Toe Shoes Boots?

BREAKING FASHION TREND ALERT: Five toed boots for Fall 2011!

UPDATE August 26, 2011: The Bormio FiveFingers are now out for sale!

Possible? Let me ask you this: would you have ever suspected five toed shoes to challenge the prevailing paradigm that footwear must be motion-controlled, heavily padded, and high-heeled in order for us to move around safely outside of our houses or the beach?

Vibram is introducing a new casual model of toe shoes boots this Fall. It’s called the Vibram FiveFingers Bormio and it’s dressed completely in kangaroo leather — “crazy horse” kangaroo leather, actually; it rises past the ankle in a fashion similar to the wooly mammoth FiveFingers Cortina (Which never made it to mass production); and it will be available in either flat matte black or brown.

That’s the Bormio at 1,000 feet. I’ve been fortunate enough to have two pairs (Both colors of the “crazy horse” brown and black leather) of the Bormio FiveFingers for the past few months to test and review, which is what I’ll be doing today. Let’s get zipping!

Full review including 40+ photos after the jump.

Tech Specs

From the official product description on VibramFiveFingers.com:

Clean lines and premium materials make the men’s Bormio boot a great fall casual. Built on a traditional FiveFingers Trek platform, the men’s Bormio boot features a fully lined kangaroo upper and rugged EVA and performance rubber sole. Side-zip closures complete the design and make for easy on-and-off.

In short, if you took some ankle-high leather boots, gave them toes, and slapped on a sub-10mm sole (I’m measuring 9mm total thickness at the heel), you’d get the Bormio FiveFingers.

If you’re new to VFFs and you’re wondering what the heck is a Trek sole, you can catch up on other models that feature the Vibram Trek rubber sole pattern. Just hop over and read the TrekSport review, the KSO Trek review, or the Trek LS review. This is what you’re dealing with though:

The FiveFingers Bormio features the Vibram Trek rubber sole, which has recently turned
The FiveFingers Bormio features the Vibram Trek rubber sole, which has recently turned “two.” The Trek sole is a more rugged, cleated sole for added traction. As the Bormio isn’t (overtly) intended for hiking or trails, my assumption is Vibram went with this sole as it is the thickest, and would (theoretically) provide the greatest amount of insulation from the ground in colder situations.

Design — Leather and Zippers

Dressed 100% in kangaroo “crazy horse” leather, which just has a hint of ruggedness to it while also being “matte,” and double zippers on either side of each ankle, the Bormio FiveFingers is all sophistication. It’s a simple design, really, as there isn’t much in the way of embellishment to the outside of the toe boots other than the clean stitched lines around the toes and along the sides of the foot. This makes them look more like feet, actually (more on this later).

The Bormio is the first zippered VFF (not counting the Cortina, which didn’t survive) and the second VFF for outdoor use to employ leather around the toes (see the Trek LS). It also features a lined interior. The fabric used is beyond me, but it adds two things to the shoe, a bit of added insulation and warmth and a little more structure to the leather.

I’m unclear as to why the Bormio features the stock “yellow” footbed in lieu of a leather footbed. After all, you get the latter style with the all-leather Trek LS and even the KSO Trek, so why no leather in the footbed in the Bormio? I don’t know. There are also a decent number of “seams” in the toe slots of the Bormio (see pic below). I guess this provides interesting texture for your toes, but is that something you want? It doesn’t detract from the feel of the Bormio much, it’s just a head scratcher given the Bormio is a “premium” varietal of FiveFingers.

I have experimented with dropping in a KomodoSport insole. This knocks out the toe seams but also diminishes (by about 3mm) the height of each toe pocket — it could be a problem for those with thicker toes. It works fairly well with me, even with some micro-liner Injinji socks. If you have a pair of these insoles lying around you could try the same, but this is probably a very, very narrow use case!

Below is a look at some of the macro features of the Bormio FiveFingers:

A few shots of some of the unique features of the Vibram FiveFingers Bormio. At the top left you see the inside toe pockets of the Bormio. The lining you see (the dark grey) provides added insulation. The zippers have leather flaps that ensure the zippers don’t irritate the sides of your ankles.

