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Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking
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Kathy Hoffman

Locale: Foothills of San Gabriel Mtns.
My foot injuries have actually improved with minimalist footwear on 03/30/2011 11:28:25 MDT Print View

Mr. Marcano, I respectfully disagree....

When I first started running, not knowing anything at all, I wore a pair of traditional tennis shoes. As I ran more, (like many people) my level of education increased, and so did the price ticket on the shoes. After several years and trying almost every expensive top-of-line running shoe there was, I suffered from Plantar Fasciitis, Shin Splints, Knee Pain - you name it.

As I started to see more and more press about minimalist footwear, and running barefoot, I actually showed the documentation to my podiatrist. He at first, balked about the studies and the construction of the footwear, and told me I was in for a lot of hurt. I tried them anyway, first starting off pure barefoot, then trying the WalMart shower shoes (what a joke) and then eventually moving to the Vibram line.

I can now report that all of the problems I previously suffered are gone. I use KSOs for running in the city, and KSO Treks for trails and hiking. Yes, there is a time investment while your feet build up strength and get used to "barefoot". I attribute this to spending too much time in over-the-top shoes. I think that most people who have heard about running barefoot, are serious about running, and do the research and already know there is a period of adjustment. If they don't, they shouldn't be running anyway.

By the podiatrist is completely sold and uses them himself now - as the main shoe he wears all day while treating patients!

Edited by basecampbound on 03/30/2011 13:51:27 MDT.

Ginger Allman
(gindavall) - F

Locale: Ozarks
Toebox and shoe shape on 03/30/2011 12:12:05 MDT Print View

I've come to the conclusion that my biggest problem with footwear is that the shoe's poor shape causes me to "hunch" up my feet in some way rather than fully use my foot as nature intended. So rather than bone pain, I'm getting aching muscles and actual muscle spasms in most shoes. All this talk about thin zero padding and heel drop sort of misses the point that I need addressed. I just need a shoe that's big/wide enough to let my foot work and not so sloppy big that my foot has to work hard to stay on top of the shoe. I'm wearing Innov-8 FlyRoc 310's, which are certainly flexible and wear well on the trail. And I certainly want less heel. But like Damien said about Innov-8, they're rather narrow and pointy. Until shoe manufacturers build their shoes with a more anatomical last, I'm going to still have foot pain.

I'm tempted to use huaraches like my husband does, and I will for casual wear. But for hiking I want more foot protection and than that. Plus I want warmth in cooler weather.

I recently tried on the Merrell Trail Glove and while the toebox felt roomy, the shoe brought in a whole new issue. Check out the sole on these things. It's not wide/flat. It's got a little thin narrow strip running from front to back, sort of like the sole on a ballet slipper. This means that my foot is actually teetering on a ridge. Walking in the shoe felt like my foot was going to roll outward all the time. I see that as an ankle injury waiting to happen.

These developments are all a step in the right direction. But it amazes me that there's all this marketing and hype and so little attention to the very basic point. That is, to make a shoe which protects the foot while it works its natural motion. Plus...the foot will expand as muscles develop. Are shoe manufacturers planning for this? If I go barefoot for a year my foot will be bigger next year. Part of me is not looking forward to that!

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
KSO Treks on 03/30/2011 12:16:23 MDT Print View

I also had problems with the strapping system on my straight KSO's, but I managed to repair the damage with a needle and thread. Since then, I've switched to the KSO Treks. The uppers are made out of kangaroo hide (yikes!), but they hold together a lot better. They also have a bit better front- and bottom-of-foot protection, which saves considerable wear and tear on my feet when I'm hiking on rocky ground.

They are, IMO, the perfect minimalist shoe.

Last weekend, I wore them in temperatures that dipped to 24 F. I never took them off, even when I hunkered into the bag for the evening. I threw a Little Hottie into the bottom of the bag, and my feet and shoes were dry and warm at sunrise.


Edited by nerdboy52 on 03/30/2011 17:13:38 MDT.

James Siverts

Locale: Northeast
The lightest on 03/30/2011 12:25:07 MDT Print View

Also take a look at

2.6 ounces is hard to beat. Looks like they have some new versions coming out this summer with thicker soles.


George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking on 03/30/2011 12:52:20 MDT Print View

I've decide to try it out. Based on the review and feedback, I'm not brave enough to go Class I. I think the following are possibilities for me.

New Balance Minimus $100
Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove $110
Vibram Fivefingers KSO Trek $125

Now I will way for the best sale I can find as my two old pairs of trailrunners wear down towards a poor man's minimalist : )

Kathy Hoffman

Locale: Foothills of San Gabriel Mtns.
George - Try the Treks on 03/30/2011 13:20:27 MDT Print View

I was given a pair of the Minimus as a gift, and in my humble opinion, Vibram KSO Treks are much better, and here's why....

The Minimus has a small toe box, which especially going downhill, I found made my toes curl a bit, in an unnatural attempt to keep me balanced and stable. This action actually seemed to go against the whole "barefoot" approach, and felt more like a traditional running shoe to me.

The separation of each toe on the Treks, while ugly as sin, I have found serve a really valuable purpose. Increased stability. Closer to what your foot experiences walking barefoot, and more stable. Your foot "hugs the road" as it were, and I find gives a more stable and natural feel. They do however, take a bit of getting used to.

In cold weather, I have also worn light toe socks in the Treks and it did give me sufficient warmth.

Edited by basecampbound on 03/30/2011 13:50:32 MDT.

Kathy Hoffman

Locale: Foothills of San Gabriel Mtns.
Additional advice for anyone considering Vibrams on 03/30/2011 13:42:46 MDT Print View

Just my observations from having owned (and loved) both the KSO's and the KSO Treks:

1. Try not to order online if possible. Fit varies widely, and even varies between these two shoes. My two pairs are different sizes. In my experience, I also ended up with a size larger than I thought I would, (as compared to other shoes that use the same sizing system). A lot has to do with how it feels, so it's best to try on multiple pairs.

2. Their sizing is determined not by what size you normally wear, but by measuring your foot. You can't skip this step if ordering online.

3. Although I am female, the men's shoe fit better for me. If you are female with a wider foot, consider the men's style. If you are male with a narrower foot, consider the women's.

4. The kangaroo upper of the Treks wears better than the KSO upper material. It's also better if your feet sweat, (in my opinion) and is more comfortable.

5. I use the KSOs for running on pavement only (and only so I don't wear out the Treks so quickly). If you'll be hiking or running where there are even small rocks, or uneven terrain, the Treks are much better. I think the Treks are the perfect all-around, multi-purpose option.

6. A thin pair of toe socks help in cold weather.

7. Wear them around the house instead of going barefoot for a week, while you get used to the feel. Then, slowly break them in keeping the amount of time you run in them short in the beginning. Your muscles need to develop in order to properly support you. I actually wore mine to the grocery store and while running errands as well.

8. When first hiking or running in them, pay special attention to the way your foot is hitting the ground. You can't use the traditional "heel strike" gait, and in fact, it defeats the purpose and will cause considerable pain. Pay a little attention in the beginning until you get used to them. You're going to notice that your calves need time to adjust too, and they get a bigger workout when using these.

9. Give them a brushing with a suede brush to remove any loose dirt. You'll want to wash them if they start getting stinky, and you can, in a washing machine in cold water with a mild detergent, but don't put them in a dryer. Just air dry them.

10. Beware of the websites that sell these "really cheap". They are cheap foreign knockoffs and a friend found out the hard way that they are nothing like the real thing, (and then he couldn't return them).

Edited by basecampbound on 03/30/2011 14:00:01 MDT.

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
thorns? on 03/30/2011 14:21:34 MDT Print View

I'm very intrigued by the minimalist concept, but very skeptical how the shoes would hold up to my real world conditions. Can't quite bring myself to spend the money without knowing more. Here, we have lots of off-trail, including lots of salmonberry and devils club brush. And the other half the year, there's snow. Would any minimalist shoes stand up to bushwhacking without shredding in a month, or shredding my feet in the process?

Zane Darner
(zdarner) - F

Locale: S.W. Idaho
Merrel Barefoot Trail Glove on 03/30/2011 14:22:52 MDT Print View

I utilized my REI rebate and 20% off coupon to try these out. I was amazed; at first.

Wearing these truly was a joy whether barefoot or with light or medium weight merino wool socks. The only problem I had with them was that there was one hot spot high in the arch on the right foot. I did take my time moving into these--Merrel's site has some very good advice on this!

Had it not been for that one spot I'd be wearing them now. The toe-box felt open, relaxed, and really gave my foot the ability to relax and stretch as it moved. It was my foot, not the shoe that was the problem.

REI took them back and I'm waiting for my next option to try.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Durability on 03/30/2011 14:28:04 MDT Print View

>Here, we have lots of off-trail, including lots of salmonberry and devils club brush. And the other half the year, there's snow.

And here we have the dreaded greenbriar year round. The kargaroo skin used for the KSO Trek uppers hold up just fine.


