accidentally slip out. (UPDATE: As these things go, the SeeYas I'm reviewing here are pre-production. I've gotten word from Vibram that this was a known issue and was addressed for final production. As soon as I get a final production version to test I will update this review. Fixing the heel issue could make these one of my favorite VFFs!).
The good news is that this doesn’t seem to be a problem when actually running on asphalt in them. After getting up to jogging speed and even at race pace, on pavement or the track, the SeeYas stay in place well and I didn’t notice any issues with the heel. Being super light and breathable, they were comfortable to wear, even over longer distances. I generally always wear socks with any pair of VFFs but other reviewers (Leah, review coming soon) commented that they experienced some uncomfortable rubbing on the top of the foot underneath the strap.
FOLLOW-UP — April 16, 2012
The heel of my pre-production pair of SeeYa FiveFingers felt loose, was prone to slippage, and even came off my foot under certain circumstances. This was a known issue for Vibram and was addressed for final production, before the SeeYas hit retail stores. As a result, anyone who has bought these shoes has received the updated model. In the interest of closing the loop on my SeeYa review, I said I would update everyone with my findings once I was able to thoroughly test the retail model. Now that I’ve had a production pair for some time, I can say that while this issue hasn’t been completely solved, it has been greatly improved.
Looking at the heel of the shoe you notice a few minor tweaks. There is an extra layer of stitching where the upper meets the rubber logo and the height of the upper around the heel has been extended with an additional curving towards the front of the foot. A side angle shows off the differences even better (Pre-production on the left, retail version on the right):
The reworking of the heel certainly adds more stability to the fit of the SeeYas, but the slippage problem isn’t resolved 100%, particularly when there is side to side movement of the foot and heel. The inherent trade off here for such a light shoe with a stretchy and minimal upper is that you lose much of the structure. The Velcro strap can only do so much to secure the SeeYas to your feet, so your feet end up being able to move around quite a bit. A number of readers have complained of blistering on the top of the foot underneath the strap and one solution I’ve found for this is to simply wear socks. I really like Injinji’s Lightweight lineup which pair well with the SeeYas, giving me the bare minimum of thickness needed to keep blisters at bay while providing great ground feel.
I like to think of the SeeYas in the same way that I would view a pair of racing flats or track spikes. They serve a very specific purpose for me—while they do okay for short stretches on grass or dirt trails, in my opinion SeeYas are best suited for pavement running. These are my “go fast” VFFs and I wear them when hitting the roads for intervals or heading out for a fast paced long run.
One last parting shot. You’ll notice the coloring of the pre-production shoe on the right is more green while the finalized version is dayglow. Good call, Vibram!
For men, the color options are Black/Dayglow and Light Grey/Blue models. Women’s options include a Light Grey/Orange/Aqua and a Light Grey/Blue model. The dayglow yellow pair reviewed here are quite bright, and would almost be considered garish if they didn’t fit in so well with some of the other flamboyant options Vibram and other minimalist shoes brands have been coming out with lately.
The “teardrop” motif on the heel, sides, top of the foot, top of the toes and along the Velcro strap gives the SeeYa a unique highlighting which sets it apart from the rest of the 2012 lineup. The teardrops on the heel have reflective properties, but probably won’t do much for overall visibility when running at night.
One issue I did notice with extended wear, was a fraying and loosening of the black thread used in the stitching in the darker fabric around the heel. While this hasn’t seemed to affect the fit at all, (and my complaints with the heel were there from the start), the problem appeared after only 50 miles or so. As no other Birthdayshoe.com reviewers have had this problem yet and these were pre-production pairs, it's hard to say if this is will be a common problem or not. See below for photos of the thread issues:
So what’s the bottom line?
The Seeya is the most minimalist model in the VFF lineup and it definitely fills its own niche where other brands and even other VFFs fall short. The Seeyas are designed for road running and you probably won’t want to do much else in them. They are ultra light weight and flex and move comfortably with your foot. The super thin sole provides great ground transmission and despite some quality issues with the stitching, I have no other complaints in using them for what they were intended.
I come from a biking background and the analogy I’d draw with the SeeYas are to that of a time trial or triathlon bike compared to a standard road or mountain bike. A triathlon bike (with the funny handlebars and tucked rider position) is designed to be as aerodynamic as possible to go as fast as possible with little regard given to handling. A road bike climbs well and is nimble around turns and a mountain bike is heavy duty and designed to stand up to the rigors of off-roading. Likewise, the Seeya will make a great addition to someone’s closet who likes a pair of well worn Bikilas or KSOs for road running but I expect most users will be disappointed if they try to get too far off the pavement with them. Trail running, field sports or even gym work that requires quick side to side foot movement will be too much to ask for the Seeyas.
What do you think? Does the SeeYa have a place in your Vibram line-up? Let's hear it!
Finally, if you're a woman, you might like to read Leah's review of the SeeYa FiveFingers here!
Pricing and Availability
Justin here. The SeeYas were first released on 2/10/2012! They retail for $100 and size similarly to the Bikila though as with all FiveFingers, sizing is pretty unique to each fan. Go with your gut.
If you like online shopping, we recommend ordering the FiveFingers SeeYa from a retailer with a strong track record of standing by customer service and having a solid inventory at reasonable prices. Mind, since the SeeYa is a brand new FiveFingers model, you're not going to find it anywhere on sale. That said, you shouldn't have any problem finding it with free shipping.
Here are a couple retailers you might check out first —
- TravelCountry — $99.95 — stocked in men's and women's in all colorways
- CitySports — $99.95 — stocked in men's and women's in select colorways
If neither of those have your size and colorway in stock, hop over to the BirthdayShoes Store to find other legit (not fakes!) retailers who might be carrying the SeeYa FiveFingers!
Bonus Photo Gallery!
Justin here (again). Before I passed the dayglow SeeYas over to Tim to do a full testing and review (Tim being more of a running expert than me), I snapped a few photos of them. I'm nowhere near the photographer that Tim is, but I think I got a few interesting photos and figured, hey, why not share them? Of particular note you'll find images below of the uber-thin arch material (note the indentations that are my fingers pushing on it), the light-passing upper material and low-seam interior photos, the extreme flexibility of the SeeYa as evidenced by a twist, squeeze, and roll-up where I nest a balled up SeeYa inside the other SeeYa ankle opening; and finally, I could actually wear the SeeYas and still put on the VIVO BAREFOOT Ultra. Oh and finally, note the solid toe flexibility as it pertains to dorsiflexing (toes pulled towards shin), toe splay being very good (like a pair of Classics if not better), and poor downward flexibility, which I blame on the lack of a groove in the Vibram rubber where the forefoot joints to the toes (1) matched to the super stretchable upper material of the SeeYa. Enjoy!