A few weeks back we took a sneak peak at a new brand of toe shoes—as in, not Vibram Five Fingers—they’re the Fila “Skele-toes.” Comet Shoes hooked me up with a pair to examine, review, and share with BirthdayShoes readers, and that’s what I’ll be doing today.
If you’re new to the concept of “toe shoes”, you might benefit from a brief history on their origins. Believe it or not, they got their start almost five years ago by an Italian company called Vibram — they produced the first five toe shoes called Vibram FiveFingers and have turned traditional footwear paradigms upside down — and it’s not because shoes with toes are just eye-catchingly strange, either.
“What the heck are those?” may be a good question, but perhaps the better question is “Why toe shoes?” I’ve explained toe shoes here, but the Cliff’s notes version is this: shoes that allow your feet to function naturally—as they would barefoot—when you do things like run, walk, work out, or play—are healthy.
The mainstream thick-heeled, heavily cushioned, arch-supporting sneakers we’ve come to accept as “normal” are more about marketing hype than actually supporting good foot health. You don’t need them at all. Worse, it’s possible they’re hurting you more than helping by preventing your foot from moving naturally — and affecting your entire body’s biomechanics in the process. If you don’t believe me, BirthdayShoes.com has hundreds of user stories from people around the world doing everything from running marathons in toe shoes to hiking, traveling, skydiving, or powerlifting. Stick around because more than just a weird novelty in footwear, toe shoes are changing footwear.
The Fila Skele-toes are not actually five-toed shoes because the Skele-toes design gives the smallest two toes one pocket for ease of entry (the “EZ-Slide”). While the Skele-toes’ “four” toe design is an obvious difference to Vibram Five Fingers, the Fila Skele-toes are also different than VFFs in other more subtle ways — all toe separation aside. Actually, Fila is marketing the Skele-toes more as a lifestyle shoe than a fitness shoe.
After the jump I’ll talk more about the Skele-toes design, function, and differences to Vibrams (you can’t help but compare) and wrap up with a little video review action.
Design and Build
Given FiveFingers set the standard for toe shoes, it’s impossible not to talk about the Skele-toes without making analogies to Vibrams. So in one sentence, I’m going to explain the Skele-toes in terms of existing models of Vibram FiveFingers. Here goes: The Fila Skele-toes are like four-toed VFFs with a three-point velcro-strap mechanism reminiscent of Sprint FiveFingers wrapped around an upper that is a thicker synthetic material than what you get with FiveFingers KSOs and more reminiscent of Flow FiveFingers (but different) with all this built upon a non-lugged rubber sole similar to the original FiveFingers sole except that the Skele-toes’ sole is more stiff/rigid and seems to have a heel-to-toe drop of a few millimeters.
That was a mouthful.
The three-point strap-build of the Skele-toes is made of high quality, thick, shimmery synthetic material. The straps are “uninspired” in the sense that they pretty much just replicate the methods used across many FiveFingers whereby a strap goes over the top of the foot and a strap (or two in this case) are used to tighten the shoe at the heel. On the other hand, “if it aint broke don’t fix it,” and I get why Fila went this route with the Skele-toes (hint: it just works).
The upper material used with the Fila Skele-toes isn’t neoprene but rather “Four Way Stretch 2 Ply Nylon.” Regardless, given the stitch pattern used and the thickness of the fabric, the Skele-toes can’t help but look like Flow FiveFingers. Thankfully, the upper fabric on the Skeletoes isn’t so hot or binding as the Flows, which really are meant for either colder wear or water wear. That said, my feet get a little sweaty in them (noticeably so) when wearing them for weight lifting (note: I don’t really break a sweat when I lift and I normally wear Bikilas for lifting — sweaty feet not really being noticeable with Bikilas), so the material may not be the most breathable.
The Skele-toes have two bungee pulls at the heel and top of the instep to make them easier to put on. Not sure these are necessary, but Fila clearly wants it to be “EZ” to put Skele-toes on — after all, just look at the EZ-Slide branding over the conjoined single pocket for the two littlest toes.
While seasoned toe shoe wearers might find the EZ-Slide conjoined toe pocket unnecessary, this design feature of the Skele-toes makes a lot of sense—though maybe not for the reason intended (And maybe not really necessary for Skele-toes as casual/non-running shoes). What am I talking about? Pinky toe snag injuries and/or broken pinky toes hitting rocks while running in Five Fingers.
Hard to say how common pinky toe injuries are in VFFs, but they happen enough that I’ve heard about them from various wearers. I think even Chris McDougall may have jammed a pinky wearing VFFs once upon a time. Anyway, the problem has provoked at least one seasoned FiveFingers wearer to sew the two littlest toe pockets together. Since this issue is more a problem for runners in toe shoes and Skele-toes aren’t aimed at runners, the utility/added protection of conjoined little toes — “four toe shoes” as it were — is ultimately beyond the scope of this review.
The inside of the Fila Skele-toes is a smooth and silky black synthetic material that reminds me of the inside of the New Balance Minimus line, but just a little stiffer. It’s not seamless in the sense that the seams of the upper (the converging lines highlighted by the H-shaped black painted overlay here) are “exposed” to the the top of your foot. They aren’t a nuisance and I doubt they’d cause any issues. Overall the inside of the Skele-toes feels good on my bare foot, which is clutch, of course, given these are “barefoot shoes.”
Fila Skele-toes are both toe shoes and have an overall minimalist design—not much upper and not much sole. Unfortunately, the Skele-toes rubber sole is noticeably stiffer than what I’ve come to expect from my toe shoes. The stiffness is most noticeable at the arch as the Skele-toes sole is curved at the arch to mimic the shape of the foot.
