Barefoot Shoes

Reviewing the Vivo Barefoot Aqua from Terra Plana

The market for “barefoot shoes” is small. It’s in this context that it doesn’t take long to discover the main minimalist footwear options and manufacturers. You’ve got Vibram Five Fingers, but you’ve also got companies like FeelMax or perhaps you’re he…

Update July 2012: The original Aquas have been discontinued. Don’t dismay: Vivo Barefoot redesigned and improved the original Aqua in a re-release called the Aqua Lite that hit the market in 2012. I’ve reviewed those, too (as of July 2012) — here.

Original review:

The market for “barefoot shoes” is small. It’s in this context that it doesn’t take long to discover the main minimalist footwear options and manufacturers. You’ve got Vibram Five Fingers, but you’ve also got companies like FeelMax or perhaps you’re hearing more about Soft Star Shoes. One of the major players in the barefoot alternative shoes industry is, of course, Terra Plana, manufacturers of the Vivo Barefoot line.

Vivo Barefoot Origins

Vivo Barefoots got their start circa 2000 / 2001 when two childhood friends, Tim Brennan and Galahad Clark, endeavored to create a shoe that fostered the benefits of being barefoot. Brennan and Clark created a prototype shoe around 2004, which eventually led to the first Vivo Barefoot, one with a zip on/off sole. The zippered sole concept didn’t quite work, apparently, so Vivos quickly went “zipless.”* It wasn’t long before Vivo expanded the line in 2005 to include the Dharma and Aqua, two styles that continue to be popular today.

It’s been almost ten years since the beginnings of Vivo Barefoot shoes. Today, there is a full line-up of men’s and women’s shoes, and Vivo Barefoot will soon be releasing a running specific barefoot shoe called the Vivo Barefoot Evo.

I got in touch with Terra Plana back in November wanting to get my feet into a pair of their Vivo Barefoots to test for the Five Fingers fan community here. They kindly obliged and sent me my first pair of blue suede shoes— Vivo Barefoot Aquas. My review of the Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aquas will cover the design and performance, barefoot feel, aesthetic/style, sizing, and price. Let’s go!

A front view of the Vivo Barefoot Aquas, you can quickly get a sense that these are well constructed, downright stylish shoes — that look normal despite being built barefoot-ish.

A front view of the Vivo Barefoot Aquas, you can quickly get a sense that these are well constructed, downright stylish shoes — that look normal despite being built barefoot-ish.

Design and Performance of the Aqua — that barefoot feel

The Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aquas, which I’ll refer to as just “Aquas,” have a thin, neutral sole (meaning they lack an elevated heel) that is composed of TPU rubber, “puncture resistant” Duratex, and a removable insole. My calipers put the thickness of the sole at the heel at 5mm. Note this measurement is taken having removed the Aqua’s insole. I originally tried the Aquas with the insole in place, but preferred the closer-to-barefoot feel of having it removed. If you leave it in, the insole adds another 3mm or so of thickness and cushioning (Here’s a photo of the Vivo Barefoot Aqua having removed the insole, which sits to the right of the shoe).

In my testing, I found the Aqua to do a solid job of conveying ground textures to my foot. Pebbles, bumps, gradation, rugs, whatever. It’s not as much feel as you get with the VFF Moc or Soft Star Grippy Roo moccasin, but the sole of the Aqua is sturdier than both and after three months shows no sign of wear. Regardless, the Aqua finds a balance betweeen the benefits of barefootedness while still being stylistically shoe-like (I’ll get into this more below).

That the Aqua is a shoe means that it has a fairly robust structure above its minimal sole. This upper is comprised of leather (for durability and style) and mesh (to add flexibility and make the Aquas breathable). Though the mesh placement helps the Aqua to flex, overall, the structure makes the Aqua more rigid than what you’ll find with VFFs. That said, it’s still easy to bend with one hand:

Here I bend the Aqua to demonstrate its flexibility.

Here I bend the Aqua to demonstrate its flexibility.

The lack of heel enabled a natural walking gait, typically landing midfoot (forefoot and heel striking at effectively the same time). I’d put the overall walking feel as similar to the Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek, meaning that I’m less likely to walk with a forefoot gait as I might with Classic Five Fingers, but the heel isn’t catching the ground unintentionally, as it would with your typical raised heel shoes which effectively force a natural gait into a pronounced heel strike.

