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Hiking the Austrian Alps in Vibram FiveFingers

Despite being told that hiking boots are necessary for more serious walks, I found the opposite to be true. I’ve tried both, and for me FiveFingers are far superior in all but the most extreme environments.

Guest post by David Many people will say, “You can’t hike in FiveFingers.Don’t believe them. I’ve been hiking for more than ten years in many places around the world, from the high mountains of Peru to the jungles of Borneo. I’ve hiked in high-topped leather boots, traditional hiking shoes, and Vibram FiveFingers. And I’ll never hike in traditional hiking shoes or boots again. In my experience, FiveFingers are the ultimate shoes for walking over nearly any terrain. Read on to see how FiveFingers have stacked up for hiking the Austrian Alps! I bought my first pair of FiveFingers (KSOs) to use for martial arts training in 2008, and instantly realized they were the best shoes I had ever worn. The thin soles made me feel like a gecko, glued to the ground with a sense of balance only felt with bare feet. Since I don’t work in an office and rarely attend formal events, I trashed most of my traditional shoes and switched to wearing FiveFingers everyday. I tried to convince everyone I knew to do the same, to free their feet from bondage, to be able to move faster, stronger, and with better balance. Most weren’t willing to give them try, but those that did were also hooked. The common objections regarding the look of FiveFingers are somewhat understandable. They do look different, and they do attract attention. But there are an equal if not greater number of people with misconceptions owed to pervasive, “good” marketing from traditional shoe companies about the need for supportive and protective footwear.

Combating common misconception.

One of these misconceptions is that you can’t hike in FiveFingers. In 1999 I hiked the Inca Trail, watching native guides and porters run up and down the steep stone steps, often wet or covered in snow, wearing flimsy sandals. The height of the thick soles on my hiking shoes decreased my balance, and caused me to nearly sprain my ankles on numerous occasions. Whereas the natives were so close to the ground in their sandals that they were better rooted and less likely to slip or twist an ankle. I didn’t fully understand this until I began hiking in FiveFingers on steep and rocky trails. Despite being told that hiking boots are necessary for more serious walks, I found the opposite to be true. I’ve tried both, and for me FiveFingers are far superior in all but the most extreme environments. (The pictures in this post are from a recent 2 week hiking trip in the Austrian Alps, in Vorarlberg near the border with Germany and Switzerland.) The thin soles bring you closer to the ground, improving your balance and making it nearly impossible to sprain an ankle. The individual toe pockets combined with the flexibility of the shoes cause your feet to conform to the surface of the ground, giving you a larger contact area which leads to less slipping and quicker recoveries. And the extremely low weight of FiveFingers ensures you’ll expend less energy, enabling you to hike for longer periods without tiring. I’ve hiked with the KSO’s, KSO Treks, Trek LS’s, and Komodo LS’s. While I find the Trek LS’s to be the most rugged and offer the most protection against sharp, pointy rocks, the KomodoSports may be my favorite option. They conform even better to my feet due to the elastic uppers, and the increased flexibility of the soles is a plus for me. The standard KSO’s are a bit too slippery for some surfaces, with not enough traction for wet mud. But the Komodos have just the right amount. For warm weather hiking the Komodos are my shoe of choice, and for cold weather hiking I prefer the Trek LS with socks to keep my feet warm. Regardless which FiveFingers model you choose, rest assured, they make an outstanding hiking shoe!


About the Author — I’m originally from New Orleans, but currently traveling more than not. I taught self defense full time for many years, and you can see me wearing FiveFingers for martial arts training on my site, Functional Self Defense. These days I’m primarily working as a web developer.

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17 replies on “Hiking the Austrian Alps in Vibram FiveFingers”

What about wet weather hiking? It’s the only thing holding me back from using Five Fingers for my long treks.

Very interesting.
I never tried hiking in VFF, but I’m sure it’s great, and I want to try it for a long time.
I plan to try some little hiking this autumn.
Thank you for this article.

@Jason: We had rain on a couple of occasions. My feet did get wet, but it didn’t present a problem otherwise. I wouldn’t use them for cold weather hiking though if there was any chance of rain.

@Daniel: I haven’t tried them for multi-day hikes with packs, as I haven’t done that since I started wearing VFFs. But I can’t think of a reason why they wouldn’t still provide the same benefits. I’d test it out with your pack first to make sure…but next time I do a multi-day hike I will be wearing my VFFs.

In using VFF since more than a year. For everyday use, for the office (waxed Bormios and Trek LS), for hunting, and for hiking (Trek LS, TrekSport, Trek, and Spyridon). Only wet and cold weather is a problem (FlowTrek, Flow, waiting now for the new models).

If it’s warm and wet, I have another pair with me, so I can switch after the hike/walk/day.

The only problem I got recently when I hiked with my son (2.5 years, 15kg) inside a Deuter Kids Comfort 3 on by back, was walking down from Arosa Weisshorn station. Some trails are steep and covered with mud and stones that easily break apart when standing on them. It became slippery with my one-year-old regularly-worn Trek LS. I assumed that using a new pair of Trek LS (with fresh sole) or Spyridons would have been better.

The only thing that is odd is people’s reaction when walking without ankle support, but since I am used to it there is no problem for me, neither with people’s reaction, nor with my ankles.

