Barefoot Shoes

Review Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lite Shoes

If you’re after a good-looking barefoot/minimalist shoe that has everyday versatility, top-notch ground feel, and allows you to preserve your natural bio-mechanics, posture, and “barefoot” movement, the VIVO BAREFOOT Aqua Lite is worth your serious consideration.

My first pair of Vivo Barefoots were the blue-suede Vivo Barefoot Aquas (reviewed over two years ago). Back then, there really weren’t a ton of casual, barefoot-minded shoes available that featured thin soles, a wide toe box, didn’t have five toe pockets, and actually looked fashionable. Fast forward to today and there are tons of minimalist shoes out there. That said, while original Aqua was a great “barefoot shoe,” it could stand to be improved. The proof? Meet the Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lite! The Aqua Lites are lighter, more flexible, more stylish/refined, and easier to put on than the original Aquas. In short, Vivo Barefoot took an already solid shoe and made it a great shoe. It’s so good, in fact, that Vivo Barefoot’s running guru and barefoot running certifier-in-Chief Lee Saxby has blessed the Aqua Lites as his “go-to, on road, running shoe.” And while I can see how running in the Aqua Lites would serve you well, given their mild-mannered (or hip colored) aesthetic, I’ve always seen them more as a casual shoes that keeps me close to being barefoot without toe pockets, crazy sole and lace configurations, or slipper-like looks. Does something like that pique your interest? Read on for a detailed review including over 50 photos of the shoes, how they pair with jeans and pants, how they contrast to the Aquas of old, and even a set of the Aqua Lites in the updated blue-upper, white-soled colorway! Read on!


The Aqua Lite features a 3mm TPU outsole (they are neutral or zero drop from heel-to-toe so they have no elevated heel), a removable 3mm PU insole, and a 100% vegan upper that almost completely lacks any sewn together parts. They have a sizeable toe box for quality toe splay. Vivo Barefoot bills the Aqua Lites as “King of hard, flat surfaces, the Aqua Lite is perfect for the treadmill, road running and every day gym workouts.” And with Lee Saxby’s “go-to” blessing, this makes sense. On the other hand, am I the only one who thinks the Aqua Lites just don’t look like a running shoe? I think my perspective is grounded by the fact that Vivo has the Neo and the Evo II for multi-terrain running and both look a little more like a running shoe. More on aesthetics later. Photos of the Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lites (in grey and red):


