Tim Ferriss on Vibram Shoes from Kevin Rose on Vimeo.
“The human foot is a work of art and a masterpiece of engineering.”
—Leonardo Da Vinci
“OK, dude, what’s up with the goofy shoes?”
It was the second day of Pavel’s RKC kettlebell course, and I’d seen more than a few people wearing what appeared to be gecko feet. The sheer goofiness compelled me to ask Rudy Tapalla, a CrossFit instructor from Chicago, why on earth he would put these ridiculous gloves on his toes. He seemed to have good mojo — he was shorter than me but had a vertical jump to match Michael Jordan — so I figured he might have good reasons.
He did, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
I remained a skeptic but tested them a month later. Now, I have three pairs and find it hard to wear other shoes. Vibram Five Fingers shoes (“VFFs” to the die-hard fans) are worth a closer look.
After two weeks of wearing them, the lower-back pain I’d had for more than 10 years disappeared and hasn’t returned since I started experimentation about 8 weeks ago.
Sound ridiculously implausible?
It doesn’t once we look at how feet and posture adapt…
Nasty Pictures and Maladapted Feet
Each human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles and tendons. It’s a surprisingly malleable structure.
From the cached version of the most excellent Nature’s Magic Bullet, referred to me by Joseph Mascaro:
Most people, including doctors, have never seen a natural foot, unaltered by footwear. The following images of habitually bare feet are taken from a study performed almost 100 years ago, published 1905 in the American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery, which examined the feet of native barefoot populations in the Philippines and Central Africa. A line can be drawn that runs through the heel, ball, and big toe of a habitually bare foot. The little toes spread naturally and fan out to provide a wide, stable base for walking or standing.
How do our shod feet compare? The following more common image, also taken from the 1905 study, demonstrates feet that are shaped like the owner’s shoes. No such line can be drawn, and the little toes crowd to a point—a comparatively unstable, narrow base for walking or standing.
The Simple Biomechanics of Bad Posture
Postural compensation is unavoidable while wearing shoes that elevate the heels. It’s necessary to maintain balance.
Chronic use of heels can result — and usually does — in some degree of kyphosis-lordosis and related pains in the lower back and mid-upper back.
Reversing Degeneration – Embracing the Barefoot Alternative
Vibram Five Finger models: KSO (blue), Classic (brown), Sprint (gray)
Laboratory studies show that the plantar arch alone returns at least 17 percent of the energy of impact. Running shoes have largely replaced our arches, but they are neither as effective nor as durable. Barefoot runners can clearly do as well as shoed runners, but it takes time to develop the strength in the foot to use our natural arch fully.
(Source: The Barefoot Route)
Ethiopian Abebe Bikila ran a world-record 2:15:17 marathon at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
The unadorned human foot is built for running. In fact, some researchers have proposed that bipedalism is an evolved trait related to “persistence hunting”, which is common among predators like wolves. Don’t think a human can run an antelope to death? Think again.
So how do we reclaim our rightful arch strength, our stability, and undo the damage of years of unnatural posture? Not to mention rediscover the joy of feeling the terrain under our feet?
Going barefoot is one option, and one that I enjoy, but there are limits. In the concrete jungle, glass and other dangers make going Bushman a roll of the dice at best. Tetanus or a trip to the ER? I’ll pass.
The Vibram Five Fingers shoes, to differing degrees, allow you to both walk without a heel (as would wrestling shoes, Vivo Barefoot shoes, or thin flip-flops) and condition toe-spread, especially the big toe, for lateral stability.
I first tested the KSO (“keep stuff out”) model, which fits most like an aqua sock and has more padding than other models I tested.
I then tested the Classic model, the least complicated of all, and the Sprint model, which is almost a hybrid of the KSO and Classic.
I wear a size 9.5 men’s shoe in the US and tested EU 42 for the KSO and Classic, and an EU 43 for the Sprint.
The results, in brief:
My favorite model is, by far, the Classic. It’s easiest to get on, even with my worthless nub of a little toe, and it most closely mimics the true barefoot feel. The only downside is that, to get a snug fit and not have the heel come off the foot, you must slide the top slip-tie until it is quite tight. This will feel unusual for the first 24 hours or so. I have used the Classic to go trail running in SF and it is euphoric.
I love the KSO, but it is more of a process to get on, and far more conspicuous. At first, it’s fun to get a lot of attention with the shoes (gentlemen, you will not believe the “peacocking” effect of these puppies), but giving each person you meet a 5-minute explanation gets old fast. The Classic blends in more than the KSO or any model with straps. Black will help all models fade into the ground, but I prefer colors.
The Sprint model was so uncomfortable at first that I shelved them, never intending to test them again. It was the only model, and not due to size differences, that oddly pulled my little toe out, causing minor pain but great discomfort after even 10 minutes. I sent an e-mail to their US CEO, who responded back with a suggestion to “seat the heel”, particularly with the Sprint model. This means:
Slide your foot back to nestle your heel into the heel pocket. It’s important to get your heel deeply seated. Secure the instep strap BEFORE latching the heel straps. This will ensure the foot is positioned properly.
I have since been able to wear the Sprint model for 1-2 days at a time, no more than 1 hour of walking at a stretch, but the velcro strap can still bite into the skin without the KSO-like mesh below it. I find it the least comfortable of the three models.
But what about flat feet?
I had clinically-diagnosed arch problems as a child — flat feet supreme — and was prescribed not only custom orthopedic insoles but also exercises for the feet themselves, rolling up towels with the toes, etc.. For those who like random anecdotes, my mom e-mailed me this addition after I published this post:
You didn’t mention that you leapt at the orthopedist examining your feet, like Spidey to a wall.
Sounds like me. I was a little hellion. But we digress…
Needless to say, the exercises fell by the wayside, and I took to increasing levels of support through the shoes themselves. VFFs have been nothing short of spectacular for me, despite my history of flat feet.
