The FiveFingers Speed XC Lite is one of the new Vibram toe shoe models released for the end of Summer/Fall 2013. The Speed XC Lite (or “XC Lite”) is a riff on the water-resistant Speed XC FiveFingers that released earlier this year. Both these new Speed XC-based models feature a sneaker-esque upper (reminiscent of the original Speed FiveFingers—one of my favorite VFF models of all-time!) and a Vibram Trek sole. Vibram shot me a pair of both the screamingly loud blue and the more subdued (yet orange-accented) XC Lite’s to test and review, which is what follows?as well as a slew of photos. Take the jump!

The Speed XC Lite is Bright

Above pictured in the grey and orange colorway is the Speed XC Lite. Note that it comes with grey laces, too, if you want to turn the volume downa little on the eye-popping orange.
What is the FiveFingers Speed XC Lite? What’s its intended use? According to the Fall 2013 catalog, the XC Lite is geared towards everyday wear?but wait there’s more! Vibram showcased the XC Lite at the 2013 PGA Merchandise show in January where it was voted one of three “best overall new products.” From a press release on the news:
Vibram® FiveFingers Speed XC Lite was announced [on January 28, 2013] as one of three overall best new products at the 2013 PGA Merchandise Show, January 24-26, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. Award-winning PGA Professionals and top golf buyers voted Speed XC Lite as a top product among new merchandise displayed in the PGA Show New Product Zone.
While I grew up in Augusta, Georgia (Home of the Augusta National/Masters!), I don’t golf regularly; however, BirthdayShoes’ resident barefoot golf shoe reviewer Philip is going to be posting a forthcoming review on the XC Lites as used for golf. For my own purposes, I’ve been wearing the XC Lites as an all-day VFF as well as for weight-lifting and runs around Midtown Atlanta. While “new” for 2013, the Speed XC Lite builds off some of the design elements of the water-resistant Speed XC FiveFingers but with a super-soft fabric for the upper. Whereas the Speed XC’s upper is water-resistant, not the most breathable (by extension), and a little stiff, the Speed XC Lite is the opposite—breathable, pliable, and feels great on the foot. Here are the XC Lite’s standout features:
  • Speed XC Lites have the Vibram Trek sole. More on the sole below.
  • Speed XC Lites feature a “stretch mesh fabric” upper. This is a new fabric in the FiveFingers line. It’s breathable, stretchy, and has a very slight sheen to it. Unlike the XC, the XC Lite is in no way water-resistant!
  • Speed XC Lites have a full gusseted or “bellows tongue.” What am I talking about? Just that the tongue is one continuous part of the upper that folds under at either side (where the laces turn). This is a holdover to the water-resistant design of the original Speed XC, which utilizes full gusseting to keep water out of the shoes. This picture helps you understand what I’m talking about.
  • The XC Lites come in pretty loud colorways! Below are the stock images. And as you can see on the first two (which are mens), the orange and blue colors in the stock images are dull relative to the real deal photoed in this review. Take note! The second two colorways are womens, which I’ve yet to lay eyes on. Why so loud? Don’t you know it’s all the rage to have a little pop in your get-up, while golfing?
As for everyday wear, the colorways can make the XC Lite a bold choice for knock-around town shoes. More on this below under the aesthetics/fashion/looks section! For now, take a look at the two men’s colorways of XC Lites! Blue/Grey Speed XC Lites Grey/Orange Speed XC Lites Note that you get a second set of grey laces, which help tame the orange accent, though you can still blow someone’s mind by flashing them the soles.

