Vivo Barefoot Oak Review - Business Casual Barefoot Shoes
I have liked the stylish, Wallaby-esque look of the Vivo Barefoot pretty much from the first day I saw them some three years ago.
For that matter, I got my first pair of Oaks back in 2010 and did a "first look" on them here. Fast-forward and I picked up two other pairs of Oaks thanks to some great sales on some discontinued versions. Most recently, Vivo was gracious enough to comp me a pair (it's a special buy three get one free program — no, not really) so I could do an official review — on a colorway that was still available*!
So that's what I'm going to do today — review the stylish, business-casual-passable Vivo Barefoot Oaks. They're a dressier leather "barefoot shoe" that feature a simple design, roomy toe box, no arch support, a flexible sole, and a great amount of ground feel. Not only do my feet love them but my wife does, too. That's the short of it.
For the full-fledged review, read on (and see on!) for a full review with about forty photos of these puppies!
First some official specs on the Oaks (They retail for $130) from the Vivo Barefoot website:
3mm TPU sole[Ed. note: For some reasons, Vivo lists the sole as 3mm thick in the description but in the "Features" box notes it is 4.5mm, which seems more "right" to me based on flexing the sole] for maximum proprioception with protection, the Oak's durability and flexibility make it a favorite for everyday wear. Designed for versatility, the choice between hydrophobic mesh and suede make it perfect for work or casual occasions. Like all VIVOBAREFOOT products, the Oak features an anatomic toe box to allow the feet to spread naturally and a zero drop profile to allow for skillful, injury-free movement. Giving you all-day barefoot comfort and classic styling, it's impossible not to fall in love with this wallabee design.
The Oak design has been around in some shape or form from VIVO for years now. My original pair had a slightly different design at the heel but were, overall, about the same as the current existing design (some important differences to take note of are mentioned in the sole section below).
What's great about the Oak? Allow me to sum it up:
- Great looks! In leather, they are fairly dressy in a business casual sorta way.
- Easy to put on! Thanks to a stretchy heel material, you can easily slip the Oaks on without bothering with laces. Tie them once and slip them on and off all day.
- Barefoot-friendly! A large toe box, thin, arch-less, and neutral heel-to-toe sole combo make these exceedingly foot friendly shoes.
Take a look around the shoes below:
The Oak's upper is constructed primarily of leather — in the case of the brown leather colorway, it's a marbled leather. A ridge runs the toe box of the upper in the classic Wallaby or loafer style. The ridge actually goes a long way to trick the eye into making the shoes look less wide or "clown-like" due to the large toe box. By comparison, the VivoBarefoot Ra doesn't have this ridge and, to my eye, looks a bit flat and wide at the forefoot (and not as fashionable).
The Oaks have a stretchy material at the heels (See here and note how the leather drops down exposing a second material with the heel pull tab attached to it) in lieu of wrapping the entire heel in leather. Actually, when you look at the ridge that runs round the ankle of the Oaks, you see exposed leather edges and this stretchy thick material — it almost looks like someone cut off some part of the shoes (see here). This design is what makes it so easy to slip on (or slip off) the Oaks.
The Oaks roots
The SOLE — The Oak has a 4.5mm thick outsole. The material Vivo uses for a lot of its soles is TPU, which has a slightly different feel to it than rubber (as with Vibram soles). It's a little harder and more rigid to me than rubber or foam. You can get a sense for how the Oak sole flexes in the photos above — note how it keeps its form in the third photo from left to right as I squeeze the sole laterally. Further note that while the Oak's sole is similar looking to the Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lite (reviewed here) or the "desert boot" Vivo Gobi reviewed here, both the Gobi and the Aqua Lite are markedly more flexible. That extra 1.5 mm definitely takes away some sole flexibility, though these are still very thin soles.
The sole lacks any real shape — there's no real curve at the arch, for example. It has some toe spring at the end — not enough to be bothersome to my feet but I'm not a stickler on toe spring like some.
The INSOLE — The Oak is wearable with or without the insole, which is 5mm of EVA. Take note in the photos above of how you see stitching between the TPU outsole and the upper of the Oak when the insole is removed.
This is something that drives me a little crazy about the Vivo line in general. While on the one hand, it's great to have options in how much thickness you prefer with your minimalist footwear, if you take the insole out of a pair of Vivo Barefoots, you normally are left with these stitches that run the base of the footbed. It's just enough texture to be noticeable to a bare foot (or even with thin dress socks) and my preference would be for a more refined design that reduces the stitching here — FiveFingers don't have an abundance of stitching lining the rim of the non-detachable insole by comparison, nor do Merrells or New Balances for that matter.
