Why Vibram FiveFingers Work for Wide Feet

Vibram FiveFingers work for wide feet by featuring a sole that can expand width-wise as needed due to the rubber wrapping the foot at the sides; stretchy uppers and toe pockets also work to add width when needed.

Guest post by Ted

In the fall of 2009 I donned my first pair of VFF, the KSO Trek. I did a long hike in them and one huge difference soon became apparent. My feet didn’t hurt!

On the typical ho…

. . . and why some models work better than others!

Guest post by Ted In the fall of 2009 I donned my first pair of VFF, the KSO Trek. I did a long hike in them and one huge difference soon became apparent. My feet didn’t hurt! On the typical hours-long uphill mountain hikes near where I live in Southern California, my feet always became very painful due to the nerves that run between the toe knuckles being squeezed. Extra wide shoes helped some, but only thong sandals were pain-free. Somehow wearing VFF was also pain-free, and has remained so with thousands of logged mountain and desert miles. This led me to wonder, why do Vibram FiveFingers work so well for my ultra wide feet? When comparing the soles of VFFs to any traditional trail shoe or boot (or running shoe), two differences are obvious. The VFF sole is wider. And it wraps up along the sides of the shoe. The effect of this second difference is that when the sole of the foot flares out, as it does when pushing off to hike or run uphill, it can push down on and thereby widen this extra shoe sole. Since there is no edge or seam, there is no pain or blistering from doing this repeatedly. With a typical wide-width shoe, the bottom of the metatarsal head of the big toe partially rides on the seam where the upper meets the sole, generating heat, blistering and pain.
A before and after side view of the extra sole that wraps up the side of the foot at the largest metatarsel; note how it can be pushed all the way to the table, thereby adding width to the sole.
In addition to a sole that can expand horizontally on demand, there are a couple of other features of most (but not all) FiveFingers that also contribute to their comfort for wide feet. One is that the uppers are somewhat elastic or are made of a leather that stretches. This helps make it possible for the forefoot to widen as pressure is applied in pushing off. The final feature is something that I only began to appreciate with more recent models of Vibrams on which the feature has been altered. This is the stretchy panel on the outside of the big toe. When a shoe—any shoe—is stretched across the forefoot, the toe is pulled in. I discovered this a decade ago when I ruined an expensive new pair of mountaineering boots. I stretched the width to accommodate my wide forefoot and bunion, but in so doing the length was shortened to the point of being too short! With VFF, since the toes are largely independent, most of the shortening in focused on the big toe pocket. With the traditional VFF models that have the same stretch panel on the outside of the big toe as between the toes, the material stretches and all is well. The wide forefoot is accommodated and the big toe is left in peace. My first (and worst) encounter with a FiveFingers model that did not have a stretchy side panel on the outside of the big toe was with the Trek Flow (which is identical to the Flow except for use of the Trek sole). The outside and top of the big toe are covered with a transparent plastic film that does not stretch. As a result, the tips of my big toes felt like they were being crushed. I’ve avoided wearing these other than for one SCUBA dive. Initially I had a similar experience with the all-leather Trek LS. The tips of both big toes were bruised and the toenails blackened. But the ability of leather to stretch offered a solution. I cut the tips off a pair of shoe stretchers to match the angles of the open areas inside the VFFs. The shoe stretchers worked to make the VFF uppers wide enough to accommodate my forefeet. With this change, my big toes slipped into the toe pouches without any discomfort. These have become my favorite pair of VFF, which I wear to work every day. A week ago, with the arrival of a pair of the Spyridon LS and the SeeYa, I became aware of a change that Vibram introduced in the lace-up version of the Bikila — the Bikila LS (and about the same time in the Trek Sport and the Kommodo). All of these newer models run the upper fabric from the inside big toe pocket panel over to the outside of the big toe as one single piece. Gone is the separate stretchy panel of the same material as used between the toes. Since the material on the inside of the big toe is very stretchy, and the fabric on the upper is somewhat stretchy, they still feel comfortable. But visually the Spyridon LS was a shock. Half of my big toe was ballooning out – a bright orange balloon, looking like the wattle of a bird engaged in a courtship ritual. So you can see what I’m talking about, below are photos of my feet in various Vibram FiveFingers, as well as a couple thong sandal shots for comparison. From left to right, top to bottom you’ve got the Trek LS, Bikila LS, Bikila, KSO Trek, sandals, sandals, SeeYa, and Spyridon LS FiveFingers: You’ll note that the SeeYa and Bikila LS don’t balloon out nearly as much as the Spyridon LS, probably because the uppers are made of a more stretchy fabric. But they do balloon, somewhat. On a side-to-side comparison, I definitely prefer the balance of the standard Bikila to the ballooning on one side of the Bikila LS. Here’s an up close look at how the big toe pockets accommodate my wide feet (Bikila, Bikila LS, KSO Trek, SeeYa, Spyridon LS, Trek LS). The Speed (not pictured) is a somewhat different shoe because of the construction of the upper. The multitude of non-stretchy elements makes the upper less-stretchy in general than other Vibram FiveFingers. It’s the only VFFs in which I’ve had to go up a size. In the larger size, these have become my standby gym shoe for almost two years. I don’t need the laces for fit, but the laces provide an excellent support for the footpod that I attach to record my treadmill workouts. There you have it: why Vibram FiveFingers work for wide feet (and why some VFFs work better than others). It would be great to hear from anyone else who has wide feet and wears FiveFingers. If any manufacturers are paying attention, you might take note of the innovation Vibram has brought to the table with both their width-accomodating soles as well as the added stretching capacities provided by individual toe pockets.