The Vivo Barefoot Aquas have a stout, comfortably wide toe box within which my toes felt free to roam, not confined or cramped. This is a welcome feature compared to your run-of-the-mill, non-barefoot shoes. There are neutral, thin-soled shoes out there, but many of them have painfully narrow toe boxes. Not the Aqua:

A welcome feature of the Vivo Barefoot Aquas is a wide and open toe box.  Compared to the typically narrow toe boxes you find on most shoes, this is a welcome feature of the Aqua.

A welcome feature of the Vivo Barefoot Aquas is a wide and open toe box. Compared to the typically narrow toe boxes you find on most shoes, this is a welcome feature of the Aqua.

One drawback to the simple, hexagon speckled sole of the Vivo Barefoot Aqua is that I found it a bit slippery on wet surfaces. This is a bit unfortunate as one of the most common times I found myself wearing the Aquas was when it was raining (and VFFs just wouldn’t cut it).

The only other design issue I had with the Aquas is that the tongue of the Aqua is a stretchy, thick fabric that starts at the sole, goes up and over the instep, and then attaches on the other side of your foot back into the sole (photo).

The upside to this design is that it makes for a comfortable, naturally snug fit once your foot is inside the Aqua. It means you don’t really have to tighten the laces of the Aqua much to make it feel attached to your foot. That said, I found it a bit more work than I’d have liked to put the Aquas on — humorous in that I can actually put on Five Finger KSOs faster than Aquas! And incidentally, just like the KSOs, I found the best way to get my foot seated into the Aqua was to push the heel down, stick my foot into the shoe, and then pull the heel of the Aqua up and around my heel.

Aesthetic and Style — How the Aquas look

The Vivo Barefoot Aquas — blue suede with red laces and a yellow stripe at the sole — simply look fantastic. I got many compliments on the Aquas from my wife and her girlfriends, as well as *most* of my guy friends. It’s hard not to like the colored suede, the clearly well constructed quality of the Aqua, and the attention to detail. Sure, they’re a bit eye-catching in blue, but not in a “Oh my, what are you wearing?!” sorta way as you come to expect with Vibram Five Fingers, but in a “Oh those are unusual — and I like them!” sorta way.

I found myself able to sport the Aquas to dressy casual events with khaki or brown pants, but also kick back in them in jeans. Either way, they always attracted the right kind of attention. Major points on this front.


The Vivo Barefoot sizing can be a bit intimidating to some as the shoes size in European sizes. The reality is that Vivo Barefoot suggests you go a full size up. I’m a 10 1/2 shoe size last time I checked, and Vivo Barefoots run in whole sizes. So that put me between a 10 / 43 and a 11 / 44. I got the 44s and they are perfect for me. For what it’s worth, I’m in between on VFFs, too — 43 in Classics, but also 43 in KSOs and my feet are both 10.875″ long (People ask these things!).

Compared to the Five Fingers sizing gymnastics you might be used to, simply “sizing up” with Vivo Barefoots is a barefoot walk in the park.


At a retail price of $150, the Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aquas can be a tough pill to swallow for many would-be buyers — that is a chunk of change. Having said that, astute shoppers often find good sales, and I’ve heard of some folks finding extraordinary deals on Vivo Barefoots. If you’re interested in taking the plunge on a pair of Aquas, you can buy them up directly from VivoBarefoot here.

Here are a few more photos, a couple close-up shots to show quality (Note the double-stitching, for example), and a look at accompanying literature on the Aquas from Vivo Barefoot:

Overall thoughts on the Vivo Barefoot Aqua

Let’s face it, as much as you may want to be barefoot or in your favorite five toed footwear all the time, there will inevitably come times when you’ve got to put on regular shoes. Thankfully, with the Aquas, the sacrifice you make wearing “real shoes” is almost welcome: you can simultaneously free your feet and impress friends with a bit of style. It’s nice to go out in public and have my wife not cringing about my VFFs! You can’t go wrong.

Also, though I didn’t do run in the Aquas, I did burst into the occasional short run in them. They felt great — no binding of my toes and a welcome barefoot-ish, natural running feel.

If you want to pick up a pair of Vivo Barefoot Aquas, the bad news is that they have been discontinued. The good news is that Vivo Barefoot redesigned (and improved!) the Aqua in a re-release called the Aqua Lite. I’ve reviewed those, too (as of July 2012) — here.

