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.
|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|
Design and Features
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
- 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.