The marketing around “barefoot shoes” where manufacturers bill certain models as suitable for running while others for general fitness, casual wear, or water wear can be a bit confusing. The question, “Can I do X in Y barefoot/minimalist shoe?” misses an important point about shoes that let your feet function as they would naturally: if your bare feet can do some activity (i.e. walk, run, play, lift weights, go to the grocery store), a shoe that keeps your foot close to the barefoot condition should also work for that activity. It’s when shoes start specializing that it gets a little dicier — see minimalist shoes meant for hiking or trail running. My point is that Aqua Lites are versatile shoes — just like your bare feet. I didn’t run in the Aqua Lites but I don’t need to to know that they’ll work for running. The lack of tread makes them more suitable for smooth surfaces without loose dirt or debris (though that wouldn’t be a deal stopper, I’m sure). The Aqua Lites will also work for weight lifting, walking, general fitness, or casual wear. They work for any movement in which you want to preserve natural bio-mechanics. As for specifics … The Aqua Lites are easy to put on (I often leave them tied and just slip them on and off). This was not the case at all with the original (comparison is below). They have a tongue that is attached to the inside walls of the shoe, but in a way that still allows you to put them on easily (see this image). The Aqua Lites can be worn with or without socks. I prefer wearing minimalist footwear without socks. Socks just detract from the experience of “lacking” materials on my bare feet, so this is my preferred way to wear shoes. For my reviewing of the Aqua Lites, I rarely wore socks. They are certainly comfortable worn this way; however, I continue to wish that Vivo Barefoot would create a more comfortable sockliner. I’d take the Dri-lex liner you get with many FiveFingers models. Even better, outfit these Aqua Lites with the kind of liner you get with most of New Balance’s Minimus line (see: leather Minimus MT10s, which I love for sockless wear). There’s just something about wearing the Aqua Lites with the insole intact or with it removed that catches my sockless foot’s attention. There’s almost too much texture on both fabrics and I swear my feet get just a little too balmy (it’s not terrible, just noticeable) against these polyurethane-backed insoles (or outsoles with the insole removed). This is far from a dealbreaker on these shoes, but I feel they’d be so much more comfortable with a nicer on-skin feel for their innards.
I’ll speak more to the insole-in or insole-out wear below in “Ground Feel,” but either way the Aqua Lites are incredibly flexible-soled. It’s easy to twist up, around, and flexes readily both horizontally and laterally — you can get a sense for this in the images to the right. It’s also fairly easy to bend the shoe in half using only one hand. The upper materials are comfortable against you bare skin, fairly breathable, and flexible. You’ll note there are two types of fabrics used in the upper. The darker grey fabric has a bit more structure to it. The lighter grey is super flexible. The toe box of the Aqua Lites is covered in the thicker fabric up to the base of the foot’s instep where it switches to the light grey fabric. This is the flex point of the upper as you can see below:
For whatever reason, some Vivo Barefoot styles (the original Evo caused some blistering here) would crease on the top of your foot at this point and irritate the foot. I’ve not had this problem with the Aqua Lites likely due to the overall malleability of the upper fabrics (both styles). They’ve got an upsized toe box. I can maintain a great deal of toe splay in the Aqua Lites. Every once in awhile I feel like the Aqua Lite toe box curves in a little too much on my big toe, but that could be my foot orienting oddly inside the shoes. One aspect of toe shoes is that your toes are in very predictable places due to the toe pockets. Remove these locking pockets and have a mono-toed shoe like Vivo Barefoots and your foot can slosh around a bit — not that I ever felt my foot had too much toe box. For the record, my foot, which is (I think) pretty average, I find most all Vivo Barefoot toe boxes to be more than adequate. Aqua Lites don’t degrade your natural bio-mechanics! This more or less follows from the fact that they’ve got no arch support and are zero-dropped, low profile (not thick-soled) shoes. So for walking around, my barefooted bio-mechanics seem mostly unaffected by wearing the Aqua Lite. Not changing my natural movement is a pretty important null characteristic for a barefoot/minimalist shoe, in case you are new to the category.

Ground feel

Not a lot needs to be said about the Aqua Lites ground feel—it’s just really, really good. TPU seems to lend an overall harder feel to the Vivo Barefoot soles than the rubber soles I’m accustomed to from FiveFingers and many other options. However, with the sole at only 3mm thick plus another 3mm of EVA, you’re still looking at a fully loaded stack height of about 6mm. 6mm is awfully thin (Comparable to the thinnest Vibrams or the these 6mm huaraches) so it’s no surprise that the Aqua Lites should pass on a similar amount of “barefoot feel” through the soles. Since some opt to wear their Aqua Lites with the insoles while others take them out, I’ll take a second to speak to the feel in these two different scenarios.
What the inside of a pair of blue Aqua Lites looks like with the 3mm EVA insole in and out.
With the 3mm EVA insoles in place (this is what the insoles look like removed — here and here), you get what you’d probably expect — a plush ride. Mind, you’re not walking on marshmallows but you feel the slightest bit of “sink” when you walk as you feel that 3mm compress. Mind, the ground feel is so good with the insoles in than unless you’re just trying to max out ground feel, I’d actually say just leave them in. They basically just pad all surfaces with the slightest bit of cushion. Boil it down and while you might not be able to get a good feel for things like seams in concrete, you’ll certainly notice any pebble you step on. Textures of surfaces will readily pass through, too. Aqua Lites make any walk more interesting — and that’s with the insoles in! Take the insoles out. Don’t expect for the ground feel to transform to “ultra barefoot!” simply by taking out the insoles because really, when we’re talking about only 3mm of TPU sole vs. 3mm sole plus 3mm of EVA insole, well, it just doesn’t make a huge difference. Of course, with no insole, you get fantastic ground feel because the sole is so incredibly thin that it’ll deform readily when it comes into contact with the varied terrain over which you walk, run, play, or stand. Subjectively speaking, I’d still say that Classic FiveFingers, the insole-less Altra Adams, or 4mm Connect huaraches might provide marginally more ground feel, with a slight bias towards the toe shoes — how is that possible given 3mm with the Aqua Lites is less than the 3.5mm, 3.4mm, and 4mm*? My hunch is that it’s just a difference between rubber and TPU. My hunch is that rubber just lacks the structure of TPU and therefore conforms more to surfaces. If only things were as simple as sole thickness when it comes to ground feel! It’s just not the case. Anyway, you can expect to feel every pebble you step on and seams in concrete will also be discernible. If you’re after a first-class barefoot-feel while still wearing shoes, the Aqua Lites are an excellent choice no matter how you slice’em. And while it should go without saying, any “barefoot shoe” is going to dramatically mute ground feel as compared to being actually barefoot. Shod in the Aqua Lites or barefoot, you can expect your feet to pay attention. It’s just that walking or running on a sandpaper-like surface like concrete when shod in them will feel considerably less sensational than it would barefoot (An incredibly important point if you’re really trying to rapidly learn barefoot-style running — the “barefoot” part makes a difference!).