So even while the Skele-toes don’t have a particularly thick sole and they articulate 3 + 2 toes, ground feel is lost due to the rigidity of the Skele-toes sole, and more, the arch point is a bit annoying to my foot. I hesitate to call it “arch support” because it doesn’t seem to be designed to support your arch. I also wonder how it will break in over time. As far as comparisons to VFFs, the Skele-toes convey (per my estimate) less ground feel and/or barefoot feel than even the thickest Vibram Five Fingers.
Flexibility and Function or Designing Barefoot Shoes for Dynamic Feet
Allow me a brief digression on barefoot shoe design … The Fila Skele-Toes’ too stiff sole actually goes a long way to highlight something I’ve noticed regarding shoe design as it pertains to making shoes that allow your foot to function naturally (while still being clad in rubber/leather/whatever). What I’ve noticed is essentially this: the more a shoe is built to adhere closely to the entirety of your foot, the more important it is to be flexible and capable of moving dynamically with your foot. Just imagine if you put on toe shoes where the pockets were immovable — they would be seriously uncomfortable!
Conversely, more traditional shoes or even flat-soled new minimalist shoes that don’t articulate toes don’t have to be as flexible as toe shoes because they allow your foot some freedom to move within the shoe and separate from the sole. It’s an interesting problem to try and solve — the protection of rubber soles as constrained by the required flexibility of a foot. You either build a platform shoe that allows some freedom of movement above the platform (i.e. Soft Star RunAmocs, huaraches, NB Minimus, Merrell Barefoot, Vivo Barefoot, etc.) or you go dynamic, have a flexible soled shoe that is “bound” closely to the foot like Vibram FiveFingers. Indeed, this is one of main reasons Vibram’s toe shoes work: they are bound to the foot via the toe pockets (and straps to a lesser extent) but still allow foot flexibility by having non-rigid soles. The combination is a wonderful compromise that provides a great amount of dynamic movement to the foot while still layering the sole with rubber. For a much more thorough discussion on the concept of toe shoes, read on here.
Sorry for the digression, now back to your regularly scheduled review …
The Fila Skele-Toes sole needs to be more flexible given it is designed as a foot glove. This point is perhaps best exemplified with the Skele-Toes when trying to flex/stretch out the conjoined littlest toes within their single toe pocket; basically, you try it, and the sole sorta stays put while the toes move up within the pocket (see the collage above).
The Fila Skele-Toes are still functional toe shoes, all sole stiffness aside. They still afford some ground feel and are still minimal enough in the sole that they don’t noticeably affect walking gait. There seems to be a slight heel-to-toe drop in the Skele-Toes but I’m not positive about my measurements. If anyone knows the answer to this question, please let me know!
Aesthetic, Photos, Conclusion, and Video!
The Skele-Toes have an aesthetic that reminds me of water shoes. (Note that the Skele-toes 2.0 actually has a more breathable upper) That is funny to write as one of the most common misunderstandings about VFFs is that they are all water shoes (Even had someone think that about my FiveFingers Bikila LS shoes the other day!), but with the bungee pulls, the upper fabric, and the paint-on styling, I just can’t help but think of a wetsuit. Meanwhile, the “Skele-toes” name makes me think of Skeletor from He-Man.
I’m not trying to dog the Skele-toes’ look — they are clearly (to the eye) a fairly quality shoe for the price that is well-made of beefy materials. Just that given they are a lifestyle shoe, I’d have expected them to look more casual and less sporty. Of course, most VFFs are also very sporty, Speeds and KSO Treks perhaps excepted (Indeed, the Trek LS and Bormio are downright “dressy” as toe shoes go), so this is more or less par for the course in the toe shoe world.
Probably the biggest plus in the Skele-toes camp is that they can be had for $50-$60 or less — and they are coming out with kid’s sizes. At the $55 price point, they’re $25 cheaper than a pair of full-priced KSOs and almost half the price of any high-dollar FiveFingers. So if you’re looking for some affordable toe shoes, the Skele-Toes are worth considering. HOWEVER, it should be noted that a ton of the original soled FiveFingers can be had on sale right now. In my 100+ pairs of minimalist footwear tried experience, your money will be better spent on any pair of FiveFingers over the Skele-toes. Vibrams are just dramatically more dynamic, comfortable, and overall better toe shoes.
If you’re “toe-bent” on Skele-Toes, you can get them for $40 – $60 shipped free at Finish Line.
At the end of the day I’m happy to see the Fila Skele-Toes enter the toe shoe market. If you didn’t realize there was such a thing as “toe shoes” prior to seeing/hearing about Fila Skele-toes, well, welcome to the barefoot footwear community! Get caught up on what you’ve been missing and start here. Filas are actually “also-rans” at this point and the original five toe shoes were Vibram FiveFingers (read more).
Anyway, with the release of the Skele-toes we get some competition in the “toe shoes” market, and competition is wonderful. That said, Fila will have a tough time out-innovating Vibram insomuch as figuring out the ins and outs of manufacturing fully functioning toe shoes. Maybe my blathering above will help point them in the right direction (emphasis on “maybe”).
Update 1: We’ve now reviewed the Skele-toes 2.0!
Update 2: Vibram has filed a lawsuit against Fila!
Update 3: Wonder what Nike Frees with toes would look like? Wonder no further: meet the Skele-toes Voltage.
Finally, below is a photo gallery and be sure to sit back and relax — I put together a little video on the Skele-Toes. Check it out and be sure to let me know your thoughts/questions/comments below! And if you’re after some Skele-toes, pick up a pair here.