The Vibram FiveFingers Speed XC started hitting retailers two weeks ago. I got my pair only a few days back and have been scrambling trying to clobber together an initial review of them.
At $140 a pair, the Speed XC isn’t cheap. It’s $10 more than the REI-exclusive, leather (but not water-resistant) Speed LR FiveFingers (that updated and replaced the discontinued Trek LS) and $10 less than the just-released Lontra FiveFingers (initial review pending).
What exactly is the Speed XC? Let’s start with Vibram’s take:
The Speed XC combines the look and comfort of the Speed with Vibram performance. A multi-layer laminate upper with fully taped seams provides insulation and water resistance. A 4mm EVA midsole offers plating protection from stone bruising, and a lightly cleated 4mm Vibram TC-1 Dura outsole delivers increased traction on a variety of surfaces. The Speed XC offers a traditional lacing system for ease of entry, gusset tongue to prevent water penetration, and seamless polyester lining to keep the outdoor enthusiast comfortable and dry. Machine Washable. Air Dry.
[Fabric layers:] UPPER – Laminated Stretch Mesh + Water Resistant Membrane; SOLE – Vibram TC-1 Dura + EVA Midsole; FOOTBED – Polyester Mesh
[Weight:] Men’s size 43 – 5.47oz. each, 10.94oz./pair
In short, the Speed XC is a water-resistant (not waterproof, but what is?), sneaker-styled pair of Vibram FiveFingers.
But how water-resistant is it? How is it built? Want to know more? After the jump:
Photos! Lots of them. (Bonus: photos of the blue/orange Speed XC, too!)
A video review/overview including a water test!
What’s in the box?
My pair of Speed XC FiveFingers came in the black, dark grey, and canary yellow colorway (Note: if you prefer navy blue with orange accents and a black stripe, check out Tim’s awesome photos of the other men’s Speed XC colorway below). What you see above is that when you get this colorway, they come laced in dark grey but you get an extra set of canary yellow laces.
Meet the Speed XC
The Speed XC FiveFingers donning the included canary yellow laces instead of the dark grey.
The Speed XC’s claim to fame is that it’s water-resistant, featuring a multi-layered upper and a gusseted tongue (so water can’t get in via the tongue of the toe shoes), and borrows on the highly popular FiveFingers Speed aesthetic. The FiveFingers Speed (see my review back in 2010) continues to make it’s way into my weekly shoe rotation via some of the colorways released earlier this year. I like the Speed that much — and so do friends, co-workers, and random onlookers, from what I can tell.
The Speed XC uses a Trek Vibram sole as opposed to the Bikila sole. While the Bikila sole isn’t the most minimalist Vibram sole (you’d need to go old school KSO, Classic, or Sprint for that), the Bikila sole is more minimalist than the Trek sole, which is in my opinion the most rugged, thickest, and most aggressive FiveFingers sole available.
Here’s a walk-around the product in both sets of laces. Note that I quickly swapped over to the yellow laces to imbue these puppies with a bit more personality:
Building for Water-resistance and Weather-proofing
Why did Vibram use the Trek sole? I can only speculate, but forced to do so, I’d say that the Trek sole gets you just that much more off the ground (we’re talking a millimeter or two) and also has a 4mm EVA midsole. Both of these factors will improve their functionality in inclimate weather. For the cold, the extra thickness in the sole and foamy insulation will work to keep feet protected from freezing ground. For the rain, the extra thickness will reduce, albeit hardly at all, the amount of the shoe submerged in puddles.
Then again, maybe I’m reaching and Vibram went Trek on the Speed XC for entirely separate reasons. Your guess is as good as mine.
What about the upper There are a couple standout features of the Speed XC upper. It’s multi-layered, using an external fabric that is a “laminate stretch mesh,” a water-resistant membrane, and a footbed (Which is more like a sock-liner in my view) made of polyester mesh. How this all comes together isn’t totally visible (one layer is completely hidden). That said, what’s most interesting is how the “footbed” is sewn together.
The Speed XC utilizes three layers of fabric and a whole new method of stitching (including taped seams which you can’t see) to make the FiveFingers water-resistant.
Essentially, all vertical seams run down the middle of the toes and the foot, and don’t have extra fabric sticking out. This is a big difference in the toe pockets compared to other Vibram FiveFingers which usually have some fabric running the periphery of each toe pocket.
Also, the tongue gusseting and construction is interesting and allows for a huge amount of space to get your foot into the Speed XC. Just look at this picture and note how far off my foot I can pull the tongue. Inside the Speed XC at the tongue, the seams are minimal like the toe pockets. It’s a nice, well done touch.
And of course, all these seams were reduced to improve water-resistance.
Take a look at these pictures to help clarify whatever I failed to explain in words above!