The Aqua Lite Style!

A few shots of the Aqua Lites paired with jeans and pants, respectively.
I dig the style of the Aqua Lites. They’ve got a simple, minimalist design to them that actually fits right in with casual attire without looking like a runnning shoe. They’re subdued enough that I think you can pair them with a lot of different clothes and in particular with jeans, pants, or khakis. The upper material, while not being leather, has a suede-like look to it that lends a quality look to the overall build. I think this goes a long way — plus the lack of extraneous embellishments — to making them pair well with anything (while obviously not slacks or a suit!). I didn’t wear my Aqua Lites much with shorts outside of some gym time in them, so I can’t supply photos of that look. I think they work well enough with shorts, but perhaps a little dressy, if that makes sense. As fashion is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, you be the judge. Here are some photos of the Aqua Lites with a couple or three different pairs of jeans, pants, and khakis:

Comparison to the old Aquas

The old Vivo Barefoot Aquas have been discontinued, but you can still find them around the ‘net if you’re in the market. At the time of my original review, I liked them a lot and I still bust them out from time to time. However, they weren’t perfect. The most annoying part about the old Aqua was how the tongue worked. It basically ran from either side of the base of your foot up and over your instep and back down. It wasn’t really a tongue at all, when you think about it. I found this made them a real pain to put on and take off.
Leftmost you can see the weird tongue of the original Aqua; the two right photos depict the revamped Aqua Lite.
The Aqua Lite solved this problem while maintaining the gist of the original design. It’s hard to explain just how the new tongue works, but if you look at this picture you’ll get the gist — there are these cutaways that allow the tongue to move up and forward while still being attached to the rest of the upper. This works flawlessly and I routinely put the Aqua Lites on without ever untying them — a nice plus. While I personally like leather, I imagine this is one of the factors that made the original Aquas a bit heavier than the redesigned Aqua Lites. Lighter shoes make for less fatigue on your legs and feet —
and you’ll be less anxious to shed your shoes after wearing them all day. So whether ditching leather accomplished this change or an overall reduction in build materials, this is a nice improvement for the Aqua Lite. The actual sole shape and mold is the same on the old Aquas and the new Aqua Lites, the new Aqua Lites are much, much more flexible in the soles. Just look at the flex photos to the right and you’ll see what I mean.


Overall, if you’re after a good-looking shoe that has everyday versatility, top-notch ground feel, and allows you to preserve your natural bio-mechanics, posture, and “barefoot” movement, the Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lite is worth your serious consideration. My only gripe with it is that I wish it had a more svelte interior; however, this is a gripe that comes with having tested a hundred plus minimalist shoes and is in no way a dealbreaker. If you’re after the Aqua Lites, they MSRP for $115 and can be found at Sometimes you can even find them on sale at online retailers like (and if you want to hear about periodic big sales, consider subscribing by email to BirthdayShoes). As for sizing, I’m a 10.5 and tend to fit between a EU 43 and a 44 in Vivo Barefoot shoes. In the case of the Aquas and Aqua Lites, a 44 fits me just right (Whereas I fit a 43 in the Ultra Pures and Oaks). Questions or comments? Have the Aqua Lites already? Anyone use the Aqua Lites as their go-to road running shoes? Please post your thoughts in the comments section below … and check out the bonus photo gallery of the shoes in the blue/white colorway!