Barefoot runners are often asked “but what do you use for arch support?”, to which they respond: “your arches”. I’ve found that my arches, and foot as a whole, feels better with less support rather than more.
Cautions and Cons
-Do not overdo it at first. Chances are that the ligaments and musculature of your feet is underdeveloped. Use them for no more than 1/2 – 1 mile in the first 24 hours, then take a day off. I suggest alternating VFFs with “normal” shoes or flat-soled shoes like Chuck Taylors for the first week. I now use VFFs for no more than three days in a row, as I’ve had some bruising on the heel with more, and such bruising is slow to heal and massively inconvenient. Asphalt is somewhat forgiving, concrete much less so (The Embarcadero in SF, for example), and marble or stone is brutal (casino floors in Las Vegas, etc.).
-Beware the sizing. There are complaints online of the VFF website sizing suggestions being inaccurate for some people. Get sized at a retail location that carries VFFs if possible. If you can’t, check the VFF return policy on their site or order through Amazon to ensure swaps are simple.
-Be prepared to wash them. VFFs are machine washable and should be air dried. There are five-toed socks like the Injinji brand, but I have found all of them to be incredibly painful between the toes, no matter which model of shoe is worn. I now only wear VFFs barefoot. One nice side-effect of the toe separation? No more athlete’s foot or foot skin issues.
To embrace barefoot living or the barefoot alternative, you will have to change how you walk and run, avoiding the heel strike we’ve all used since putting thick Nike padding under our soles. No need to obsess, though, as your gait will adapt naturally — reverting to a natural state, as it were — as you avoid the discomfort of doing otherwise.
The fastest runners have a style quite similar to that of a person running without shoes. They absorb shock by landing lightly on their forefeet rather than on their heels, and their landing leg is beneath the torso, with the leg slightly bent to absorb impact.
According to exercise physiologist and Olympic marathoner Pete Pfitzinger, the key to starting out is to go slowly. He advises walking barefoot for a few weeks to toughen up the skin on the bottom of the foot as well as the muscles in the ankles and feet. Once you are ready to run, start with a mere five minutes, increasing slowly and running barefoot every couple of days. From there, build to up to 20 minutes over a month. After a few weeks of this, the feet and ankles will be stronger, thus reducing the risk of injury. Possible places to train include sandy beaches and golf courses.
The barefoot running technique has been described as falling forward. It has also been described as gently kissing the ground with the balls of your feet.
(Source: The Barefoot Route)
For those interested in developing the most efficient and low-impact running gait, I suggest starting with the Chi Running DVD (skip the book, which gets into too much pseudo-Asian chi mumbo jumbo) and moving to the Pose Method of Running book if interested in more specific details.
Experiment with rediscovering your feet and proper biomechanics.
If a few weeks can eradicate 10+ years of lower-back pain for me, it might just do something for you.
At the very least, you get to wear some goofy shoes that encourage you to wiggle your toes.
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Other things you might not have seen:
Tim Ferriss in NY Times Styles: Too Much Information? Ignore It.
Tim Ferriss on Twitter – what I am doing right now?
Tim Ferriss Investments – what have I invested in recently?
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687 Replies to “Vibram Five Fingers Shoes: The Barefoot Alternative”
A couple questions:
1) What if you have flat feet? Does barefoot running adversely impact knees and the foot ligaments due to pronation?
2) Our ancestors probably never ran on anything as hard as concrete sidewalk. How does this play into the barefoot running concept?
Thanks in advance for your time.
I have webbed toes. So, I use Nike Free.
I also have a neck and lower back fusions, so no free movement of my spine.
I would like to try these but do know now how they will fit my toes?
Cindy. I’ve found many mods to make the V4F. There is one on the birthday shoes.com site. How much is your webbing? Mine is full length on the 2nd and 3rd toes
Big calls Tim. If you are right I will Tip Joy your favorite charity big time. My only concern is I have tragically flat feet and have been wearing orthopedic insteps nearly my whole life. Like you, I have lower back pain. If I go bare feet it flares up as my tendons and muscles pull me into a forward leaning posture.
From what you know so far do you think the concept works for the flat footed folk?
I should have mentioned this and will add it into the post.
But what about flat feet? I had clinically-diagnosed arch problems as a child — flat feet supreme — and was prescribed not only custom orthopedic insoles but also exercises for the feet themselves. Needless to say, these fell by the wayside and I took to increasing levels of support through the shoes themselves. VFFs have been nothing short of spectacular for me, despite my history of flat feet. Barefoot runners are often asked “but what do you use for arch support?” to which they respond: “your arches”.
Hope that helps. I think they’re worth a shot.
I have flat feet and run with Vibrams. Prior to Vibrams I could manage a mile tops before my knees and shins prevented me from going any further. After close to 5 months of running in Vibrams I run 5-8 miles on a weekly basis with ease and no pain. My feet are getting stronger and I am developing an arch in my foot. Also running on pavement doesn’t change anything because your foot strike is completely different than with sneakers.
i’m just an average freshman coming into band, but when i walk, my circulation in my feet is cut off on the down part of every step. my feet are so flat they make a suction cup sound on wood floor if they’re wet or sweaty and i can even stand on my bone that’s supposed to be my arch. my mom wants me to go to a podiatrist and my dad always wants a quick cheap fix like what he does to his feet, but i don’t want my feet to end up wrecked like his from too many quick fixes. i just want to know will this help my feet unlike all the other cheap fixes. i need to know if this will help one of the most severe cases possible. thank you.
You NEED to see a qualified doctor, ideally a podiatrist, to assess your feet. The reason is that there are two types of flat feet: flexible, and rigid. Yours sounds like rigid, in which case things are more complicated. I could be wrong though. In the case of flexible flat feet, I strongly suggest that you DON’T wear insoles no matter what your doctor says, and go with barefoot strengthening instead, with things like Vibrams, etc.
Doing lower body workouts with squats etc. is great too.
Hope that helps.
