Sunday, March 16, 2008

Vibram FiveFingers Surge: winter update

Back in August, I made a post about my new Vibram FiveFingers shoes (I loved them). Last fall in the 50°F+ temperatures, my feet would completely sweat through the Neoprene lining, prompting me to plan on buying a pair of Sprints later this spring. Because the Surge model insulated so well I decided to test them out through an Alaskan winter and spring.

I tested them on ice, in snow, and down to temperatures as cold as 12°F (-11°C). I kept my feet dry and I got my feet damp. I tested them walking and jogging, on pavement and on rougher, natural surfaces. I never went further than a mile at a stretch, though, as I wasn't keen on risking frostbite.

If your feet get wet, you are screwed - your feet will get cold no matter what.

Now, as long as I kept my feet dry...
When I would first leave the house, the wind or cold would go right through the Neoprene making my feet cool, but not yet cold. About as cold as feet on wet grass on a summer morning. Standing around on a cold surface is no good at all, the cold seeping right through the soles. If I kept moving, my feet were fine - by the time I half-jogged, half-quick-walked to my destination a mile away, my feet were actually making their own heat and felt just fine.

It was a wonderful sensation to have my feet feel so light, not weighed down by heavy snow boots, and to still be warm, although it took some excercise for my feet to keep them warm. Better yet was the feel of snow, particularly frozen road grader leavings on sidewalks. It is one thing to run around barefoot in summer or to wear these shoes on dirt, woodchips, grass, and rocks and to know what it feels like barefoot, but a totally different thing with snow because most of us aren't crazy enough to go barefoot on snow. So we don't have a good idea of the true sensations of running around on crunchy snow. And let me tell you, it feels *good*. I felt sneaky, too, like a kid doing something they ought not to. I purposely left 'barefoot' prints in the snow on the sidewalks. I wonder if anyone ever saw. ;)

Ice. These shoes are no good on ice. Great on rocks, great on wood and grass and dirt, horrid on ice. Unless you like to skid a lot.

As far as temperatures go, and being mindful that I am a woman, I was comfortable anywhere above 22°F (-5°C) - the warmer, the better, of course, as long as my feet stayed dry. And keeping my feet dry was impossible in fluffy snow of any depth. Drifts and hard-pack were fine as long as I didn't sink into it at all. 18°F (-7°C) is about as cold as I will personally go if I am desperate to wear my FFs. Colder temps would probably be do-able if I went a longer distance to have more time to get my feet temperature up but it just wasn't for me.

Damp feet were fine above freezing (32/0) though I still have yet to try completely WET feet. I predict, however, that wet feet can stay comfortably warm in temperatures above 40°F (4°C) easily as long as they are kept moving.

Obviously I wouldn't wear these all winter but after growing to love them in the fall, I found any excuse to wear my FiveFingers in the winter. As soon as the thermometer got up above 22°F (-5°C), I had my FFs on to jog to work or to the store. Even though I only got to wear them every few weeks, my feet loved it and *I* loved it (wearing my FFs and running around makes me feel like a kid again and gets me out of most bad moods). Now that it is spring here, I am finding I wear them more often than not if I am going to be active outdoors. I still don't wear them if I am going to end up standing around a lot as they aren't warm enough for that. So:
• Keep DRY in colder temps
• temps as cold as 18°F (-7°C) bearable if staying in motion
• bad on ice
• snow feels fun on the feet

My final conclusion is that in dry conditions, these shoes excel in active motion in temperatures between 18° to 55°F (-7° to 12°C) - any colder is just plain cold, and any warmer my feet sweated through the shoes. I am constantly amazed by these shoes and look forward to really putting them to the test this summer. I hope to obtain a pair of Sprints to go along with my Surges and test them both in water. Keep an eye out for future posts. :)


Craig said...

Hi! I have to say that your reviews of the FiveFingers are the best and most thorough I've found online. Have you seen the the Flow model? They are supposed to be thermal insulated and the black pair has a different sole with added grip. I thought you might be interested. Anyway, I really enjoyed your reviews!! - Craig

Rex said...


mc said...

Thanks - as someone really intrigued by these (and how they fit)am keen to hear about exactly what you investigated: cold weather wear. Sorta mirros my findings: to stay warm in these, ya gotta move.


Daryl Urbanski said...

Yes but does that opinion also include the Flow model? I'm trying to find out but haven't yet found someone who explicitly used the Flow model in cold weather.

Any ideas?

Kara Stenberg said...

As I do not own a pair of Flows and have not tried a pair I couldn't say how they perform. The neoprene seems to be the same thickness but beyond that you'll have to do your own investigating or wait (probably a while) until I get a pair and review them here. ;)