Vibram FiveFingers Review
This Vibram FiveFingers review is based on our combined 20 years of experience wearing the minimalist toe shoes while running, trekking, and working out.
We’ll discuss the barefoot running craze, share our experience, guide you on how to transition to barefoot running, and share a special offer for our readers who are ready to shop Vibram FiveFingers and begin their toe-tally awesome barefoot journey.
vibram fivefingers review
Barefoot running and minimalist running is surprisingly controversial, with strong proponents both for and against. We wanted to write a Vibram FiveFingers review because, even for us engineers, the opposing scientific studies are dizzying enough to make our heads spin.
From reading studies like …
… one thing struck us both: the great barefoot running debate is nowhere close to being settled.
As two engineers who have worn the minimalist, barefoot toe shoes for a decade each, our Vibram FiveFingers review is a summary of what we learned.
We’ve tied in our experience wearing Vibram FiveFingers shoes while running marathons, working out at home, and hiking the Appalachian Trail, with what’s out there for running research and science.
Disclosure: This article is not sponsored by Vibram FiveFingers. All conclusions and opinions are our own. The links in this article are not affiliate links and we only recommend buying on Vibram.com. Purchasing from Amazon or another vendor is risky because they’re likely fake. We are brand ambassadors for FiveFingers shoes and if you reach out to us via this link, we can provide you with a special offer, as well as guidance when purchasing your new shoes.
How It Began: The Minimalist, Barefoot Running Craze
Like so many, Ryan and I were first introduced to minimalist running by reading the wildly popular 2009 best-selling book, Born to Run by Chris McDougall.
In an unbelievably true story, Chris tags along in an epic 50-mile ultramarathon race deep in Mexico’s Copper Canyon in 2006.
The race pits America’s top ultrarunning talents (including the legendary Scott Jurek) and all of modern running science against a reclusive and ancient indigenous tribe famed for long-distance running called the Tarahumara.
And guess what’s on their feet? Not much: thin sandals made from old tire rubber and leather string.
Without giving away the race (because it is a fantastic and fun book that everyone should read), the fact that the Tarahumara compete at such an extraordinary level despite abject poverty, isolation, and the most basic of footwear over dangerous terrain is mind-blowing.
Plus, running injuries are unheard of amongst the Tarahumara despite running up to 200 miles (320 km) at a crack. When was the last time you heard of a runner never getting hurt?
According to the book, 65-80% of runners every year get injured. The book cites studies pointing fingers at cushioned sneakers as the culprits, and the minimalist shoe revolution got its bible.
Barefoot Running Vs. Minimalist Running
While wearing a minimalist shoe like Vibram FiveFingers may look barefoot enough, it’s not barefoot running. That status is reserved for the people who are running literally barefoot and unshod, with skin on the pavement.
There are many legendary barefoot runners who have gone down in history. Heck, the very inspiration for the modern-day marathon, Pheidippides, supposedly was barefoot when he ran the first marathon after the Battle of Marathon in ancient Greece.
Or take Abebe Bikila, the first African to ever win an Olympic gold medal, who broke the marathon world record while running barefoot in the 1960 Rome Olympics.
I’ve seen several groups of barefoot runners at marathons — even during the Shanghai Marathon which is particularly filthy. But aside from the dirt and potential glass, it has always fascinated me. Unmistakably, it’s possible even in today’s modern world.
Instead of leaving my shoes behind though, I’ve opted to wear the minimalist shoes Vibram FiveFingers.
Vibram has published studies that claim their shoes are as close to barefoot running as you can get without the dangers of stepping on the bad stuff. Our Vibram FiveFingers review corroborates that. With some soles as thin as 3 mm of rubber, you still get the ground feedback without the glass.
Since then, many other brands from Nike to Xero to Vivobarefoot, now offer minimalist running shoes and sandals. But, they are not the same shoe or the same experience as the Vibram toe shoes.
Why? Because there are no toe slots. In our experience, it doesn’t feel barefoot unless your toes have the freedom to move individually. Next in our Vibram FiveFingers review, we’ll share our experience hiking, running, and exercising in toe shoes.
What Are Vibram FiveFingers Good For?
If you ask Ryan, he would say that there is nothing Vibram FiveFingers aren’t good for. He wears them grocery shopping, running, out to dinner, paddle boarding, and everything in between.
The only things they are not good for are cold, wet conditions. Even though they are a great conversation starter out in public, I typically only wear my Vibram shoes while working out, running, or hiking.
