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Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review

Will heavier mid and outer soles plus durable leather uppers make for backpacking bliss, or will the Treks leave our feet wrecks?

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

Recommended rating based on the usability of the Treks as hiking footwear (where conditions warrant), a camp shoe, and - best of all - a water crossing shoe. They have proven to be very durable and the comfort is something to be felt to understand.

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by Ray Estrella |

Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review


Introduction

Vibram has made an entire line of footwear, the FiveFingers, built around the concept of barefoot walking. The benefits of barefoot walking and running are explained in great detail on Vibram's website.

While it makes a lot of sense to me, it is also quite a touchy subject with adherents in both camps. I wanted to know how their KSO Treks would work for backpackers, and as an added bonus, my kids thought the “gorilla feet” looked cool.

Specifications

Manufacturer Vibram (www.vibramfivefingers.com)
Year/Model 2010 FiveFingers KSO Trek
Weight Manufacturer specification 11.4 oz/pair (323 g) size 42
Measured weight 13.7 oz/pair (388 g) size 44
Size reviewed Men’s 44, size range runs from 40 to 47 (US 10.25 to 12)
Materials Uppers and footbed: kangaroo leather,
Sole: 4mm EVA midsole & Vibram TC-1 rubber outsole
Suggested Use Light trekking, trail running, and travel
MSRP US $125.00

Design and Features

Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review - 1
Top: The Treks have lugs! The 4mm outsole is a boon to backpackers. Center: The sole rolls up at key spots to add protection. Bottom: The Treks are secured with a Velcro adjustable wrap-around strap.

As this is the first Backpacking Light review of a FiveFinger product, I suppose a bit of explanation is in order. The Vibram FiveFinger line of footwear all has a common feature in the way each toe is wrapped separately. This lets your toes move naturally just as you would when walking barefoot, instead of them being forced to move all together as they are in a typical shoe.

The KSO Treks are the burlier ruggedized version of the regular KSO (Keep Stuff Out), so named due to the wrap-around design. The Treks add a lot to the regular version that also seems to be right up the lightweight backpacker’s alley. Vibram recommends the Treks for “light trekking, trail running, and travel.” The Treks add kangaroo leather at the upper and sock liner for durability and breathability. The leather is soft enough to wear against bare skin. While it is offered in black, I chose brown to help hide the dirt and mud I expected to be in.

Vibram doubled the thickness of the EVA midsole in the KSO to 4 mm in the Treks to offer more protection from stone bruising. The biggest difference between the two are the cleated 4 mm Vibram TC-1 rubber outsoles. Besides providing more traction, the small lugs help keep rocks at bay. The rubber outsole comes up high enough to protect the front of the toes and a small section comes up to protect the heel also. A leather and nylon strap runs over and around the foot to provide a snug fit by pulling it tight and securing with the generous Velcro section.

The sides of the toes (where they touch other toes) is made with highly breathable nylon that is close to being a mesh. Water freely flows into (and out of) these spots. According to Vibram, the Treks are machine washable. They say to use a gentle, warm water cycle with liquid or powdered detergent, and hang to air dry. They warn to keep the KSO Treks away from direct sunlight or heat source while drying.

Performance

Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review - 2
The Treks worked well on packed dirt trails like the PCT shown here, but once the rocks grew to scree or fist-sized, the wimpy author felt them far too keenly! :)

I have been using the Treks since April 2010. At writing time, I have put in 54 miles (87 km) of backpacking on them, including 31 miles (50 km) in the Sespe Wilderness in California and 19 miles (31 km) in Itasca State Park in Minnesota. The remainder was on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) as seen in the picture above. These trips have ranged in temperature from 50 to 97 F (10 to 36 C). Elevations ranged from 400 to 6,000 feet (122 to 1830 m) in conditions ranging from rain and wind to hot sunny days. The loads carried ranged from 17 to 25 pounds (7.7 to 11.3 kg) although I once schlepped a painful 52 pounds in them.

I have also carried the Treks in my pack for almost 400 miles (644 km) just to use them for river and stream crossings and as camp shoes at the end of the day. Much of this took place in the Sierra Nevada in Yosemite and Kings Canyon Sequoia National Parks, with the remainder in the mountains of southern California.

I even used them for travel. You should see the looks they get at airports. I wore them for twelve straight hours walking around Lake Morena County Park campground at the 2010 Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff. I was stopped all day long by people asking if they were the Trek model and asking to see the soles. I was on one foot a lot that day...

Assessment

Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review - 3
The gentle packed dirt trails of Minnesota, like this one in Itasca State Park, were great for using the Treks. Emma and Raymond liked the gorilla footprints I left whenever I stepped in the mud.

