Winter is here and for minimalist runners it will make life difficult, even for the toughest of hooves. Last year, I ran in Vibram Komodo Sports, and when it got really wet, I occasionally switched to Newtons. With neither protection nor traction, this was less than ideal, and I spent much of it slipping and sliding with ice-cold, soaking wet feet. I wasn’t happy, and the winter just dragged on and on. This year, I’ve done some research and want to share with you a review of my top two choices. Vivobarefoot Trail Freak (WP) or the brand new Vibram FiveFingers Bikila Evo WP, which is better?
Vivobarefoot Trail Freak’s (Water proof)
I used the tool on Vivobarefoot’s website to choose the right size and this seemed to coincide with reviewer’s comments to get a size larger than most other brands (like Vibrams). On my first run my right foot felt numb and I ended up removing the insole to make the toe-box even roomier and I think that gave me the right fit. As a barefoot runner, I don’t like anything that suggests arch support, so I was happy to remove them for that reason as well.
The lock-lacing system makes quick adjustments a snap, which would be a huge advantage at a race when you find out after about 3 miles that you didn’t tie your shoe perfectly.
The shoe is indeed waterproof and I was perfectly happy and dry after running through street puddles and fairly wet conditions. You’re likely to get the slight feeling that you’re running with plastic bags for socks and you can feel perspiration building up quite quickly. Also note that they do not go up over your ankles.
While the shoe is zero-drop, after running in these for about 20 miles, I started experiencing some knee issues (probably IT band), which never happened to me before, and I couldn’t complete my routine run. My guess is that muted proprioception, or ability to feel the ground and my running mechanics, relative to more minimalist footwear may have contributed to some wear and tear to which I’ve been immune for a few years now. In other words, I’m concerned that my running form was a bit sloppy and clunky in these.
I wish there was a little more flexibility in the shoe. They weren’t at all as flexible as implied by their website, showing the shoe bent up into a little ball. It flexes mainly along the mid-foot before your toes, which is where it is most important, but they must have used a really big shoe to take this picture. I expect that you’d get a little more flexibility and therefore proprioception after a couple hundred miles of use.
Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO (Water proof)
I went for a 9 Mile test-run in these and I love them! The first thing I noticed was that they are super-light, weighing 25% less than my Vibram Komodo Sports (137 g vs. 179 g).
It had been snowing all day and I covered fairly mixed terrain: wet, powdery, compacted snow, and pockets of black ice. My feet stayed dry and there was even a sense of breathability, although I’m guessing the 24F/-4C cold made it hard to perspire. I wore thick injinji socks and I had no complaints about freezing cold feet, with the exception of running over deeper, more powdery snow. It’s so great that the shoes go all the way up over your ankles and I was really impressed with how dry my feet remained after a one and a half hour run.
However, on subsequent run it was considerably colder (around 10F/-12C) and I had to bail after 10 minutes because my freezing toes were aching – a lot! The separate toes means there is more surface area to expose your feet to the cold and for this reason I recommend wearing the shoes as long as it is warmer than about 20F.
I was happy about the traction on snow, which represents most winter conditions. But they definitely slip on ice, so don’t expect them to have magical properties. Without lugs like those on the Vivobarefoot TrailFreaks, these shoes are better for road conditions.
Moreover, there is no inner lining, so I’ll be able to use these in wet conditions during the summer as well. That makes the shoe a better value than the micro-fleece lined Lontras, which while better for extremely cold conditions could potentially be too hot during the rest of the year.
With respect to fit, they could use a little more material around the mid-foot around the arch area. My feet are wide, short, and stumpy and they feel a little cramped. This should ease out after I break into the shoe and hopefully that will make it a little easier to pull the zip up. Overall, however, I love the free and snug feeling you get with wearing Vibram FiveFingers, and they deliver that expectation.
It isn’t really fair to compare the two shoes since they are so different. If you need a robust shoe for tough winter conditions, the Trail Freak WP is the way to go, but if you think that you will be running mostly in more temperate conditions, when it is warmer than 20F, then the Bikila EVO WP will deliver that satisfying barefoot feeling almost better than some of the other Vibrams I own because they are so light. At 307 g (11 oz), the Trail Freaks weigh more than twice as much as the Bikila EVOs. The Vibrams were my favorite out of the two, but it will be up to the weather to decide whether I will be slipping on some back-up shoes for those really cold conditions.