I love them most for running.
Running Marathons in Vibram FiveFingers
I ran my first two marathons in 2008 and 2009 before I had ever heard of barefoot running. Atop thickly cushioned New Balance sneakers, my training had all the usual laments you hear from runners: one injury after another.
In my case, it was runner’s knee, allegedly from running on uneven sidewalks. Still, I happily ran and completed my marathons, thinking no more of it.
When Ryan started exercising in Vibram FiveFingers, the appeal was instant. It felt like a return to nature and natural posture.
I bought my first pair and loved the feeling of the thin soles and the completely new experience of feeling the ground beneath my feet. It added a dimension to my running that I never knew I missed.
All those miles I had spent in sneakers, I never once thought about actually feeling the ground. Running in FiveFingers, I soon grew to enjoy the unique and different feelings of running on stone, grass, pavement, or dirt. With the toe slots, they felt natural and fit literally like a glove.
My initial Vibram FiveFingers review: I’d never worn a more comfortable shoe, and I loved that you could wash them in the laundry.
After two months of transitioning my running form from a heel striker to a forefoot striker, I signed up for my next two marathons. Ironically, it was during my next marathon when I saw my first group of barefoot runners.
Not in toe shoes, but without shoes at all with their skin on the pavement for the full 26.2 miles of the Shanghai Marathon. That blew my mind. While I had transitioned to minimalist running, I’ve still never committed to barefoot running. My mother would definitely freak out on me if I did.
Running my first marathon in the KSO Vibram FiveFingers shoes was a powerful experience, and I achieved my fastest time yet.
My next marathon was equally successful. I switched to a trail running shoe with the V-Trail Vibram FiveFingers, which have a thicker rubber sole, since I’d be running over cobblestones, rocks, dirt, trails, and pavement all during The Great Wall Marathon.
My feet got lots of stares, but I ended up finishing as the eleventh female finisher in the race. My feet and body felt invincible, although admittedly, my feet hurt a bit on the apple-sized rocks. Nothing to stop me, though!
After that, I took a few years off, and when I started running again, I got injured. The official diagnosis from my physical therapist was a vague “too fast, too soon” but he didn’t point to my shoes as the culprit.
I ended up finishing my fifth marathon half walking and half jogging. So, did Vibram FiveFingers cause my running injuries? No. I wouldn’t say that they did.
But, both Ryan and I have experienced injury from potentially transitioning too fast, so we’ll talk about that in-depth later on in our Vibram FiveFingers review.
Backpacking Treks in Minimalist Shoe, Vibram FiveFingers
Call us crazy, but we’d say the best shoes to wear on the Appalachian Trail are not hiking boots. And we LOVE our hiking boots.
We recently set out on a section hike through the White Mountains in New Hampshire — a notoriously knee-busting scramble. Ryan and I wore our hiking boots. Loaded down with heavy packs, we slowly climbed over huge boulder fields while the lightweight, trail-legged thru-hikers bounded past in trail running sneakers and ankle trail gaiters.
This was the first clue that we probably didn’t need our boots. The second and third clues were our injuries: my bruised toe and the return of Ryan’s hamstring tendonitis (a heel striking injury) had us calling it quits halfway through our 100-mile hike.
A few weeks later and rehabilitated, we hit the trail where we left off. This time, we left our hiking boots behind and brought two pairs of FiveFingers each, the KSO and the V-Trek. The difference was immense.
We felt lighter and more balanced than ever. We breezed over the top of Mount Washington (the fourth highest peak on the Appalachian Trail) and the surrounding presidential mountains. Plus, with all of the rocks, the no-slip grip on the bottom of the FiveFingers was game-changing.
Before chucking your hiking boots after reading our Vibram FiveFingers review, there are a few considerations when choosing minimalist shoes while on the trail. At the end of the day, you might want both.
1. Make sure the bottom of your feet can handle it.
The padding on minimalist shoes is barely there. You want to make sure that your feet won’t get sore and tired after a day running on rocks. This takes some time to transition.
You’ll always feel the rocks (so you do want to avoid the sharp ones), but your feet won’t be sore at night if they’re accustomed to hiking in minimalist shoes.
2. If it’s cold and wet, consider bringing hiking boots.
Even with socks (and yes, there are toe socks for FiveFinger shoes), sneakers won’t ever be as warm as waterproof, leather hiking boots. If the temperatures dip below 50 °F, consider bringing warmer footwear. This is extra important if it’s wet and rainy.
