Earlier this year Vibram released the CVT Hemp—a FiveFingers model that was an alternative to the 2013-introduced CVT LS. The whole CVT thing stands for “convertible” due to the original CVT LS allowing you to flip the heel of the CVT LS flat and make them slip-on toe shoes. (You can check out the CVT LS on Vibram’s site here.)
I never reviewed the CVT LS as I just never got into wearing them* but I’ve found the CVT Hemp to be a solid five-toed pair of shoes, by comparison. The CVT sole is a super lightweight and flexible minimalist sole that has a lot to offer for FiveFingers fans and the hemp upper lends a snug but comfortable, casual look to these VFFs.
Read on for my full review!
Meet the CVT Hemp
The CVT Hemp, like the CVT LS, is intended to be worn either with the rear heel flipped down or worn up. For the life of me, I have zero desire to wear my FiveFingers as slip-ons as I find a huge benefit in the locked-on feel of toe shoes. Having a slip-on VFF makes them easy to slip-off, which means that I’m going to be thinking about my shoes more than I’d like.
Sidnote for those familiar with the CVT LS: Thankfully, whereas the CVT LS “featured” some sorta sticky-insole material in the two largest toe pockets—put there, I presume, to make them more grippy when worn in the heel-down form factor—the CVT Hemps’ insole is just a standard material throughout. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be writing this review (I found the grippy material in the CVT LS to be so annoying that I just never wore them).
For the few of you who ever saw the Sorrento FiveFingers (reviewed here!), you might notice a similar “look” in the CVT Hemp—one reminiscent of a penny loafer. The CVT Hemp looks to have run with that look, recast with a hemp-fabric upper and the foamy-rubber outsole first featured in the CVT LS.
Assuredly geared toward the casual minimalist enthusiast, CVT Hemp FiveFingers are for everyday wear. Take a spin around the toe shoes via these photos:
The EVA (and spot of rubber) soles
The CVT Hemp sole is (to my eye) the same sole as the CVT LS. It is comprised primarily of a grid-cut EVA-type foam that Vibram calls “Vi-Lite” with two spots of “XS Trek” Vibram rubber. These two spots are strategically placed at the back part of the heel and the ball of the foot. See the photos and note the darker spots.
There is also a 2mm EVA insole (per Vibram). The CVT Hemp’s sole is 8mm thick, which I was able to confirm (at least within a millimeter) using skinfold calipers. Of note, the CVT LS seems to have a slightly thicker sole.
With a sole mostly made of foam you might think that it’s squishy or a plush ride. And while the ride is not as barefoot-like as the KSO EVO (or EL-X), it’s decidedly barefoot..
What do I mean? Well, I mean that I ground textures readily pass through the sole. What more, the sole is very flexible and I can easily flex my toes skyward or to the ground (The latter is not possible in all VFFs). Check it out in the animation above (sped up a little — my toes aren’t that fast!).
The hemp upper
The CVT Hemp has a “hemp/poly blend” per Vibram’s specs. It’s a thin, natural feeling fabric that reminds me of Sanuks (Disclaimer: never had a pair of Sanuks!). The first couple times I first put on the CVT Hemp in my typical VFF size of 43 I was a little concerned they were too small.
Thankfully, there is some give and break-in with the CVT Hemps and while they still have an assuredly snug fit after a good deal of wear but one that is in no way uncomfortable. Those with high volume or wider feet should definitely take note and be sure to either size up or try them on (or if buying online, buy from some place with easy returns!).
I’ll also point out here that the nature of the sole being foam-based (as opposed to rubber) means that it has a little more structure to it — structure that is less likely to flatten out compared to thin Vibram rubber. For those of you with wide feet who rely on the lack of structure in rubber to accomodate wider feet, this could be an issue (Required reading: Why FiveFingers work for wide feet)
I really like the CVT Hemp upper fabric; it’s comfortable on foot, breathes well, and feels lightweight. It’s hemp!
Given the CVT Hemp is made with a hemp upper and by extension of being five-toed shoes that are evocative of barefeet — well, I’d say Vibram’s categorization of these as “casual” is appropriate. Yeah, these are casual VFFs. They’re meant for knocking around town in a comfortable pair of jeans. And while you can dress them up a little, hemp is a grainy fabric and that graininess feels right at home paired with casual clothing.
For that purpose, I like the look of the light brown pair I’m reviewing today though I wonder what a less drab combination might look like. Some more photos below, worn with a pair of laid-back denim:
The CVT Hemp is for the dedicated toe shoe fan who wants a pair of FiveFingers for everyday wear and doesn’t need them for active pursuits.
I say this last part because it’s not the intention of the CVT Hemp’s design to be worn for running, CrossFit, or whatever active pursuits you may have. It’s geared towards walking, hitting your local coffee shop (or pub?), or just doing whatever it is you do on a day-to-day basis. Could it work for more active pursuits? I imagine it would—so long as you realize that a foam-based sole isn’t likely to last as long as denser Vibram rubber.
If you’re interested in the CVT Hemp, you might try them out via Zappos (not sure they have the brown) as the sizing/fit are a real consideration given both the use of a foam-centric sole (one less likely to flatten well for wider feet) and the snugness of hemp in the upper. That said, if you wanted to try out the CVT-sole, I’d hands down recommend the Hemp over the LS, which just isn’t my cup of tea.
And as for the “conversion” of these to a slip-on — well, that’s not my use-case. Any others use the CVT Hemp (or LS) that way? What do you think?
Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad based in Atlanta where he works for MURAL in marketing. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.