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Backpacking Footwear: Toe Shoes
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Jason Anderson
(Jason762) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Backpacking Footwear: Toe Shoes on 09/12/2011 12:12:43 MDT Print View

Anyone here done a backpacking trips with their Vibram 5 Finger "toe shoes"?

How did it work out for you? What distances did you cover? Any learned lessons or tips to share?

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Backpacking Footwear: Toe Shoes on 09/12/2011 12:20:43 MDT Print View

I do not have the toe shoes, but here's an informative blog post about it.

I day hiked with a guy who had them and it seemed he may have broken his pinky toes. I think that happens frequently.

Diana Vann
(DianaV) - MLife

Locale: Wandering
Re: Backpacking Footwear: Toe Shoes on 09/12/2011 12:22:14 MDT Print View

Hi, Jason. If you decide to do a trip with your 5 Fingers, please post the results.

I recently did 84 miles in my barefoot trail gloves. I've found that I love the barefoot feeling, but I don't like shoe material between my toes. Still, the overall results should be similar. My trip report and photos are here.

Edited by DianaV on 09/12/2011 12:25:11 MDT.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
pinky toes in toe shoes on 09/12/2011 12:24:07 MDT Print View

I was wandering around a Big 5 Sports while my boyfriend was trying on shoes, and saw the Fila toe shoes. Can't remember the name of the version of them, but I noticed that the last 2 toes were not separate. That gives a sort of "splinted" effect for the pinky toe, and I wondered if that might not work better. I have seen some horrendous pictures of bruised pinky toes that keeps me from trying the toe shoes, and our resident runner in our office took hers back after some chronic sores from the shoes.

Steven Adeff
(TinCanFury) - F

Locale: Boston
Vibram hiking on 09/12/2011 14:24:36 MDT Print View

I and a housemate have a pair we hike with. We recently did the Carter/Moriah/Wildcat ridge labor day weekend, covering about 24mi over 3 days/2 nights. We've also done a lot of day hikes (we're trying to get all the NE 4000'ers checked off)

I've also done a 12mi overnight "solo" trek with them (and the pooch) which I did as a gear test hike thus the short mileage.

Here's my take, based on our experience, along with a now ex-housemate, and other various friends that have them...

They do take some getting used to, both the fit and how to hike with them as far as foot placement, etc. compared to whatever your traditional shoe type is.

they stretch. a lot. when purchasing, get the absolute smallest that you can fit into, and I don't mean "comfortably" fit into, because if you've never warn them they won't really be super "comfortable" right away, but actually be able to get your foot into. take them home. step in a bucket of water and walk around. the water helps the material stretch much faster than normal wear will. but you need to get them wet AND use them so they actually stretch to the size of your feet. This will take a few iterations at least. You can also do this while hiking with them, walk through a stream to get them wet and continue on your way.

My two housemates (one has since moved to another city) and I all love them for hiking. At first we really only did day hikes, in the 10-15mi range. We, as you were, were unsure as to how they would be for heavier pack weights and longer distances. At first we found that the bottoms of our feet definitely needed to get used to them, especially over some types of terrain where the extra cushioning of shoes helps spread and absorb load. We've found that as you both learn how to walk in them as far as foot placement, as well as just your feet "toughening" up in a sense, that this has not been as big of an issue anymore. I personally don't really notice it even on longer hikes.

Our labor day ridge hike was the first time we really used them with heavier packs (we all averaged roughly 15lbs each with food and water in our packs) for longer distances. We both found that we really did appreciate them more than our standard trail runners. I found that over the course of this hike I perfected my ability to really feel the ground through the shoes and take maximum advantage of the tread on mine (I have the Treksport model), and finally felt more comfortable hiking in them than in my trail runners. At the end of each day and the overall hike we found our feet felt better than they had on previous similar weighted/distanced hikes. Neither of us formed blisters, and the ability to walk through any puddle or stream to cool off and "sooth" our feet without "worrying" about soaking our socks, etc is a great feeling.

