I recently got the chance to test out the Feelmax Niesa 3 and Panka 2 running shoes and today I’ll be sharing a full review of both. What makes these shoes special is that they may be the lightest, thinnest running shoes in the world (at 2.7 oz and 1.3mm thick for the Niesa!) and are the closest thing to running barefoot that I have ever experienced while wearing a shoe. Read on for just what makes these barefoot shoes—ones you might call Marty McFly’s fantasy elf shoes from the future—great!

Overview

About Feelmax: Feelmax was founded 1993 in Finland (their shoes sport cool-looking Finnish flags on the sides), and its mission is to provide products for healthier feet and better feeling feet. Feelmax uses incredibly thin, high-tech insoles with the Continental Tire Company for their shoes, which are constantly being updated (which is why I am reviewing the third version of their Niesa and the second generation of Panka). Feelmax also manufacture many types of toe socks, including ones for cold-weather environments, delicate or sensitive skin, and even a model for heavy sweaters. Pros:
  • Super thin 1.3 soles from the Continental Tire Company
  • The lightest shoes I have ever used at 2.7 oz (Niesa 3) and 3.7 (Panka 2) oz
  • High level of flexibility
  • Comfortable enough to run in without socks
  • Free shoe bag included with both models
Cons:
  • Thin sole may not be appropriate for inexperienced runners
  • May not be appropriate for asphalt and trail use due to the thin sole and lightweight materials
  • A little less breathable than expected
Testing Background: This review was written after running with both shoes in many conditions to assess capabilities of the shoes. While the Niesa and Panka are advertised more for indoor use, I could not keep myself from taking them out for runs along bike baths in the North Shore, the Charles River, and a little trail running mixed in for good measure.

Photos

Take a spin around these Feelmax shoes via the following photos! Niesa 3 Photos: Panka 2 Photos:

The Sole

The Feelmax sole is a tiny 1.3mm thick (as seen on the Niesa 3)
The Feelmax sole is a tiny 1.3mm thick (as seen on the Niesa 3)
Both the Niesa 3 and the Panka 2 use a very special 1.3mm sole, which Feelmax designed and manufactured in conjunction with the Continental Tire Company. This sole is, without a doubt, the thinnest I have ever experienced. It is a single piece of rubber with a “sand-blasted”-like texture for traction and durability. This sole is so thin that I can actually pick up on the texture of the carpet in my living room and the tinniest variations in the rubber on the treadmills at my gym. With such a thin sole, there is nothing to impede the movement of your toes and foot for all kinds of workout activities. Feelmax advertises both the Niesa and Panka as being great for treadmill, gym, fitness, running, crossfit, yoga, beach, post-workout leisure and martial arts. I agree that these are fantastic shoes for indoor activities, but they are also fantastic for light outdoor running for experienced barefooters. However, I would not recommend them for anything more treacherous than bike paths or smooth roads, such a thin sole was designed for rough terrain or hiking and the lightweight materials themselves may not hold up to excessive wetness or mud. While the 1.3mm sole does transfer A LOT of information to the user, the rubber compound they use is just tough enough to shrug a good amount of what I encountered on the bike path. While these shoes were clearly not made for clamoring over rocks, they do provide adequate protection from minor things like fine particles of pebbles and anything grainy I may encounter. It is highly recommended that you actively search out for debris with your eyes if you plan on running outside with these shoes. If you were used to running barefoot for any distance greater than, say, a mile, these shoes would be fantastic for adding a whisper of protection without hindering your barefoot enjoyment. Less experienced runners should be more cautious with these shoes and perhaps keep them for light or indoor use until you’ve become accustomed to have little-to-nothing on your feet.

Fit

The fit of the Niesa 3
The fit of the Niesa 3
As many of you know, I have very wide, duck feet. They are so wide, in fact, that I usually have to get custom sizes for some running sandals. As a child, I would wear shoes that were a few sizes larger than what I should have been wearing because larger shoes would have a bit more width to accommodate my paddles. With the Niesa 3 and Panka 2 from Feelmax, I found the Panka to be just wide enough for my feet, while the Niesa was just right on the fence—any narrower and they would not have been appropriate for my feet. Most minimalist manufacturers have been implementing a “wider toebox” in their designs for many years and I’m glad that Feelmax have done the same. The Panka 2 and Niesa 3 should fit most runners. It is worth noting that on the Feelmax website they recommended that shoppers order one size down for the Niesa 3 but I found that the correct size for me as a great fit—no need to order with a different size, at least in my experience. Niesa — While I did mention that the Niesa was a bit narrow, after running for a bit, I pretty much forgot about the fit and was able to enjoy the thin sole. The Niesa uses a single Velcro strap to keep everything on your foot, while the Panka has traditional laces. The beauty of the Velcro strap is in its quick and easy on-and-off, while laces allow for a lot of customization to the fit of the shoe around your foot. I found that the Velcro strap for the Niesa was adequate in keep the shoe on—the shoe really acts like a sock with an enhanced sole. When strapped down tightly, the Niesa has a wide range of movement and flexibility to my foot, but the ankle remains slightly loose and as a result, really fast cutting movements require a little more intent than in more secure shoes. However, for running in a straight line on a treadmill and working out on a gym, they perform very well. Panka — The Panka has a higher collar than the Niesa, which allows you to tie the shoe down a lot tighter than the single Velcro of the Niesa. Overall, the shoe feels longer, taller wider, and overall just a tad roomier than its cousin, which is great for those with larger or wider feet. With both shoes, their flexibility and lightweight materials allow you to slip them off, even when tied down. They are just secure enough to fulfill their job, but are still easy to take off when you are in a hurry or are feeling a little too lazy to unlace/unvelcro.