I just wanted to add to the flat foot question with an anecdote of my own. I have flat feet and often find shoes to be uncomfortable. The only kind of jogging I’ve done in the last 7 years was barefoot on a semi-padded floor in a martial arts studio. When I’ve tried jogging with shoes on, I’ve found that my arches hurt quite a bit. In contrast, jogging barefoot on a padded mat, wooden floor, or sand doesn’t hurt.
I’ve tried on a pair of Sprint’s before and they were very comfortable. If I could rationalize spending $90 on shoes on a University kid’s budget, I’d buy a pair… right now I’ll just read reviews online until I actually go out and buy some…
Cameron, PLEASE do not buy insloes. I have been going to a guy who does MAT (Muscular Activation Technique) and he has shown me how devestating it can be to imobilize one’s foot in a shoe, an insloe, and orthodic or anything else. THe foot needs to be able to MOVE, even within the shoe. THat’s why the Vibram shoes are so great. The warning about these shoes are an individual one…if you have any toes taht are weaker than others and you are stretching them out in these shoes it can throw you off balance. I bought these shoes to try and get rid of my back pain and it made it worse. This is not really because of the shoes as much as it is that my feet were in bad shape and this particular new shape that my foot was in changed my posture and cause worse conditions for me. Again, not necessarily the shoe. I love to go barefoot and I do as often as possible and I will still wear the Vibram shoes after I get my body back in shape. Look up MAT and read about it and find a trainer in your area that does it. I have had to roll out of bed in the mornings for about 6+ months and I am almost pain free after only 4 sessions. Not only that, my mind is clearer, I don’t need as much sleep, my mood has improved, because energy is now flowing properly. Here is the Info For Jake in San Diego if you can’t find anyone else in your area. I cannot reccommend the craft or him highly enough. 858-212-6732 http://site.socalmat.com/index.php/about-us
yesterday we talk about running, barefoot und lower-back pain. My I give it a try. But it isn’t easy to get them in Germany…
It’s easier to get some “Knobelbecher”, sorry couldn’t resist.
Whoah this looks pretty awesome!!!
I’m lucky enough to be able to walk completely barefoot around the area I live without the fear of stepping in glass etc, and I have been doing that for just under a 2 months.
However, for those occassions when I go into the city, or need an actual shoe I’m a big fan of the Vivo Barefoot Aqua shoes. They seem like very traditional shoes but feel identical to barefoot walking.
I’ll still probably pick up some Vibram shoes however because I’m guessing they’d be better for running than the Vivo’s.
“…and condition toe-spread, especially the big toe, for lateral stability.”
I’ve been using flat heel shoes for some time for walking and lifting (chucks, etc) Lateral stability is new to me – thanks for pointing that out man…
I’ve been wearing these for about half a year now and hate wearing anything else. at first, those in close enough relationships with me to be honest thought they were hideous, but in time, most of them bought/want some. I tease and tell people they’re the only way to make friends.
I don’t mind giving the explanations everytime as I’m usually just waiting in line or in a bus. people tend not to ask when the wearer is walking like he’s busy. most people think I can’t hear them but nearly always someone is listening.
the best uses I’ve found for them are running and hiking. simply amazing! for hiking though, I really want some vibram flows. reviewers say small sediment can still get in the kso’s.
I own the sprints and can vouch for the baby toe pain. I had to wear them in small doses at first, even after being a barefoot advocate. I decided that it was simply helping reposition my tiniest toe to a better position after years of being cramped and stuck with it. I can assure you, it doesn’t hurt at all after the break in period. I really love the sprints. they give you incredibly odd tanlines, though.
I have the grey ones as well to not attract more attention, but that seems widely unsuccessful.
I do tell people they can be bought new on eBay for under fifty if you can get lucky with size/model/colour.
while I do have to fight my elitist urges to look with disdain upon articles about vibrams that are just discovering them when I’ve known about them for quite some time, I know I didn’t find them first, and this article was well written.
keep spreading the word. I swear I’d be selling about a dozen a day if I had access or even pamphlets for them.
I HIGHLY suggest you do not recommend Ebay as a viable source for Vibrams. A majority of sites you find when you Google “Vibram FiveFingers” are selling fakes, and most of the ones sold on Ebay are fake as well. The only way to get true Vibrams confidently is through either their website or authorized sellers (birthdayshoes.com has a list of authorized sellers). Buying some anywhere else is asking to waste your money on fakes.
I would not mention this (it’s two years since you posted) but I just stumbled on this post, which means others could too, and purchasing some on Ebay is BEGGING for fakes.
I agree with this…I’m one of those unfortunate souls who got scammed. In Trinidad we don’t brick and mortar stores so I had to buy online and bought from a site that looked totally legit. If you saw the shoes they sent me…totally fake…inferior materials and design but a pretty good imitation none the less…had me doubting until i was able to compare them to some real ones. And they cost me $80!
So beware! Only buy from authorised retailers online and in the actual stores. Vibram’s site also has some stuff about spotting fakes.
You know, I’ve been meaning to give these bad boys a try for a while now. There are a lot of people at my command that wear VFFs, and they all rave about them.
I’ve been to Papua New Guinea twice, and I’ve seen the fanned-out toe phenomena for myself. I didn’t know if the big “Hobbit Feet” were a genetic thing or a result from walking barefoot. This clears that up!
I saw this shoes in one of your videos for the first time. I was fascinated, nut just because of the goofyness, but also the idea of a healthy back and the “nature walk”… I found a big german retailer (I am from austria) and will order a pair soon -> because of you 😉
Actually I want to take part at the KARTING WORLDCHAMPIONSHIP in BRAZIL and tryed to get Vibram as a sponsor for plane-ticket and hotel, or at least provide shoes, but the german retailer never gave response sadly.
I hope you doind fine. You changed my life so much, it was a mess before i read your book. Honestly…
I love them, but I’m having hard time actually finding them, or at least in size variety…
Based on similar research/comments are Nike Frees. Nike created the shoe after they found that the elite runners on Stanford’s cross-country team were training barefoot despite having at their disposal free pairs of any Nike show they wanted (since Nike sponsored them).
