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Review of Vibram Five Fingers KSO (Keep Stuff Out)

Review of Vibram Five Fingers KSO (Keep Stuff Out)

I have been seriously enjoying my KSO Vibram Five Fingers — my second pair. The "KSO" is an acronym that stands for "Keep Stuff Out." I had previously purchased and reviewed Vibram FiveFinger Classics back in May 2008, and as a result, John from KayakShed had gotten in touch and graciously sent me a pair of the "Taupe/Palm" Vibram Five Fingers KSOs. That color combo is more of a "grey/green" with gray rubber Vibram soles, as you can see here fresh out of the box (For all KSO colors, see the definitive guide to KSO Vibram Five Fingers):

Vibram FiveFingers KSOs out of the box and onto my feet!

Design Differences — The difference between the Five Fingers KSOs and the Five Fingers Classics (Here is a picture of the Classics)is that the KSOs have an ankle-sock-like elastic seal, fully cover the top of the foot (these two work to keep stuff out of the inner parts of the VFFs), and are secured via a velcro strap that tightens over the top of the foot. The strap runs behind the heel, which allows you to tighten up the KSOs at the back of the foot, as well. This design makes for an all around snug (and quite comfortable) fit.

Another point of difference to the Classics is that the Classics use an elastic band/bungee cord that can be cinched and tightened at the heel. On the plus side for the Classsics, this design allows for a minimal amount of foot coverage and makes the Classics the easiest to put on — sort of like the "flip flop" of the Five Fingers line-up. Unfortunately, when cinched, the band on the Classics can put pressure on the front top of the foot, which may be irritating on longer periods of wear (Again see the Classics picture for reference).

The primary drawback to the KSO design, which is unavoidable, is that the covered top forces a smaller entry point for your foot, making navigating toes into toe holes trickier. Having said that, after probably ten "wearings" it became easy to put the KSO Vibram Five Fingers on, and of course, the benefit to having a more cumbersome entry point is that the KSO design affords greater security on the foot. Once your KSO Vibrams are on your foot, they stay on — Keep Stuff Out, Keep Vibrams On!

Some have asked me if the KSOs are hot — they are not. The mesh covering seems to breath well and the regular Five Fingers fabric is ultra-thin.

Functionality — All of the typical FiveFinger benefits you find with the Classics apply to the KSOs and then some. That means you can run, sprint, play, workout, jump, etc., in the KSOs just like the Classics. Like any FiveFingers, KSOs afford the freedom of effectively being barefoot but with the added protection of a thin, non-supportive-but-protective, flexible Vibram rubber sole. Thanks to the more robust velcro-based tightening mechanism, the KSOs inspire confidence — moreso than the Classics when running sprints or dashing up or down stairs. Whereas the Classics sometimes feel like the heel might flip off, the KSOs (and the Sprints for that matter) are completely locked onto your feet.

As for the "Keep Stuff Out" part of the KSOs, they work pretty well—mind, they could have really gotten nasty on the ankle seal by employing a beefier elastic band, something akin to what cycling socks use. However, this would have been overkill for many, considerably less comfortable, and would have impaired the improved stylishness.

Style — Here I model the KSOs, note the turn in the middle (I know, I should be a professional foot model!):

Here I model my KSOs wearing jeans, like you would a normal shoe! And turn ...

Herein lies perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the KSOs over all other varieties of Vibram Five Fingers: they actually look more like normal footwear — particularly when worn with pants. Of course, they are still FiveFingers, which means that everyone will still be staring at your birthday shoes thanks to the articulated toes. But the full-foot covering of the KSOs makes them much more palatable from a style standpoint, and I have frequently worn mine around town. This, in combination with the added security provided by the KSOs, that makes the KSO model the number one selling VFF — particularly for men. And of the color combinations, VFFers everywhere love the KSO Five Fingers in black.

I actually love my Classics and probably get more "wear time" in them than the KSOs due to their ease of entry and overall maximized minimalist feel (See my detailed thoughts on why the Classic Five Fingers are awesome here).

What can you do in KSO Vibram Five Fingers?

Just about anything. KSO Vibram Five Fingers are the "do anything" Vibram model.

Go hiking. Run a marathon or a 10K. Mountain bike or attend a football game. They're good in the water, too. This hardly scratches the surface of what you can do in KSO Vibrams. For 70+ user-based photo stories, take a look at the comprehensive page dedicated to KSO Five Fingers.

