Vibrams Five Fingers (hereafter referred to as “V5F”) are a type of shoe manufactured by the Vibrams Company. The company is most known for manufacturing hiking boot soles. The shoes came from the cooperation of designer Robert Fliri and Marco Bramani (grandson of the Vibrams founder). Fliri has been quoted as saying:

“We have five toes: when they can move and grasp the ground independently, and when you can really sense the surface under your feet, your body is able to do what it is designed for by nature. That is a powerful feeling."

From this idea came the design of the shoe. The shoe is often referred to more as a “foot glove” than a shoe proper. The bottom of the shoes is composed of a Vibram sole that varies between 3mm-9mm in thickness depending on the model. All of the soles lack any inclination at the heel, they provide a flat surface for the foot. What defines the V5F is that at the end of the shoe instead of the normal enclosed shoe we all know and are used to, there are individual pockets for each of the toes. Much like toe socks (which can be worn with the V5F) these individual pockets allow for articulation of the toes while one is walking or running. The uppers are made from various materials suited to different functions.

A rundown of currently available models (2010)

The Classic

The classic was the original model. It resembles a ladies ballet slipper (outside of the toes) in basic design.

*Materials:* UPPER - abrasion-resistant stretch polyamide fabric SOLE- Vibram TC-1 performance rubber FOOTBED- Antimicrobial microfiber

*Weight:* Men’s size 43 - 5.3 oz. each, 10.6 oz. a pair

The Sprint

Exactly the same as the Classic except it has a strap that goes across the top of the foot

*Materials:* UPPER - abrasion-resistant stretch polyamide fabric & Hypalon® straps SOLE- Vibram TC-1 performance rubber FOOTBED- Antimicrobial microfiber

*Weight:* Men’s size 43 - 5.6 oz. each, 11.2 oz. a pair


Stands for “Keep Stuff Out.” This model has fabric covering the top of the foot and more closely resembles a sock rather than the ballet flat of the sprint or classic.

UPPER - abrasion-resistant stretch polyamide fabric & Hypalon® straps SOLE- Vibram TC-1 performance rubber FOOTBED- Antimicrobial microfiber with 2mm EVA insole

*Weight:* Men’s size 43 - 5.7 oz. each, 11.4 oz. a pair

KSO Trek

This model has the same design as the KSO for the upper but features a more rugged sole with tread similar to that found on hiking boots. The sole of the Trek also means that this model has the thickest sole of any other model in the line. This has lead to some complaints that it reduces ground feel and is not as natural a walking experience. Though the tradeoff is that with this model there is significantly more grip available and as a result the shoe has been marketed mostly as a trail running, or hiking shoe. This shoe is also the first in the lineup to have been made from non vegetarian friendly kangaroo leather. This lead to some complaints from one side, but praise from the other due to the fact that this model would have superior cold weather performance compared to the others.

*Materials:* UPPER - Kangaroo Leather SOLE- 4mm EVA Midsole & TC-1 Rubber FOOTBED- Kangaroo Leather

*Weight:* Men’s size 43 - 6.7 oz. each, 13.4 oz. a pair

The Flow

Same design as the KSO but with a neoprene (i.e. wetsuit material) upper. These were marketed at the water sport and cold weather markets.

*Materials:* UPPER - 1.2 mm Neoprene & Hypalon® straps CAMO SOLE- Vibram TC-1 performance rubber BLACK SOLE- IdroGrip performance rubber FOOTBED- Antimicrobial microfiber with 2mm EVA insole

*Weight:* Men’s size 43 - 6.6 oz. each, 13.2 oz. a pair

Moc/Performa/Performa Jane

The Moc/Performa are indoor only models designed for around the house wear or for indoor specific sports such as yoga or Pilates. The sole on these models is split up into little “pods” placed under specific points on the foot including the toes the heel and the ball of the foot

These are basically the same shoe the name difference coming from the gender split, the Moc are for men, and the Performa are for women with the Performa Jane being the same shoe as the Performa but with a “marry Jane” style strap across the top of the foot.