I’ve worn the shoes for years now, and I can attest to their goodness. I used to roll and sprain my ankle all the time and am now much more stable. My girlfriend can attest to the same phenomenon–she started wearing them after she started having hip and lower-back pain from the crazy shoes women cram their feet into on a regular basis, and she’s had similar results.
All that to say, I’m not a shill for Nike; I’m just a fan of the barefoot (or as close to barefoot as living in a city will allow) movement. I might have to try out a pair of the FFS sometime. Great article, though–I especially like the diagram of the woman in high heels.
Love the picture of the falling-over woman in heels!
Great Post! I’ve had great luck with the sprints, awesome powerlifting shoes, and the only thing I’ll take to the gym.
the ‘vivo barefoot’ brand is a good alternative for not getting a thousand questions when you’re out on the town, and still want the barefoot experience
I will second everything said. I have been wearing vibrams on and off for over a year now, and have began crossfitting and olympic lifting in them.
Greatly improved my stability on heavy lifts over conventional athletic shoes, while at the same time making me a more efficient runner by forcing me to focus on form.
A+ good stuff!
A good place to start could also be the Nike Free…I’m waiting for the new ones to arrive (I’m in South Africa)
So I’ll go from Nike Free to VFF, hopefully condition myself somewhat slowly! It’s interesting to note our natural running style i.e not landing on the heel.
There was a great article in Mens Health a while back on this tribe of sorts who ran massive distances, wearing thin leather sandals, and they can easily outrun most modern day athletes especially in long distance runs.
Wow they are pretty ugly. I’m going to try them on anyway at a store and see. Anything that will improve normal body function and integrity is worth checking out.
They look like a great compromise between shod and barefoot. I’m a big fan of the more natural approach to things, but I wonder about any potential drawbacks if your feet do spread? When in Mexico a couple of years ago, our tour guide pointed out his wide, spread feet – a result of being barefoot most of his life. He said it was difficult for him to get good formal shoes for the times when he did need them, because of his foot shape. He was OK wearing sandals or flip-flops, but lace-ups were a nightmare, and the women had given up all hope of ever getting into fashionable women’s shoes.
It would be good to hear from someone who may have been using these VFFs or similar for a long period, and whether they now have problems in wearing ‘normal’ shoes.
Also – Zola Budd garnered world records at long-distance running in the 1980’s for Great Britain, always barefoot. She firmly believed it provided her with a bio-mechanical benefit.
Unsurprisingly, her barefoot habits were not from Britain, but from her upbringing in South Africa. (I really can’t see barefoot walking becoming popular in Britain!)
There’s a great article in NY Mag on foot vs shoe. Awesome illustrations too. http://bit.ly/Ciucr
Have you had any run-ins with sharp rocks or glass? How did it feel stepping on something like that? How’d the VFF’s handle themselves? (Ditto for Vivos for those who wear them)
I started going largely barefoot a few years ago. Whenever I can get away with it, my shoes are off. It is true that my foot has actually changed shape in that time. To the point that it makes it a bit more work on my ski boots to make them comfortable nowadays…
I’ve never been attracted to the Vibrams though. When I do have to wear shoes, it’s usually a pair of Nike Frees. It’s not a perfect solution, but they have a lot less support than most other sneakers and allow my feet a lot opportunity to spread their wings. And they don’t look as crazy as Five Fingers… 🙂
Although these fivefingers aren’t new they have been getting more and more popular the last few months. I’ve been looking into them myself but so far haven’t found a store that sells all the different styles. (I’m in The Netherlands.)
I wonder how they would handle martial arts practice, they might just be what I was looking for (a better contact with the ground while still wearing shoes. Waking on socks is to slippery and barefoot might cause problems with toenail scratching)
It’s to bad they look a bit strange, I can imagine them helping a lot with “western” foot and back problems. I might just have to try them and tell my patients (I’m an exercise therapist) about the effects. If enough people end up wearing these they just might become accepted in daily life.
Giving our feet all sorts of support makes for “lazy” feet and more discomfort, needing more and more support.
You could also go completely barefoot (at least at home).. with the added advantage of a cleaner home. (You’ll want to vacuum almost daily…)
I spent a long time looking for a pair of these in the uk a few years back. Because of worries about sizing I wanted to try them on before buying any. No luck.
Long story short – follow the sizing advice on their site – it works. (Like the advice on how to put them on – RTM Tim?)
When I got mine they didn’t make the KSO series, which I wanted. I’ve got a pair of original and a pair of sprints. The cord for the originals irritates me too much. I love my sprints.
Anyway – the point of my comment – Even though I think fivefingers are fantastic, there are occasions where you want similar benefits without such “goofy” shoes. Check out http://www.vivobarefoot.com/ They have a similar barefoot philosophy, ridiculously thin (but hard wearing) soles, but look “normal” at first glance. I have worn them almost every day since I bought them 12 months ago.
Thanks for the post, Tim. I had actually almost totally forgotten about Vibram until you started talking/advertising for them 😉 I was quite hesitant to order an $80 weird shoe (and pay shipping, nonetheless), and now it seems a few local retailers have started stocking them, so I’ll make a trip out asap to purchase a pair.
I originally found out about Vibram and the barefoot movement from this extremely interesting article: http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/
Great article. I am glad you are getting the word out about being active the way that humans are intended to be active…without silly, overcushioned, oversupportive shoes!
I have been running in Vibram FiveFingers for a couple of years now. Once you strengthen the feet and get over the mental block that comes with years of being conditioned by society that you NEED SHOES TO GO OUTSIDE anything is possible.
I ran (and finished) an extremely rugged 50 mile trail race last September (my longest and most grueling distance in the FiveFingers) and continue to train pain free and enjoy every minute of running without the encumberance of shoes.
I also wear my FiveFingers whenever I can. The airport security x-ray techs are regularly freaked out by them when they go through the x-ray conveyor because they say the KSO’s look just like “a pair of feet going through” the x-ray machine! HA!