I have been intrigued by Vibram FiveFingers since I saw them back in 2005 at the Outdoor Retailer Show. I immediately thought they would be great for crossing fast moving water, but the lack of a “real” sole kept me from trying them. Then I saw the introduction of the new Trek model and said “it’s time!” I wore them for a couple days of just running around and at work. I really liked the way that they felt, and I quickly made the transition to walking without a hard heel strike.

I started out using them for four miles of a 22-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. They were great on packed dirt and sand, but as the terrain became rockier I had problems. The Treks grip very well on exposed rock and are OK walking on smooth or rounded rocks strewn in the trail, but triangular profile rocks hurt the bottom of my foot as the profile would telegraph through. And the telegraph message was dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, dot-dot-dot (SOS or Save Our Soles!)... I had to stop and put my trail runners back on.

Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review - 4
Pickin' daisies.

Now a lot of this is on me. Having spent much of my life barefoot, I was told after my second set of plantar wart laser surgery to stop, as I was picking up the spores in the dirt. Since 2003 I have worn shoes at all times outside, except at the beach. This means my footsies are far from being “tough.” While I had problems with rocks, I met a couple of our members that were doing the same section of PCT that I was on. One was using the thinner regular KSO and was having no problems at all.

Large rock and slick rock were not a problem for me. The soles grip very well and traction was good for all use I had with the Treks. Backpacking in Minnesota was another story altogether. The trails in Minnesota are mostly packed dirt with grass growing on them. Indeed, much trail maintenance is done with a riding mower, I kid you not. The Treks worked very well on these trails.

One thing I discovered right away is that off-trail hiking (bushwhacking) is difficult because of the separate toes. Sticks and twigs like to slide between my toes. So do flowers! One of our BPL members told me that walking through spring flowers near Big Bear California he looked like he was picking mini-bouquets. I thought of his apt description as the same thing happened to me one wet day on the North Country Trail as seen to the right.

While the Treks have been so-so for my backpacking needs, they have worked wonderfully as a river crossing shoe. This was a high snow year in both states I reside in, so the rivers were really cranking during the start of the hiking season. I usually carry Solomon Tech Amphibian water shoes for this reason. The weight of the Treks is the same, but the Treks are much more sure-footed while crossing tricky stretches of water. Being able to have my toes conform to the rocks adds a level of confidence to the chore.

On a trip along the swollen Sespe Creek I had to cross it so many times that I just left the Treks on to save time. I was OK until a person in the group ran out of steam and could not go on. Rather than leave her (or stop) I carried two packs for the last 3 miles (5 km) which put 52 pounds (23.6 kg) on my back and feet. That was completely too much weight to use on the rocks we encountered. The next day my feet were so bruised that I had to wear my trail runners all the way back to the trailhead. Three months later I was back on the same hike, as a group wanted to go to the hot springs they had heard us talk about (Hello, L!). This time (with normal weight) I used them for the entire trip with no problems.

Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review - 5
The Treks make great camp shoes for lounging around in while waiting for dinner. At least I think I have them on... yeah, there's the yellow Vibram logo.

The last way I use the Treks are as camp shoes. Once my camp is set up for the evening I like to go jump in a lake. Literally. Or a creek, river, or other water source. Wearing the Treks ensures I am not going to injure my feet if I step on a fishing hook or piece of glass (many areas in Minnesota can be reached by boat, and hooks/glass can be a real problem). Water drains from the nylon between the toes quickly, and they are comfortable to wear around camp until sack-time.

While I have not put a lot of distance on them, they have spent a lot of time getting soaked and drying back out. I have only washed them one time so far. They are still in great shape and have never developed any foot funk. I often wore Injinji socks or short liners with the Treks, though you can skip a sock in this footwear. My purpose was primarily to keep ticks off my feet as I used permetherin treated socks. I really like the Treks and plan to keep taking them on most of my three-season trips. I will leave you with a shot of me tiptoeing through the tulips. Well, packing through the poison oak.

Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review - 6

What’s Good

  • Comfortable
  • Good for backpacking in areas that are not too rocky
  • Excellent for crossing fast moving water
  • Drain water quickly

What’s Not so Good

  • Can get bruised feet on some terrain
  • Toes are foreign matter collection devices

Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.


Editor's Suggested Related Reading

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2010: Minimalist Footwear - Is It Ready for Backpackers? by Damien Tougas. Depending on how tuned-in you are to current running trends, you may have noticed that there is a new movement starting to gain traction among runners: barefoot running and minimalist footwear.