Ground feel, breathability, and function
It’s too early to go in depth on function for the Speed XC. Note that they aren’t being marketed for running. Can you run in them? I see no reason you couldn’t though it may make more sense to pay the extra $10 to get the Lontras, which will keep more debris and water out on the trails in a high-impact running or hiking situation.
The biggest drawback for day-to-day wear on the Speed XC, where I sit, is the Trek sole. It’s just a little much for casual wear. Most specifically, I find the lugging under-toe to be very aggressive and since it’s fully Vibram rubber, it’s just hard compared to, say, the forefoot section of the Trek sole, which is a combo of Vibram rubber and EVA. Do you need this sole for casual wear? I don’t think so, and can’t imagine they provide so much more insulation against cold ground to make it worth the loss in ground feel over say a Bikila sole. I’d even like the Spyridon sole on these over the Trek sole.
The Trek sole does break-in a bit over time, which means that aggressive toe tread will wear a bit and soften somewhat. That’ll help with ground feel on the Speed XC.
The other aspect of the XC — the water-resistance — means that the upper won’t let in much water, but it also can affect breathability. Wearing them for a few hours, they do seem to keep in a bit more moisture than other FiveFingers. Whether that is due to the extra layers of fabric or the lack of water-permeability isn’t clear.
And speaking of those extra layers, the XCs don’t seem to overheat my foot for casual wear, but it’s been very mild in Atlanta the last week (and not cold). So how they’d feel in summer heat or 20-30 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures is yet to be seen.
The extra fabric and choice of materials also make the XC less loose, stretchy, or flexible in the upper. They aren’t stiff or unforgiving (the SeeYa LS is stiffer even only using a see-through mesh fabric), but they aren’t going to be as soft as the standard Speeds.
Also, my feet tell me that my trusty size 43 sizing fits slightly smaller in the Speed XC than other Trek-soled Vibrams. If you’re on the border for sizing, it might not hurt to try a size up. I don’t feel I need to size up in mine, but it’s close.
The ultimate question is: where does a Speed XC fit into your shoe closet? What would you wear them for?
Overall, if you like the Speed aesthetic, you’ll probably like the Speed XC. The outermost water-resistant fabric has a bit of a wrinkle to it, which is visible in the photos so you can be the judge on if you mind it or not. It’s not that big of a deal to me. I think the extra thread accents are a fun way to pop the XCs and appreciate the yellow laces on the dark gray pair Vibram hooked me up with to review.
Given the choice, I’d probably go with the navy colorway simply because they’re a little more fun.
Overall, the Speed aesthetic works. And while some deride FiveFingers with laces (“They shouldn’t look like traditional shoes!”), personally, I think the laces work and the retro look of the Speed family is great. Most folks I run with consistently like the looks of my Speed FiveFingers the best.
If you want the Speed look but with the ability to stand in water and keep your feet dry, well, the XC is for you.
Video review and water-resistance test
Below is a video of the Speed XC. It’s about 10 minutes long — sorry for that — you can jump to the water-resistance if you’re in a hurry. It’s somewhere in the second half of the video and includes a comparison test to the regular Speeds.
Take a look!
So in short, it looks like the Speed XC is in fact highly water-resistant. Will this water-resistance wear out over time? Don’t know. How long could you stand in a puddle without the water getting in? TBD.
As it stands, the lowest point of entry for water on the XC is at the base of the ankle opening. A splash could net you a good bit of water here, but so long as you’re treading mindfully, your feet likely will stay pretty well dry in puddles and rain.
That’s a wrap, for now!
So there’s an initial review of the Speed XC. It’s an interesting pair of toe shoes that should be a hit if you live in areas with highly unpredictable (rainy) weather and want to keep wearing your FiveFingers without water-logging your shoes. The water-resistance seems like it’s been well designed and implemented. The drawback, as I see it, is that the price on these is steep. Buyers will have to ask if they must have water-resistance in their casual toe shoes. Given the XC is priced so closely to the Lontra ($140 for Speed XC and $150 for Lontra), many will ask if they’d be better off with the Lontra for wear in wintry and water-y conditions.
These are good questions to ask, and I don’t have the answers. This is where you come in.
What do you think? Speed XC for you? Trying to decide between the XC and the Lontra? Which one are you leaning to? Why? Let’s hear it in the comments!
And if you’re looking to pick up a pair, the men’s are out now at retailers like REI and TravelCountry, but in select colorways and sizes. Women’s and more sizes are coming soon!
Photos of the Blue/Orange and gray-soled Speed XC FiveFingers!
The Speed XC in navy blue with orange accents, a gray sole, and black heel/stripe. Photo by Tim Kelley!
Fellow BirthdayShoes blogger Tim Kelley took some awesome shots of his blue/orange/black and gray-soled Speed XC FiveFingers to share in this initial review. Take a look:
Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad based in Atlanta where he works for MURAL in marketing. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.