For Fall 2011 comes the all leather Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS, a five toed shoe for men that pushes footwear trends to new levels of insanity: toe shoes for everyday wear? Wearing FiveFingers in a business casual setting? Five toed shoes as fashion-forward footwear? Toe shoes for the modern man?
What is the world coming to? Has Vibram gone mad?
**ALERT August 18, 2011** The Fivefingers Trek LS is now Available for Purchase!
Before I dive in, here is the typically perfunctory, official word on the Trek LS from Vibram's Fall 2011 catalog:
By popular demand, Vibram introduces it's first casual/comfort shoe for men with a distressed kangaroo leather upper and a casual tie lacing system. The Trek LS features the popular 4mm, lightly cleated, Trek outsole and a 4mm EVA midsole for additional comfort.
Illuminating, no? Allow me to elaborate on this description. I've been testing the Trek LS FiveFingers now for a few months and what follows are my thoughts — as well as a slew of photos — all after the jump!
Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS combine a retro-styled sneaker upper cut like the widely popular Vibram FiveFingers Speed — but in all "distressed" kangaroo leather — with the trailworthy and well-treaded Vibram "Trek" five toed rubber sole (The same one you'll find with the KSO Trek or Trek Sport Vibrams. Here are some close-up photos:
As you can see, there are two color options with the Trek LS Vibrams: all black or all brown. And by "all," I clearly mean everything on these toe shoes is either brown or black. While there are slight variations in the leather (for example, the wavy leather piece on either side of the Trek LS seems to have a slightly different "grade" or texture of leather), by and large these toe shoes are essentially mono-toned. The only notable variation in color for either the brown or black Trek LS is in the camouflaged soles. You'll note that the brown Trek LS has a slightly translucent camouflaged look to it. The black and grey camouflaged sole on the all black Trek LS VFFs is completely opaque by comparison.
Leathery Feel and Function
Trek LS Vibrams are made with an all kangaroo leather in the upper. The kangaroo leather is "distressed," which I'm assuming has nothing to do with the state of the kangaroos from whence the leather came (Note: kangaroos are apparently killed for their meat in Australia, not unlike cattle here in the United States). The kangaroo leather runs throughout the shoe, including in the sole of the Trek LS. The only spot where the leather doesn't seem to be is in the forefoot area of the footbed. As pictures are worth a thousand words, feast your eyes on these:
Above, leftmost, you can see how the kangaroo leather wraps each toe pocket. The Trek LS model release (and the upcoming FiveFingers Bormio toe shoe boot) will mark the first time Vibram has put out an outdoor-worthy, all leather FiveFingers model where the toe pockets have leather sidewalls. Leather in the sidewalls seems to do a better job insulating the toes from any drafts. It also seems to do a better job keeping out water. Though I've yet to go puddle jumping in the Trek LS shoes, I have worn them in somewhat wet conditions and haven't noticed any water getting inside. I'd hesitate to call the Trek LS waterproof, but it likely will keep your feet drier on wet ground longer than any prior model of FiveFingers.
The other consequence of leather sidewalls seems to be that the toe pockets have more structure to them. Where this is most noticeable is in the "negative" space between each toe. Wheras prior FiveFingers use fabric around the toe pocket sidewalls and the fabric is always very flexible and stretchy, leather has a good bit more structure. What this means is that when I wear the Trek LS, I tended to notice the leather "tween the toes" pushing on the spaces between my toes more often. It's not annoying really, just noticeable, and a difference to other VFFs that seems worth noting. The "structure" of the toe pockets can make your toes feel like they have individual "wiggle room" within each pocket — this is particularly notable in being able to move your toes sideways (as opposed to up and down). It all makes for just a slightly different feel than you're likely accustomed to if you're a FiveFingers connoisseur.
Other than that, if you've ever worn all leather shoes without socks, you probably have a good sense of what leather on bare skin feels like. It's a nice sensation, but it's not the same as the feel of a fabric, which tends to be more soft. Perhaps for this reason, I found that I'm on the fence as to whether or not I prefer to wear the Trek LS barefoot or with a pair of Injinji Microliner toe socks. The super thin, new Injinji toe socks are (in my opinion) much better than prior Injinjis as they feel less "there," so if you prefer a more cotton-like feel on your foot over leather, they're a good option with the Trek LS.
I can hear you wondering whether or not wearing all leather shoes with bare feet causes problems with sweaty feet or stinky shoes: in my testing, which has included many, many full days of wearing the Trek LS sans socks (probably 95% of the time without socks) and a handful of days with socks, I've yet to notice any smell developing and I can't recall my feet ever feeling icky with moisture or sweat. I've found kangaroo leather breathes quite well. The Trek LS upper is not airy like the Speed's mesh, but it's not going to cook your foot either.
I'm not sure why Vibram didn't carry the leather in the footbed all the way through the forefoot into the toe pockets. The material at this point is some fabric that reminds me of wool in texture. It's not anything remarkable and I usually forget there's any difference at all in the footbed materials.
Aesthetics — how do they look?
The Trek LS FiveFingers are being marketed to the casually-minded barefoot enthusiast. This leaves us wondering the obvious: can toe shoes be fashionable? If so, in what context? What kinds of clothes can be worn with them to compliment their aesthetic? Shorts? Jeans? Khaki pants?