Sizing — Generally, KSOs size one down from Classics and Sprints though in my case, I actually wear the same size across both KSOs and Classics. You might have guessed it, but sizing VFFs is tricky. I recommend consulting the sizing methodology Vibram provides, which is covered in great detail at the birthdayshoes wiki, so make sure you consult it and get the right Five Fingers size! It's also useful to consult before going into a retailer as often times the employees don't know the nitty-gritty complexities on sizing VFFs (and there are differences between genders -- a M40 isn't the same as a W40 and women's sizes, which men can wear and vice versa, generally are slightly more narrow).

Conclusion and Summary — Simply put, the KSOs provide:

  • more versatility than any other VFF. The KSO can do anything the Classic or Sprint can do and much of the same things the Flow can do (it's just less warm),
  • a solid tightening method via the velcro strap, which both inspires confidence and is comfortable, and
  • the full-foot coverage makes the KSOs more stylish (particularly with pants). This seemingly trivial difference is actually very important because more stylish VFFs make you much more likely to wear your birthday shoes out in the world at large. More wear means freer, stronger, healthier, and happier feet. And that's the whole point, right?

So even though they are around $10 more than the Classics, I think the KSOs are worth the added expense for most individuals — particularly if you are going for functionality more than comfort. You can get them at KayakShed here.

See our post on "Barefoot Running Shoes" to see where KSOs fall on our Barefoot Running Shoes Continuum.

Questions? Comments? Be sure to leave feedback below!

The Painful Truth about [Sneakers]

Three Stripes
Creative Commons License photo credit: doktor_skepsis

From the UK DailyMail comes an article titled The painful truth about trainers: Are running shoes a waste of money? (link) by Christopher McDougall. It's a lengthy and thorough write-up about the history of "trainers," or athletic shoes (sneakers or tennis shoes) for us across the pond. The article also details the three following "painful truths" about sneakers:

  1. That the more expensive your sneakers, the more prone you are to injury. This conclusion is drawn from a study of 4000+ runners, "Runners in shoes that cost more than $95 were more than twice as likely to get hurt as runners in shoes that cost less than $40."
  2. Feet need the feedback the ground provides and padded soles interfere with this feedback. A conclusion drawn from a study on gymnasts: "They found that the thicker the landing mat, the harder the gymnasts landed. Instinctively, the gymnasts were searching for stability. When they sensed a soft surface underfoot, they slapped down hard to ensure balance. Runners do the same thing."
  3. Just as when running (or walking) barefoot results in pronation (landing on the outside edge of the balls of your feet and rolling outside in, from little to big toe) and allows for foot arch compression and shock absorption, padding and arch support in sneakers encourage heel-striking and dampen the arch support and elasticity of our feet. In other words, mother nature/evolution/whatever gave us barefeet, and interfering with this bit of biological engineering by wearing sneakers causes problems.

McDougall ultimately suggests that we all may be better off barefoot (or as close to barefoot as possible). Surprised? I didn't think so. This site is all about living life as mother nature intended — i.e. while wearing your birthday shoes (or as close to that state as possible)!

Unfortunately, the article fails to mention the most minimalist, yet dynamic (i.e. not flipflops, which are pretty minimalist, but not dynamic!) footwear currently available to runners (or anyone!); I'm referring, of course, to the beloved and quirky Vibram Five Fingers.

I'll return to this omission in a minute.

On the Origins of Sneakers (and Nike)

McDougall makes mention of the formation of Nike, which is really the business that made extra padding, air cushions, and all sorts of high-tech shoe gadgetry mainstream. What is particularly interesting about the Nike formation anecdote is the bit about Nike's co-founder Bill Bowerman (the other guy was Phil Knight). Please read the following blockquote, which talks how Bowerman got into running via his mentor Arthur Lydiard (bolding mine):

Bowerman didn't actually do much running. He only started to jog a little at the age of 50, after spending time in New Zealand with Arthur Lydiard, the father of fitness running and the most influential distance-running coach of all time. Bowerman came home a convert, and in 1966 wrote a best-selling book whose title introduced a new word and obsession to the fitness-aware public: Jogging.

In between writing and coaching, Bowerman came up with the idea of sticking a hunk of rubber under the heel of his pumps. It was, he said, to stop the feet tiring and give them an edge. With the heel raised, he reasoned, gravity would push them forward ahead of the next man. Bowerman called Nike's first shoe the Cortez - after the conquistador who plundered the New World for gold and unleashed a horrific smallpox epidemic.