Function, Feel, and Comfort

The Bormio’s distinguishing feature — that the leather goes up and over your ankle — defines the shoe’s function, feel, and comfort. For one, if you’re not familiar with wearing boots that rise above your ankles, one consequence is that the leather above the ankle is moved as you walk around due to the changing angle between your foot and your calf. This changes the feel of the Bormio relative to other VFFs. Specifically, when your foot moves closer to your shin, this pushes the upper of the Bormio into your shin; when your foot points downward away from your shin, the rear of the Bormio ankle pushes against your lower calf. Make sense?

The default setting with the Bormio is that you’re going to zip up both sides to the top. This setting makes them feel more snug around your ankle, and you’ll notice you’re wearing boots walking around, but it doesn’t actually make them much more secure on your foot. As with all toe shoes, it seems toe pockets do a fantastic job of locking down your foot all by themselves. Anyway, with the zippers zipped up, you’ll just notice it. It’s not uncomfortable and if you’re accustomed to wearing boots, this will come as no surprise.

More recently, I’ve been experimenting with flying one zipper at “full mast” and the other one (the outside one usually) at half-mast. What this does is allow for a greater range of motion for the calf in relation to the foot, so the Bormio wears less snug against your leg. This is my preferred way to wear them with or without socks. They don’t feel loose on my foot at all when worn this way either and they’re easier to take off. For full winter wear, I’d zip up all the way to keep in heat.

Ground feel is very much like other VFFs of the same sole-style. Overall, the Bormio is going to feel like “more shoe” on your foot, but it’s mostly because of the upper and has little to do with the sole. Why Vibram slapped the Trek sole on the Bormio, I’m not totally sure apart from the Trek sole being the “thickest” and thereby providing greater insulation against the ground when the temperature drops.

Bormio’s in the winter? It sorta depends. I was able to briefly experiment with the Bormio in Telluride, Colorado back in April. Worn with socks, I never had an uncomfortable moment and the temperature probably ranged from 30-50 degrees. I didn’t wear them for long in the snow, but given they are fully wrapped in leather even around the toes, they should insulate better than other Vibrams. The leather will also do a better job at keeping out moisture — for a time. Unfortunately, the jury is still (in my mind) out as far as how well these could function for extended periods of time in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As I can test them more (it’s a sweltering 90 degrees here in Atlanta now!), I will update this review.

My Bormios have yet to acquire any odors, so I’ve not had to wash them. I’m crossing my toes this trend continues, but as with most VFFs, they are subject to foot funk.

Aesthetic — All dressed up, now where to go?

Here I am sporting the Bormio FiveFingers and a pair of Injinji micro-liner socks - wore this to work yesterday.
Here I am sporting the Bormio FiveFingers in brown crazy horse and a pair of Injinji micro-liner socks – wore this to work yesterday.
And a couple shots of the Bormio in black with some boot cut jeans (with extra slashing on the sides to make them lay down better).
And a couple shots of the Bormio in black with some boot cut jeans (with extra slashing on the sides to make them lay down better).
Black Bormio FiveFingers with black (boot cut) slacks and a white button-down.  While the flat black leather look of the Bormio makes them more
Black Bormio FiveFingers with black (boot cut) slacks and a white button-down. While the flat black leather look of the Bormio makes them more “incognito,” you’re still guaranteed some double takes and a conversation or two on the elevator ride at work.

As Vibram FiveFingers go, the Bormio is surprisingly not as eye-catching as it appears at first blush — this assumes you’re wearing them with jeans or pants. Obviously, the ankle-height design makes them look very unusual when they’re sitting “empty” on the floor (like leathery or frostbitten feet chopped off at the ankles), but as Mrs. BirthdayShoes put it, when they’re on, the Bormios just look like any other pair of Vibrams.

