When I first saw the Teva Nilch on the Teva website I immediately thought of Terra Plana’s VivoBarefoot line and Justin's review of the NB MINIMUS Life. Though the Nilch are sold as "water booties" these looked simple and nice enough to pass as a nice casual shoe with a pair of jeans. They jumped right to the top of on my To-Buy list. Fortunately, thanks to a little help from KayakShed, I was able to try a pair (as well as a pair of the Teva Zilch which James reviewed recently).
Does the Teva Nilch stack up to those other guys in terms of quality and comfort? Would it be fair to call the Nilch a "barefoot" shoe? Follow me after the jump to find out.
The Teva Nilch is marketed as a “water booty” and as such, the outsole is made with Teva’s patented Spider Rubber, a special rubber that is supposed to get “sticky” and grippier when wet. The total thickness of the Spider Rubber outsole and the EVA insole is a mere 6mm, with no differential in the heel. The upper is a very lightweight, stretchy fabric, made from what was described to me by a Teva rep as a “dual-faced synthetic.” I don’t know what that means, but it’s very thin and light. Total weight in my size (12) is 5.6 ounces.
Oh, and if you’re already familiar with Teva’s Zilch sandal, the names being similar is appropriate. Their soles appear to be kind of cousins. They are both Spider Rubber and the tread on the outsole is very similar, and is even laid out in the same pattern, but the Nilch sports a thinner version of it. The Zilch has more aggressive, grabbier tread with small lugs… if you can even really use the word lugs.
Right out of the box, I knew I was going to like these. As you can see from the pics, the design really is very simple, and sleek, and does look good with jeans, for sure. The upper is every bit as thin and breathable as a KSO up in the top half. The lower half of the upper is a bit thicker, but not much. The inside is lined with a soft enough fabric that I could happily go sockless, but as I have mentioned in previous reviews (See my review of the Nike Zoom Waffle Racer), my feet produce foul odors without socks, so I wear the Nilch with my trusty Injinjis. I hope my clients and coworkers appreciate that I shell out $12 on a pair of socks for their sake, but I digress.
The first night I received the Teva Nilch, I wore them to a party, just walking around downtown L.A. and hanging out at a bar. I enjoyed the look and feel of them, but what struck me as strange is how they can have terrific ground feel but not so great flexibility. The ground feel actually ranks well above that of the New Balance NB Minimus, and is even slightly better than the thicker Vibram Five Fingers models like a KomodoSport or a Bikila. Yet the sole doesn’t bend and flex as easy as even the New Balance Minimus Trail. When compared with the NB Minimus Trails specifically it isn’t much worse, but the Nilch is definitely stiffer soled. I suspect that this may loosen up with wear, and it will "break in" a little, but I also suspect it has something to do with the “sticky” factor of the special Spider Rubber.
My interest in the Teva Nilch was for casual wear, but Justin suggested trying some running in them for the sake of completeness. With that in mind, I wore them to teach my CrossFit class the very next day to put them through their paces. For a warm-up, I knocked out a quick 800 meter jog, and was surprised at how much I did NOT enjoy running in these at all. The weight is good, and the ground feel is excellent, but that slight stiffness of the Spider Rubber ended up being noticeable enough to be unpleasant. It wasn’t a huge difference, but enough that I wanted to take them off halfway though the short run.
Having not brought any alternative shoes that day (mistake) I followed that warm-up run by doing “THE FILTHY 50” in them, and did not enjoy that much either. For the uninitiated in the madness that is CrossFit, this is The Filthy 50:
- 50 Box jump, 24 inch box
- 50 Jumping pull-ups
- 50 Kettlebell swings, 1 pood
- Walking Lunge, 50 steps
- 50 Knees to elbows
- 50 Push press, 45 pounds
- 50 Back extensions
- 50 Wall ball shots, 20 pound ball
- 50 Burpees
- 50 Double unders
As with the running, the jumping felt wrong with that slight stiffness. In a crazy application like the Filthy 50, I felt like I was spending extra energy in my foot to bend and flex the Nilch. That may sound silly, but when you’re pounding out 50 Box Jumps, and thinking ahead to all that other punishment, every little bit of energy is worth saving.
All in all, there are a dozen other shoes that I would rather exercise in, including no shoes at all. They were designed as outdoor water shoes, so who knows, maybe they are great when hiking through shallow creeks with your kayak on your back, but the Nilch are not a good pick for CrossFit or running.
When buying footwear these days, whether its shoes for the evening, or shoes for a 5:30 am CrossFit workout, four things are top of mind — probably the same four things most BirthdayShoes readers look for:
- Zero Heel Drop
- Ample toe-box room
This shoe fits the bill on every count except for flexibility. That point against them is a small one, because the Nilch is not really all that stiff, but stiff enough that working out and running in them makes for a bad use.
However, the flexibility is just fine for kicking it at a party or putzing around on a Saturday night at a sushi bar (which I also did in them by the way). The toe-box is a slightly odd shape, which makes them eye-catching, and I have actually received several compliments on them.
At a price point of $50, the Teva Nilch has the Minimus Life and VivoBarefoot smoked on affordability. I highly recommend these for casual wear and can tell you honestly that they have immediately become a staple of my weekend wardrobe.
About the Author — I'm a strength and conditioning coach, running coach, and Owner of a CrossFit Gym in Thousand Oaks, California. When I first discovered the "barefoot" movement, and minimal shoes in 2009, I jumped in too far, too fast and messed up some toes. I needed a transitional shoe to ween myself off a 30 year addiction to cushion and padding. Yes, I said addiction. Bad shoes are like a drug. The more you wear them, the more you need them. Well, I needed the footwear equivalent of a nicotine patch. Enter The Nike Zoom Waffle Racer VI. It certainly has its pluses and minuses, but if you're a barefoot noob looking for a good place to start, this may be it.