It is an irony not wasted on his detractors. In essence, he had created a market for a product and then created the product itself.

'It's genius, the kind of stuff they study in business schools,' one commentator said.

Bowerman's partner, Knight, set up a manufacturing deal in Japan and was soon selling shoes faster than they could come off the assembly line.


So, if running shoes don't make you go faster and don't stop you from getting hurt, then what, exactly, are you paying for? What are the benefits of all those microchips, thrust enhancers, air cushions, torsion devices and roll bars?

The answer is still a mystery. And for Bowerman's old mentor, Arthur Lydiard, it all makes sense.

'We used to run in canvas shoes,' he said.

'We didn't get plantar fasciitis (pain under the heel); we didn't pronate or supinate (land on the edge of the foot); we might have lost a bit of skin from the rough canvas when we were running marathons, but generally we didn't have foot problems.

'Paying several hundred dollars for the latest in hi-tech running shoes is no guarantee you'll avoid any of these injuries and can even guarantee that you will suffer from them in one form or another. Shoes that let your foot function like you're barefoot - they're the shoes for me.'

How bizarre is it that Bowerman, inspired by Lydiard to get into jogging, had an idea that ultimately begot an empire of fancy, overpriced and overpadded "athletic" shoes, shoes that Lydiard writes off today as completely unnecessary? I can only guess that Lydiard didn't tell Bowerman about the goodness of barefooted running and minimalist footwear back in the early 70s when they met (prior to Nike's creation).

On Nike Free

Another bizarre aspect of this article is that it effectively condemns the sneaker/trainer industry as being a marketing charade that encourages people to buy expensive shoes that do them no good and may actually cause them harm; it puts Nike at the center of this circus of fault; and then provides Nike with a platform to promote it's "barefoot running shoes," the Nike Free.

The marketing literature for Nike Frees clearly rely on the "barefoot is good" meme. However, Nike Frees are still shoes with padded soles as you can see from any of these Google Image Search results for the "advanced" (i.e. most barefoot-like) Nike Free 3.0.

The gaping chasm between Nike Free's and actual bare feet is perhaps best depicted via the "Nike Free Range" flash graphic on their website: See it here, click on "The Evolution". On on one side is the traditional sneaker and on the other is a barefoot. Saddled between these two extremes are the three versions of Nike Free shoes, which range from the 7.0 providing "Everyday support," the Nike Free 5.0 providing "Medium support", and the Free 3.0 which provides "Minimal support." In my opinion everything by the barefoot, which would provide "No support," is an evolution fail, but you can't sell bare feet right? (Well unless you have invented a rubber soled "foot glove," I suppose)


My write-up on the lengthy DailyMail article has gotten a bit lengthy, itself. Sorry. In short, I am happy to see increased awareness about how fancy sneakers are messing up our feet and that we may be a lot better off doing things in our birthday shoes. I'm disappointed the article fails to mention Five Fingers while providing a pitch for the still-sneakers, Nike Free. I'll just have to be satisfied with baby steps towards increased awareness that our feet were meant to be unshod, and if you don't want to risk the concrete-ified and trashed areas you trod donning your birthday shoes in full glory, at least you can get 95% there with Five Fingers.

Be sure and check out my interview with Christopher McDougall!

In it, Chris talks about denying your nature, the sports shoe industry, getting to barefoot, cross-pollinating ideas, and more!

Flying "barefoot:" TSA reaction to Five Fingers

Last weekend Patri Friedman was donning his Five Fingers while traveling about to present on Seasteading. Having anticipated TSA's security check requirement to remove your shoes, Patri had removed his birthday shoes before going through the metal detector at the security checkpoint. The TSA reaction was as expected — absolute "furor" — the TSA folk were all fascinated by the "foot gloves!"

As chance would have it, the same day I had been traveling to LAX (from ATL) and was donning my fivefinger KSOs. I didn't take them off, not realizing that it was a requirement. The TSA reaction was a bit less cordial (even though they never made me run them through the x-ray machine).

Thus what we have here as far as Five Fingers and TSA regulations is a mixed bag. On the one hand, if you don't take off your VFFs before you go through the airport metal detector, you might end up like me and only get some curious questions, questioning looks, and maybe a few "bad vibes" from the Transportation Security Administration.

Or you could just take them off and be the talk of the TSA. Simply put: there are pros and cons to each approach.