That is, except for one thing, which is that the understated design of the Bormio FiveFingers also makes it harder for folks to discern that you’re wearing shoes. Clearly no one has flat black feet (save Mr. Deeds), but smooth, matte leather looks a little like skin, particularly as with the brown Bormios. You could have feet that were dark brown, and I say that because I had at least one person double-take on my brown crazy horse Bormios thinking I had tanned bare feet. I’m not very tan in case you hadn’t noticed (Desk job FTL!). I had another fellow — a VFF fan at that — remark, “You’ve got lion feet.” I liked that better.

As a “casual” offering, the big question is under what scenario(s) would you find yourself wanting to wear the Bormio Vibrams? I think there are a couple general options:

Casual wear, winter or summer — I think a lot of people will immediately assume the Bormio can’t be worn in the heat of the summer. That isn’t the case. While I’d much prefer the Trek LS or the Speed for casual summer wear given they run “cooler” (and the Classic or Sprint as the flip-flop of the Vibram line-up), the Bormio can certainly be worn all day in an office setting, which I’ve done a great deal here in Atlanta. Meanwhile, paired with some Injinji socks (I particularly like wearing the micro-liner versions, but wool Injinjis make more sense in winter time), they are definitely the warmest FiveFingers you can buy. Worn with jeans (see above in black), they look pretty solid, if not a little dressy.

Business casual? Dressy casual? — I did my best to match the Bormio against a couple dressy casual/business casual (depending on your office) outfits. What do you think? If you’re going to wear toe shoes to a work setting, the Bormio FiveFingers are probably your “most likely to succeed” iteration. Sure, plenty have worn other VFF models to work (particularly KSO Treks), but the suede on the KSO Treks and the “strappiness” degrade the dressy look of the KSO Trek with slacks. Clearly, the Bormio is designed to look sophisticated and not outdoorsy.

What is the aesthetic, anyway? This is really the bigger question: do you want some toe shoes for everyday wear — including wear to work? Do you want a warmer VFF for cooler climates or seasons to wear casually? Do you like the look of toe shoes? Do you mind having people question your sense of fashion? I say that not tongue in cheek: toe shoes are on the fringe of fashion. It’s extremely easy (For me) to imagine some celebrities wearing VFFs — or Bormios — and setting off a fashion trend. Why? Because they are so different and eye-catching. Wearing toe shoes paired with clothing that is fashionable requires confidence, and what’s more fashionable than having some swagger in your step, which is a display of confidence? Of course, you’ve got to do the legwork and take care of the other things you’re wearing your shoes with, but if you can match up an outfit with the Bormio FiveFingers, you might just set off a trend.

If nothing else, you’ll have some good conversations with complete strangers — and blow their minds when you lift up the leg of your pants to show them that the Bormio is a toe shoe boot!

Sporting the Bormio FiveFingers in Brown Crazy Horse leather with a pair of dark wash boot cut jeans from The Gap.
Sporting the Bormio FiveFingers in Brown Crazy Horse leather with a pair of dark wash boot cut jeans from The Gap.

Conclusion, Sizing, and Price

The Bormio FiveFingers are clearly aimed at a very niche fan of toe shoes who want to go almost-barefoot outside the gym, maybe in the workforce, and definitely in more casual atmospheres. Is that you? Want to wear VFFs that are a bit more sophisticated, push the boundaries of fashion, and encourage even more questions from curious onlookers? Want to boldly go where few have ventured outside the realms of Milan, Italy? Then, the Bormio is for you. It’s also for you if you want a warmer option of toe shoes for cooler climates. I like mine well enough and outside of wearing them a good deal lately for this review, will be wearing them more as Fall (and then Winter) arrive.

They aren’t cheap though ? MSRP is $160, so prepare to drop a coin or two if you want a pair. And as for sizing, I’d put the fit as close to the KSO Trek, if not a hair roomier. My versions are pre-production, so sizing might vary for the final product. I’d expect to stay in a size 43 though (which is what I wear across the entire line).

The Bormio FiveFingers were first spotted available for sale on August 26, 2011. If you’re interested in a pair, learn how to get them here!

Questions? Comments? What did I miss? Talk to me in the comments below!

And take a look at all the photos, while you’re at it …

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