I've been wearing the Trek LS in the following ways:
Casually with bootcut jeans. As photoed above and below, I'm wearing the Trek LS with bootcut Gap jeans that I've manually cut on the sides. I do this extra "snip" on a lot of my casual jeans because I feel it helps them lay down better over most of my footwear, which is as you might expect almost 100% minimalist. As minimalist shoes by definition usually lack any real heel lift, my typical 32" inseam is just a bit too long (and a 30" too short), so the extra cut in the sidewalls sorta "fixes" the jeans so they don't bunch up above my ankles. I like the look and get good feedback on it.
Not pictured above, but I like the brown Trek LS Vibrams paired with darker colored blue jeans best. Overall, I think the Trek LS toe shoes look rugged (thanks to the mottled leather) and are striking worn with jeans that have some character to them.
- Casually or dressier casual with regular jeans. I've got some "nice" jeans that aren't cut up. They're still bootcut and are also a dark wash (anyone out there wearing VFFs with "skinny" jeans?). Matched to the brown Trek LS and a golf shirt or casual button down and you've got an interesting get-up for a good FiveFingers "jeans" Friday at work.
Business (?) casual? While I have worn the Trek LS paired with khaki pants on numerous occasions, I work for a certain tech company that has a co-founder who wears Vibrams, so "dressing up" in business casual attire — khakis and a button down with a pair of Trek LS FiveFingers — well, I'm pushing the envelope a little, but it's not exactly going to raise the brows of upper management. In other words, whether or not toe shoes suddenly are workplace acceptable because they are all leather is necessarily something you have to judge for yourself.
Note that I've not been wearing the Trek LS FiveFingers with shorts. That's because I don't really care for their look against my bare legs (see the photo above). I bet some folks could pull this off entirely and maybe I should give it a real try, but so far I've shied away from wearing them much with shorts.
I don't mention wearing the black Trek LS FiveFingers much. The truth is that I have a hard time pairing an all black leather VFF with a pair of jeans or pants. The black Trek LS just scream Mr. Deeds to me, but more than that, I just don't wear too many black leather shoes ‐ just never been my thing.
Which brings me to my main aesthetic problem with the Trek LS line: the monotoned leather. I wish these shoes had a bit more variation in the leather pieces. Since the Trek LS borrows on the FiveFingers Speed stitching pattern, I'm not sure why Vibram didn't also try to use a different shade of brown leather at key spots on the Trek LS to give the shoes a more dynamic, fashionable look. It's less of a problem with the brown Trek LS, but the all black Trek LS just looks a bit boring to my eye.
All in all, the Trek LS are going to attract attention. Unlike the somewhat similar laced up Speed FiveFingers, the Trek LS are considerably less incognito and tend to attract a good deal of attention. The double-take is your new way to make friends.
Overall Function and Concluding Thoughts
Like it's five toed brothers and sisters, the Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS is thin-soled enough to allow the foot to move and function quite naturally, not unlike how it would function fully naked. That said, the Vibram Trek sole's "lightly cleated" 4mm rubber sole plus the 4mm EVA midsole combine to mute some ground feel and reduce overall sole flexibility — as compared to more minimally soled Vibram FiveFingers (Quickly, Classics/Sprints are the most minimally soled with only the 4mm basic Vibram rubber sole, affording them the greatest flexibility and ground feel; KSOs fall in line next with the same rubber sole plus a 2mm midsole; then there are the Bikila soled Vibrams and the Trek soled VFFs, with the latter being the thickest soled Vibrams of them all).
The Trek LS has no arch support and is a zero-drop, non-heeled shoe. In my testing, this has meant that my natural biomechanics are minimally altered when wearing the Trek LS. Walking miles in the Trek LS hasn't been cause for any concern.
Why Vibram elected to slap their thickest sole/midsole on a casual offering, I don't know other than to guess that perhaps they hope the extra sole will lend some seasonal versatility to the Trek LS model — after all, every millimeter "counts" when it comes to insulating your feet against the cold in winter months.
I would love a similar model to the Trek LS with a sole more like the KSO though!
Running. I did not run in the Trek LS (other than ad hoc running after my two year old or taking an impromptu "jog" due to being late for this or that). I've no doubt they could be run in like all Vibram FiveFingers. I'd not hesitate to climb a tree if I had to in these, nor run some sprints or do some heavy squats in these either.
So should you get a pair of Trek LS? Are they for you?
The Trek LS FiveFingers toe shoes are for manly men who want to push fashion forward five toes at a time. Seriously though, what it all boils down to with the Trek LS is this: do you want a pair of all leather, casual toe shoes for everyday wear? If the answer is "yes," then the Trek LS is for you. Personally, I like what Vibram is trying to do here and have to confess that the Trek LS just looks pretty dang rugged — beefy. They remind me a bit of a solid baseball glove. They're well made and feel like they could take a beating. Matched to the right pair of jeans, they are very eye-catching — striking, even. One thought I've been kicking around is to change out the laces to something non-brown (or non-black) to give them a little extra "something" from a color standpoint. I think that might really make them look great, but wanted to review them "as is."
Pricing and availability
The Trek LS FiveFingers became available for sale on August 18, 2011. You can pick up a pair for $140 with free shipping from CitySports.
So what do you think? Trek LS for you? Let's hear it ... and finally, more photos!