Citation

"Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review," by Ray Estrella. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/vibram_fivefingers_kso_treks_review.html, 2011-01-11 00:00:00-07.

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Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review on 01/11/2011 14:26:39 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review

Sanad Toukhly
(Red_Fox) - MLife

Locale: South Florida
Vibram FiveFingers on 01/11/2011 18:29:12 MST Print View

I have the regular version of the KSOs. These things area actually a lot more durable than they seem. Last labor day weekend I did 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains. The shoes actually held up well after all the abuse of the rocky terrain I encountered. Although, most of the tread on them is now gone. I will say that my feet were bruised and very swollen by the end of the trip due to repeated hard contact with the rocks. However, they did do a fine job of preventing any serious injury to my feet. For terrain as rocky as I encountered in the Smokies, I suspect the KSO Treks might have provided just the right amount of extra cushion and tread I needed to keep my feet from bruising and swelling.

-Sid

Michael Oppegaard
(mike_o) - F

Locale: Coastal NC
treks on 01/12/2011 08:02:06 MST Print View

I broke my 5th metatarsal last summer and had to wear a boot for about 8 weeks. After I was out of the boot I still had some ligament damage in the adjoning toes. Doctor friend suggested that I try wearing them that by letting the toes move seperately I could stetch out the ligaments giving me problems.

I can't believe how comfortable these things are, I wear them all the time now. You have talked about using them for stream crossings I wonder how they would work for fishing?

Steofan The Apostate
(simaulius) - F

Locale: Bohemian Alps
VFF on 01/12/2011 09:16:07 MST Print View

I did a lot of hiking and overnights in VFF Sprints at YNP last year. They did great through obsidian grit, rocks, stream crossings and machine washings. I'll have to try some KSO Treks. A little extra tread would be nice.C:\Users\Steven\Pictures\2010-08-22\Trail hazard.JPG

Chris Randall
(cfrandall) - MLife
Nice review - I use 'em too. on 01/12/2011 14:11:58 MST Print View

Last summer, I spent a few weekend overnights backpacking into Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park - I brought my VFF Treks as camp shoes, but wound up doing my day hikes and fishing in them. I also run in other models, completing 3 half marathons last year in VFFs.

Jeremy Platt
(jeremy089786) - F

Locale: Sydney
Toe Cover on 01/12/2011 15:59:04 MST Print View

Does anyone make a toe cover for these things, like some sort of material strip that could go over the toes? This may be able to stop the build up of sticks and things between the toes when off track (may also tone down the image for those not into the toe shoe look).

Chris Hanson
(ChrisHanson) - F

Locale: Eastern Wyoming
Too Good To Be True? on 01/12/2011 19:54:10 MST Print View

I Googled the KSO Treks to see what the best price I could find and came up with a place called: J23sneakers.com and they have them for $39.95! They are a foreign website so I'm guessing fakes or a scam. Anyone ever bought anything from them?

Steofan The Apostate
(simaulius) - F

Locale: Bohemian Alps
Too good to be true? on 01/12/2011 20:20:19 MST Print View

The color schemes and treads don't look quite right. I'm thinking VFF-Fakes.

Praveen M
(prav66) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Fake VFF on 01/12/2011 20:26:48 MST Print View

There are a lot of fake VFF floating around, many with nearly similar looks vibram soles until you examine the stitching. Don't expect to get a small niche product like this at deep discount, anything outside the mainstream websites at reduced prices is automatically suspect. If you want to get them cheap, wait for REI to have 30% sale. Unlike trail shoes, the thread on the KSO lasts a LONG time so you get what you pay for.

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Suggested reading on 01/13/2011 10:56:51 MST Print View

Added a backlink to an ORSM2010 article on Barefoot/Minimalist Footwear.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Locale: Cascadia
5Fingers on 01/13/2011 15:11:30 MST Print View

I've got a pair of the KSO's and I don't really like them. I imagine this varies a lot depending on the shape of your feet, but mine are a huge pain to get on. It takes several minutes to wiggle all of my (apparently fat) toes into their places. Not good at all for sneaking out for a late night pee.

Once they are on, they work well for what they are. On technical trails I stub my pinky toe regularly, so I only use mine on day hikes on easy trails.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: 5Fingers on 01/13/2011 15:28:23 MST Print View

Dan, that supposedly gets better with time. If you've worn non-anatomical (or traditional) footwear your entire life, the problem is more likely that you lack the toe spread necessary for the Five Fingers to slip on easily.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Re: 5Fingers on 01/13/2011 16:42:18 MST Print View

+1 on toe spread.

excellent on pita bread.

