VivoBarefoot Porto Review
When I first saw VivoBarefoot's new line of "Handcut" shoes, I immediately wanted to try them out. However, given they were only initially released abroad, it took some time to get a chance, so I was pretty excited when Vivo offered to send me a pair of their desert boot Porto to test and review.
While striking in their simple construction of premium leather and dressy by extension, the Porto's initial on-foot experience wasn't surprisingly stark. I've come to grow into these desert boots and they offer something different that you just might like.
Read on for my full review — and a 15% off coupon!
What is this "Handcut" bit about, anyway?
They are created using the finest traditional shoe-making techniques, a wide anatomic toe box and super thin puncture-resistant sole combine to give your feet barefoot luxury.
As you might suspect, the handcut series are handstitched and "handcrafted." I assume this means they are simply handmade, and in this case, they're made in Portugal.
All of this exudes premium and since they cost from $275 to $325 a pair (Bannisters at the low-end and Lisbons at the high-end with Portos setting you back in the middle at $300), you're going to pay a premium to get these on your feet.
I reviewed the VivoBarefoot Gobi almost two years back and I mention it now because it's Vivo's original entry in the fashionably relevant "desert boot" category. The VivoBarefoot Porto is not a replacement for the Gobi so much as a premium take on the design that replaces the foam insole and TPU outsole of the Gobi with a mostly-leather outsole (more on this later) and a premium leather upper that you can polish.
Take a spin around the shoes via these photos:
The Portos are neutral in thickness from heel-to-toe, have zero arch support, and are unlined. The lack of an elevated heel is most apparent when you look at the Portos from the back as you can see here.
The Portos surprisingly have no removable insole. This is surprising in that it is a departure from every other VivoBarefoot design I've ever tested. Take a look inside:
Meanwhile, the Portos have a generous toe box that allows for plenty of wiggle room—no squished toes in these dress-ready boots! Yes! The Porto tongue is gusseted similar to the Gobi as you can see in this photo.
Overall, the Porto's simplicity and natural leather construction combines to make them look sharp.
Breaking-in the Portos
The break-in process for most barefoot shoes is as simple as putting them on and—wait for it—voila! They're broken in! Sure different shoes will adjust or stretch a bit from their brand-new state, but by and large, most barefoot shoes don't require much break-in.
I mentioned that my first-wear in the Portos surprised me in how stark the experience was. When you realize that the soles are nothing more than 4mm thick leather with a bit of rubber embedded within, this starts to make sense. Unlike other Vivos where you have a super thin but flexible TPU outsole and a thin EVA foam insole, the Porto's sole provides a jarringly stiff ride.
At least, that's how it starts. What happens after two or three full days of wear in the Portos is that the sole starts to break-in and become more pliable. Mind, the soles don't quite lose their overall structure over time, they improve with a bit of wear.
As for the barefoot feel, the stiffer sole will bridge over much of the nuanced terrain you might expect to feel in other "barefoot shoes." I use the word "bridge" because the soles don't collapse around small stones or ridges in a meaningful way that makes you feel the sharpness of a stone (for example). In other words, even though the Porto is only 4mm thick in the sole, don't expect to get the same ground feel (or really, anything close to the same ground feel) as you would get from a similarly thick pair of Vibram FiveFingers — or other pair of VivoBarefoots.
Socks not required.
Initially, I thought that given the stiffer ride of the Portos that I'd probably want to wear socks in them. Long-time readers might recall that I've grown to dislike wearing socks if I can avoid them. Well, I'm happy to report that once you've broken in the Portos a bit, socks are no longer required. Actually, I kinda like the feel of all that premium leather against my bare feet! It's certainly a fun juxtaposition to wear such dressy boots sans dress socks.
Because the Porto is cut like a desert boot, they seem right at home with a nice pair of jeans. Photoed above you can see them worn with a pair of selvedge jeans. If you're not familiar with selvedge, it's so-called because of the finished edge of the denim that you see when you cuff the jeans (note the white/red at the cuff).
A characteristic of selvedge denim is that it's served up "raw" and is very stiff on initial wear. The neat thing about selvedge denim is that it breaks into your body as you wear it, stretching and creasing in ways that are unique to you. It's also long-lasting and a premium way to buy jeans. If you're interested in trying out selvedge, you might check out a direct-to-consumer way to buy selvedge in a unique and fun, crowd-funded sorta way through Gustin jeans (and you can save $5 if you use my referral link).
I mention all this talk about premium raw denim—selvedge—because the Portos have a bit in common as should be plain to see: premium materials and break-in time.
The payoff is, of course, a really smart look to these boots. Unlike so many other minimalist shoes, the Portos look stands out as fashionable. A huge plus.
I don't often get all dressed up but I had a wedding to attend and a wife to impress. That meant wearing a suit. What more, it gave me the opportunity to test out the Portos in a really dressy get-up.
So as you can see, that's exactly what I did.
And she was impressed! Seriously, the Portos could not have looked better with this slim-cut suit. Again, the style of these boots is on-point and makes a gent look smart. Whereas in some times past I've struggled to find a really great looking pair of dress shoes that were also comfortable (read: I've failed miserably), the Porto boots were a resounding success.
I could attempt to wax poetic further on this point but I'll just let the pictures speak for me:
All in all, my first experience with VivoBarefoot's Handcut series a la the Porto desert boot has been a big success. These boots dress you up, and they do it thanks to their premium build and fashionable cut. It's also worth pointing out that they seem very well constructed and should hold up very well over time. While I don't know much about shoe repair, I'd also venture to say you could probably have the sole replaced at some point in the future.
The biggest considerations that will might bring you pause if you're considering these boots are the stiff-out-of-the-box soles and the price. At $300, these shoes are expensive. As for the soles, I like how they break in. They make these shoes a new type of experience in the world of barefoot shoes, and I appreciate that. It's also unavoidable to have a stiffer sole when you go with a premium leather sole, so it's a compromise that I think makes plenty of sense.
Should you get them? If your wardrobe has a gaping hole for a premium desert boot and a separate hole being burned in your pocket to buy your next pair of minimalist shoes, well, you know what to do. Actually, for the next week (until October 28, 2014), you can get 15% off your order at VivoBarefoot.com using code DOB15.
I'd really like to try the Bannister, but I'm already planning on doing an update on the Gobi, so stay tuned!