Materials and Looks

The Feelmax Panka 2—Marty McFly fantasy elf shoes from the future?
The Feelmax Panka 2—Marty McFly fantasy elf shoes from the future?
Both the Niesa 3 and Panka 2 are incredibly lightweight thanks to their thin soles and the materials used. Aside from the rubber sole, the Niesa 3 uses Lycra and a microfiber suede material along with a “Cleanport NXT” organic anti-odor treatment, which seems pretty similar to the stuff that other shoemakers have to prevent odor. In my time with the Niesa, I found the anti-odor treatment and breathability to be adequate to prevent any funkiness. The lightness of the materials makes the shoes feel almost like Halloween costumes than running shoes! As an aside, I would only rate the breathability of the Niesa as good, expecting it to be more breathable since it is so thin and light. The Panka, on the other hand, is actually a bit more breathable than its lighter cousin, using mesh alongside the microfiber suede material that both shoes share. Both the Niesa 3 and Panka 2 are have quirky looks, with the Niesa looking like nothing more than little blue slipper and the Panka being vaguely reminiscene to Marty Mcfly’s hightops with its higher collar and gray coloring. You won’t get the same looks as Vibram or huarache runners, but you might get a few stares all the same. Overall, I prefer the low-collar, velcroed sleekness of the Niesa over the Panka’s laces and gray coloring, but both are a little eccentric. Then again, I do feel that minimalist runners are all a little eccentric! The small red streak on the Niesa is a nice touch though and I kind of wish that the Panka had a little more flash, since its colors are a bit plain. Because both are so soft and flexible, the shoes bend and twist with your foot and you will see the material wrinkle up, and return to its shape as you enjoy them, which makes then very socklike or like fantasy elf shoes from the future.

Durability

Both the Niesa 3 and Panka 2 have good durability for their intended purpose. After around 40 treadmill miles a piece, they show very little wear, which is a testament to the manufacturing of their high-tech, thin soles. The rest of the shoe materials have softened up even more over time, but are still holding together. The stitching on the shoes is very well done and I don’t expect the shoes to fall apart with indoor use. I would not recommend getting these shoes wet or running with them on anything worse than a well-maintained bike path. The materials are good for what they are—mostly for indoor use, but a stray tree root or well-placed boulder surface would likely tear the lightweight materials with enough abuse. Overall, I am quite impressed with how well the shoes have held up considering how light they are.

Slapping

While many huaraches runners are used to hearing (and silencing) the slapping sounds of their soles and even some Vibram runners can get quite a bit of noise out of their shoes with poor form, both the Niesa and Panka both are essentially ninja shoes. The shoe is so thin and flexible that it is essentially silent to run with, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because I’m sure neighbors would hate to be woken up to the footfalls of a clunky runner in sandals at 5 in the morning, but it’s also a negative because it is theoretically possible to develop bad form without the slap-slap-slap to remind you to land more on-center and with a quicker cadence. However, both shoes are so thin that it is essentially impossible to run without good form. If you try heel strike with these shoes…good luck! Their weight also allows for really quick steps, which are all in line with good running form.

Summary

I was genuinely surprised when I opened my package from Feelmax. I picked up the Niesa first and almost tossed them up to the ceiling. They are truly the lightest shoes I have ever had the pleasure of wearing. If you are looking for the lightest, thinnest running shoe on the market, you’ve found it with the Niesa 3 and Panka 2 from Feelmax! They are the closest things to being barefoot while still wearing something still a shoe. For light outdoor running and all indoor activities, nothing will bring you closer to the ground and keep your feet moving. If you’re looking to pick up the Niesa 3, head over to Feelmax here; for the Panka 2 go here. A huge thanks goes out to Feelmax for sending me both the Niesa 3 and Panka 2 for this review. They are truly a passionate company and I love the variety that they have in their shoe and toesock lineup. Stay tuned for a review of their new Kuuva 3 waterproof boot!