Edited by nerdboy52 on 03/30/2011 17:12:22 MDT.

Kathy Hoffman

Locale: Foothills of San Gabriel Mtns.
Durability on 03/30/2011 16:00:41 MDT Print View

Erin, I agree with Thomas that the Kangaroo uppers on the Treks should hold up fine to bushwacking, and that has been my experience.

Like any footwear, the stiffer they are, the longer they seem to last, so these are not going to hold up like backpacking or mountaineering boots, but compared to some of the other materials, the Kangaroo uppers are really nice.

I don't think you could wear them in any real snow. The Kangaroo leather uppers are like suede and your feet would get wet and thus, very cold. I do wear them in cooler weather with light toe socks, but not in snow.

Just my opinion, but I think they are best for moderate temperatures. Also, on some nasty long backpacking trips with horrible terrain and where I needed to cross water, carried them in addition to boots as my water crossing / camp shoe option. They're not the lightest (9 oz. on my scale) but the comfort and flexibility makes it worth it to me.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: George - Try the Treks on 03/30/2011 17:57:18 MDT Print View

Measured my feet. Left is right at 10 3/4 and right is 10 5/8. I usually buy size 11 trailrunners.

I was looking at the TrekSports just now ($100)

Building on the success and versatility of the KSO and KSO Trek, FiveFingers presents the TrekSport for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s designed with rugged, high-performance materials to help maximize your outdoor experience. We’ve used abrasion-resistant Coconut Active Carbon in the upper for natural breathability, 4mm EVA in the midsole for plating protection, and we’ve added a lightly cleated 4mm Vibram® performance rubber outsole for extra traction on a variety of terrain.


Treks ($125)

Our KSO Trek delivers the agile performance and protection you need outdoors and on the trail. A more rugged version of our popular KSO, it features a kangaroo leather upper and sockliner that are soft against the foot, yet strong and tear resistant with outstanding breathability. The 4mm EVA midsole offers plating protection from stone bruising, and a lightly cleated 4mm Vibram® performance rubber outsole delivers enhanced traction on trails and rugged terrain.


I will get either the Treks or TrekSports soon. Thinking of going with the size 43 (for the 11) and wear toesocks.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Merrel Barefoot Trail Glove on 03/30/2011 18:05:21 MDT Print View


Glad you mentioned REI. Merrell are available. The 20% discount does minimize the risk. Also, fortunately there is a local REI near me. Might see if they are in stock and try on. Also have a small dividend.

The Merrell Trail Glove cross-training shoes are tough enough to handle light hiking in wet or dry conditions. Their light weight and innovative design let feet work as if they're not in shoes at all.

DWR-treated synthetic leather and mesh uppers create tough, flexible and breathable barriers around your feet
Lacing system is anchored by welded thermoplastic urethane; ensures a snug customized fit every time
Rubber toe bumpers and forefoot shock absorption plates guard against unwanted impacts on uneven surfaces
Synthetic leather slings around the back of feet add stability
4mm thick EVA midsoles provide cushioning that makes outdoor adventures easy on your feet; please note, there is a 0mm heel to midfoot drop
Merrell Trail Glove cross-training shoes have Vibram Trail Glove soles for excellent grip and durability


I will be trying either the trek, treksport or trailglove.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking on 03/30/2011 18:52:59 MDT Print View

One suggestion. It would have been nice to include sizes available in the manufacturers specs. Would save time looking at shoes that don't come in large sizes. Enjoyed the article otherwise. I never go barefoot, anywhere. Mom wouldn't let us. Told us we'd get worms. lol

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Re: Re: George - Try the Treks on 03/30/2011 19:00:03 MDT Print View


I have heard that the uppers on the TrekSports have had some durability issues. I haven't had the opportunity to try them as of yet, so I can't confirm that. I would search around for some reviews on that particular model before purchasing.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking on 03/30/2011 19:08:04 MDT Print View

Mom can be right ; )

Edited by jshann on 03/30/2011 19:11:26 MDT.

Thomas Trebisky

Locale: Southern Arizona
I like my KSO's, but appropriate use is important. on 03/30/2011 19:09:57 MDT Print View

I have had a pair of KSO's for about a year and like them a lot, BUT I am skeptical about using them for a long trip of any kind. First of all they have a blister producing seam (not present on other Vibram five finger models like the Trek - which it was a mistake to exclude from this study by the way). Any jaunt over a few hours (or run of 4 miles or more) will produce a hot spot or blister from this shoe.