The Sole

The Speed XC Lite features the lugged, five-toed Vibram “Trek” sole, which is comprised of a 4mm thick EVA midsole (this the grey part of the XC Lite sole) and a 3.5mm thick TC-1 Dura Vibram rubber outsole. The outsole has little plus-sign cleats and some grooves at key places, which are useful for traction on rough terrain. They’re notoriously not the most grippy on wet surfaces (Metal landings, smooth concrete, and exposed rockface I’m looking at you!).
The XC Lite’s Trek sole is now the most long-lived VFF sole in the line-up?it was first used in the now-discontinued KSO Trek some 3.5 years ago (see my old school review of the KSO Trek FiveFingers here). Being that it was designed for use off-road and to provide grip on surfaces with more give to them, the application of the Trek sole to a golf shoe makes some sense. As to how well the XC Lite performs for golfing is yet to be seen (but stay tuned!). That said, for everyday wear purposes, the Trek sole doesn’t do much for the Speed XC Lite (Nor did it do much for the Speed XC or the Trek LS or the Bormio!). What’s the deal with the XC Lite’s Trek sole as used for an everyday/weight-lifting/pavement-running shoe? While I don’t mind the EVA midsole so much when walking around on man-made (hard and flat!) surfaces, it’s the rubber grooves at the toes that leave something to be desired. If you take a peek at the deconstructed Trek sole (see my YouTube video around 6:15 for just that!), you’ll note how the EVA stops right before the toes. That means the toes get full rubber treatment compliments of aggressive, grooved tread. The ground feel to your toes is “interpreted” through the mask of these rubber edges. This is no doubt a highly subjective experience, I’m sure, but one common across all the Trek-soled Vibrams (Lontra, Trek Sport, Trek Sandal, Speed XC, and Speed XC Lite). It makes for a much duller experience to your toes relative to the rest of a Trek-soled pair of Vibrams. Whereas walking on old asphalt (think: cracks) I can sense the variations through the body of the XC Lite, the sensation is just “flat” at the toes. I’ll further note that a less noticeable (yet still there) “hardness” in the soles is felt at the very back of the heel where the ridges pick up in strength on the Trek sole. I remember noticing this way back with KSO Treks, so it’s not surprising the feeling is still present with the XC Lites. Overall, the Speed XC Lite transfers a good bit of ground feel—it is a minimally soled shoe. However, some ground feel is masked/altered by the harder rubber tread of the Trek sole?primarily at the toes.

Function and Feel in the XC Lite

My favorite part of the XC Lite has to be the stretch mesh fabric upper?all digs at the colorways notwithstanding. This new fabric feels incredibly soft to my bare feet (I prefer wearing Vibrams sockless!), is nicely stretchy, and doesn’t have many annoying seams. You can get a (vague?) sense for how that fabric bends and flexes with your feet via the animated GIF below.
I really can’t say enough good things about how the Speed XC Lite feels on my foot. They seem to breath well enough (not as airy as say the SeeYas or EL-X), they are more breathable than Spyridons or Spyridon LS. And there’s no comparison to the water-resistant VFFs, which are anti-breathable. On my post-lifting runs around midtown, which haven’t been very long mind you, my feet haven’t gotten markedly sweaty or hot in them, either. For all day wear the XC Lites have been very comfortable. On longer walks on harder surfaces the aforementioned hardness at the back of the heel becomes more apparent, but there don’t seem to be any issues to gait or to my feet. For weight-lifting, heavy squats and lifts aren’t a problem and my feet feel stable in the XC Lites: these are common traits of all the Vibrams in my experience.

Speed XC Lite on Foot — Fashion and Aesthetics

There’s not much subtlety to the Speed XC Lite. If you go “blue,” you will ensconce your feet in what can only be described as Avatar-skin. Grey (for men) is markedly more subtle—particularly if you opt to use the matching grey laces (not pictured, but the same tone as the slightly darker grey that wraps the tongue-area). The grey/orange colorway ships with both sets of laces so you can choose your poison.
As five-toed running shoes, the blue Speed XC Lite are screamingly loud but look the part of many other loudly-colored running shoes. Outside of running, they can be worn with a pair of your favorite activewear shorts or pants to give that “Hey, look at me, I work out but I’m casual” look. I tried wearing the blue colorway with jeans, but it just didn’t work super well. I can certainly see them working in various golf attire though, but that is admittedly outside my realm of expertise. The grey and orange Speed XC Lites are much more versatile in that they can be worn with jeans, a larger variety of shorts, or to run—whatever. My only lingering issue is that the monotone grey doesn’t bring out the sneaker aesthetic, which is what really made the original Speed work so well as an everyday shoe. More on this below.