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33 replies on “Why Vibram FiveFingers Work for Wide Feet”

I have the KSOs and Trek LS. I also have wide feet and it was very hard to find shoes that fit properly. The KSOs are my gym shoes and have always fit great. The Trek LS definitely needed some working in. I just tied them up really tight and wore them around the house for a few days until the leather loosened up. Now they fit amazing. I plan on getting many more VFFs because of how great they fit my wide feet.

I agree 100%. I have somewhat wide feet, and the only footwear in which I actually feel completely comfortable are VFFs. Before going to minimal shoes, I typically ordered a size or two up to accommodate the width if wider versions weren’t available. Now I pay so much more attention to the fit and feel of each shoe or model I try on. I have yet to find something that really accommodates wide feet. The Merrell Trail Gloves are especially narrow.

I hope I can try on upcoming wide versions of the upcoming Trail Glove and MR00/MT00. Other than these, I really don’t see much out there for wide feet, though I know Altra is reputed to have nice wide shoes.

My annoyance is that the designers focus TOO MUCH on the toe box. Yes, we want room for our toes to splay. I’m frustrated because when people ask for wider shoes, they only widen the toe box and COMPLETELY ignore the middle of the foot which can be extremely constricted.

Just look at the sole of the Trail Glove – it’s so damn skinny in the middle.

THis is good info for me as I have a large index toe. My issue, however, is that with the flow and the leather KSO I can’t even get my feet in them because the top of the shoe doesnt stretch enough. I happen to be blessed with large ankles and a sharply sloped top foot, so I am pretty much resigned to the Classic line. I shall have to try to Speeds and the newer LS style to see if those work.

I’m interested to know if the author is male or female and if male how the bunions came about.

Its easy to see how female shoes cause bunions but I think male shoes aren’t as bad hence my curiosity.

Agreed 🙂

I have the Speeds and very wide feet.
Merrell Trail glove felt way too narrow and stiff after wearing the VFFs for a while!

Next one I’m gonna give a try are the KSOs.

Jeez, I wish this article had been written before I bought my most recent pair of Speeds. I’ve had the kso’s, sprints, first gen bikilas and two pairs of the bikila LS (my favorite thus far), but liked the look of the new blue speeds. Suffice it to say I’m “breaking them in” (i.e., stretching them out), which is going OK but I’ve never really had to do that before. I think you hit the nail on the head with the reasoning – thanks for a great and helpful article. Hope the folks at Vibram are listening.

Nice article but do you know you have bunions (hallux valgus) – your right toe is abducting on it’s own. You might want to look into that because you can see a huge amount of scar tissue building up on your mesophalangeal joint – making your foot wider. The big toes should adduct naturally. I would hate to be diagnosed on the internet, but trust me if you can fix that issue fivefingers become even more fantastic.

