Barefoot Shoes

EL-X FiveFingers – Running Review

When Vibram discontinued the original FiveFingers “Classic” last year, they rebooted the series with a completely redesigned model called the EL-X that has only been out for a few weeks. This is one of the most minimalist outdoor FiveFingers to date.…

When Vibram discontinued the original FiveFingers “Classic” last year, they rebooted the series with a completely redesigned model called the EL-X that has only been out for a few weeks. This is one of the most minimalist outdoor FiveFingers to date. Justin has already put together a thorough overview based on his initial impressions, so in this post I’m going to follow up with my thoughts on how they perform as a running shoe.


First of all, the EL-X is the featherweight in the VFF line up, coming in at 4.23 ounces for a size 43. By comparison, the SeeYa is 4.8 ounces and the Bikila is a whopping 6 ounces. Weight is saved in the thin fabric used in the upper and the super thin sole. The biggest weight saved though is due to the lack of any sort of strapping system. The upper is a technical polyester mesh which is reinforced with a few thin rubber supports that run across the top of the foot and around the back of the heel. The wide cuff around the ankle is an elastic band that makes getting into the shoe a breeze.
The sole is a completely new design that pays homage to the original razor-siped sole on the Classics, Sprints and KSOs. The tread pattern reminds me of what you get when you flex the original sole and the razor-siping spreads out, and you’ll also notice that it has the same three “swooshes” right under the ball of the foot. Speaking of soles, I thought the SeeYa had a thin sole at 3mm, but the EL-X goes one better coming in at 2.7mm. After spending a fair of amount of time in the robust soled Lontra and Speed XC, the EL-X was a breath of fresh air!

Fit & Performance:

The EL-X goes on easy and while initially it felt a little tight across the top of the foot this feeling went away immediately after walking around in them. I noticed that the heel isn’t as snug as you’d find on something with a little more structure to the upper (on say like the Bikila), and I could accidentally knock the back of the shoe off of my foot if I rubbed something the wrong way with my heel. This isn’t really much of a detraction, but it is one of the tradeoffs you’ll live with when wearing such a minimalist shoe. While technically not listed in Vibram’s “running” lineup, I put them through their paces over the course of a few weeks. I used them for running stairs, doing speed work on the local high school track, plenty of treadmill time as well as outdoor road running. I even did a little off-roading in them to see how that would work out. Ground feel, as expected from such a thin sole, is impressive and definitely rivals or even exceeds the SeeYa. As a road shoe, even without a strapping system, running in a straight line on the track or treadmill, they work very well and stay put on your foot. Going off road feels okay and could be used in a pinch, but I’d go for something with a little more aggressive tread and support to the upper, like the Spyridon or KSO Trek, if you primarily run on dirt.


All in all, I’m a fan of the EL-X and how minimalist Vibram was able to go. They are super light, easy to get on, and give a great feel for the ground when running. While I don’t think they’ll replace my SeeYas as my primary running shoe, mostly due to the fact that I like the adjustability of the SeeYa’s velcro strap, they are a great alternative and definitely have a place in my closet. Here’s my pro’s and con’s list: Thumbs Up!
  • I love the shoe box Vibram came up with for the EL-X. See the photos below, but it’s really small–only about an inch and a half tall!
  • Light weight! I didn’t think that anything could be lighter than the SeeYa.
  • Price. The MSRP is only $75, which puts this at the bottom end of Vibram’s pricing scale.
  • The fit is great. I love how they’ve been able to create a VFF that fits as snug to my foot without a strap. When weighting and unweight my foot, I can actually see the upper expanding as my toes and metatarsals spread apart!
Thumbs Down!
  • There’s not much to dislike about El-X. You can get a little nitpicky about how the heel fits, but like I mentioned above in the article, that’s one of the tradeoffs to going so minimalist.
  • There are only two color ways: black on black, and orange on grey. If you don’t like either of them, you’re out of luck.
  • This is a men’s shoe only. Females have the just-released women’s only Entrada and Alitza.
If you’re looking for a shoe that can do a little bit of everything and you like the styling of the EL-X, it’s definitely a winner at $75 [Available here]. If you’re already enjoying life in a pair of SeeYas or Bikilas, I don’t think there is enough of an incentive to make a switch for running, but they are comfortable to wear around the house!


By Tim

I’m am a bicycle advocate by profession and an Ironman triathlete for fun which keeps me healthy and fit. I got into minimalist footwear during the summer of 2009 after dealing with injuries resulting from running in “normal” running shoes. Check out what’s going on in my life through photos at [url=][/url] or follow me on twitter: [url=]@TimKelleyDotNet[/url]. Get to know Tim better via [url=]his interview here[/url].