With insoles in place, I find the ride on the Oak to be perfectly acceptable. It's just got a bit of plushness to it that softens up anything sharp you walk over. While it could be too soft for some, I don't mind the compression of the 5mm layering over the ground at all, but it is noticeably different than how the Oaks wear without the insoles.
To me, insoles removed, the Oaks have a harsher ride — my feet feel more loose within the Oaks and my foot is confronted both more with the variations of surfaces over which I trod but also with the rigidity of the TPU sole as it fights conforming to the odds and ends of concrete, rocks, cracks, ridges, or whatever. And if you can't tell by my characterization of these two states of the Oak, I find I prefer them with the insole in place.
But you've got options and you get to wear them however you like — the benefit of removable insoles.
The ground feel of the Oak really depends on if you wear them with or without the insoles but as you would expect, insoles-in you get less ground feel but a more plush ride. Conversely, insoles out you get more ground feel but a harsher experience for your foot. I say "harsh" because I don't personally find it as pleasant as wearing, say, a pair of SeeYa or Classic FiveFingers, which both feature similarly thick soles to the insole-less Oaks. I think this is due to innate characteristics of a TPU sole, but I'm not totally sure.
If you are hoping for a shoe that will get you close to the ground and let textures shine through the soles, well, the Oak is an excellent choice — one of the best when it comes to it's class of "barefoot" shoes, a.k.a. shoes that look normal and could pass in an office environment without a double- or triple-take.
As alluded to above, I love how I can slip the Oak on and off my feet. This is largely due to how the rear of the shoes is made from a thick elastic material that hugs your heel, keeping your foot well-seated in the shoes. The only drawback to this design quality is that if you wear the Oaks sockless (something I'm less prone to do in these marbled leather Oaks as with another pair of light suede Oaks I have), the elastic can dig into your Achilles and be very irritating over the course of a day. This hasn't been so much an issue as I find I most often wear these Oaks with socks — the dark leather on a bare ankle just looks a little goofy!
Thanks to the Oaks' overall foot friendly design — barefoot or minimalist shoes (so defined here) should have an anatomical last with a toe box that allows toes to flex out, they should be neutral from heel to toe ("zero drop"), lack arch support, and have a dynamic/flexible sole, among other things — you can expect to be comfortable wearing the Oaks all day long. They really are an incredibly comfortable shoe that won't mess with your natural biomechanics.
I managed to snap a ton of photos of the Oaks worn with different pairs of pants and jeans to try and paint a picture of how they might look on your wardrobe. All in all, the only conditions for which these Oaks don't really work are worn with shorts. Otherwise, there's a huge range of fashion flexibility — check it out below.
Khaki pants — seen above are khaki boot cut pants from Banana Republic (that are admittedly slightly too long and need be hemmed). I got compliments from a female coworker on the Oaks worn with these pants (Mrs. BirthdayShoes like them, too, I think)! It's my personal opinion that these can fly in a business casual office though in reality, every office's definition of "biz casual" is a little different/nuanced.
Dressy bootcut jeans — I call these "dressy" simply because they are dark washed jeans. I think these photos really highlight just how good these shoes pair with dark jeans. Definitely passable for a dressy casual Friday.
Dressy straight leg jeans — not much more to say here other than I think they work here!
Casual, cut jeans — I frequently do a manual boot cut of my jeans that I wear casually to help them "rest" on my low-profile footwear. I find this really goes a long way to making the shoes — even toe shoes — look more normal. Anyway, I'd actually say that the Oaks are almost too dressy for these jeans, but my light-colored suede Oaks actually look great with these jeans by comparison (not photoed).
I like the Oaks. To me, they marry everyday functionality (particularly for the office) and style in a way that few other foot-friendly shoes do — at least up until very recently as more company's have released dressier minimalist shoes.
The only drawbacks I've found to Oaks are the elastic sometimes digging into an exposed Achilles tendon and two, I've seen the upper de-laminate from the leather in places on occasion. The former problem is solvable with socks whereas the latter problem is something Vivo could improve by using either a better sole adherence method or better glue. The fix-it yourself solution is glue (though I've just lived with it to date as it's not been super noticeable).
At $130 I can't say the Oaks are cheap, but if you need an everyday shoe with a lot of versatility from a fashion standpoint, you'll get a lot of use out of these Oaks. You can find them on Vivo's website for sale here. And as I alluded to earlier, you can sometimes pick them up on sale — and you can get notified on those kinds of sales by subscribing to BirthdayShoes.
What do you think? Got the Oaks? What do you think about them? Questions or comments, let's hear it below!
*All my older pairs not photoed here are collector's items now. Something like that.