@ mrmjb

Male Dress shoes typically slope inward really sharply and anything with a heel pushes the toes into the front of the shoe. Soccer shoes also constrict the forefoot a lot. Also if you don’t buy a sneaker with a wide toebox it may have the sharp slope inward and most running shoes typically do have a chunky heel with 8mm+ drop. Even if you buy a sneaker with a wide toebox, if you buy a size too small (i.e. measuring at the beginning of the day) it can be problematic since the foot expands up to 1/2″ at the big toe (and splay 15% under load) during the day according to two rivers treads’ guide Footwear Education Chapter 8.

No offense to the OP but that bunion is pretty bad and I’m surprised that he was able to put up with whatever shoes he was wearing for more than a day. It looks like he needs Correct Toes or a bunion splint/sleeve to fix that.

imagine the ultimate barefoot shoe/substance:
it’s actually liquid, you spray it on your feet, it gets hard yet flexible. perfect fit. no smelly feet. no washing. low costs, one spray can of that stuff can be used on multiple users. reapply a second layer if you desire thicker coat.
sounds silly at first but, again, imagine going hiking with some of your friends, you want that barefoot experience but no vibrams or any other barefoot shoes around. no problem!
barefoot shoe on the go! with just one can of that stuff, all of you get a one-time barefoot coat!
no laces/valcros/glues/soles/fit/
only flexible, one-time layer.
enough to protect you and also make that hike a breeze.
possible? i think so.

@ shoe on the go
It likely wouldn’t work because you’d need a spray that’s permeable one way (i.e. lets water out but not in) unless you want it to act like spray/roll-on deodorant (which has been found to have many chemicals). It also would need to be flexible.

Foams may work , but then you need time for them to stick and harden up so they don’t just come off in one step. How would you solve the skin irritant/permeation issue?
You’d probably need something like rubber for the outer layer. (FlexSeal?)
Silicone takes time to harden but it also doesn’t let water out or (at least the ones used for caulk don’t).

Any hard plastic wouldn’t work. Also plastics typically contain phthalates and other sprays have stuff that’s basically toxic (or at least an irritant) to skin. A sprayable version of any sort of plastic may permeate the skin (see makeup toxicity and EWG’s skindeep database). One of the socks posted recently on birthdayshoes had a PVC sole. PVC has BPA (bisphenol A), which is a known carcinogen.

What’s you end up with is probably something like a silicone to let water out of the skin’s pores with a rubber overlay to block water from coming in.

The only other thing I can think of is liquid bandages made of cyanoacrylate. That stuff is really stiff when hardened though.

Seeya are perfect for my wide feet. Anyone have suggestions for a wide climbing shoes, all shoes I have tried have been ultra tight in the right size…

@ Shoe on the Go…

Ever seen the Pixar movie Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs?

Anyway, back to the subject…
I have wide duck feet and KSO’s feel great. Just ran a 5K yesterday with them and passed a bunch of heavy constrained shoed participants with ease.

Love my Fives…Keep up the good site Birthday Shoes. It’s reviews like yours that make my internet browsing fun!

I tried Speeds, but the fit was impossible: my forefoot would not squeeze in — it was like watching OJ try on that famous glove. From Ted’s article, I now see that other models might be more appropriate for my 4E width.

What would a list a VFF models ranked by effective forefoot width look like? i.e, a list of models from wider to narrower

What are the actual footwidths (i.e., D, E, 2E, 3E, 4E, 5E, etc.) of the people reporting fits here? This will help everyone else get calibrated to what might work for them.

Thanks, and Happy Trails!

I tried Speeds, but could not squeeze in my 4E sized forefeet — it was like watching OJ try on those famous gloves. I am interested in what people would recommend next.

What would a list of VFFs ranked according to effective width (i.e., widest to narrowest) look like?

What are the foot widths (i.e., D, E, 2E, 3E, 4E, 5E … ) of the people reporting their experiences here? That would help calibrated others to what might or might not work for them.

Thanks, and happy trails!