Speed vs. Speed XC vs. Speed XC Lite

I suppose I could also throw in here “vs. Trek LS vs. Speed LR” but these latter two Vibrams were discontinued. I’ll cut to the chase. I’ll take my original Speed Vibram FiveFingers over all the rest. If you’re up for everyday toe shoe wearing and can go casual, the Speeds simply deliver. This is due to their sneaker-esque aesthetic. I saw a woman wearing them recently at IKEA here in Atlanta and I was shocked at just how incognito they looked. But on closer inspection, people notice the toes and rather than having a “What the ___?” experience, they typically are pleasantly surprised. This has almost everything to do with the Speeds retro-upper fabric that gives the upper a visual depth that almost camouflages the toes. The other aesthetic win with the original Speeds is the single stripe accent along the sides. Meanwhile, if you wanted to run in the Speeds, with their Bikila sole, it’s not a problem. Speaking of the Bikila sole, I prefer it to the Trek sole for everyday wear (while wishing for an even simpler sole for Speeds). Note that I’m such a fan of the Speeds, I actually have two pairs of the black/white, two gold/greens, two brown/whites, and one blue/white. These more ambitious colorways are going to be impossible to find these days, but if you’re after stock black or stock black/white, you can usually find them—in fact, one retailer has the Speeds for $80, either. The original Speed is my most-worn VFF all-around these days when I’m not testing other shoes. Setting aside my fandom for the Speed, unless you absolutely need water-resistance in your VFFs, I’d skip over the Speed XC. As an all-day VFF the lack of breathability is frustrating. Then again, for golfing, perhaps the Speed XC makes some sense since it should keep dew and moisture from a golf course out of your toe shoes. If you just like the Speed XC Lite colorways, which I’d pass over in favor of the original Speed, then know that the XC Lites’ upper is hands down the best feeling against the bare-foot of all three Speeds in the Vibram line-up. It just feels great. It also seems seam-reduced relative to the originals—another plus. I also should point out that the Speed XC Lite feels better over the top of the foot than the Speed due to better seam execution, should accommodate higher volume feet better, and does double duty for both keeping more dust and debris out of your shoes. By comparison, the Speed feels unrefined over the top of the foot, with more exposed seams and just a little too snug at the instep.

Concluding thoughts, sizing, and where to get them …

I’m a huge “Speed” category fan in the Vibram world. When it comes to the Speed XC Lite, there are pros and cons. On the one foot, I love the feel of the upper (and give a nod to the better design of the tongue with the gusseting and reduced seams). On the other, the colorways and use of the Trek sole leave a little to be desired for casual, everyday wear?at least for me. Then again, the XC Lites in grey with the grey laces are nice, just not as stylish as the original Speeds, which is why at $110 MSRP, I’d be more inclined to pick up a pair of the original Speeds (on sale). One thought: bought as a trail or running shoe, the XC Lite may have something to offer you. Given the breathable, comfy upper that you can custom-size to your foot with laces, the XC Lite makes a solid case as your one-VFF-to-rule-them-all (as does the straight Speed). That’s something to think about. SIZING. As with every pair of Vibrams I own, being sort of in-between sizes with 10.875″ long feet, I find size 43 always fits me just right. The XC Lites are no exception in this regard. As with all toe shoe sizing, your mileage may vary on size comparisons—particularly if you have high arches, wide feet, or high volume feet. The Speed XC is available for purchase online—The Shoe Mart has them as does Travel Country. In the event they go on sale, you’ll likely find out about it first if you subscribe by email. Good luck and please let me know if I missed anything or you have any burning questions!