Nice job — keep up the good work and happy trails!
I’ve been dying to try these for over a year, but I wear a size 15, which they don’t come close to yet.
I’ve even emailed them to try and pay for a custom pair, but no luck. Hopefully, they continue gaining popularity and expand their sizes to the freak-footed.
Until then, I’m making due with my next best option, the Nike Free’s, but if anyone knows of any others in large sizes, let me know!
I’ve had more than a few discussions regarding weight training barefoot; after years of 400+lb deadlifts, my arches are still as arched as ever.
I own pairs of both Nike Free 5.0’s and VFF KSO’s and you’re right about the peacocking effect. The only thing that I’ve found that I need a wee bit more lateral stability on when I’m helping clients start from the top on the leg press. Otherwise, todo esta bien.
It’s worth pointing out that chucks are a good lead into the VFF but they should be a little TOO BIG to give your foot some room to adapt.
The same goes with chucks for deadlifting.
If there is no room for your foot to spread then your foot won’t!
Welcome to the barefoot alternative, Tim!
I’ve been running (and walking, and driving – great clutch feedback, BTW) for well over two years with my Sprints, and just picked up some KSO’s over the winter.
The freedom is incredible, my lower legs and feet have never been stronger, and yeah, it is kind of fun to wear them around and see who strikes up a conversation with you.
If you want something that doesn’t look so odd (e.g. for something more formal), you could also check out Vivo Barefoot’s products. I have some for “the office” as the VFF’s didn’t cut it!
One other thing, once you try the Vibrams, it’s just one more step to nothing at all. Trail walking totally unshod is really something (I did some of that in ’07 when I visited New Zealand and it was amazing).
Thank you for the suggestion! This will help with my back pain!
Any problems with blisters, Tim? I tried the Classic, but rapidly got “hot-spots” on the inside ball of my foot and between my toes. After trying them for a week or so, I gave up, figuring my foot was too far out near the edges of the bell curve for the shoe to work for me.
Is tuck with the “barefoot” style running however, using wrestling shoes and low-top Chuck Taylors.
I’ve still got the Classics in my trunk. Should I try them again?
I do occasionally get some skin discomfort on the top of the foot with the Classics. Two approaches to eliminate this: 1) get rid of any hair on the top of the foot and/or 2) just put a bit of vaseline or baby powder on the hot spots. That should do it.
I have incredible foot problems because I used to climb and we all stuffed our feet into tiny climbing shoes (totally retarded) and I have had to have surgery because of it. I am going to check these out this weekend. Wonder how they look with a suit.
You mentioned these being great for hiking. I have an issue with rolling my ankles when I hike. Do you find that these give enough ankle support because of the wider base when you hike?
I wanted to give these a shot, but I think I need a 13 US (maybe 47 EU?).
I just bought a pair of size 46 TrekSport’s yesterday, and I’m a size 13.
I’ve seen these a couple of different times now, but this is the most in-depth review yet. My curiosity had already been piqued, this just raised it even further.
I definitely found the pictures of the bare-foot walkers interesting. I’ll have to do some more research into this now.
Now I just have to start looking for a local retailer that carries them so I can try some on!
Thanks for bringing these “shoes” to our attention.
I’ve been having some minor problems with an ankle that I think they will help.
I’m also a fairly serious student of tai chi. It will be interesting to see how the VFFs feel when I do the solo form, partner forms, and push hands.
Great post! I actually got some right after Kevin Rose made that short video of you wearing them! I wear them often now. It is a great total foot workout!
How do your feet, and the ‘shoes’ go when you’re running or exercising hard. Is sweat an issue?
Just bought a pair on Tuesday for running. Super-comfy but overpriced. Buy ’em a bit on the small side, since I hear they stretch a bit, and a lot of runners have complained of blisters; socks are advisable. I expect there are a bunch of similarly minimal sandals that would offer comparable benefits; the independent movement of the toes is more due to the overall sole softness than the separate toe pockets.
In the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wI-9RJi0Qo) around 3:45 if it is noticeable that the persistence runner is wearing shoes.
This is interesting to read in conjunction with:
The painful truth about trainers: Are expensive running shoes a waste of money?
Great post Tim!
I also noticed the toe spread phenomenon among Bedouin children in southern Jordan who seem to have no trouble climbing rocky mountains and running about the desert barefoot. They do develop thick calluses though!
Can’t wait to get back to the States and try out a pair.
The running technique you describe sounds a lot like Chi Running. Looks like I may be scrapping my new Nikes for VFFs in order to perfect this style!
I’ve previously tried running in Bite running sandals to encourage foot spread but the straps always comes loose after 1k.
Nice send-up on fivefingers — I’ve officially redubbed these “birthday shoes” — wait for it, yeah, like “your birthday suit.” What I’ve found is that trying to explain to people that these are “Vibram Five Fingers” tends to start the whole unavoidable explanation off wrong. So instead, when ask me, “what are you wearing?” I just say “these are my birthday shoes – they’re basically like foot gloves that let me be effectively barefoot.”
Having said that, I’m trying to bring all of the varying VFF-fans together to discuss the various activities done effectively barefoot. People do anything from running, CF, and bouldering to shopping and shuffleboarding in their bday shoes, and what is particularly “neat” about this footwear is that there seems to be a fanastic selection bias: people who get VFFs tend to be more open to strange ideas, into personal responsibility, healthy, etc.
Anyway, nice write-up — I’d like to add to it that if you’re looking to grab some VFFs online and can’t find a local retailer to try them on at, there are some online retailers out there who do free shipping and go so far as to advise VFF buyers to buy the two sizes they think will most likely fit and just ship back the ones that don’t fit. This is what I did with my classics.
It’s interesting to me that you find the KSOs to be more conspicuous than the Classics — could that be related to the color of your KSOs as compared to with your Classics? You *do* have the smurf KSOs. I’ve found the opposite to be true: I have grey/orange/black-soled Classics and everyone finds my grey/green/gray-soled KSOs to be much more aesthetically pleasing and less conspicuous.