Great article and nice to see someone has feet as weirdly shaped as mine – no offence intended. I’ve got the same hallux vulgus condition on both feet. Splints don’t work unless you catch the problem early. I had mine operated (both feet at the same time) – don’t do that! Insane pain for a couple of months, all for nothing. One foot is slightly improved, the other probably worse with a dead big toenail to boot. I’ve got scars for life and still haven’t got a lot of feeling back in the big toes after more than 3 years.

Anyway, I digress. My pair of 1st generation Bikilas fitted like a glove. After wearing them out I upgraded to the Spyridons (same size) as I liked the tread profile as I try to run as much “offroad” as possible. As so aptly put by another poster, I’m currently “breaking them in”. Or perhaps they’re breaking me in. I’m feeling it on the toenails of my first toes, which I think could well be down to the lack of stretch.

Oh well, time to strap on those Spyridons and see if I can show them who’s boss…


For reference, I’m male, but wear the KomodoSport LS in women’s 42.

I’ve also worn 2E New Balance tennis shoes, but was unable to fit 4E New Balance hikers which I tried on in December.

I have wide feet (12.5 Wide) and I run in the Spyridons, and just finished a 50K in them. They are one of the few shoes that comfortably fit my wide foot – and it’s not so much the toe box, but rather the wide midfoot. This article is on point though, the shoes expand to accommodate your feet.

(That said, anything over 20 miles on extremely rocky trail in them, and I start to crave a more substantial shoe. Problem is, nothing accommodates my wide feet like the VFF’s.)

Just ran a 50K in the Spyridons, and this article is on point, they expand to accommodate wide feet. One of the few shoes on the market that do this, and its not necessarily in the toebox, but rather the midfoot.

(That said, after 20 miles on extremely rocky trail, my feet start to crave a shoe with some cushion.)

I’ve thought about the question of ranking VFF models by effective widths and I don’t think I have a good way of doing this, not even for myself. Only a few measures are used for foot size, and these measures don’t capture much of the variation in foot shape.

Those models that have stretchy material on the outside of the big toe are more likely to work with a wider foot, but only spending some time in the shoe will tell. I’ve found it helpful to purchase shoes at places that allow me to return them even after wearing them outside. REI is my favorite store in this regard, and a close second has been Roadrunnersports (membership required for extended returns). Both stores happen to be in my neighborhood, which also helps a lot with returns.

I have size 10 4E feet and have many issues finding even a traditional runner. I was pretty excited for the wide NB MT00 and have done a few runs in them, but I start to blister at about 6k because the sole isn’t quite right for me to land on the outside of my foot and roll in to the arch.

I picked up a pair if SeeYa today. I’d tried VFFs in the past, but couldn’t fit anything but the classics. These fit really well and I’m hopeful that they’ll work, though I’m not sure I like the stiff part running up the heel.

I just purchased the spyridon mens (bc my foot is wide. I still have to say they are not broad enough for the top of my foot near the toes. I did try one size up first, because they fit better across the top, but I have tapered toes and all but my big toe looked like they were being swallowed. 🙂 I am probably going to send them back. I dont see them “breaking” in…at least not without killing my feet first.

Do you guys go for a size larger in order to compensate for the witdh of your foot (like with regular shoes) or doe you just strictly follow Vibram’s measuring guide (not taking the width of your foot in account).

I’m a five finger newbie and about to buy my first Vibram’s.

Maybe I should mention my feet are not only wide but they are also quite “meaty”.
The part between my tibia and my toes (navicular bone?) is quite high.

I really like the komodo sport ls and the bikila ls – both fit my 11 EEE feet better than any shoe I ever tried.

The biggest advantage of these shoes for me is that they are light weight – I still prefer my original open tops (I removed the rubber bungee).

I just bought a pair of Trek LS – the toe box is really short – you can see it on that comparison shot as well – the Trek LS seems to have the shortest big toe box of them all – I noticed that right away in the fit…does that get any better with wear?

I was wondering how EL-X compared to Bikila in terms of sizing. I have wide feet, and I wear size 41 in Bikila. Thanks!!

My feet are narrow at the heel and wide at the forefoot.  The only (minor) complaint I have with the fit of my Sprints is in regards to the heel.

