Vibram’s V-Alpha is a successor to the KSO EVO as their all-around five-toed “barefoot” shoe. Taking what was already a very capable shoe and improving upon its fit, materials, and sole, the V-Alpha aims to be the best all-around shoe in the Vibram lineup. Five years since the release of the KSO EVO, does the V-Alpha take over the crown? Vibram sent over a pair for me to find out. Click through to find out in my review of the Vibram V-Alpha!

Overview

Here’s what Vibram says about the V-Alpha:
New for 2018! The V-Alpha is the essential outdoor minimal training tool, and is 100% true our original philosophy: a protective tool for the foot which allows ground sensory perception, performance and dexterity. The flexible rubber outsole features our most versatile compound, Vibram Megagrip. This compound provides both grip and durability over time in both wet and dry conditions.
Weight | 5 oz (Mens 42) NOTE: The KSO EVO that the V-Alpha replaces was a 4oz shoe in the same size Total Stack Height | 5.7mm (3.7 mm rubber outsole+2 mm insole) Barefoot scale | Excellent proprioception, dexterity, flexibility and fit Ideal Uses | Just about everything! An excellent all-around shoe for running, trails, and the gym. Pros
  • Better fit and materials than the previous KSO EVO
  • Very flexible and lightweight
  • MEGAGRIP rubber
  • Easy to clean
Cons
  • Pull tab is a bit fragile
Price | $110 Sizing | True to size and a wide shape. More room towards the bottom of the foot over its predecessor. Easily adjusted and a quickly customized fit. You can take a spin around the V-Alpha FiveFingers via the photo gallery below:

Sole

This review has a lot of sentimental value to me. My very first review for Birthdayshoes.com was the KSO EVO that the V-Alpha replaces and I had very high hopes and expectations awaiting the arrival of this new model for 2018. It was five years ago that I became the first person in the United States to review the KSO EVO. The KSO EVO was available online as the EL-X LS in late 2013, a few months before the official launch of the KSO EVO model in the spring of 2014. Fast forward to 2018 and the KSO EVO was still my favorite Vibram shoe as an all-around “Jack of all trades” option for those seeking the thinnest and most flexible shoe that Vibram had to offer. However, the V-Alpha shakes up the hierarchy of shoes by improving upon the KSO EVO in just about every way possible. It is worth noting that as of the writing of this review, Vibram still sells the KSO EVO and the KSO, but I would consider the V-Alpha as the successor to the line and is the new “alpha” shoe among all five-fingered shoes. To start, Vibram upgraded the old EL-X/KSO EVO “max feel” rubber sole with a new Megagrip sole for both the V-Alpha and V-Aqua. This sole is grippier and more durable than the old sole. Vibram’s MEGAGRIP compound claims better traction on wet and slippery surfaces and enhanced durability over previous rubber options in this category.
 More aggressive lugs, but still smooth enough for road and gym use
More aggressive lugs, but still smooth enough for road and gym use
The traction lugs on the MEGAGRIP sole are much more aggressive than the old KSO EVO lugs with tons of cleats that are larger in size towards the heel and ball, and smaller lugs around the toe and center of the foot. While the old sole was pretty flat-looking, this new sole projects confidence and a stronger sense of capability.
 The new V-Alpha MEGAGRIP sole vs the "Max Feel" sole in the KSO Evo
The new V-Alpha MEGAGRIP sole vs the “Max Feel” sole in the KSO Evo
The treads are not quite as aggressive as the ones found in the previous Trek Ascent (Now called the V-Trek), the leather-constructed Trek Ascent LR, and winter-ready Trek Ascent Insulated, but it is a definite improvement over the “max feel” sole of the KSO EVO and EL-X. In the upgrade process, the V-Alpha gains roughly one millimeter over the previous sole with a total stack height 5.7mm vs 4.7mm of the KSO EVO (3.7mm Megagrip rubber + 2mm insole versus 2.7mm of rubber in the KSO EVO). V-Alpha comparison to the KSO EVO and El-X below. This new sole is a fantastic design with excellent smoothness and flexibility for road running but a good amount of traction for trails and water crossings. Interestingly enough, since this sole is shared with the V-Aqua, you can see the drainage holes that would be used in Vibram’s water-specific shoe, but these holes are mostly cosmetic in the V-Alpha. In the V-Aqua, these drainage holes flow through the entire shoe and into the interior, while the V-Alpha does not have this feature. The Megagrip sole is also a bit more raised up than the previous sole, which offers better traction and more protection for your toes and heel area. This is great because you will want to do more with the V-Alpha than the KSO EVO that it replaces. Tree climbing, parkour, and overall trail running and hiking all have a enhanced sense of confidence and much less slip, especially on wet surfaces, than before. The combination of better lugs and more capable rubber makes the V-Alpha a Jack of all trades that can do and trade more than your average Joe. There are fewer concessions, despite its “all arounder” nature. Previously, perhaps the V-Run were better road shoes because of their thicker rubber or the Trek Ascent were a better trail shoe because of its better tread over the KSO EVO. Today, the V-Alpha is so much better across more activities that it might just be the one shoe you need for more and more of the things you enjoy.
In addition, like with many of the latest Vibram designs, the toes feature flex grooves for enhanced flexibility; the previous sole was the same thickness all around the foot. While the sole is ever so slightly thicker and denser, the flex grooves still allow for a downward toe flex, just like the EL-X and KSO EVO.
 Can still flex!
Can still flex!
This rubber is a bit denser than the old “max feel” sole and along with the new uppers makes the V-Alpha a 5 oz shoe and still a light weight option among other Vibram shoes, though the KSO EVO was about 1 oz lighter by comparison. This weight difference is hardly noticeable as the fit and materials of the V-Alpha are superior to the older KSO EVO. Ground feel with the V-Alpha is fantastic. Tiny details can still be felt as you engage in your favorite activities and this level of sensitivity really helps with improving running technique and form. The sole provides just enough protection, while maintaining a not-quite-barefoot experience that is similar to the KSO EVO. Because the sole is so thin, it can help you figure out proper running form and technique. You do not have to be perfect with your form, but if you land too heavy, you will quickly correct yourself with a quicker cadence and lighter steps than in just about anything else you can run in. The V-Alpha is an excellent training shoe for runners of all levels of experience.
 Excellent flexibility and proprioception
Excellent flexibility and proprioception
If you are new to minimalist running, the Megagrip sole of the V-Alpha is going to be a big departure from what you may be used to. If you are looking for your first “barefoot” shoe, you may want to check out the V-Run as that is more of a long-distance running shoe and is more forgiving with its extra padding—though both are good shoes to train your technique with. Overall, the V-Alpha is going to require a lot more “you” in your running than most other shoes because of its incredibly minimalist nature.