We used to live in Ecuador, which was the rainiest place we’ve ever hiked. The high altitude páramo was like walking on a cold, wet sponge. We would have been miserable hiking without our waterproof hiking boots.
Once you’ve considered these two things, give minimalist shoes a try! The best part about bringing a pair of shoes like FiveFingers on a hike is that they are lightweight, dry fast, grip well, and can be washed with the laundry afterward!
Working Out in Vibram FiveFingers
For years, we worked out barefoot. But once we started lifting weights and incorporating resistance bands, we needed shoes to protect our feet. However, not every sneaker is a smart choice.
Many of the HIIT moves we do like skater jumps shouldn’t be done in a normal running sneaker but instead in court shoes that allow stable pivots and balance without slipping and sliding.
For us, with the rubber grip on the soles, nothing works better than FiveFingers. We keep a pair in our gym as our indoor workout shoes. Plus, have you ever tried doing yoga in sneakers?! It’s like trying to stand on one leg on a fluffy marshmallow.
Special Offer: We are brand ambassadors for FiveFingers shoes and if you reach out to us via this link, we can provide you with a special offer (and guidance) when purchasing your new shoes. We’re toe excited to help you get started!
Why Try Vibram FiveFingers?
Not convinced about barefoot running shoes? I’m not surprised. You can find research both supporting and opposing minimalist shoes. Yet, consider the gigantic red flag in all of these studies: they’re all too small.
Every study I read drew drastic conclusions — for and against — with very few research participants. In one, only eight participants. In another, with nineteen participants.
What about the infamous study that spurred the Vibram lawsuit a few years ago? Ninety-nine participants. How does this provide trustworthy, replicable data to analyze?
Considering the numerous factors that go into a runner’s health, claims made based on so few data points are absolutely ridiculous. It’s no wonder that everything is so contradictory and conflicting.
And we get it. How on earth can you find identical runners to study, with no injuries, running the exact same way on the same training program, of similar speed and body composition?
In our opinion, it’s unclear if minimalist shoes will keep you healthy or make you run faster. So, we’re not going to dive into that in our Vibram FiveFingers review.
Yet, without a doubt, we give a 10/10 rating for the experience of wearing barefoot shoes and another 10/10 for convenience, travel, and cleanliness. Putting them on our feet each day puts a smile on our faces.
Here’s a summary of our six reasons why you should try minimalist running shoes.
1. Minimalist shoes provide a refreshing experience and connection to the ground.
Cutting out the sensation of feeling the ground is like ordering an ice cream cone without the ice cream. You’re missing a big part and you may not even know it.
Your feet are the third most connected to your nervous system after your face and hands. That’s why tickling someone’s feet paralyzes their whole body.
I love to go on runs to explore, get outside, and clear my thoughts, and part of exploring is feeling a connection to the ground. I can’t explain the joy and fun it is when you change up street running versus trail running on your feet when you’re wearing minimalist shoes. It’s awesome.
2. Health and injury prevention starts with awareness, not the shoe.
The truth is, runners seem to get hurt. And often. Both Ryan and I have been injured before and it’s not fun. Some of these injuries are from stress, falls, or imbalances. We have learned to take it slow, work on perfect form, and become aware of our bodies.
In our opinion, minimalist shoes help with awareness because bad running form can’t be hidden in barefoot shoes like Vibram FiveFingers. Why? Because there is no padding.
Just like how wearing helmets spur football players to hit each other harder (yes, this is scientifically proven), wearing shoes with cushioned soles encourage runners to stomp down on the ground harder. The increased rate of concussions in football and injuries in runners shows that this padding isn’t providing the protection we think it is.
We can confidently report in our review that Vibram FiveFingers encourage you to touch the ground lightly, improve form, and drastically reduce the impact on lower extremities. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt.
If you’re wondering, we have never been injured stepping on sharp objects or stubbing our toes. The vast majority of injuries with Vibram FiveFingers happen during the transition.
We can’t stress enough to take your time to transition into these shoes. This will help you analyze your body and running technique at a deeper level.
Want to know the best way to work on your form? Run uphill. That’s how your feet should always land.
3. They’re great for other, non-running workouts.
We love to work out in our home gym with Beachbody On Demand. One of our favorite trainers, Tony Horton, in P90X3 recommends that you don’t wear sneakers working out. You should actually wear court shoes.
For dynamic cardio moves where you pivot, squat, leap, and jump, you can’t be balancing on top of marshmallow cushioned sneakers. Nothing works better in our home gym than our grippy Vibram FiveFingers.
4. Ready for the water.
Vibram FiveFingers were originally made for yachters to navigate slippery boats.
Once, we were exploring the Santa Elena Canyon and the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park with friends. There was an amazing cave downriver and the water was shallow enough to wade through.
However, our friends’ sneakers were filling up with sand and getting ruined. So, unfortunately, we all had to turn around. With FiveFingers, we never have to worry about mud or water. We were wearing the Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes, which literally stands for “Keep Stuff Out.”
We find these shoes are better than any sneaker for hikes or walks that get us wet. Plus, you can air dry them quickly or throw them in the laundry.
5. You can easily travel with them and clean them in the laundry.
Okay, sometimes Ryan’s shoes downright stink, which is why he started wearing toe socks. For me, I prefer the feeling of no socks, so once the shoes start smelling, I simply wash them in the washing machine and air dry them in the sun. Voila.
Another benefit we must mention in our Vibram FiveFingers review? They’re lightweight and take up barely any space in a suitcase. Now, you don’t have to decide between extra work clothes or your sneakers on your next business trip. And when I say lightweight, I mean it. My V-Soul FiveFingers weigh 0.2 lbs.
6. They are a conversation starter.
Ryan and I have traveled to 33 countries together since 2010 when we first started wearing toe shoes. Our shoes have turned thousands of heads and started hundreds of conversations. The most entertaining conversations happened while we were living in China, where everyone called them frog feet.
Have you worn minimalist shoes before or have gone barefoot running? Let us know your thoughts on your favorite shoes in the comments below!
Special Offer: We are brand ambassadors for FiveFingers shoes and if you reach out to us via this link, we can provide you with a special offer (and guidance) when purchasing your new shoes. You’re going to look toe-tally awesome in your frog feet!
Transitioning to Vibram FiveFingers
Transitioning is critically important. Since you’re reading Vibram FiveFingers reviews and considering the minimalist toe shoe, take this very seriously.
If your goal is to run in your Vibram FiveFingers, the transition should be done slowly and gradually.
For lower impact activities such as hiking, yoga, lifting weights, CrossFit, or paddleboarding, the transition is less intense. Just take your time and listen to your feet and legs.
Running in FiveFingers for the first time
Before I started running in my FiveFingers, I could easily run 15 miles in my traditional running shoes. When I started in my Vibram shoes, I ran one block and increased my daily distance slowly.
After 2 months, I was able to run 10 miles in my toe shoes. I could have run more, but in my mind, I knew that I was supposed to stick to a slow transition plan. I stuck to that plan and did so with no issues. This was my plan, but make your own based on your comfort and ability.
Ryan, on the other hand, tried to transition more aggressively. He would regularly run 3-4 miles in traditional running shoes, so he started with a 1/2 mile run in his FiveFingers. The following day, he had to pump the breaks due to extreme muscle soreness and stiffness in his Achilles tendons.
Over the next two months, he wore them during all of his HIIT and bodyweight resistance workouts, errands out and about, and runs, which he increased by 1/2 mile per week.
Transitioning again in the future
Just because you transitioned to running in minimalist shoes once doesn’t mean you’re set for life. Let’s say you transition to FiveFingers and then either take a break from wearing them or take a break from running.
When you restart, you need to re-transition. I have always been an avid runner, but Ryan loves yoga and HIIT workouts and sometimes takes breaks from running. There have been times when he returns too quickly from a break and feels the warning signs.
Any time you make a significant change to your running footwear, you need to listen to your body and transition.
Vibram’s recommended transition plan
This transition plan is provided in a pamphlet that comes with your new Vibram FiveFingers.
Wear them for short sessions during daily walking activities such as grocery shopping or moving around the house or office.
Work out in your FiveFingers for 10% of your overall routine every other day. If you normally run 5 miles, do 1/2 mile in your toe shoes.
Each week, increase the length of your workouts in Vibram FiveFingers, but no more than 10% from the previous week. Continue to use them every other day.
Week 13 & Onward
From here, you’re the best judge. Increase the number of workouts or the intensity as you feel appropriate. Always remember to listen to your body.
Remember, just because you buy minimalist sneakers, it doesn’t mean you need to run only with them. We’ve read studies showing that many people found their sweet spot in performance and personal best times by training in barefoot shoes 35% of the time.
As we’ve explained in our Vibram FiveFingers review, Ryan wears his 90% of the time (during all exercise, adventures, and out and about) and I am closer to 40% of the time (only during all exercise and adventures).
Common Vibram FiveFinger Questions
Are Vibram FiveFingers good or bad for your feet?
Based on our experience, FiveFingers are good for the health and function of our feet and lower extremities. But the formal science out there is contradictory and the evidence is lacking.
We have clients who have converted to FiveFingers and eliminated plantar fasciitis and runner’s knee. Conversely, we have flat-footed clients who swear by the arch support provided by their orthotics and are unwilling to make a change.
The best way to figure out if they are good for you is by giving them a try. We are brand ambassadors for FiveFingers shoes and if you reach out to us via this link, we can provide you with a special offer when purchasing your new shoes, as well as guidance on transitioning to your new shoes.
How long do Vibram FiveFingers last?
Based on our combined 20 years of experience wearing at least a dozen pairs of FiveFinger shoes, they last longer than the typical shoe. They last between one and five years depending on use.
Ryan goes through shoes faster than I do because his feet sweat more and he needs to wash them frequently. When he exercised daily without socks, his shoes were too smelly and worn out after one year, about 210 workouts.
Now that he wears socks, they last two years or more. He wore his last pair for 2.5 years and only replaced them to try a new style.
My FiveFingers have lasted an average of two years, about 800 miles. After that kind of use, the fabric became worn out and torn around the toes.
If you have a pair that isn’t for everyday use, they could easily last up to 5 years. In our experience, salt water can quickly reduce the life of your FiveFingers. Make sure you wash them in fresh water after immersion in salt water.
Can you wear Vibram FiveFingers in the water?
Yes. You can get them wet and they are great for use in the water. If worn in salt water, make sure you rinse them in fresh water afterward.
Do you wear socks with Vibram FiveFingers?
Ryan likes to wear them with socks, and he has about 12 pairs of the Injinji Toe Socks. They extend the life of the shoe and reduce odor. Some avid hikers we know also say that the socks also help reduce blisters.
I prefer to wear FiveFingers without socks because it feels more like I’m barefoot. Sure, I’ve had some blisters in the past, but they usually happen only during the transition period and not once your feet have toughened up.
Are Vibram FiveFingers good for flat feet?
Our best answer for this Vibram FiveFingers review: there is only one way to find out! Try them!
The whole theory behind barefoot running is that Mother Nature knew what she was doing. Your feet are incredible works of art. Each one of your stompers has 26 bones, 30 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
So, why not run barefoot as humans have done for millennia and stop wrapping them up in cushion-like a cast? That includes the folks with flat feet.
Arch support is a very popular buzzword when buying shoes, and it’s not without basis. People want shoes that prevent injury, make them run faster, offer stability, and improves recovery. But does arch support actually do that?
According to a thorough investigation by the runner’s website RunRepeat which reviewed 150+ studies, arch support does not help with risk of injury, balance, or running economy. It does help treat certain injuries, but they’re very specific. These include MTSS, ankle internal rotation, and certain plantar pressures.
Therefore, think twice before changing sneakers based solely on arch support. The most guaranteed thing we found is that more arch support = more money.
How to size Vibram FiveFingers?
Knowing how Vibram FiveFingers should fit is a bit tricky. First, you need to measure the length of both feet from heel to the tip of your longest toe (not always your big toe).
Use that measurement to reference the Vibram FiveFingers sizing chart for men and women. Keep in mind that the website labels some styles as “Runs small! Go up a size!”
We always prefer our FiveFingers to fit very snugly, without any extra room in the toes if possible. In our experience, the toe shoes do break-in.
Will Vibram FiveFingers stretch?
Yes, they do break in a little bit, which is why we like them to fit tightly when they are fresh out of the box.
Which Vibram FiveFingers are best for running?
The best pair for running is the Vibram KSO or KSO EVO.
Special Offer: We are brand ambassadors for FiveFingers shoes and if you reach out to us via this link, we can provide you with a special offer (and guidance) when purchasing your new shoes. You’re going to look toe-rrific in your frog feet!
I have questions. What do I do?
Please leave specific questions in the comments below, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible and update this article accordingly.
Have you tried Vibram FiveFingers? Do you plan to? We look forward to the discussion!
We are brand ambassadors for FiveFingers shoes and if you reach out to us via this link, we can provide you with a special offer (and guidance) when purchasing your new shoes.
Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.
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