What’s the best barefoot alternative for people with a pair of webbed toes? I was excited to buy a pair of Vibrams but then their faq made me realized it wouldn’t work with genetically freaky feet.
Just this weekend I went to a retail store in Chicago and was intrigued by these things. I tried on the KSO version and had a great deal of difficulty getting my “pinky toe” to slide into it’s slot. However, once I was in I really liked them. (Note: 1/2 size smaller is probably a good idea, their meant to be snug.)
I didn’t buy right away because I wasn’t sure if/where I’d wear them. I’ll eventually make a purchase because I like the idea of varying my runs working these into the routine!
I’m curious about 2 things with these shoes: could they be a replacement for climbing shoes? And, what about wearing these in water (camping)?
I love my KSOs. I have worn them for about a month now and they have really made running a lot more fun. The foot muscles they build also help immensely with karate. I have found only two down sides I have found so far. Firstly, the need to wash them often or else they will smell. Secondly, they wear out pretty fast if you use them as often as I do ( I don’t wear other shoes, and haven’t for three weeks), the strap on one of mine shoes wore out and only partially works now.
Have you explored the POSE running method at all?
Nice, Evolution of footwear. Has anyone tried the Anti-Shoe? http://www.swissmasaius.com/
I bought a pair of these when I first saw Tim wearing these a few weeks ago in his video with the digg dude. I sent them back within a few hours of trying them on because they were horribly uncomfortable.
The problem is everyone has different size toes. My big toe was to big for the shoe when the rest fit.
Nike Free 3.0’s work for me too, but possibly lack in allowing toe spread. Nike has more in R&D $ in the Free shoes than any other shoes in their line.
Dave Ridarelli – the Nike Free shoes would work well for you w/ webbed toes.
Really Interesting to read this! I work for a stockist of FiveFingers in the UK and it’s fantastic to get some real feedback on them! So happy to see they got rid of your back pain!
Would love to try it, but no shipment outside USA ( why??? ). Ebay didn`t help either, only auctions with shipmnet to Poland didn`t have right size.
I am open for suggestions 🙂
So many people are talking about not being able to get them where they are but have you tried vibramfivefingers.com? That’s the official website and they have options for the Europe, North America, China, and ‘the rest of the world’…
Thank you Tim for getting the good word out there about these shoes. I saw them first on one of your other video blogs and had to have them. As a Pilates instructor, I know that the feet are the foundation to proper alignment and regular shoes can wreck havoc on the body. Since I have bought these shoes, I hate wearing anything else. I love the feeling of freedom in my feet as I move. I am a converter and will be buying multiple pairs as well as promoting them to all my clients. You totally ROCK!
I have a pair and use them mostly for dragonboat practices and races. They are excellent and take little getting used to.
Thanks Tim!! I’ve been waiting for this post since I saw you wearing them. Now I’ll get a pair… or two!
I’ve been a minimalist runner for over 3 year now and can say that running as close to barefoot as possible is definitely the way to go. I used to be constantly injured during my high school and collegiate track/cross country careers, however since switching to minimal shoes I have been able to avoid injuries since.
Even for those that don’t want to wear ridiculous looking foot gloves, you can still get most of the benefits of barefoot running by simply wearing shoes with the least amount of crap on them, preferably something with almost no cushioning, low to the ground and is very flexible.
My current training shoes resemble a ballet slipper with a thin layer of rubber on the bottom. I put in about 70 miles per week in them and have no injuries. Fair warning though, it took a long time to strengthen my feet and build up to that.
Great article Tim, and I’m glad you are helping to promote this natural style of walking/running.
VFF’s are definitely a conversation starter! May even look at wearing them at casual networking events… as always, great post Tim! Thanks!
I’ve owned two pairs for over a year and love them. I hate having to go back to regular shoes in the winter when the snow flies, and as soon as it melts they go back on.
They’ve reduced my lower back pain to almost none, and my arches have been strengthened significantly. They’ve also made my knee problem disappear entirely.
I’ve been wearing the KSO for about a month now. At first, I tried wearing them all day and the pain between my toes made me give up on them for a while. Then I decided to just wear them when I walk the dogs, about a mile or so. They hurt at first, but are slowly becoming very comfortable. Not to mention that my feet are getting stronger.
I also have a couple pairs of the socks, but they hurt more between the toes than the shoes did. I don’t think the webbing between the toes is meant to be compressed beyond a certain limit. Perhaps the military could invest in some of these socks the next time they plan on torturing “the enemy”.
I just want to add one more thing:
It is believed that one of the reasons that the East Africans dominate distance running so much is that they grow up unable to afford shoes and thus are constantly running around barefoot. So, when the mature and begin a track/running career they have the added benefits of incredibly strong feet and natural running form.
As a barefoot runner since 2002, I advocate a return to minimal footwear (or barefooting) in order to maintain a lifetime of injury-free running. For a full review on the VFFs as well as other minimal/barefoot alternative shoe reviews, discussions and tips visit my site.
Bout time you got this post up…=)
I’ve had black kso’s for just under a year now, absolutely love them, and have used them for damn near everything.
I’m surprised you didn’t write more about the benefits of these in strength training though. Speaking of which, I think it’s beginning to catch on (here is a video from BBS, trainee is barefoot).
And here is a video of me in my vibrams on a hybrid prototype machine
The trainer is also wearing a pair of Kso’s
I agree that the VFFs have some incredible transfer to strength training. I didn’t want to seem totally crazy while intro’ing some ppl to the “ape feet”, so I pulled back a little in this post 🙂
Love my black flows and highly recommend them. I don’t seem to have the same problem with wearing the socks though. If they are put into the shoe carefully so you do not stretch the fabric round the toes they work great and reduce marks on the skin from the straps.
I am definitely going to try this. I’ve had lower back pain. . . well, forever! Going barefoot even at home has certain disadvantages. This is a great alternative.