So, yes, I am a huge fan now. People constantly ask us our opinions on the trail and while for day hikes I was sold rather immediately, I did have reservations on how they would perform on longer/heavier hikes, I now will unequivocally recommend them to anyone who does not feel the need for ankle support, which is the one area they lack in. I'm ok with this though, as I have no ankle strength issues and so find shoes with too much ankle support a hindrance and a pain.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Vibram hiking on 09/12/2011 14:54:39 MDT Print View

I recently did the 100 mile wilderness (ME) wearing them. I have been walking/jogging in barefoot foot wear for a few years and wear vivo barefoot on a daily basis.
In my experience short trips from day hikes to a few days- they were perfectly fine and I would even prefer them. Stream crossing and scrambling are easier with them.
BUT- after a while on this trip things began to catch up with me. Long days on rocky root covered terrain began to make the bottom of my feet real sore. This is because there is no real padding on the bottom of the shoe and you feel every root and rock much more than normal. This is fine and even good normally because it makes you more careful about how/where you step. But after time it adds up. My friend was getting more used to hiking with every passing day and felt no real soreness where I was in real pain in the bottom of my feet.
Mind you, my legs and ankles were perfectly fine and not sore much at all no issues to speak of. It was purely the constant battering on the bottom of the feet that was the only issue. It probably would be the case that over time (like a longer thru hike) that pain would go away as my feet got accustomed to it but 7 days was not enough.
So just keep that in mind.

j lan
(justaddfuel) - F

Locale: MN
Re: Backpacking Footwear: Toe Shoes on 09/12/2011 15:28:04 MDT Print View

My friend jake recently crossed the Olympic National park wearing them. He has beastly strong feet and even for him, he was laid up for at least a week afterwards. You can read about it here:

Andy Chasse'

Locale: The Front Range
minimalist on 09/12/2011 15:28:10 MDT Print View

I've used VFF's exclusively over the past couple years and absolutely love them for just about anything. Both my Treks and Bikilas have gone on several trips in the mountains (nothing extended, usually 30ish mile overnighters) and trail runs up to 20 miles with no issues. Unfortunately, my toes eventually tear through the seams (usually around 400 miles), so I'm not sure if they're going to be an option for me much longer. They're way too expensive to replace every few months.

Which brings me to the Merrell Trail Gloves. Although I love my VFF's, I've slammed my toes into so many roots and rocks that my Trail Gloves are usually my go-to for rough terrain now. I don't have to spend near as much time watching where I set my feet, and they're just about as comfortable with similar ground feel.

Diana Vann
(DianaV) - MLife

Locale: Wandering
Merrell Trail Gloves on 09/12/2011 15:40:20 MDT Print View


Do you get more mileage out of your Merrell Trail Gloves than you do the VFF's? After my recent experience (not a single hot spot or hint of a blister after 84 miles) I'm planning to switch to them for most (if not all) of my trips. But I'm wondering what kind of mileage I can expect out of them.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Backpacking Footwear: Toe Shoes on 09/12/2011 17:02:20 MDT Print View

I would take short hikes completely barefoot as much as you can. That might tough you up "faster" for doing long trips with the 5 fingers. Kinda like training with 50 lbs on your back and then flying on the trail with 20lbs on trips, but just with your feet I guess...

Andy Chasse'

Locale: The Front Range
mileage on 09/12/2011 17:30:52 MDT Print View

Diana - I'm actually wondering the same. I don't know how many miles I've put on my Trail Gloves between running and hiking because I switch shoes for my runs so often and can't keep it straight. They should have over 500 miles on them by now, as I've put on about 250 just in the past 6 weeks.

Early on, probably not even 100 miles in, I started to see some separation of the soles in a few spots. It has definitely gotten worse with use, but they definitely have a lot left in them. Because the separation happened so early though, I'm wondering if I just got a crappy pair. More likely, it's probably my feet. They're pretty tight where most of the separation is occurring, so that could be a possible cause.

The soles themselves seem to be holding up pretty well, despite the fact that most of their use is on pretty rocky ground. The mesh is torn in a few spots also, but considering how often they go through cactus and thorns, it's not too bad. If I had to guess I'd say most people should get at least 1000 miles out of a pair. I saw a picture of some at 700 and they looked way better than mine.

Chad Miller

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
Re: mileage on 09/12/2011 18:06:27 MDT Print View

I've been using the Merrell Trail Gloves for the last two months of backpacking and they feel great on my feet! I have a wide toebox and normally get blisters but with the Trail Gloves, happy feet.

The downside . . . . . calve fatigue.