34 replies on “EL-X FiveFingers – Running Review”


How did they do regarding the dreaded VFF funk? I wear Classics non-stop in the summer and I have to launder them about every three days. Luckily I have over a dozen pair to choose from. I was hoping the mesh upper might breath a little better in the EL-X.

@Lyonel–I don’t have the shoes with me right now to share, but for the couple weeks that I tested I didn’t notice any more wear than I normally have on other VFFs. I tend to get wear at the heel and at the ball of the foot. With a thinner sole they may wear a little faster, but I still have a pair of Sprints that have holes through to the footbed that I still run in.

@Mr Leigh, because of the VFF funk I generally always wear socks with my shoes. My guess would be that with less material they wouldn’t hold odor, but I guess time will tell with them since I haven’t had them that long and it’s been winter so my feet haven’t been sweating too much.

I got mine yesterday, gave them a quick rinse (They dry pretty quick!) and wore them today.

I wore them with some ankle socks, they feel pretty good! I got 42 (I’m 42 KSOs/KSO treks) and they fit pretty snuggly.

They felt kind of weird at first, they don’t cover as much as my feet as the KSOs do, but you get used to it.

Could you comment on the durability of the upper, especially in regards to it possibly stretching out and getting saggy without the strap?

I’ll start off saying that I have been running and relaxing in Bikila LS for the past year of so. Size 40. I was very excited to try out the EL-X, partially because its the only solid black VFF offering. So I bought a size 40, they don’t fit as well as I would like. Its the heel that gets me. Feels sloppy. Like my foot isn’t filling the area out and there is sort of a dead space back there.

Okay, no prob, lemme order a size 39. Still no luck, the 39 does fit my heel better, but then the rest of my foot/toes are so cramped. If I was to go for one, it would have to be the 40.

I still have both pairs, (just haven’t gotten around to returning them). I’m always tempted to wear the 40’s around the house some more, but that sloppy heel really bugs me. I wonder if thats something that I can learn to get used to over time? I wanted these for recreational, not necessarily running, but I’m not sure that I will be able to stop thinking/worrying about the heel…

Tim, is the SeeYah heel as sloppy as the EL-X? Do you think I will have the same experience with either pair?

I tried a pair on in the store the other day, hoping to replace my very, very worn Classics, but found that (much as I did with the Sprints and a few other models) my heel will not sit into the cup fully. Is this something anyone else has been running in more and more?

A good friend used to wear fivefingers much of the time, as well, but Vibram has phased out the smaller men’s sizes with a comment to “just wear women’s sizing”, never mind that the women’s sizes are consistently much narrower.

I have put about 50 miles on them so far, mainly on dirt roads. They work great. Definitely feel the road, but better than bare feet.

Think of running socks with a thin rubber sole. that’s what they feel like.

So far they don’t stink, but its not summer. My biggest concern is will they hold up to the mileage. if so, i won’t run in anything else unless doing a trail run.

@Bob – to me, the upper feels like it has a similar stretchy-ness as the SeeYa. I’ve put quite a bit of miles on my SeeYas without a noticeable stretching. My guess is that if you have the right size you aren’t going to run into any issues. If you have an oddly shaped foot (really tall arches or bulging metatarsals then this may not be the right VFF for you as the upper should be pretty snug all over)

@AlmostEuro – The pre-production Seeya that I had was a bit sloppy in the heel, but that was tightened up for the production run. The El-X has less structure to the heel cup than the Seeya, which is one of the trade offs of going so minimal. The nice thing about the Seeya is that even if the heel feels sloppy, you can really sinch down the velcro strap.

I went to REI to try on a pair. Being a loyal M38 Classic wearer, the smallest size they have is the 40, which seemed to fit fine, but I still prefer the ease of just slipping them on (Classics have upper). I also liked the plain black color. When I asked the associate if they carried the black-on-black, she said no, but mentioned the women’s Entrada in black-on-black. I tried on a pair of 41s and bought them. The smaller upper, color, and fit made them perfect for me. So far, I’m really liking them. The only negative, which is a minor nit, is that the sole’s pattern often traps small grains/rocks. I help out on the softball field and would notice the sand/rocks stuck in there. Not a biggie, but just wanted to point it out.

@Shu – They are true to size. To clarify, the heel isn’t loose, it just doesn’t have as much structure as on some other models of VFFs.