Fit and Materials

Vibram went back to the drawing board with the uppers for the V-Alpha and created a brand new 50/50 wool / synthetic upper blend for improved breathability and reduced odor. In my testing, I found this to be a very breathable upper and with much more odor control of “Vibram funk” than even the already incredibly breathable KSO EVO. Of course, should your shoes ever get stinky, you can always toss them in the wash—always a Five Finger perk over traditional running and training shoes; simply machine wash and air dry.
This new upper is just as breathable as the previous upper, if not more so. After running a full marathon, my feet did not feel humid or hot. Additionally, this upper is more durable than the polyester stretch mesh of previous models. It simply looks and feels more substantial and can take a stray tree branch with more gusto than the KSO EVO. After over 100 miles of testing, there is zero wear and no weak points to speak of; a marked improvement over the KSO EVO, which felt a bit fragile in the uppers, though mine never tore in over 5 years with two different pairs (both still in great condition). This new upper also has fewer hot spots or irritation points than the older shoe. With the KSO EVO, painted-on rubber bands were used to give the shoe more structure and hold and in those areas I can see someone getting some rubbing points around the sides of the shoe, but the entire V-Alpha shoe has a better fit with its wool blend and less of a need for extra structure to keep it on your feet, making this the most comfortable Vibram shoe to date. In addition, the uppers are a bit more insulated than the older shoe, so you can run further into winter than with the KSO EVO.
This is not a water-specific shoe, but the V-Alpha dries off pretty quickly during river hikes and does not get bogged down in the water; it would be an excellent canoe shoe, though Vibram also makes the V-Aqua dedicated watersports and beach shoe.
 The heel has been improved to fit more feet and features a pull tab
The heel has been improved to fit more feet and features a pull tab
The heel in the V-Alpha is a bit more forgiving and easier to put on than the KSO EVO, but Vibram smartly included a heel pull tab to assist in getting shoe on and off. However, while appreciated, I do wish that this tab were a bit tougher as I am not sure if it would survive a lot of roughhousing. Previously, I praised the KSO EVO for having a really good heel shape and “wings” for enhanced stability, but the V-Alpha simply feels better around my heel, even without the wings. Fast motions are not a problem with the V-Alpha, making for an excellent agility training shoe.
 The Lace System returns with some notable improvements over the outgoing KSO EVO's LS
The Lace System returns with some notable improvements over the outgoing KSO EVO’s LS
The closed-loop bungee and velcro strap lace system makes a return and with a few improvements. The velcro strip on both the top of the shoe and its pull tab are larger than in previous models and is very easy to use. Again, I find the Vibram lace system to be superior to traditional shoe laces in terms of comfort, speed, and durability. There is less time fiddling and tying and more time enjoying the little things with the bungee and velcro route.

Future Improvements

For one, I would like more colors than BLACK, GRAY and BLACK, and GREENISH BROWN…and BLACK. I understand that they are trying for something a bit more discreet with the new Vibram shoes, which is a nice change from the neon of the EVO days, but I think that something in between would be appreciated by more buyers. I would also like a more substantial pull tab and perhaps seal off the little holes in the sole that do nothing but pretend to be V-Alpha drains. Aside from that, this is essentially a perfect closed-toe shoe. As someone who spends most of his last five years running in sandals, Vibram has returned to my regular rotation—it is that good.

Summary

After five years, the sequel to my first shoe review has finally been written and the V-Alpha has proven itself to be a worthy successor to the “KSO” role in the lineup, though it drops the name. While the name has changed, its spirit lives on as an all-around shoe that can do just about anything and better than ever before. If you only need one five finger shoe, it just might be the V-Alpha. For Vibram loyalists, new minimalist runners, and those obsessed with simplicity, the V-Alpha is a real treat. I would say that this shoe is the pride and joy the Vibram lineup. If you’re looking to pick up a pair, they retail around $110 and can be found at: Travel Country | Amazon | Zappos