As always, if you have any questions or want me to answer specific questions, I encourage you to comment below!

* If anyone can find a working model of these original Vivos, I’d love to see some photos!

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.

24 replies on “Reviewing the Vivo Barefoot Aqua from Terra Plana”

I recently bought some black Aquas and i would agree with most of Justin’s review. I do have slightly different views on a couple of points though:

1) The sole isn’t totally neutral, it is nice thin at the heel, but there is a bit of toe lift. It isn’t a huge amount, but it is definitely noticeable if you are used to VFF’s.
2) I’m not sure that the stiffness comes from the construction of the upper, to me the rubber of the sole seems stiffer than Vibram’s. This might change in the warmer weather though, it is rather chilly in Scotland just now, so it might soften up in the summer.

On a related note, if you are looking at the website there are 2 Vivo Barefoot sole styles, the regular one (as shown above) and a winter one. The winter style is slightly thicker and less flexible, but does have a grippier tread.

Lastly a note of caution if you are considering buying Vivo Barefoot shoes. In my experience over the last 2 years, Terra Plana’s sizing is rather inconsistent, i have ordered 6 pairs of shoes from them and ended up returning 4 of them as they were too narrow. My feet are an E width and i have tried the following Vivo Barefoot styles: Kariba – just right, Aqua – they were too tight with the insole, but once that was removed they were a little neat but ok, Darmha – way too narrow. The other 3 styles were regular Terra Plana rather than Vivo Barefoot. When i called up to return the Darmhas, they mentioned that generally the styles with little or no lacing tend to be narrower so that they are more secure. Just something to keep in mind, especially if you are ordering from the states.

Overall Vivo Barefoot shoes are great for the rare occasions you need slightly more normal footwear (interviews, weddings, funerals etc) but i much prefer VFF’s.

Humorously, that’s exactly what one guy friend of mine said. In the end, I’ve found fashion is all about owning the look — and it’s surprisingly easy to own the look of these Aquas, even in blue suede. Definitely a hit with the ladies.

I’ve got a pair of Vivo Oaks, picked ’em up last October or so. Would have to agree with everything. I’ve found them to be even better on the aesthetics, as they’re just plain black suede, they blend in nicely.

Also picked up a pair of the Vivo Natal boots for winter. Has the same hexagonal sole and it was a bit slippy at times, but it seemed like with the thin sole I was better able to feel the ground conditions and be ready for potential slips.

Great review, Justin. I’ve been curious about Terra Plana but the steep price has been a deterrent. If anyone gets a pair of the new Evo running shoes I’d like to see a review.

I have bought the Vivo Kariba to wear in the cold and wet winter. They have the invers hex sole.
Someone already said that the sole turns upward towards the toe section but I haven’t expericenced that they change the walking style or the feeling of the shoes.
For the slippery part, you have not grip on ice for one I tried that one, also on wet metal like train rails or something its really difficult.
BTW the shoes are produced fair and ecologically.

The first minimalist shoes I owned were Aquas. I loved them immediately, but once I discovered VFFs, they became my backup, dressy, shoe. I now have two pair of Vivos–Dharma and Kariba, the latter for winter use. I think they look great.

As comfortable as the Vivo Barefoot line is, VFFs are cutting edge foot gloves that come far closer to the barefoot experience.

But thanks to both companies, I’m now able live my life without resorting to conventional shoes.

First off, great review, Justin. So, oddly, I just bought a pair of Vivo Barefoot Lesothos about a week ago based on some posts I’d read on the forum. The forum contained heaps of good info about Terra Plana shoes so I highly recommend anyone interested in them take a look at the threads. They are the most comfortable shoes I’ve owned, maybe ever. Not quite as barefoot as VFFs, but still incredible.

Second off, you mentioned how difficult they are to get on. I do agree however I’ve always made sure I have a shoe horn near wherever I gotta put shoes on and these shoes BEG for one. Trust me – get one, and you won’t have a bit of trouble putting them on anymore. Well, the 1st few times are a little tricky but you’ll get the hang of it and it makes the shoes way more managable. …What to do if you take them off at a friend’s house, I can’t help ya unless you wanna carry a shoe horn around with you at all times…even I’m not that bad :).

HUGE thanks for the discount! I’m already ready to pick up another pair and this clinches it.