I wear 42s with all my VFFs. Went to REI to try on the El-X and 42 fit me well. My only concern is there was a little play in the heel. The shoes felt barely there though, but I am still a big fan of the ease of Classics for casual use. Plus I bought like 3 pairs when the Classis discontinued, so I have to burn through those before I buy a pair of “Elks”.

I hope that later updates will help with that play in the heel though, but other than that the shoe almost feels totally barefoot (i.e. – it felt so good I didn’t want to take them off).

Hey guys,
I’m totally new to barefoot shoes. I bought the EL-X two weeks ago online.
I’ve been taken it very slow as suggested everywhere. I already love the feel and freedom one has in these.
(So far I’ve only been around on concrete and other hard grounds though.)

I also noticed the “loose” feel of the heel. This wasn’t really a problem for me though.

Three days ago after walking and standing about 2 hours in these I suddenly experienced a pain in my left foot right where the upper part of the strap of the heel presses into the foot to hold the shoe on to your foot.

It seems the pressure put on that point is too much for my delicate left foot.
Two days later, the pain came back immediately after about 5 minutes wearing them.

I’m pretty sure that my feet have become longer already after a few days with these shoes, and my left foot is the longer one.
So maybe the model is too small for me?

Does anybody else experience this? Should I push through the pain in the hopes that it goes away?
Try a different shoe? Different size?
Help! 🙁

Hey Lars,

Are you running in the EL-X when you have pain? If so, stop! You said you are totally new to barefoot shoes, but taking it slow mean a slow transition not just running less than you normally would. That is likely to get you injured.

There are some great resources on this very website that will talk about transitioning and it usually takes about 6 months to a year to really get comfortable. For the first month or so, start walking in the shoes a little at a time (no running), you will see your feet developing and getting stronger. Look into running techniques like Pose or Chi running. Run only about a quarter mile the first week and then slowly 1/10 mile add each subsequent week after. This should only be done after you start to develop stronger feet and better form. After a month or two of that, your feet will get strong enough to do some longer miles, but don’t go over 5K for a while. Keep up with a slow and steady transition and eventually you will be running on trails in those shoes. Running with no training whatsoever, even if the miles are shorter for you is just asking to pay money to the podiatrist.

Hey Dan,
thanks for your answer!
I read a lot of resources before starting with the VFF. As you suggested, I haven’t been running yet!
I merely walked, sometimes skipping a day.

I’m more concerned about the pain in the heel from the pressure of the shoe that I described.
And in connection to this if I maybe chose the wrong size of the shoe!

Hmmmm… Did you order your shoes online or did you try them out in the store? My first pair I bought were Sprints and I ordered them in 43s. That was a mistake because I got blisters because it was a bit too big for me. The thing is unless the shoe is way, way too small I don’t think that you would get that kind of pain (but I am not a podiatrist)

Sizing does matter, but I don’t see how it would effect the top of your foot with pain. That sounds more like you are heel striking and putting too much pressure on the small bones in your foot, but I am not positive about that. My suggestion is to go to a store and try on the sizings for your shoe to see if any feel better. Other than that, I would really look into proper form.

Damn it, waited too long and post got deleted due to timeout.. so let’s try again.

I bought them online and can’t return anymore.

Now I’m quite positive that the sizing is the problem.
When I tried them on, there was a lot of space in them. After walking only a few times in them my feet got longer substantially.

Therefore, my left, longer shoe now is quite cramped. The heel part of the shoe presses into my skin, which makes the skin hurt.
A lot actually, which surprises me a bit. Seems my feet are quite sensitive.

This sucks, because I will probably buy one size bigger now. Hopefully I can sell them.
But this time I will try in the store!

I have been using the seeyas since they came out. They have become my standard running shoe for both road and trails. I have been running the el x’s over the past 2 weeks.

The temperatures in Florida have been in the 80’s during my trial runs. I have found the el-x’s to have less air flow than the seeya’s with a rapid accumulation of heat.

I really like the road feel. The shoes being held in place by the elasticity of the uppers make them a little snug over the achilles.

For running I think the sole of the el-x on the upper of the seeya would be a killer combination.

hi tim

thanks for the very informative review. i’m currently running in seeyas and i’ve convinced myself that i run faster in them than in the vivobarefoot ultras, in spite of the latter being lighter because the sole is harder and i believe returns the energy better.

the question i have is whether you noticed this with the el-x? i believe that the material used is the same as the ultras (eva) and i wanted to know whether they seemed “soft” when running fast in them when compared to the rubber soled seeyas.

i think weight is important but when you are down to this level, there are other factors to take into account. what do you think?