I'm not a runner but normally I can backpack 15 plus miles a day without much muscle fatigue. The last three backpacking trips with a pack weight of 19 pounds and I can do a day of 12 miles then the next day I'm pretty sore only getting in around eight miles before I'm done. The following day my calves are shot and I'm hobbling around the house.

Each trip things are getting better and I can go a bit farther without as much muscle fatigue after the trip but boy it's a slow process!

Randall Johnson
(Tsunami) - F

Locale: Southern Nevada
Nice but not for the trail on 09/12/2011 19:30:44 MDT Print View

My VFF's are used for after hiking relief around the camp. They are Sprints or the most basic Classics as they are good and comfortable therapy for tired feet while setting up or just hanging out, down to the river to purify....I do not generally take my Black/Grey Camo KSO's and use the more basic ones while backpacking but they work very well around the camp and short wanderings for wood gathering ect. I hate sandy toes!!

A buddy of mine hiked all 16 miles of the Zion Narrows in the trek shoe version and claimed it was very rough and he felt like he had broken his feet the next day after. I wore standard water socks with reinforced soles like a shoe. I was fine.

I love my VFF's and despite meeting a couple of 19 year olds this past week on top of Mount Langley wearing blue/white VFF runners, mine will be restricted to the above usage and around town to prevent on trail injuries and fatigue as well as avoid burning such expensive rubber.

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
Re: Backpacking Footwear: Toe Shoes on 09/12/2011 19:56:56 MDT Print View

Well, before I got bogged down with my MS thesis (done with revisions and signatures tomorrow!!!) I was using my TrekSports for Spring and Summer backpacking all over the Green and White Mountains. I won't post too many pictures, since I've posted them on this site in the past, but here's one of my feet on Mt Jefferson in NH heading across the Presidential Range.


Based on my experiences this year, I'd say the VFF seem to work great on all sorts of terrain and conditions. The biggest barrier for me isn't the "toughness" of your feet, but warmth. As the temp drops, I've found that you have to have a pair of socks for warmth, because there's no cushion to insulate your feet.

Also, my *impression* is that the toughness of a person's foot is not the issue, nor the toughness of the terrain. My feet aren't tough at all. Also, I've walked across some of the sharpest, hardest miles of stone in the northeastern US. My suspicion is that most people don't adjust their gait, which leads to pain. If you walk in minimalist footwear the same way you walk in trail runners or boots, you will must likely have problems. You have to take shorter steps, bend your knees, and place your feet down softly and evenly. If you walk on your toes, which is tempting, that can lead to pain too.

The little toe does hang out there a bit, but I've only stubbed it once in several months. Overall, I bang my feet less often than I do in trail runners, because I'm more careful with my foot placement.

Overall, I prefer the feel of the VFFs in the wet Spring and warm summer months. As the ground gets colder, I need more distance between my feet and the ground. I hike with people who wear boots, trail runners and VFFs, and we all do just fine.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: Backpacking Footwear: Toe Shoes on 09/12/2011 20:06:17 MDT Print View

I've never quite understood why the toe pockets are necessary. Here's what I've been hiking in lately. I've managed a 14 mile hike and a 13 mile hike with a mile of bushwhacking up a creek recently. Homemade huaraches with 1/4" leather laces, 8mm Vibram Newflex sole with a suede top.
Huaraches and bear scat

The only thing they're not too good at so far is walking through things like wild roses.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Backpacking Footwear: Toe Shoes on 09/12/2011 20:17:49 MDT Print View

I just did a hiking/packrafting trip in Isle Royale in my Vibram KSO Treks. We hiked about 25-30 miles and boated the same.

There were times I felt my feet becoming slightly "raw" on the long stretches of rock, but I never had a blister, nor did I have any real foot pain.

Overall, I liked them a lot and plan to do most 3-season hiking in them from now on.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Re: Re: Backpacking Footwear: Toe Shoes on 09/12/2011 20:20:15 MDT Print View

I recently bought some Invisible shoes and will hopefully get to try them soon.
I was skeptical of the need for separate toes as well. What I found is that the toes did a lot for me as far as grip. Like having more of a hand to grab on to rocks and stuff scrambling. (I use Bilkas)
But I agree they are not necessary as long as my feet and toes are free to move naturally all is good. VFF are a bit of a pain to put on in the morning too but its not a real big deal. invisible shoes are a quarter of the price of VFFs so Im hopeful they will work on eastern trails.