I have had these for about two weeks and use them to fun sprints on a grass football field. The results are faster times and sore feet. The soreness wore off fairly quick and I continue to use mainly for running, though I am wearing more and more on a daily basis.
I thought it was your fancy chair that help alleviate the back pain?
I’ve had mine for over a year now. They are prime festival shoes. And there is indeed a huge ‘peacocking’ angle with them. Among the activities for which they’re great, do not ignore dancing. Club dancing, that is. I’ve never tried ’em ballroom, but I’m guessing they wouldn’t work well. But club dancing! The single best pair of shoes for dancing. Ever.
Tim, I picked up a pair of VFFs a year ago. I think I wore regular shoes three times last summer. Scrambling over the slickrock at Arches National Monument they felt like the best sports shoe ever invented. Later in the summer they were the perfect footwear while swimming and tubing the Comal River in New Braunfels, Texas. Vibram five fingers are now my footwear of choice.
The shoes are cool. I’d ask about them.
I also have flat feet and after two months of wearing only VFFs my feet feel great and I also seem to have better flexibility in my calves and hamstrings. I bought a pair of Sprints about two months ago, and a pair of black KSO’s shortly after, and haven’t found the strap on the Sprints to be uncomfortable.
While the KSOs feel more secure, I haven’t had any problem with the Sprints strength training, practicing martial arts or during occasional spontaneous bouts of parkour. During martial arts training they have made me more conscious about picking up my feet instead of sliding them during some movements because of the greater traction.
“Barefoot runners are often asked “but what do you use for arch support?”, to which they respond: ‘your arches’.” -I’ve had this exact conversation more times than I can count.
I’ve been doing all my athletic activity (running, lifting, squash, soccer…) in VFF KSOs for 8 months now, and will never go back to regular sneakers. Hard surfaces are generally no problem, though I do agree that running on concrete for a few days in a row will bruise your feet. I’ve even worn them on winter runs in NY and Minnesota, and my feet stay perfectly warm as long as I keep them dry. They do let water in pretty easily, though, so I avoid cold weather running in rain or mud. Fortunately, they let water out quickly, too, so sweat is not a problem in hot weather. The worst road surface for barefooting is definitely gravel; it hurts, and I have to step gingerly on gravelly roads.
I’m considering buying the Flow for use next winter; does anyone know if they’re completely waterproof? Also, does anyone have a good cleaning technique for VFFs? I’ve never had a problem with smelly feet before, but my VFFs smell awful. Yes, I’ve tried washing them by hand and in the machine, but my girlfriend still makes me store them outside.
Quick question for anyone who has these shoes: do you wear socks with them? Someone already asked about sweaty feet; I’m interested in that as well.
I wear Injinji socks in mine for running. I found that the seams in the VFF caused sores after about 1/2 hour of running.
Tim, how often do you find you’re washing them? Don’t they get stinky super quick?
Are these shoes any good for heavy weight lifting (deadlifts, squats, push-press), or should I go with another type of shoe?
If so, which shoes are best?
Tim – Thanks for the detailed update on those wicked crazy shoes. Quick question:
Do they wear out quick? If you wear them on concrete and rough surfaces?
I bought a pair of these, KSO, about a year ago. They are one of the best purchases I have ever made. My fiancée calls them my “Ape Feet”. I used to have near constant foot pain; after going barefoot, and wearing these, the foot pain is almost completely gone – much cheaper than the surgery and physical therapy that my doctor said I would need to get rid of the pain.
For the past 40 years I have been active in research, investigating the link between chronic muscle and joint pain and posture. As a clinician I have noted that many of my chronic pain patients also have a postural distortional pattern which I have linked, in many cases, to two embryological foot types I first published on in 2002 (Journal Bodywork and Movement Therapy).
There are viable options to eliminating chronic musculoskeletal pain without using drugs or undergoing surgery.
Author, Forever Free From Chronic Pain
AWESOME article Tim!!! This falls right inline with my thoughts—get your feet/ankles back to the way they were designed with mobility work (I like Z Health mobility work), then wear the most minimal things possible to not mess them up. The changes in pain and performance are amazing.
Virtually every athlete I work with leaves with some feet/ankle work and we even lift barefoot.
Just yesterday an athlete came in and left with 3 foot drills that enabled both of this glutes, right hamstring and both psoas muscles to work much much better.
Keep in mind that the body is wired so that the feet/ankle position causes muscles in the hip (glutes, psoas, etc) to fire correctly due to gait (walking motion). Messed up feet/ankles = messed up hips
Mike T Nelson
PhD (c), Z Health Master Trainer, RKC
Congrats on the RKC! Welcome!
I’ve been squatting, deadlifting and pressing barefoot for a few years now (training mostly at home) with no problems. If anything, I feel my balance is improved, especially during presses. A few weeks back I worked out in my VFF Sprints, and they worked fine.
If anything, the ability to spread the toes and the lack of a compressible lift under the heel would improve lateral stability for those lifts, and squatting with flat feet (real, full squats, not the top 1/4 partials some posers try to pass off as squats) regularly should improve ankle flexibility.
The running techniques you describe at the end of your article are essentially the same as chi running which has developed its own kind of cult-like following.
I haven’t tried it myself yet. It looks and sounds a bit awkward at first, but chi runners swear by it for alleviating knee pain, shin splits, etc.
Well if that’s no sales call i just don’t know what is…. Hey i just had to buy a pair though, they are just SOOO COOL! Coming to me all the way from Italy – I can’t wait!
Well done Tim, now what’s good and lightweight that keep the english showers at bay?
I’ve been wearing the classics for almost a year, and I had to buy a second pair so I wouldn’t have to wear regular shoes while the VFF were in the wash (which they need a LOT). I’m using Nikwax ‘Sandal Wash’ to keep them clean and it seems to be working better than soaking them in a weak bleach solution to kill the smell.
The other online store is Kayak Shed, kayakshed.com. They have free shipping. Now that the VFFs are being manufactured in China, Kayak Shed seems to have them in stock more.