I am a woman with wide feet; my feet have hurt since I was 13 and started running . I had bilateral bunionectomies of the 1st and 5th metatarsals at age 30; also have a Morton’s neuroma on the right foot. Needless to say, most shoes hurt my feet. I am thrilled with my KSO Treks in kangaroo leather ( sorry PETA people), and just got a pair of Speeds that are my newest. favorites. BTW, women’s shoes do not cause bunions; one has a genetic propensity towards them…ou can pick our shoes, but you can’t pick your parents!

I am also a woman with really wide feet (not due to bunions either). I can’t wear any of the women’s styles of VFFs at all due to this. So mine are technically the smallest version of a men’s style and are still a little long, but not enough to bother me. Vibram doesn’t make a lot of short men’s sizes, so you have to just be on the lookout if you fall in this camp.

Meanwhile, I’ve had great luck with getting wide mocs at Soft Star and with Sockwas and can wear Xeroshoes huaraches with no issues at all with the sole fitting. For once in my life, since going to minimalist shoes I finally have comfortable shoes that fit! Unfortunately, it is still a little hard to find something that will work for dress-up.

The question I have is, I have a pair if leather Carezzas and even though I am a size 38, my 38 Carezzas are a but snug. How do I stretch the leather without compromising the integrity if the boot? Generally 38 fits like a glove but I have also found out the all VFFs fit differently depending in the sport you engage in but my Carezzas are more for going out in style yet they are a bit snug and it does hurt a little. Can you advice on any options on how to just stretch it a but (I don’t wanna make then 39 or anything like that) I just don’t want my ties to feel to crunched up.
Justin am a fan. I have 36 pairs of VFF myself and I’m in love with all if then for its all I wear.
You’re a pro and was hoping you could help because there’s no way I can exchange then since they only made 150-200 I believe and never went in to full production and even if they did am afraid a 39 will feel like a boat haha!
Thanks in advance and keep up the good work!

Maybe if I can get my Leather Treks repaired by a cobbler and Vibram sells the replacement soles than I can use a mens 37 sole replacement since I did wear a tiny hole in the Leather on the bottom inside the arch of the left foot.

This afternoon I wore for a while the KSO EVO and the Spyridon MR. They have both at my local Road Runner Sports.

The KSO EVO looks sharp, (in a glisteny all-black sort of way), and fits exactly as I remember the EL-X. The band of reinforcing material that spans from the big toe bunion to the little toe bunion is unyielding, as is the fabric along the bottom of the cutout for the laces. The laces are of no value to me — they are located high on the arch, and end well above the area that affects fit over the metatarsal heads. I am unlikely to pick up a pair of these, as I would need to get a size larger than my foot length and would still likely not be able to comfortably wear them for more than an hour or so at a time (such as at the gym). That’s what I do with my pair of the SeeYa LS, which has a very similarly constructed upper.

The Spyridon MR fits me well. I came in wearing the Spyridon with a velcro strap, and the fit and feel of these was very similar (as similar as it could be, given that my pair of the Spyridon are nearly ready for the trash bin). The fabric over the top stretches, similarly to the original Bikila, and the reinforcement/decorative fabric is run in such a way that it does not adversely affect lateral stretch. Strips of the fabric run fore and aft of the big toe bunion, but give wide enough berth to the bunion itself so as not to cause any problems. The top surface has a cleaner and much less cluttred look that either earlier version of the Spyridon. I tried on the only available colorway, with orange fabric between the toes, which is not something I want given that the orange fabric noticably balloons out on the sides of my big toes. But I liked the look and fit well enough that I ordered the military green/black colorway later the same day, as well as the bright blue/black for my wife.

I have wide feet and for my whole life I’ve also been getting that exact same toe nerve pain in the knuckle of the 4th digit on my right foot. This pain really sets in if I’m hiking for more than 1.5 hours. It feels like a knife is cutting the underside of that toe.. My theory is that the regular-width shoes I wear cause my toes to curl inward and those poor body mechanics end up causing some type of tendonitis or nerve pain if I walk for long enough. This article has provided me with a lot of hope and made me very optimistic about trying a pair of Vibram shoes. Does anybody have recommendations for a wide sole Vibram model which is going to be mainly used for hiking? I’d really appreciate any input

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