I use my KSO's for foot strengthening and training on courses with controlled conditions. I have tried them on rocky trails and find it entertaining when I go slow enough, but a bit of carelessness or too much speed leads to trouble. I find a light pair of running shoes a better choice for rough trails, with only a modicum of extra weight. You have to ask if you are trying to prove something (and to who?) or if you are really achieving something by saving weight. Maybe I am clumsy (nah, couldn't be), but one trivial stumble with my KSO's led to a sprained little toe (maybe I even broke it, I dunno) that took a long time to heal. On the other hand, my problems with plantar fasciitis have gone away now that my training includes a modest amount of running with the five fingers.

Everyone using minimalist footwear experiences injuries as part of the game, and the honest folks admit it.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
tough minimalist footwear on 03/30/2011 21:42:01 MDT Print View

Nice article Damien. My hope is that "barefoot" technology will continue to pervade hiking shoes, and shoes with tough uppers, no drop, a bit of rock protection, and good tread will proliferate. I can't see any room for shoes in my quiver that don't allow me to layer various sock combos.

Praveen M
(prav66) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Barefeet on 03/31/2011 01:05:54 MDT Print View

Been following am enjoying this discussion.

Couple of point to add or reiterate what others have said:

1. Sorry docs or other medical specialists who are skeptical. Barefoot running or hiking is not a dangerous fad only suitable in "third world" countries or for folk who jave had "structural adaptations" since young. That shows a profound ignorance for the basic biological history of our feet which have had 2 million years as upright humans in the African savannahs to evolve. It would be helpful if foot specialists skeptical studied a little about human history or talked to some evolutionary anthropology rather than make assumptions through very narrow modern perspectives.
Fact is our feet work remarkably well and are infinitely more sophisticated than anything Nike cooked up and marketed in the last 50 years.
What they don't handle very well is very rocky terrain or snow, etc which is not the gentle savannahs of our adaptations and why we need some help from barefoot shoes that let our feet work as they are designed to with some extra protection and padding to help. Not regular shoes which almost always work against the intricate proper form of our individual feet and cause the long term foot problems that we are all familiar with as runners and hikers.
Yes we need time to readapt back to how our feet were designed to move but isn't that obvious? Take a desk job city slicker who has never left the city and throw him on the trail to walk long hours and camp and you're looking at at difficult readjustment and relearning period... A silly reason to discourage them, you should be guiding them in the transition

Myself I magically lost my chronic knee pain problems and ankle injuries after giving up on all shoes and slowly adapting back to barefoot running.. or perhaps not magical when you consider how our feet evolved to move.

2. Tried most of the models in the surey and for me the merrell trail gloves are the best overall compromise for now. Don't be put off by the narrow forefoot or slighty weird cushioning feeling when trying them. A couple hours on the trail and they work as well as the vibram five fingers with none of their disadvantages (funny looks, questional upper durability, funk build up, can only use toe socks, etc). I can happily live in these shoes forever and just climbed Mt Meru in Tanzania with them across snow and scree. Zero foot problems and I don't have especially strong feet. BUT the return to barefoot is just starting so I imagine in a few years things might get even more interesting.

Thank god for our current re-evolution of modern times when the combination of ultra lightweight backpacking and barefoot shoes means we can explore and walk across wild open land as free and closest to natural form as humans have been doing for millenia.

There will always be alarmists or guardians of outmoded thinking or "expert" skeptics. All I can say is try it and see if your feet want to go back to lumbering shoes.

Praveen M
(prav66) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Merrell barefoot on 03/31/2011 01:48:17 MDT Print View

Almost forgot... The Merrell Trail glove need to be sized to be a snug fit and are a size smaller than my regular shoes. At first it feels like it might be too tight for long backpacking but within a short time they feel perfect and your whole foot moves as one entitiy. The toe box also expands well when needed as your feet get bigger with long miles.. and I have very wide toes that complain even in wide new balances.

Compared to the VFF treks they lose only a little ground feel and have much better protection from rocky bottoms... I would not take the VFF for a long through hike where I expect to be in pain on rocks after a whole day of walking and having to tip-toe when I am tired ad don't want to keep looking down where I step but would happily take the merrells. For those who need even more protection the NB minimus is the ticket but for many of us the Merrell may be all we need in general terrain.

Like others have noted the 3 best barefoot shoes on the market currently for long distance backpacking are the VFF treks, merrell trail gloves and NB minimus and unfortunately none of these are part of this survey. Perhaps we can look forward to them and more in a future comparative article. Kudos to backpacking light and the testers for the comprehensive starting coverage...