@Rob – I didn’t notice any discernible difference in my running speeds when comparing the El-X with the SeeYa. Ultimately for me my top end speed comes down to where I am in a training block and the fatigue I’ve accumulated during a workout. I just don’t think that there is really enough material between your feet and the ground in either shoe to make much of a difference.

Just thought I’d chip in with some thoughts on these shoes too. I’ve done about 150km in mine so far purely on trails and they’re holding up extremely well.

The fit will vary depending on size as they’re such a close fit. Mine are very snug, but not over-tight and my heel has never slipped out.

I pick my feet up pretty well so it’s rare for me to snag a toe or kick a rock, so for this reason mine are un-damaged despite me running across rocks, tree roots and lots of rough gravel etc.

On hot days they’ll get hot – and after the one time they got their stink on I wash them after long runs now. With airing after short runs they’re OK. I had classics and have Treks and the stinkometer is way up on these. I would doubt their suitability as a casual day-to-day shoe on that fact. Compared to my Treks they feel hooter on hot days. This is basically because they fit so snugly and the upper, where it’s not mesh is rubber.

Ground feel is that little bit more than you’d expect over classics or the other plain soled VFFs – wondefully flexy basically.

I’m trying to train my feet to be more accepting of rocks and stones etc and these are the next logical step for me.

I’m very pleased with these shoes.

I’ve been running in M39 Bikila LS shoes for many miles and was glad to see these are also offered in the smaller sizes (below 40).

I got a pair of M39 EL-X and they are very snug. I did a 5 mile jog in them and had some rubbing issues on the lower inside of my left foot, which drew some blood – where the lower tread ties to the upper section. Otherwise, I really liked them and the tread feels aggressive.

IMO, these are direct competitors to the ZEMGear O2 / 360 shoes. In comparison, the ZEMS are much more comfortable and I prefer the split toe over the Vibrams. The EL-X, however, is more durable and has the better tread. Either way, I view both of these shoes a short-range fighters; not long-distance worthy, like the Bikila LS.

I’ll work on resolving the rubbing issue on the left foot and report back later.

@Adam B – I had the same thing early on but not any more. Your foot will probably sort itself out once its healed – mine did.

You could try a bit of vaseline or coconut oil in that part of the shoe if you get problems in future.


So the EL-X doesn’t vent well? By any chance did you ever own a pair of classics? How does the stink-factor compare?


I do own classics and they vent much better as they’re a more open design. It’s easier to get the El-X stinky as they’re hotter, but being a lighter design they do dry quicker out of the wash, so apart from the heat on some runs, they’re not too bad.

If I had my way, I’d have classics with an El-X sole, but I do prefer the El-X over the Classics a little.

Hey Tim– Great article. I’m really liking the looks and reviews of this model and currently run in a pair of KSOs. In your opinion, how would the El-X hold up in a Warrior Dash race? I’ve got one coming up in July and am contemplating running it in a pair of these. Cheers!

Just throwing my two cents in here. I was looking for reviews/feedback on the EL-X and stumbled on this article. After reading the comments (from here & other places as well), they feel pretty tight.

I own the KSO in Men 43. Tight at first but after a few hikes & speed-walks, they amazing to get into. I bought the EL-X in 43 as per Vibram’s sizing chart and reading other people’s feedback. Like I said, the fitting is tighter than the KSO after the first try. I had quite a struggle with the right foot while the left foot was just as easy as getting into my first pair of five-fingers.

I doubting myself if I should exchange it for one size up or ride it out & let the EL-X form in the shape of my feet.

Hi Tim,
Thank you for this review!
I agree that the heel is very uncomfortable, especially the seam at the upper rim (the very back and top point of the shoe) is quite denting and annoying. However, I found an easy and effective way to fix that issue: Simply take 3 to 4 cm of the loop-side of a self-adhesive hook-and-loop fastener (I mean the fleecy half of a Velcro(R)-strap with a sticky back side) and paste it vertically inside the heel of the shoe so that the fleecy loop-side touches the skin along the Achilles tendon. Let it overhang 1 or 2 mm above the upper rim.
One meter of such self-adhesive hook-and-loop band is less than five Euro and is enough for 15 pairs of FiveFingers. Good luck!

Just got a pair of these in the mail a few days ago. Haven’t gone for the inaugural run in them yet, but have worn them around a bit. Been wearing 41 KSOs and got these in 41. Great fit, except for the heel rubbing issue.

Has anyone else noticed the rubber is not as tacky? Maybe its just the new lug pattern. I’m tempted to try razor-siping the lugs, but worry about what effect that may have on the durability. Anyone else try this yet?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *