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More, a lot more, on VFFs and Minimal Footwear.
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Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
More, a lot more, on VFFs and Minimal Footwear. on 01/20/2011 20:04:38 MST Print View

EDIT....Sorry in advance: I don't know why the formatting is all jacked-up here.

I thought I'd start a new thread on this so as to not clutter the KSO review.


I did a 9 mile trail run this afternoon in my VFF Sprints and it all felt pretty good. So I can't totally rule them out so far. But over the course of this run I'm thinking about my feet, some of the topics of the last thread on this, and have a few new thoughts and questions to throw out there.

Long winded, I know; continue at your own risk. (That what happens when I run alone. I have also, on occasion, been known to solve all of the problems of the world during a single run.)

On VFFs:
Overall, they felt good on this run, but certainly slowed me down a bit in rocky is reasonable and to be expected; they're faster than barefoot, but slower than shoes with a rock plate (protection). I know there are plenty of people out there that could dust me in them, but I can only speak from my perspective; they make me slower, which is OK for certain runs.
One additional gripe I've got about the Sprints is their uncanny ability to fill with dirt and pebbles, which is pretty annoying. I took a picture of them post run:

As you can see, I'm flexing my feet in this image...opening a half-inch gap on each instep that likes to gobble up dirt and rocks. No good. I'm sure the other models with a fabric top don't have this issue.

But the run today led me to a few other thoughts/questions, namely: What, exactly, am I looking for in a minimal shoe?
In the other thread, Javan mentions toe splay and sensitivity as benefits of VFFs/something he seeks in minimal footwear. I've heard Piper mention zero drop and wide footboxes. It occurs to me I have very different reasons. Based on what I hear, these are the main things that people are seeking in minimal shoes (not in any order of importance):

1. Zero (or close to zero) heel-toe drop. This is popular.

2. Feel. A shoe that gives good sensitivity, control, balance, etc.

3. Light weight/breathable/fast drying.

4. Anatomical fit.

5. Room for the toes to spread. Another one that is popular.

If I break down my preferences, I realize I'm really only looking for two/three of these in my footwear.
1. Zero drop: Allowing a fore/mid footstrike, low center of gravity (stability). This works better for me.
3. Light weight, breathable, and fast drying.
4. Anatomical fit: I hate socks so it should conform to the foot well enough to not slide around, rub, etc.

I seem to part ways with a lot of other minimal advocates on the issue of feel and toe spread.

On feel:
I love the feel of dirt under my feet. That's the primary reason I run barefoot. But barefoot runs, to me, are an entirely separate category. Yes, I believe they toughen, strengthen and tone, helping with mechanics and a host of other issues. I run barefoot for the fun of it, but also as a component of general training. So i think I can say I love feel...but only to an extent. Feel is great when climbing the rigging of a sailboat...but not running scree and talus. Nor is feel a good thing for me when on a 20+ mile trail run on very mixed terrain. Unexpectedly landing on a sharp golfball-sized rock while running barefoot or in shoes with really good "feel" is not good. And maintaining the mental energy to watch out for them over the course of 20+ miles isn't a good option for me either. That's why my barefoot runs rarely exceed 6 or 7 miles. That's also why I think rock plates and toe protection are a really good thing for distance running on trails...I find the MT101s rock plate to be perfect. But I think the drop could be lower and the upper could be more flexible.

I had a few of those moments in my VFFs on today's run. Feel is generally great...until you land on something big and sharp. When I run barefoot, it's typically at slow pace for shorter distances (7 or under) and maintaining the energy to watch every footstrike isn't too bad. But how long can a person keep it up? For walking, I can handle it. For running for long periods of time? Personally, no thanks.

One toe spread:
Not an issue to me. I love freeing my toes, but at the same time, don't have any issues with a typical footbox. So I don't care about footbox size long as it's within the realm of typical shoes I'm good.


I has become very apparent to me that while many are into minimal footwear, we have very different reasons/needs. Yet many manufacturers are trying to make shoes that fit all 5 points I listed above; when all five in a single shoes might/might not be a good thing.

I don't ask this in a judgmental or elitist way, please don't take me wrong...but how many people with VFFs or very minimal shoes on this site are running big miles in them? On trail? I'm not doubting anyone; personally, I just think it's pretty derned hard (unless you have the devotion to barefoot training of BF Ted or the likes). I'm curious on your take in this regard. Walking/backpacking, I think they're potentially quite comfortable in the right weather/terrain. But running is very different.

Which leads to another thought/question...I came into minimal shoes by way of running, so I see everything in that regard. But many others have different reasons; which entirely alters the review process and criteria.
What do you do in your minimal shoes?

What are you looking for and why?

Edited by xnomanx on 01/20/2011 20:29:14 MST.

Javan Dempsey

Locale: The-Stateless-Society
Re: More, a lot more, on VFFs and Minimal Footwear. on 01/20/2011 21:52:40 MST Print View

Very interesting and thoughtful post Craig.

You're absolutely right about the different needs, and the fact that the industry is trying to push us in it's own direction. One of the issues with the entire minimal and barefoot movements is that they're so rooted in small group idealism. Very little of it is pragmatic or even remotely objective. Worse still are the irate and completely self-sure, who's views stem from some arm-chair pseudo science, or early speculative study at best. There are massive amounts of conflicting information out there. Yet surprisingly everyone is so adamantly unequivocal.

For me, it's all about what makes me feel healthy. It's no surprise how deeply linked our feet are to this, considering the percentage of nervous links there.

Toe freedom is a really big one for me, I've found it's intrinsically tied to my knee health, and having them restrained eventually leads to foot and lower back pain.

The glove like fit of the VFF's really help me feel secure in that more free mode also, something that's kind of lacking in my SS RunAmocLites. They work great for running, but flop and slide for hiking.

That's another issue, the minimalist footwear industry seems to be nearly entirely driven by the needs of Runners, and the few options OTW for lower speed footwork seem really overbuilt. Even worse, they seem to be aimed so heavily at that "transition" shoe market, which I'm not convinced isn't entirely a method of selling more shoe models.

The one thing I'd disagree with though, is the idea that the shoe makers are trying to hit all of your bullet items, it seems to me, that 90% of the new and old offers are only targeting 2-3 of them, yet the same shoe company will have another shoe targeting some other combination of 2 or 3.

The VFF's are one of the few currently available shoes that does hit most marks, in my opinion.

Honestly, they've got some major flaws. I really wish I knew a better alternative for what I was seeking. Which for me, I need something that works for "anytime I can't go barefoot". I rarely run anymore, except on trail, and then it's normally short distances during a longer hike. I will say this though, you can get used to being attentive enough to avoid those jagged surprises, but I'm guessing that would take away from what you've come to expect from your running experience right?

I used to run distance, until I had some pretty bad knee problems years ago. After which I never got back into it. However, at the time, for me, running was meditative. Sinking into my center after the first 3 or 4 miles, and being able to just run forever after that, was therapeutic relaxation through exertion. That's definitely not what barefoot or VFF running is, or likely ever will be. It's a different thing all together. It's much more a concentrative and focal test.

In the end, I'm begrudgingly a fan. I really wish there was an alternative that wasn't full of more compromises than I already endure with VFFs. I just wish they hadn't become such a mainstream fad. They're essentially the next UGGs.

P.S. Yes, the Sprints, just like my SS RunAmocs, are grit collectors, and thus essentially useless for the trail. The KSO's are much better.

Travis Naibert
(outwest) - F
running in VFF on 01/20/2011 22:02:52 MST Print View

I run in mine. I am not sure if you would call my running "big miles" but I was running upwards of 45 miles a week in them last summer (down to about 20 in the winter). My longest run in them was 18 miles. All of my runs are on rather rocky trails or very rocky jeep roads except for the three blocks of pavement between my house and the trailhead. I therefore have to pay a lot of attention to where I put my feet lest I step on something big and pointy. I actually like paying attention and find that one of my favorite things about running in the fivefingers because it really lets me forget everything else that is going on at work/at home/etc. I had no trouble paying attention on my 18 miler or my other 2+ hour runs in them last summer.

I run in classics, which are similar to the sprints with no velcro strap. I occasionally get rocks or sand in the sides, but find that I have gotten better at knowing how to keep my foot flexed through sandy sections to avoid the gap like in your picture.

Interestingly I hate to hike in them. When I run I land with a forefoot strike, which is very comfortable and has allowed me to avoid the pesky shin-splints I always got by heel striking in padded running shoes. But when I am hiking I usually land on my heal and it isn't a problem when moving slower. I just feel like I can't carry weight with these shoes without worrying about slipping and my feet get very sore in them walking. And of course they are awful for bushwacking. I hike in my other favorite minimalist shoes, Crocs. They protect my toes from thorns and spines and are really comfy and light. When running I don't want my feet to slide in my shoes, but when walking I don't mind it at all, so the crocs are very comfy. And they last a lot longer (over 500 miles/pair on the PCT in 09, only 200 miles running before my VFF's ripped on top). I have been considering getting a different type of VFF's to see if the other materials are more durable.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Minimal Footwear on 01/20/2011 22:04:23 MST Print View

Toesalad seems to be trying to gather a community around minimalist shoes. Doesn't know if they will make it, but they seem to have their hearts in the right place.

Minimalist shoes are pretty much the only thing I wear... so for me it's around town, backpacking, trail running, and the occasional street run. The only think I don't like minimalist shoes for is cycling, though I have found that the semi minimalist inov-8 295 work adequately.

I believe I started to experiment with minimalist in 2004 or so. For me, it was because I was having serious knee pain in all activities. Running, backpacking, even walking around town was noticeable on longer days. Part of this is that I have malformed feet. Lived in casts as an infant and then wore custom orthopedics. A friend who was very into Alexander technique suggested more minimalist shoes and working of how I walked/ran. Over the next few years I played with vivobarefoot, VFF, Feiyue, and Inov-8 shoes. The Inov-8 Flyroc 310 was the first, and so far the best shoe for me in the back country or trail running. These days people would say "Inov-8 gives it a "3" for cushion, it's not zero drop, etc it's not really minimalist. On the other hand they were the only shoes I found with decent traction, good fore foot flexibility and a toe box that was large enough in 2005. I fell in love with them the first trip I took . They have been my back country goto shoe since then. I have now lost count... on pair 14 or maybe 15 now.

In the last couple of years there have been a host of minimalist shoes hitting the market, and it seems more each week. I have to disagree with Craig though, there seems to be variance among them, though they do seem mostly aimed at running rather than back country trekking. There are a couple I might give a try this summer. I would like to try something that gives a bit more feel and has a zero drop compared to my beloved flyroc, while providing a large enough toe box (a problem with the lighter inov-8) and good traction (problem with some VFF and the street oriented minimalist options).

With VFF... I have liked them, but for trail running and backpacking I would strongly recommend the KSOtrek. While the KSO does a fine job keeping out small pebbles, the mesh lets fine dust in. Not an issue for a bit... but if you feet are sweating the dust sticks and eventually turns sandpaper like. Not good. The leather uppers on the KSOtrek should stop that. It also looks like the KSOtrek has a more aggressive sole. I had troubles using the classic and the KSO on trails that were hardpack with light debris over the top. I don't hear people regularly complain about traction issues, so maybe I am doing something wrong or at least different. I just know that I rarely used my KSO in the back country these days.


Edited by verber on 01/20/2011 22:22:08 MST.

Javan Dempsey

Locale: The-Stateless-Society
Re: running in VFF on 01/20/2011 22:28:34 MST Print View

on the durability note, there's definitely an issue with the KSO's due to the design of the uppers.

I will say though that, after sewing back together the problem spots on mine after each split at the big toe and around the front of the mesh closest to the toes, I haven't had any problems since. Although I used stronger thread than the factory.

I gotta wonder sometimes how much worse the "oh so immoral knock-offs" from the gray market can be? ;)

"Knockoff bad Javan, resist urge.. Be good consumer!" ;D

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: More, a lot more, on VFFs and Minimal Footwear on 01/21/2011 09:51:54 MST Print View


Good analysis. And as is frequently shown here on BPL, there is no piece of perfect gear. You have to determine your needs and find the piece, which fulfills as many of the attributes you seek.

In many cases it is desirable to go barefoot or as close to it as possible. For most of us, barefoot is not an option because we must wear conventional shoes a good part of each day (e.g. dress code policies in our work place) and can never reach the conditioning required for the bottom of our feet.

There are a few famous bare-footers that come to mind; marathoners Abebe Bikila, Zola Budd (who both won Olympic Gold Medals), and survivalist Cody from the show "Dual Survival."

When I was a kid, we never wore shoes in the summer. We would play football, baseball and basketball in the streets on hot asphalt, and by September I could extinguish cigarettes will my barefoot. Even small shards of glass didn't cause injury. In the fall of my freshman year I ran cross country and practiced/raced without shoes, because my parents could not afford to buy them. That season I set the school's JV Cross Country record. In the spring I set the frosh-soph mile record, again always running without shoes. I did wear shoes my last 3 years, as barefoot running was no longer allowed (government making decisions on what is best for its citizens). Today I cannot toughen-up my feet enough to go barefooted most of the time, because I have to wear a suit and tie for work and that requires a certain standard of footwear also.

ben wood

Locale: flatlands of MO
Re: Re: More, a lot more, on VFFs and Minimal Footwear. on 01/22/2011 10:30:18 MST Print View

craig, good thoughts
I do run in VFFs, mostly on the streets, with a little gravel road in the mix.
I think it somewhat boils down to personal preference. when running on the roads i don't really like anything more than VFFs. on trails i find that i like the MT101s. I only have a few runs in them, but the do provide enough protection while still giving that nice low to the ground feel and enough feedback from the ground.
I recently reviewed some brooks trail running shoes that will come out this spring i think. They chose me to review because of my minimalist footwear approach, so i was hoping for something minimal, well they weren't. They have made excellent backpacking shoes. but I had to force myself to run in more traditional running shoes. I didn't like it at all and about 2/3 of the way through the review i quit running in them and just walked in them. Not that there was anything awful about the shoes, just way more shoe than i like for running now that i've made the switch.
Sure there are those barefoot ted types that run everywhere barefoot. I've seen pics of him on rocky snowy trails. but the time invested to get conditioned for that isn't really realistic for today's society/lifestyle. Most of us have jobs where you cannot just go around barefoot. I am convinced that the human body can handle that type of lifestyle and terrian, but not realistic for most of us. I, too, had ankle and tendonitis problems when i first started running. the podiatrist told me my running days were over and so were my flip flop wearing days. this was all within 10-15 minutes of meeting me. so i started riding bikes, but it wasn't my cup o' tea. so i started running a little again, trying to avoid problems. I found that trails helped tremendously, but i wanted to be able to run with my wife who has no interest in trail running. so i went with the VFF. It took awhile, but now smooth pavement is as soft as can be. i was really surprised at how well my body adapted.
I say VFF are not for everyone. If a runner is happy with some traditional shoes, then so be it. why bother changing? I saw a blog about some dude that had like 1400 miles on his VFF classics and then Karl metzler just ran over 2000 miles in hokas. which are the polar opposite of VFF. I would challenge the barefoot nazi's to find anything bad to say about that feat. Its obvious that the human body can adapt to different types of footwear. for some of us minimalism makes sense and helps prevent injury, for others in may not be necessary. The medical evidence is not conclusive in my opinion.
As far as the whole "running shoe conspriacy" eh, i don't know. i doubt any of the big companies is out there to lie to you, they are just using all the technology they can find to try to sell a better shoe. its the american way. just like the makers of large packs, some people use em, some don't. its not an ethical issue, just what people use.

I use my VFF for all sorts of daily life and really like em. in the summer i'd probably wear em all the time, but my wife refuses to be seen with me wearing them in public. I'm already an ugly, unshaven, tattooed, hairy guy and she sticks with me so i don't mind putting on some "real" shoes for her.

just my random thoughts

T kawa
(kitsune) - F
minimal on 02/23/2011 10:07:42 MST Print View

I use socks with my runamocs, I can't stand wearing shoes without socks, my feet sweat too much. The socks also, mitigate the "looseness" of the moc and keep my feet from swimming in them. I use them for street running (when not barefoot), trail running and hiking. My feet only hurt the first time I went on terrain with lots of small rocks, now I'm used to it. for shoes, I'm looking for a wide enough shoe for my toes to be able to spread; even the runamocs are a little narrow for me, I should have gotten a custom width.
I don't think shoe companies are pushing anything other than the normal trying to sell mentality. They see that VFF's were selling so they're trying to get in on the money. I know this post is all over the place, but i was trying to address the OP.=)

Chad Miller

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
Re: More, a lot more, on VFFs and Minimal Footwear. on 02/23/2011 11:55:05 MST Print View

I'm looking for a shoe with an extreamly wide toebox. So far I haven't found anything that won't give me blisters. :/

Kenneth Cowan
(zeros) - F

Locale: California
Chad- on 02/25/2011 12:58:42 MST Print View

If you havent seen it, have a look HERE at eugene smith's NB Minimus report.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: More, a lot more, on VFFs and Minimal Footwear. on 02/25/2011 18:29:11 MST Print View

I thought Crow's review of hiking the PCT in VFFs was interesting. She touched on some of the issues you brought up.

I'm still not sure what it is I am looking for either. I recently made some sandals and they are great for running. I even wore them running on a trail last weekend and they worked great. I would hike and backpack in sandals if I could, but the trails around here are often overgrown with sharp things and foxtails and poison oak, not to mention sun burn and chafing from sandal straps. I need some kind of protection for the tops of my feet.

I've made my own shoes but my feet sometimes hurt after wearing them. I think they are too stiff. They are also hard, but if I wear really cushy shoes that hurts sometimes, too. I can't really figure out the right combination of protection from rocks and things and enough cushioning to be comfortable but not make it harder to walk. My next try will be thin soled like my sandals for the flexibility but made as shoes. Maybe with some insoles I can stick in when my feet get tired to add some cushiness I'll finally have what I've been seeking.

I'm kind of hoping the Altras coming out, but they haven't come out yet and it's not likely they'll be available in any stores near me.