*Materials:* UPPER - Kangaroo Leather SOLE- 7 Piece TC-1 performance rubber FOOTBED- Kangaroo Leather

*Weight:* Men’s size 43 - 2.6 oz. each, 5.2 oz. a pair


*Materials:* UPPER - Kangaroo Leather SOLE- 7 Piece TC-1 Rubber FOOTBED- Kangaroo Leather

*Weight:* Women’s size 38 - 2.0 oz. each, 4.0 oz. a pair


Named after Abebe Bikila, this model is specifically geared towards running. It features the pod design again for the sole rather than the full sole design seen on the Classic, but it has significantly more than the Moc/Performa family which are much more minimalist. It’s interesting to note that despite the fact that people have been using V5Fs for running almost since the inception of the shoe, this is the first model to address that customer base.

*Materials:* UPPER - Stretch Polyamide with TPU toe caps for protection SOLE - Anatomical Pods TC-1 Rubber FOOTBED- 3mm Polyurethane with Dri-Lex Sockliner

*Weight:* Men’s size 43 - 6.0 oz. each, 12.0 oz. a pair

Smart Wool

Same design as the classic but with a smart wool upper

*Materials:* UPPER - SmartWool Cozy with 67% Merino Wool, 33% Nylon SOLE- EcoStep 2 rubber with 50% recycled content FOOTBED- SmartWool Felt 2mm with 95% Merino Wool, 5%Polyester

*Weight:* Men’s size 43 - 8 oz. each, 16 oz. a pair

Trek Sport

This was made as a response to demands for vegetarian friendly KSO treks. It features the same cleated bottom as the Trek but offers an upper made of Non animal parts.

*Materials:* UPPER - Coconut Active Carbon Fiber TPU Toe Protection SOLE- 4mm EVA Midsole & TC-1 rubber FOOTBED- Antimicrobial microfiber

. *Weight:* Men’s size 43 - 6.5 oz. each, 13 oz. a pair

V5F shoes have found a market primarily in the realm of athletes. Though certainly people wear them as casual shoes the majority of users seem to use them for running, cross fit, yoga, kettle bell, or any other physical activity that could benefit from a more secure ground feel that is offered by the thin sole of the V5F. Users often cite better balance during physical activities as a result of having more independent movement of the toes. The benefits of barefoot running have been discussed in multiple sources and V5F shoes seem to offer the best option for the individual seeking the barefoot experience without the dangers of stepping on glass or painful plant matter. Though some caution is required because running over a pointy rock in such a pliable thin soled shoe will result in pain if not actual damage. Currently more companies are coming out with enclosed toe shoes. There are enough imitators cropping up as well for the company site to offer a guide on how to spot fake V5F shoes. This is not surprising considering that the vast majority of sales seem to be internet based due to the low number of physical retailers looking to carry the shoes.

Numbers and specifics taken from the company website:

Product Description
FiveFingers shoes are to water socks as gloves are to mittens. FiveFingers shoes are the shoe version of toe socks, which could not be called toe shoes because that name already describes a different type of shoe. They are the modern take on moccassins.

Vibram, already notable for making soles for Vasque hiking boots, is the only "official" vendor of this type of shoe, although knockoff are available, many of which use the Vibram or FiveFingers brand. These knockoff vendors offer different colors and materials (such as Lycra) which are not offered by Vibram.

These shoes are marketed as improving "your balance, agility, and proprioception." The idea is that humans are intended to perform physical activities while barefoot, and as far as muscles, bones, and tendons in the feet go, wearing these shoes is indistinguishable from being barefoot.

The departure from regular shoes go much further than the fact that the toes are separated. In every way, the shoes are designed to fit much snugger than other kinds of shoes. Inasmuch as they have thin, flexible, rubber soles, they are very much like pool shoes or water socks. However, pool shoes tend to have stretchy mesh tops, using spandex, Lycra or other elastic materials. FiveFingers tops tend to stretch very little. As a result, every part of the shoe, from the heels to the individual toes, conforms more closely to the foot, leaving almost no gaps or empty space between the shoe and the foot. Moreover, although FiveFingers shoes are water-permeable, they are intended for everyday activity, especially running or jogging, and not just watersport.

Vibram sells them in a variety of colors and styles at a variety of price points, ranging from 50USD to 125USD. There seem to be two different designs, in a sense. One style covers the entire foot below the ankle, with a strap at the top of the instep to keep the shoe from sliding around on the foot. This includes the KSO, KSO Trek, Flow, and Bikila designs. The other style leaves bare the entirety of the skin of the instep, like a slipper, with the possible exception of a strap. This includes the Classic, MOC, and Sprint style (the Sprint being the only one of these with a strap).

The strap is a single separate piece wrapping all the way around the ankle, held in position by a Velcro spot at the back of the shoe, such that both ends double back through a wide eyelet on either side of the shoe. One end of the strap is another eyelet, through which the other end of the strap runs and doubles back on itself, held in place again by velcro.

All FiveFingers shoes are available only with European sizing, no matter where they are sold.

Of all the styles, the most expensive seems to be the KSO Trek, designed for "light trekking, trail running, and travel" and this is the pair that I own. They come only in black and brown; mine are black. Everything but the sole and the strap (and a bit of mesh in one seam) is sewn from kangaroo leather, arranged so that the smooth, polished side is the only side contacting the foot. This makes them lightweight, tough, flexible, and abrasion resistant. They also come clean really easily.

I have seen many people using various types of FiveFingers for a variety of outdoor activities: hiking, running, climbing, kayaking, caving, cycling, and just for casual use.
I personally have used them for hiking, kayaking, caving, dancing, racquetball, and casual use. They are quite versatile.

FiveFingers shoes are quite comfortable for hiking, except if one must walk along medium- to large-sized gravel, such as might be found in a dry creek bed. In this case, every single rock can be felt through the thin sole. However, they are a terrible choice for backpacking, as carrying a heavy load calls for much more ankle support. Choose a properly fitted hiking boot instead.

They are nearly ideal for kayaking since they fit close to the skin and, therefore, are easy to wedge into the narrow space near a kayak's foot pegs, and, finally, are water-permeable, thereby preventing that annoying slosh from retaining water. However, I can't recommend FiveFingers more than standard neoprene kayak boots, since I have never used those. The downsides are that small amounts of sand will collect in them, and they do not provide a great deal of traction on wet algae-covered rocks. Probably regular water shoes with a ridged or cross-hatched sole would provide more friction. On the other hand, such shoes are likely to come off of your feet if you step in deep mud.

In caving, they come up a bit short on several points. They provide an advantage when climbing ledges and breakdowns, since the sole is thin enough to feel the rock to a greater tactile resolution, and their water-permeability is again a great boon. However, that thin sole also makes it easier to feel pointy ridgy rocks which can be painful sometimes. And the lack of any ankle support increases your risk of a sprain or worse, as opportunities to step the wrong way are ubiquitous in caves. But their greatest failing is again their lack of traction. They just can't stick in slippery mud the way a good pair of hiking boots can, making climbing or traversing mud slopes quite a bit more dangerous.

I would not recommend them for sports like racquetball at all. They have excellent traction on a hardwood floor and stopping and starting is no problem. However, the high impact of such a sport calls for both a thicker sole and more ankle support. (I have been known to chase down a ball, then bounce off the wall by kicking it as hard as I can with the sole of my shoe. This is much easier on the foot with a hard inflexible sole.) Opt for a nice pair of tennis shoes or cross-trainers instead.

Surprisingly, as odd as they look to someone who thinks to look straight at them, they don't draw attention to themselves, and as such, the bouncer at a local club said nothing about them when I went out dancing, and they were quite comfortable for several hours worth of that activity. Moreover, they make a nice conversation piece for strangers to introduce themselves by.

However, I must say that the best use, so far, that I have found for them is just for casual, daily use. They are as easy (or easier) to slip into as sandals, are lighter, and, since they cover the whole foot, can be worn year-round, even when it's cold out. One can also wear toe socks with them for extra warmth when it is especially cold. This arrangement is so comfortable that I have worn the same pair of socks without removing them (except to shower) for three days straight, just sliding right into my FiveFingers right before walking out the door. It's truly the closest I can get to feeling barefoot without risking a broken glass related injury. Sometimes I forget I'm wearing them, and sometimes other people spot them out of the corner of their eye, covered in mud, and wonder for a moment why I took off my shoes!

Update: Comparison between Sprint and Trek Sport (by Amy)
I have owned two different styles of Vibram FiveFinger Shoes. One thing that should be noted is the first style I had - the Sprints - had very little variation on the footpad and I did note they were somewhat slippery in caves or hiking/climbing on rocks. My second pair, the Trek Sports, have a bit thicker sole (the Vibram site says 4mm thicker) and much better traction due to the various ridges and such on the sole, making it more like a tennis shoe type sole but still keeping the idea of barefoot. I find these a lot nicer for caving in, actually. They are also a lot more comfortable for hiking, as the slightly thicker sole does give more protection from pebbles and such. The Sprints I could feel every little pebble and stone, hiking in them for a long ways did get to be somewhat painful, however, I have not had this problem at all with the Trek styles. The KSO Treks are made of slightly different material on the top (kangaroo leather) and are approx. $20 more than the Trek Sports, but the base sole is the same. Those are the two Vibram FiveFinger shoes that are made more for the hiking or slippery surface usage, and those are the ones I'd recommend looking at for such activities.

Ed. Note: The Sprints are also made from a less resilient material, as evidenced by the fact that she replaced hers after they were torn open on a piece of barbed wire.

I recently had the opportunity to try on various of the Vibram FiveFingers shoes, and found that they were not quite what I was expecting. To give you some background, I walk barefoot a lot, and hike in flip-flops. I do not run. My main interest in 'Barefoot Running' shoes is primarily having something comfortable to wear at work, although I expect them to be appropriate for hiking if the situation calls for it. The upshot of this is mostly that I can't tell you how these would do as running shoes, which is a pity, as that is one of their main uses. However...

Obviously, the primary item of note with these shoes are the toes. I had assumed that I would find having the toes separated rather uncomfortable, as the shoes do spread out the toes slightly more than usual. It turns out that this is not at all uncomfortable -- at least not for the 30 minutes I spent trying on shoes. I would not hesitate to go hiking in Vibrams, at least not for worry of toe discomfort.

On the other hand, the frequent claim that these shoes are like gloves for the feet is pretty clearly false. They do not allow you to move your toes freely; they do allow for great freedom for the balls of your feet, giving you a lot more freedom in movement than most traditional shoes. However, you cannot curl your toes to any significant degree, and they do not conform closely enough to your toes that they would allow you ease in rock-climbing. (Obviously, this will depend somewhat on the size and shape of your toes, but the designers had to err on the side of caution; the toes are soled, and therefor have a limited ability to conform to your toes.)

The other note worth mentioning is that while the sole is very flexible and gives you a lot of freedom, it does have a comparatively firm arch. Not to the point where it gives obvious arch support, but it does interfere a bit with flexibility, in contrast with the otherwise extremely flexible sole. This is not a factor that would prevent me from buying the shoe, but it was a bit of a surprise.

In the end, I did not buy a Vibram FiveFinger (despite an excellent half off-sale on a selection of very nice shoes) because they would not be considered "professional" by my employers, and I really don't have a need for a shoe outside of work. Had I been in the market for an athletic shoe I would have gone with Vibrams as long as they were competitively priced (they generally are), but I would not have preferred them over other barefoot runner shoes based on the separate toe feature.

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