Great review. I’ve been curious about their line since my new addiction to VFFs took hold of me last week. I was set to order one or two models but they are sold out of my size. Hopefully that will change soon as I’d love to have the way to bring this barefoot feel to areas where the VFFs can’t go.

I do have a question about the suede. Is it color fast when it gets wet? The last pair of suede shoes I bought transferred color to the hems of my pants if they got wet. Have you or others had that problem?


Running in rain in VFFs is fine — your feet will just get wet no big deal. But going out and about (casual wear) in VFFs when it’s rainy and getting sopping wet feet isn’t so much fun — that’s where I go to the Aquas.


I haven’t noticed any blue-ness leaking off on my clothes.

Great review Justin,
This really seems like a “transition” shoe b/w VFFs and traditional sneaks or casual shoes. I wonder how the opinion would differ if going from these to VFFs rather than the other way around. Hmmm. Either way, it seems like a an interesting piece of footwear.

Great review. I was looking for something minimalist that I could wear to work when the weather warms up. I work in a business casual environment and VFFs just aren’t an option as we aren’t even allowed to wear sneakers on casual Friday. I just found a pair of the Odettes on Amazon for $41 ($100 regular price). By the way, they are offering buy one get one half price on the Terra Plana online store right now. But you can’t use any other codes with that deal. Thanks for reviewing other minimalist shoes. I love having other options for when I can’t wear VFFs – like my Grippy Roos from Soft Star shoes that I’m wearing right now :).

Thanks Justin. The Terra site still doesn’t have my size but I ordered some elsewhere last night and can’t wait to try them. I decided to have fun and went with the blue too. I like the idea of owning the statement they’ll make.

I went online and did some reading after you posted this last week and decided to give them a try since the discount was so big. I just got them in today and just put them on now. I love them so far. I got the Brown leather aquas so I can easily wear them to work without causing a stir, as opposed to the shock and awe of the Vibrams.

Thanks for the write-up and recomendation Justin!

I tried to use the code when buying the Vivo Barefoot Evo’s (the new running model). It doesn’t seem to work with that specific model. Any chance you could contact your connection with Terra Plana and see if they would make the code good for that model? Worth the try right…

Unfortunately, the word is that the coupon code doesn’t work for the Evo — frustrating, but the Evo actually came out *after* my review here.

Thanks Justin. I know they came out after but I was just hoping they would cover them. I might get a pair of the Aquas for everyday use. Thank you for running a great site for all us VFF lovers.

Question about the Lesothos for anyone who’s worn them. They have hexagons on the bottom that look pretty grippy but I’m wondering how they fair on grass. I’m a soccer referee and I’ve been searching high and low for some simply barefoot-like shoes I can wear for reffing that aren’t VFFs (because VFFs look kinda funny and would force me to alter my ref socks).

Relativity of toebox width: Vivos have wider toeboxes than any normal shoe I’ve ever had, but even though I got mine big — I have space leftover in front of my big toes — the shoes (soles) are still too narrow. They start narrowing in, from the ball of the foot. But if you want something that looks like a shoe, it’s still the “best” alternative.

Great review as always Justin.
I am actually wearing a pair of the “zippered sole” Vivo shoes as I am typing.
To be honest I prefer these to the pair of Lesotho I recently got for work, the main reason being that the soles are a bit thinner than the Lesotho and they are much easier to get on.
At work I have to walk through an electronics factory to get to my office and there are “Tack-Mats” at every doorway to take the dirt off your soles. I love the way my Vivos leave a bare foot print on the sticky mat next to all the other ordinary footprints (with my old vivos the sole is so thin you can actually make out the toes on the footprint).
I also wear VFF sprints and KSO for running, walking about etc and go barefoot as much as possible especially for karate and general mooching about.

I’m wondering if anyone say whether these would be good for someone who walks *everywhere.* I don’t have a car and walk a LOT, including up a couple of good-sized hills, running errands, carrying groceries and library books, blah blah blah, walking walking everywhere! I’m currently wearing Keens, which are great, but I’d love something lighter and I think I like the idea of the “barefoot” shoe.

The one thing I don’t like about Terra Plana shoes is the thick synthetic lining of the uppers, which makes my damn feet sweat! I own one pair and have tried a few others; they all seem cut from the same cloth. If they only had just a thin leather or canvas upper, with the same soles, they would be perfect.

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