My Vibram FiveFinger Surge shoes got here Tuesday. I was very excited about these shoes - I originally read about them on BoingBoing.net and then scoured the internet for reviews of this peculiar footgear. This link in particular was very interesting in what it had to say about foot health and how we are NOT built to wear shoes - how going barefoot is the healthiest thing to do for our body. If only we had a way of protecting our feet from modern day debris...
Enter the FiveFingers. They protect the feet allowing for them to move as if you were running around barefoot. Because the shoes act as a protective glove, all of your normal foot muscles are activated when you walk - muscles that atrophy from wearing shoes. FiveFinger fans tout the benefits of the shoe, saying they have increased foot strength, cured foot and leg pains, better balance, better posture, and more. Beyond that, the shoes sounded like fun to wear - they are so light you hardly notice you're wearing shoes at all.
Now, as a kid I grew up in the countryside where I could run around barefoot quite a lot and I love to go camping where there's no danger of glass or metal to cut my feet on so I can run around without shoes and feel the dirt beneath my feet. So these shoes sounded pretty awesome to me.
As I said, I got the Surge model (the middle, grey ones in the picture). They are the thickest pair with neoprene fabric to keep your feet warmer in cold water. The extra fabric also provides the feet better protection from stray branches and thorny things on trails, which is why I chose these. That and Alaska is cold.
I'd read all about people's first time wearing these shoes so I was prepared. Putting on the FiveFingers (FFs for short) for the first time was interesting - getting each toe into its slot was weird but once in the toes felt fine and I didn't feel strange about having 'stuff' between each toe. In fact, I didn't really notice much at all - which is saying something as I'm one of those people who detests anything being between their toes. Overall, the FFs literally fit like gloves, nice and snug around the arch, around the toes, and around the heel. I was a little worried about my smallest toes as they didn't quite reach into their slots but I found that as I wore the shoes around my feet spread out a little and so it wasn't an issue at all.
For the first two days of owning the FFs I wore them indoors only since they can't be returned if they've been worn outdoors. There's not much variety in surfaces in a house and office to show the worth of these shoes but it was enough to make me confident that they at least fit well.
This evening I finally took 'em outside. I ran around the backyard lawn and it was like I could feel the give of the ground beneath my feet, wheras if I were wearing normal shoes it would of been... well, the way hardpacked ground feels in shoes. I immediately was aware of how you have to move differently in FFs - you stay up on the balls of your feet just like if you were barefoot. It takes some getting used to because you're aware that you have something protective on your feet so you're wanting to put weight on your heels, but that causes jarring to the bones just like if you were barefoot.
Next I had to take them down to the river. I hopped on my bike - that was strange, too. I don't ride my bike "properly" in that the pedals rest beneath the arches of my feet when I ride (I don't use toe clips). So just like if I were barefooted, I had to use the balls of my feet and kind of grip with my toes a little to pedal.
At the river I experienced all kinds of terrain. Dirt trails with tree roots, sand, gravel, mud, water, cement blocks, boulders, tree stumps, turned earth and woodchips... All of it was so sensual. There's no way to experience it than to wear FFs. You simply do not get any sensation of texture wearing regular shoes but most of this terrain would shred and bruise bare feet. It was amazing and felt so wonderful to sense the give and texture of everything I walked on and yet have my feet protected. The woodchips and turned earth were a particular delight - and just like I've read everyone say I felt more a part of the environment I was in. The river gravelbed with its golf ball sized gravel was uncomfortable to walk on causing a bruising feel, just as it would barefooted, except did not cause any lasting pain. And the neoprene in the shoes insulated my feet well enough against the cold Matanuska water. I didn't spend much time in the water as I honestly didn't want wet feet. I'll have to try these out specifically for water at a later date and report back on drying time and things like that.
As far as balance and motion go, I haven't felt this agile since I was a kid. I was leaping up onto treestumps and logs at odd angles that I would of slipped and fell from had I been wearing shoes. I could feel the specific angles, textures, and edges of everything through the FFs and grip a lot of it or dig my toes into it. The closest thing to it would be to be totally barefoot.
I was gone for about an hour and now that I am home already I can feel the muscles in my feet starting to ache from being used. Vibram reccomends taking it slow with this footwear and slowly increasing ones usage of them in order to build up and strengthen the foot muscles.
The only cons I have with these are that the neoprene isn't very breathable, but there's no in-between model so I'll suffer. Also, the seam down the back of the ankle kind of rubs awkwardly on my left leg sometimes - I'll have to tape it.
Other than that, the straps work great, the Surges are very lightweight and kept my feet warm. Also, I'm having an easier time putting them on the more I wear them - my toes know where to go now. :D
The FiveFingers were everything I thought they'd be and I'm delighted to own a pair. I'll be wearing them as much as possible before the snow flies. If you think any of this sounds fun and you spend any kind of time outdoors and generally want or like going barefoot but can't then I totally recommend these shoes.