My balance has improved, my posture when lifting (weights or boxes or anything heavy) is vastly improved, and between the VFFs and my foam roller, I spend a lot less time at the chiropractor’s office.
Sold on the peacocking effect!
i’ve been wearing these shoes for a while now, including running and exercising in them. for the first couple weeks, the tendons on the lower leg and my feet overall were sore post exercise– i was concerned i was possibly doing more harm than good. well, after my legs acclimated all is great. i love these shoes and think they help w/ strength, balance, and speed. -scott noteboom
Great article, thanks for the link.
Last weekend I just tried hiking barefoot for the first time. Up here in New England there’s still some snow, which felt great dispite what most people might think. I walk barefoot pretty often though, so my feet are used to it.
I’m thinking about picking some of these VFFs up for walking in the city. There’s not much in nature that will hurt your feet, but I’m not really a fan of walking on broken glass and needles, and who knows what else is on the city streets.
So, I think I have to buy a set of these simply based on the ‘peacocking’ effect but in your video you talked about the vibram feeling kind of like a rock climbing shoe. I go to my climbing gym about once a month but still rent. Are the ‘fingerss’ hard enough to rock climb with?
I could see some amazing advantages to having a pair of these puppies on the walls
To rock climb in these, you will need STRONG toes, especially the big toes. Rock climbing shoes are designed to provide a sharp point for hooking holds. The VFFs are quite the opposite and incredibly flexible. Lots of climbers love ’em, but you’ll need to condition your feet.
I’m SOOOO glad you finally found these Tim! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now (ever since my brother Jesse, of Samovar, told me about you).
I’ve been hooked (maybe not even as hooked as you though) on VFF’s for a while now. I don’t ever run in anything else. I was diagnosed with flat feet years ago as well. SOOOO flat! I had expensive orthodics to wear and was given exercises. I always had a hard time ever running more than a mile without stopping or pain propagating throughout all of my joints or getting shin splints.
Once I started using these things I can run for many miles with real pain other than muscular or cardiovascular… it’s truly amazing!!!!
Thanks for starting the breakout from the subcultural imagery!
Trips me out how Vibram can come SO CLOSE to solving a real problem (and in the balance making themselves a fortune) but miss the foot right in front of them. It seems VFFs make the same mistake all other footwear does; they make YOUR foot have to conform to THEIR shoe. Why not do something that would really revolutionize footwear, Vibram, and create a pair of shoes that fit the feet of Tim Ferriss (or me) ONLY.
That’s a revolution. In clothing they call it “tailoring.” It’s about time.
Tim have you ever contrasted the effects of wearing Nike Free shoes?
i realize that they dont manually spread the toes, but the flexion and strengthening components seem on par.
Have you had any experience?
I’m a big fan of the Five Fingers – I run in the KSOs and will wear them to marketing seminars just to help with networking. Mine are solid black so if I wear black pants then people tend not to notice right away, but reactions are great when they do.
I love wearing them around, especially to work on days I know I won’t need to be on the production floor. When I’m running, I’ll trade off between the VFFs or going barefoot, and on days I wear shoes I usually use racing flats rather than clunky trainers now because you do get a lot more foot strength.
It took a while before I could wear them comfortably as much as I wanted. I agree about Vegas though – it sucks walking around there in them. My feet were extremely sore after that.
For those of you who like random anecdotes, my mom just informed me of the following via e-mail:
“You didn’t mention that you leapt at the orthopedist examining your feet, like Spidey to a wall.”
Ha! I was a little monster. I fully expect payback when my little ones come around.
But Tim, what if I just got a pedicure and want to show off my beautiful toes? Should I make cut-outs in the shoe to display my marvelously glossy, red apple toenail polish? Do you think this will affect the support? And what about ‘peacocking’? Will these shoes have the same effect on guys as it does girls?
-Pretty Feet Foxhound
Tim talked about the “barefoot” running gait as “falling forward”. I’m a long time triathlete and now training for my first marathon and there is a great book called Chi Running (www.chirunning.com) that teaches you how to use this type of gait to improve your running (even if not barefoot), and reduce injuries. I highly recommend it.
@Brent: The VFFs are made with flexible and super strong (Vibram) rubber – they will not wear out that easily – I run in them on pavement as well as trails.
I’ve been wearing these for a year and no longer suffer from lower back pain, no joke. The physical benefits of the corrected posture even convinced me to get a pair of Earth shoes with a recessed heal for a similar effect in a more formal style. Definitely worth a whirl, and my new favorite shoe to wear hiking, especially in the mud.
Had those for over 1 year, I would take them over evrything else xcept barefoot everyday. I own a CrossFIt affilite, and will actuall do the majority of the workouts wo shoe xcept for just Oly lifts, and runs, which I will employ the help ofthe vibrams. The rest of the time its barefoot or flp flops fo everyday livin.
Great job on this site. There isnt many sites Iwill check daily as this, but the service u provide is fantastic…..jb
These look great. Can you also get them wet? I am an avid skimboarder (will even do it when it is cold outside)…I need something that feels like bare feet, but protects me from broken shells. These may be the solution for that.
Also…these might do the trick for river rafting as well.
Thanks for the great explanation,
While I’m not Tim, I may be able to help. You would probably want the VFF Flow – These are designed with a neoprene sheath and are probably the best for water sports. The shoes are watersafe- they’re all machine washable.
You could also use the KSOs or Sprints, but the lack of a securing strap makes the Classic not really a very good option, they can get pulled off in running water.
Hope this helps!
Cool! I’ve been looking for some new shoes. I walk around barefoot most of the time on wood floors; still, I think it makes my feet sore. Ballet seems to be the one thing that relieves my feet pains and that’s on sprung flooring. So I really have no clue what shoe would work best for me. The Nike Free 7.0 is nice– it’s extremely lightweight. I think I might try the Vibram if I can get it past my head that it’s alright to have something inbetween my toes…