JASON CUZZETTO
(cuzzettj) - MLife

Locale: NorCal - South Bay
RE: "Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks Review" on 01/13/2011 17:32:45 MST Print View

I have had these for about three months now. I love them. I had the same problem sliding them on originally. But after a few weeks they slipped on easily. My fit isn't 100% because of the shape of my foot. But over all these are great.

I just hiked in the French Guiana jungle over the holidays and they were great. My footing was good. I just had to be careful where I stepped. But that is a good idea anyway.

I have used them in wet weather here in California and just for general walking around. My knee felt better and so did my hip. It is a much more natural feeling.

I get some funny looks in the airports because they are my favorite go to shoe (yes I where the sox). But I have never been more comfortable on a plane. My feet don't feel all sweaty and nasty even after several days traveling. The french were laughing at my shoes when I went through customs. But who cares. I just smile and not worry about it.

Jason

Frank Deland
(rambler)

Locale: On the AT in VA
break in time? on 01/13/2011 20:58:01 MST Print View

To those of you that like them, was there a breaking in time to get used to wearing them? Were they painful at first, or were they comfortable right from the first few steps? How are they when you step on a small stone or pebble. Don't they get really hot?

Steofan The Apostate
(simaulius) - F

Locale: Bohemian Alps
Had VFF's for a couple of years. on 01/13/2011 22:56:46 MST Print View

I was always a barefoot person, putting shoes on last and taking them off first. Getting my little toes in place is still a struggle, much easier with socks as the toes just slip right in. Some folks have a week or so of adjustment while the tendons get used to the difference in movement and slight change in gait.
The biggest adjustment was with my office manager's attitude. She took one look at my Sprints and said that I could not wear them to our casually dressed office. She reminded us of the policy that we could only wear sandals or closed toe shoes. Everyone laughed and she stormed off. I suppose that I could buy some black leather KSO Treks to wear with black dress slacks for those shirt and tie days.
I was very careful walking for the first month or so, but not any more. You just adapt to rocks, rain, mud and snow. The oddest thing is that my feet feel cool, no longer warm and clammy or cold and damp from being closed inside of shoes.
It's not a cult; just walking, running and hiking the real way.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Had VFF's for a couple of years. on 01/14/2011 01:20:36 MST Print View

I've had a pair of KSOs for about 18 months. They are a struggle to get on at first, the problem is getting each toe into its proper toe condom. But with a little practice is gets pretty quick.

It does take a while for your legs to get into shape, as most people are used to a heel strike, this is especially true if you run in them. Your brain is going to force a front of the foot strike, without your permission. If you want to run in them, go slow, unless you have been running barefooted.

I no longer hike off-trail in them or in rocky areas, as my little toe kicks the occasional rock or out-cropping. I like to do short runs in them. It is almost barefoot running, without the need to toughen up the bottom of your feet. You will feel most little things like pebbles and such. I can run/hike on fine gravel roads without discomfort, but it is a funny feeling that takes a while to get used to.

If you do not like to stop to talk every hiker you meet on the trail or stop and talk to strangers around town, then these are not for you! Everyone wants to ask questions.

They do get stinky after a fairly short time. They have to be washed periodically. For really light shoes, I prefer XC racing flats, which are generally lighter than these. I am using flats less and less, because they do not last long in the terrain I frequent. For most hiking I always go back to my Salomon trail runners. I am pretty much done experimenting with shoes, overall the Salomon's do everything I need. The KSO's are nice for running (not on asphalt).

William Cefalu
(wcefalu)

Locale: Louisiana
What is the weight? did I miss this in the article? on 01/15/2011 16:20:59 MST Print View

NM

Frank Deland
(rambler)

Locale: On the AT in VA
not convinced on 01/16/2011 21:28:31 MST Print View

Sanad notes above: "I will say that my feet were bruised and very swollen by the end of the trip due to repeated hard contact with the rocks. However, they did do a fine job of preventing any serious injury."

My feet might be swollen after a long hike, but bruised? That does not sound good to me!

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Training and Time on 01/16/2011 21:41:12 MST Print View

How well minimalist footwear will work for you largely depends on the amount of training and time you spend in them on a regular basis. If you are used to wearing structured footwear with significant cushioning, it will take time for your body to adapt. When you get used to shoes deadening the rough edges of the environment, you tend to be less aware of how you are stepping and hence walk a lot rougher than you would with less on your feet. Having worn minimalist footwear for many years now, it has changed the way I walk, I am much more aware of each step I take and I rarely get any kind of bruising.