About BirthdayShoes (It's a pun for "barefoot shoes")

Justin in his Vibram Five Finger ClassicsThis site was created in mid-April 2009 to be a central hub for reviews, pictures, ideas, experiences, activities, and everything else relating to Vibram FiveFingers. It has since evolved into a site that covers all minmialist shoes or "barefoot shoes" including footwear from manufacturers Vivo Barefoot, Merrell Barefoot, New Balance (NB Minimus), Luna Sandals, Invisible Shoes, and more (see them all here).

What's the big deal about FiveFingers? Simply put, they are footwear designed to accord with our biological or evolutionary engineering (the "invisible hand" of evolution or the divine hand of [your belief system]).

Vibram FiveFingers and other minimalist footwear are perhaps best understood by describing what they are not rather than what they are: Vibram Five Fingers are not thickly padded, high heeled, motion-controlled shoes that effectively prevent your feet from being feet, which in turn impacts (negatively) your natural walking/running/playing gait. Rather, by being little more than a thin rubber covering on the bottom of your foot (with practically zero arch support or cushioning), Vibram Five Fingers empower you to trod the earth unshod and free — at least, as close to it as you can imagine while still providing minimalistic protection from the concrete jungle of our modern times.

I wish more products fit as harmoniously with our core, animalistic humanity!

A quick tour of some of what you'll find at BirthdayShoes

If you're new here, be sure to check out:

In short, take a look around and welcome!

Who runs this site?

BirthdayShoes is over three years old and has been visited over 5 million times by over 3 million people around the globe. It's been cited by CNN and Inc. magazine and even been spotted on TV on occasion. It's widely considered to be a "go to" source if not the go to source for all things minimalist- or "barefoot-" shoes related.

If you can't tell, "bdayshoes" is a labor of love built, maintained, and furthered through the help of people like you (It's not my day job — it's what I do when I'm not working or parenting two girls or just having fun).

While most of the reviews here have been written by me (Justin), in no way could this site be a success but for the help of many, many others. In fact, you'll find plenty of reviews and articles written by BirthdayShoes bloggers who have graciously lent their time and expertise to making BirthdayShoes even better. I simply couldn't keep this site without a lot of community support. Thank you!

Finally, just to be transparent BirthdayShoes is not a retailer of shoes though it does have relationships with various online retailers through which the site generates some revenue to support ongoing operations. In the course of building this site, we've also made contact with various shoe manufacturers who have usually been pretty helpful and always hands off — we've gotten some free shoes to review out of these relationships but never been directly compensated nor would we take any such compensation from manufacturers were it offered! We want BirthdayShoes to be a legit, authentic source of useful information on the web — if you ever question our veracity, do not hesitate to email me directly at justin [at] birthdayshoes.com!

Justin Owings, Founder

Vibram FiveFingers — Revolutionary toe shoes or "Barefoot Shoes"

The origins of "toe shoes" — the original "barefoot shoe"

Five Fingers were the brainchild of Italian designer Robert Fliri. Fliri first had the concept of a foot glove with articulated toes — what are now colloquially referred to as "barefoot shoes," "minimalist shoes," or "toe shoes" — back in 1999. Fliri had been spending a good deal of time outdoors in the mountains of Italy, periodically taking off his shoes. It was from these experiences that he conceptualized toe shoes, remarking that, "We have five toes: when they can move and grasp the ground independently, and when you can really sense the surface under your feet, your body is able to do what it is designed for by nature. That is a powerful feeling."

Fliri was making a simple case: if feet evolved to experience the world "naked," why are we strapping heavily cushioned, "high-heeled" marshmallow shoes like Nikes onto our feet in order to walk around "safely" or without hurting ourselves? Did [Mother Nature | God | Evolution | insert your higher power here] churn out a foot that was broken by design? Surely not!

Vibram LogoDespite the almost obvious power of toe shoes — foot gloves that let feet function and feel similarly to how they would barefoot, Robert Fliri's toe shoe concept languished until a fortuitous meeting with Marco Bramani, the grandson of Vitale Bramani. Vitale Bramani is the founder of the Italian company Vibram (pronounced "Vee-brum"). As the legend goes, Bramani believed that "Five Fingers" (So named because the Italian word for "fingers" is the same as that for "toes") might make a novel choice of footwear for use on sailboats or in other activities that required greater ground-feel. Sometime in the early 2000s (perhaps 2004?), Bramani brought Fliri into his grandfather's company to develop the world's first toe shoes.

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