Blue Aqua Lite Vivo Barefoot Shoes!

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

21 replies on “Review Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lite Shoes”

I’m a big fan of the way VivoBarefoot shoes fit and feel, and I have to say I’m really disappointed with my aqua lites. They feel awesome, almost like a slipper, but the toe spring tapers and really narrows the toe box depth vertically. The upper is practically touching the tops of my toes and normal toe extension while walking is restricted. My toes just feel really trapped compared to all my other Vivo shoes. Are yours not like that? From the pictures, it definitely looks shallow like mine. It amazes me that Saxby would pick these as his favorite with an issue like that. My Evo’s and Neos have way more vertical room than these. I really want to like them, but I shouldn’t constantly be thinking of how my toes can’t move upward freely. For a brand that’s been smart about barefoot designs, this is a disappointing oversight.

I like the blue ones. These are decent and look cool. Definitely more minimal than previous offerings. I will be keeping an eye out for these if they ever make it to the Clymb, as I don’t see myself paying $115 for them.


Interesting comment. I didn’t notice and do not notice this at all with mine. To the extent that there’s not a lot of vertical volume in the toe box, it’s about “just right” for me — basically when I dorsiflex, my toes immediately catch the upper and lift it up (comparatively the Altra Adams don’t do this well).

I wonder if it’s a difference in feet or a difference in the pairs — did you size up for your Aqua Lites?

Soon I will be heading back to a respectable job. I am interested in these because I want a barefoot shoe that will pass muster in a semi professional setting. Any other “work” shoes that may be good? Interested in trying them on. Thanks for the review.

I have found the Aqua lites to be far too flat for my big feet, i loved the splay, but having pressure on the top of your big toe was no fun at all. Unfortunately they did not expand with use so i had to get rid of them 🙁 I really liked their looks.


I didn’t size up, and there’s plenty of room in the length. I don’t think it’s too much a difference in feet as much as it might be more of a difference in “pickiness” on my part. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice, or would be okay with it. I’m just really used to being able to wiggle my toes up and down freely in my other Vivos. With these I just feel trapped. You mention that your toes immediately catch the upper when dorsiflexing, so it sounds like the same for me. I just don’t like that it’s so close to my toes to immediately touch as I lift them. And, although the shoe as a whole flexes upward, for me this upper is less flexible and just feels more restricting. Also, the toe box depth is definitely less compared to their other styles. Just standing there, I want to wiggle freely.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. One of the customer reviews on the Vivo website said their toes “felt trapped, like they were in a coffin, even though they had a wide toe box and did everything else right.” I feel the same and would suggest they raise the height of the toe box shape or choose a more flexible upper material.

I usually can’t find a bad thing to say about Vivos, as they do all the little things right when it comes to “barefoot shoes.” I’m glad these work well for you, and they should for many people. I’m really trying to like these, but I don’t know if I can get over this “restricted” feeling. Just want other people to be aware it might be an issue.

@Ze Kohl,

Yeah pressure on your big toe would be no good.


I guess I just don’t have a problem with the roof being “right there” on the Aqua Lites … I’d say I feel about the opposite — I sorta like it. Perhaps it could be a little less stiff, but as is I don’t mind it at all. I figure it helps the shoe adhere to my foot.

Have you tried the Oaks? Just curious.


I haven’t tried the Oaks. I have had this issue with the Dharma, so I definitely have to wear it without the insert to make more room. It might be the last associated with this specific sole, as all the models with this sole look a bit shallower at the tip. Makes me nervous now to get the Ra. I guess it’s something I’ll just have to deal with.

Have you worn the Evo or Neo? Wondering if you’d notice a difference.

Anybody else out there notice this?

I’ve owned loads of pairs of minimalist shoes now and for me, these are the closest to perfect that I’ve ever come across.

Absolutely love ’em. Haven’t noticed an issue with the sock liner at all myself. I just loooove the sole, i think it offers the best ground feel and flexibility that I’ve ever experienced in a shoe. I’ve had them for months and months and wear them pretty much all day every day and they are showing hardly any deterioration. I really can’t praise them highly enough.