My wife and I have used our KSO Treks exclusively for the last 2 years for hiking and backpacking. I agree 100% with everything David says. Two 2 week trips to Colorado and we will NEVER put boots on our feet again. When wearing boots I was always DESPERATE to get them off my feet by the end of the hike. With the leather Treks and Smartwool toe socks we were able to ford a thigh deep stream early in the morning and though it was cold our feet and shoes were dry within 30 mins. We’ve hiked rocky, rooty trails, talus, scree and have been so grateful that we DID NOT have big, heavy, stiff, confining boots on our feet. For cold winter hiking and snowshoeing we use Steger Mukluks.

I have backpacked with Merrell Trail Gloves, Runamoc Dash moccasins, and the Bikila, and my pack had weights between 35 and 70 pounds, depending on the trip. They all worked well. I might not use my Sprints, but perhaps someday I will.

i did 1100 km of hiking an trailrunning in forest midlands 2011 all in classics. and it worked really well

I barefoot hike 90% of the time in summer and the other 10% I use VFF Treksports or Invisble shoes 4mm huaraches. In winter I use Vivobarefoot offroad highs. By the way I live in the French alpes were the terrain can get pretty rugged!

There is ALSO a wide spectrum of footwear that is awesome for trail running and hiking that doesn’t include either stiff, leather hiking boots OR extremely minimal toe shoes. This isn’t anything new; fast packers discovered a long time ago that they can back pack with basic trail shoes and ditched the heavy boots. Originally this was to cut weight but the benefits of having a more flexible, low profile shoe became clear. Now while I’ll admit one certainly CAN do just about anything in any type of footwear I’d still err on the side of convenience and underfoot protection. Toe shoes don’t give you a lot of sock options for travel in colder and/or wetter environments plus I’ve found the overall traction that VFFs provide is fairly poor plus there are just times you can certainly move a lot faster if you don’t have to concentrate on ever foot fall (thus the nicety of having a bit of a midsole and possibly rock plate).

I hiked 400 miles of the Appalachian trail in a pair of Solomon trail runners in 2010, and people thought I was crazy. Recently I’ve been either using my treksports, 6mm invisible shoes huarachas or my merrell road gloves (trail gloves are next on the list!). I’m liking the road gloves the best.
I found from the AT that ankle support is completely unnecessary and probably a hindrance as long as you build up those ankles!

Hello David,

thank you so much for your article. I’m right back from a weekend in the Austrian Alps as well. I went for a hiking trip with my father and my uncle to a cabin at a height of 2000 meters. (starting at 1000 meters).
After gathering informations and opinions in the last half year I felt confident enough to do this hike in my FiveFingers Speed.
Isn’t it funny how the people react? Especially the heavy-boot-hiker. My father and uncle were quiet suprised as well, as I told them in which shoes I will be walking. But I could ensure them, that I could do this.

So how did it go? I must say many things suprised me on this weekend. The first thing was the track. I didn’t expect that it would be that rocky! We were walking at least 90% of the time on stones like in the picture of your article. That’s the reason why I switched to my old hiking boots on day 3. My feet couldn’t stand the tough feeling of the stones anymore. But thats not bad – It’s just a thing my feet and I have to get used to.

The other thing that suprised me a lot was the ease I could move in this terrain. I had no problem jumping from stone to stone, almost like a mountain goat, while the others had to watch every step and needed to balance their foot in their boots. On the second day we were climbing up a mountain top and of course we had to go down afterwards. The trail down was completely gravel. First I wasn’t so sure if the Vibrams could handle the gravel, but there was no problem at all.

My conclusion is, that Vibram FiveFingers are a VERY GOOD choise for do some serious hikes in the mountains, even on gravel and sharp stones. Unfortunately I couldn’t test the grip on wet stones, because we had some awesome weather.
I also had some fun conversations with stranges about my shoes. Always nice to see some shocked faces when they look down my feet 🙂

Kind regards
Patrick from Germany

Just got back from a week in Wyoming, which included a 12 mile hike in the Bridger Wilderness. It was a popular trail, so I encountered a dozen or more hikers along the way, almost all wearing traditional hiking boots. Not having any of the more robust Vibrams, I wore my usual SeeYa’s.

I had zero difficulty managing the trail, a mix of sandy dirt and rocks. Although I got funny looks from some of the other hikers, a couple of them asked how it was going in a positive tone.

Nice guys!

Hopefully as more of us hike in Five Fingers, in other minimalist shoes, or even barefoot, other hikers will shed their monstrous boots! It hurts me just to see people hiking in massive, stiff, and heavy boots.

Everyone that we’ve encountered, while hiking in our VFFs, that have asked about them, have been intrigued and readily understand the benefits when we explain them. We do stress that they need to build up their foot strength before doing extensive hikes in minimalist shoes. They seem to understand that, too.

I did a 9-mile in my TrekSports, rough mountainous Arkansas terrain.

I almost became the typical VFF statistic, because it turned out my feet had about 5 miles of rough hike in them! The last 4 miles were slow torture where I thought I might get a stress fracture at any point. All the muscles that keep your feet flexing, were just blasted; it was like walking with flippers.

(This was a year ago. I’d do much better now.)

But! The shoes themselves did great, and gave fantastic protection from sharp rocks and aggressive vegetables. You can *definitely* hike in VFFs.

But use the same rules as running: work up to it! I should have started with a 4 or 5 miler, which isn’t much of a hike for me in boots, but would have let me know the readiness of my feet.

Don’t have your first VFF run be a marathon, and don’t have your first VFF hike be a 10 miler!

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