Guest post by Nicholas Hind
Birthday Shoes originally opened my eyes to the world of minimalist footwear through a link about reebok's sponsorship of Crossfit and it's upcoming shoe range. As an avid crossfitter this piqued my interest and now I'm hooked. Only downside is I'm in Australia and the range of shoes here is severely limited and the prices are double what they are in the USA. I almost weep when reading people complaining about shoes costing $100 over there. Here it's much closer to $200 and a set of Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks, etc. could be up to $250!!!
I know it's sacrilege on this site but I couldn't jump straight to Fives, so I read further grabbed what I thought might be the ultimate shoe for an upcoming overseas trip — the VivoBarefoot Ultra.
We had a big trip including a work conference in Malaysia and three weeks touring Italy: Rome city sights to countryside, beaches and lots of walking. Also an important shoe choice — what to wear on the plane? So many hours on so many planes. Something comfortable, easy to get on and off, and light and flexible. Perfect. Enter the VivoBarefoot Ultra ...
So how did they go?
As a first minimal shoe — awesome. Zero drop, super light, totally flexible, and versatile.
The sock-liner inners were great slippers for the plane, and also to wear in local villages after a day on the trails.
The Ultra's modular design has three parts: an outer shell, the socks-liner which clips in, and a small fabric tongue which can be used without the liners fitted. So you get a very open, water dispersing shoe, a more normal fitting option with the liner installed, or a slipper-like option when using the liner on its own.
I walked through Rome in them, bathed with elephants in Malaysia, trekked the coast of Italy's north, exercised, swam in the pool in Tuscany and more. Ultimate travel shoe? For sure.
Highlights? Definitely trekking the Cinque Terre coastline with my wife in our Vivos. Steep, rocky trails and perfect shoes for this. So much more stable than our old cloud shoes, as your toes can flex and grip. On an epic hike neither of us lost footing once.
Now a few months on and having a few other minimalist shoes to compare with, how do they rate? Still probably my favourite shoe (at least for summer!).
I just keep finding so many reasons to wear them. In fact, I probably wear them more in general usage than for running/training. The main shoe is simple, flexible, thin and lightweight — perfect for minimal/barefoot running. Yeah the material used gives a slightly cushy feeling but it does nothing to limit ground-feel, as it's still only a few mm thick.
The Ultra sock-liners as ultra-minimalist running shoes
My latest discovery has been using the sock-liners as a dedicated running shoe. Not sure if they had this in mind, but they've been awesome! They came into their own on a holiday where I got a bunch of chances to work on my emerging barefoot form. I would set off on the concrete paths along the beachside in bare-feet, with the sock-liners tucked in a pocket for use later. When I hit some rocky ground or my current distance limits, slipping on the sock-liners gave just enough protection but almost no loss in feel. Seriously! These things are wafer thin, no padding, ultra-ultra light.
The paths near my home tend to be littered with tiny bits of gravel and plant debris, so rather than spend my whole run dancing around, the sock-liners have become the next-best-thing to running totally barefoot. I find than any other shoe, even my many expensive minimal shoes, slightly alters my form - but these don't at all.
Obviously these sock-liners are good for smooth asphalt or concrete paths only, as they lack any form of grip or protection. But for this use they are hard to beat. I've even found very little wear, although I don't do huge distances.
So for my money, when you get a pair of the Ultra you get two (or three) shoes for the price of one. They may not be the best at any one thing, but I've always been a fan of a good all-rounder!You can read Nicholas Hind's full review of the Ultras at his blog!