If I have one gripe, it’s that I don’t think that they breath too good. Feet can get a bit hot and sweaty from time to time.

Mine broke after ONE run!!!
The sole delaminated on both sides of the toebox, in both shoes. Also the insoles are sliding out as you walk, they just appear from the back of the shoe! The toebox is wide but still my big toe is pushed outwards as the top of the shoe is too much in the middle of the foot for me.

My kid’s Vivobarefoot Rooty also broke very fast, I avoid this company from now on.


It sounds like many people had problems with them deteriorating quickly. This may have been an early batch/material problem, and is not at all typical of the brand (from what I’ve experienced). You should send photos of the damaged shoes to [email protected] and explain your issue. They’ll help you out!

I have 7 different styles from them and some of them are going on 3 years now with no issues. I wouldn’t give up just yet. Although I don’t like the aqua lites, I love my other styles. So if you like how they feel, definitely give some other styles a try.

Interesting to see how discriminating people can be with shoe fit. I own Vivo Dharmas, Oaks and Ra’s which I wear to work in a professional environment. They are all comfy, but the Oak fits me the best and it’s super fast on/off at airport security! If my closet weren’t already full of VFFs, Vivos, and Merrells, I’d try a pair of these for casual play.

i’m looking at buying some aqua lites now, but sizing is driving me crazy. my only shoes are fivefinger KSOs and KSO treks (for the winter) in W40, and depending on where i look i’m told to get between a 7-10. the vivobarefoot people, based on a foot length of 9 7/8″ told me to get a 43, which doesn’t make sense to me since most shoes i’ve ever worn (i haven’t owned normal shoes since i got fivefingers 2-3 years ago) are between 8-9. any help?


A 43 for your length foot sounds wrong to me — I wear a 44 in Aqua Lites (which is sizing up 1 from 43 for me) and my feet are 10 7/8″ — I’d not expect an inch in foot length would only mean one size difference.

I am thinking of buying a pair of these right now however you did not mention whether or not these are water proof. Could I wear these on a rainy day, not intentionally walking through mud or anything but if I were travelling and got caught in rain how would it stand up?

Yes, you can walk in a rainy day. Particularly the suede-like top is not letting the water too easily. The fabric is also not letting the water right through.

Hi Justin,

Thanks for the great article! I was wondering what shoes you would recommend for long-distance walking on city streets. I’d like to be in better shape to participate in the The Great Los Angeles Walk ( or at least minimize damage and pain walking on city streets for extended periods. Thanks for your suggestions!


I think you should look into just about any minimalist shoe (that fits your foot/and you like how it feels) and start retraining your gait so that it’s lighter and has less impact. This is really the key to making a positive change in your health and minimizing the damage/pain of walking on any surface. Just be aware it’s going to take time — and ultimately, you’ll have to take responsibility for the process. Listen to your body and be patient!

have just tried on my pair and after the second day I got a painful pop on my 4th toe. It happens that the shoe is designed for a roman like foot so if you happen to have a greek foot, the toebox slopes way too much after the middle finger. I think this can be fixed going one size up though the shoe will become too slack, but still, it’s a point to consider.
I also don’t like the fact that the upper is a tad stiff. or perhaps that’s because I’ve been wearing the leather vivobarefoots with are about as soft as a sock!

I got a pair of these 2 weeks ago. Like the fit and feel. I have worn Merrel trail gloves, true gloves and tough gloves since they were introduced, but their narrowness were causing me severe pain in my right mid-foot.

The vivo aqua lites are much better with their additional width. After only wearing them for about 6-7 days, though, the inside edge of each shoe where the fake suede overlaps and is glued separated. I contacted amazon where I got them and they sent me a new pair. I’m now on day 3 with these and they’re OK so far.

I’m a bit leery of the quality now, after reading many complaints of the same thing…

I’m running out of alternatives, though. These seem to have the widest toe box of all the minimalist shoes. I tried Leming, but their mid foot is still more snug, and I can feel the upturn of the rubber sole on the outside edge of the midsole pushing into my foot.

The only other brand that I know of with such a wide mid-foot area would be soft star shoes, but they are probably the most “clown shoe” of all the minimalist options.

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