Kristin Fiebelkorn
(kushbaby) - MLife

Locale: South Texas
KSO Trek for rough rocky terrain on 09/12/2011 23:13:56 MDT Print View

I've been using my KSO Treks for really rocky terrain on day trips to hike in Government Canyon. Lots of rocks, many sharp, some difficult spots to chose footing through. (I may have some photos... I'll see if I can figure out how to post them.)

My own experience so far has been:

- This is hands down the most secure I have ever felt about my footing when hiking on any terrain (much less rocky uphills and downhills with moving rocks). I'm doing ankle injury rehab with these (so no really high mileage yet), and I would not be comfortable hiking in a regular shoe or boot - I only trust my footing with these right now. I feel a little like a mountain goat with these... (Well, ok, a lumbering mountain goat, but still...)

- I needed to get my feet used to walking using all my toes somewhat independently and moving my foot as if it were barefoot. My feet were sore at times, but, although I could feel rocks through the soles, it wasn't much more than I'd feel with trail runners. Rather, my feet were sore because there would be twinging and cramping little tiny muscles in my toes and feet that had forgotten what it was like to be used. You use different muscles with these. It takes adjusting. (I got these same cramps walking around the house with them when acclimating. I did this for quite some time - days to weeks - before I tried hiking in them.)

- I haven't put more than 7-8 miles in a day on these (yet), but I am pretty heavy right now and have been carrying about 5-6 L water in a heavy old daypack, so it's not like an unburdened stroll. I have never had bruised foot bottoms (or bruised anything). (Of course, maybe I have tough feet - they are pretty calloused, but honestly, they aren't THAT tough...)

- I only banged a toe a few times when I was hot and stopped paying attention to my feet and sort of "kicked a rock" (bad idea!). "Kicking" straight on was pretty cushioned by the sole that wraps up across the front of each toe. Side "bumping" of the little toe hurt, but it honestly would have hurt just as much in trail shoes (especially thin lightweight ones that are compared to these toe shoes). It passed quickly, no lasting pain/damage/bruising. I can't imagine not being careful about foot placement and kicking rocks and roots all day in any shoe. Maybe other people hike differently. Of course, I'm not running in these, only hiking, so maybe that's the difference with more banging. (Won't be running any time soon.)

- I always wear a thin "liner" Injinji toe sock. More comfortable that way. I think that helps with the banging and cushioning (just conjecture - haven't hiked without socks to compare).

- I have bad plantar fasciitis with a heel spur on the right. Pain is completely gone when I hike in these. Interesting.

I have ordered a second pair, because I like them so much. I have been holding off on a review until I have more miles (after building up more ankle-wise). Maybe it's just me and my feet (I could certainly see these being specifically great for some, bad for others), but I love them so far.

One note though - I have to agree with the reader review that says they are horrible on flat asphalt/sidewalks. To the point of being pretty painful. If I had a hike with mixed surfaces including road, etc., I'd use different shoes or bring a pair of Crocs flip flops.

Edit to add: The KSO Treks have more protection for the bottom of the foot than the other models, as I understand. SO, the others would have more chance of foot bruising or soreness, I'd think.

Edited by kushbaby on 09/12/2011 23:18:01 MDT.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: KSO Trek for rough rocky terrain on 09/13/2011 10:17:02 MDT Print View

One thing I have noticed whenever I hike in unusual footwear is that I get a sort of "performance anxiety" where I think that anytime I hurt a toe or slip on a rock or struggle to keep up with someone or have to walk gingerly through a fallen tree it demonstrates I made a bad choice of footwear. But really I've only forgotten all the million times I stubbed toes, slipped and fell and bloodied my knees, had a hard time keeping up, got terrible blisters or worse wearing trail runners.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: pinky toes in toe shoes on 09/13/2011 10:53:06 MDT Print View


I'm sure you're talking about the Fila Skele-toes. I looked them up after you mentioned them. Other than a tread pattern that may not be aggressive enough, it may be a good shoe. Then I was very surprised that the first person I saw while hiking yesterday afternoon was wearing these. He said he got them at a Big 5 in San Diego. Here are a picture of these shoes.