Long Term Update: Vibram TrekSport
Tony Sculimbrene 06.27.14
Last year I did a review of the Vibram TrekSport. Since that review, Vibram has agreed to a settlement class action lawsuit. The main point of contention was the claims of health benefits attributed to the shoes.
If you look back at my review, you’ll see that I did not find any health benefits at all. I did not become, nor have I become an anti-shoe person. The idea that they strengthen your feet (beyond simply giving you calluses in new places) is sort of ridiculous. I am not going to wade into who was right, but instead simply point out this fact: who was dumber, the people making the claims or the people believing them? The shoes aren’t magic because magic doesn’t exist. There is nothing to them. Where were all of these health benefits coming from, pixie dust, gullibility, post purchase rationalization (two of those three see right)?
But the points that I thought made the shoes worthwhile are still true six months later. They are significantly lighter than any other shoes I have worn, they give you a great feel for the terrain, and they provide grip on par with a gecko’s foot (legal disclaimer: that is a literary technique called hyperbole not an actual scientific claim).
This spring was a messy one here in New England, but nonetheless we went out on the trails and the Vibrams came with me. I did three 7-10 mile hikes with them over the period of about two months and three similar hikes with normal hiking shoes.
In very rocky terrain the Vibrams did well, giving me grip that I could not get in another shoe. It’s not just the material in the soles, it has to do with surface area. Because they are not rigid, more of the sole and more of your foot is in contact with the surface and that provides greater grip. Crawling up rock faces in just easier with the Vibrams. They also did very well in heavily forested areas with substantial leaf litter. The lack of a sole meant that my feet were cushioned by the debris and I experienced virtually effortless walking.
On well packed paths or paved sections, the Vibrams did worse than hiking shoes. With nothing to absorb the shock of each step, or steps when I was running or carrying my son on my shoulders (or both), the Vibrams were lacking. Here, just about anything would be better.
I did notice that they allowed stuff to gather between the toes, which was irritating. I also noticed that they did very well in water and mud. They were quite easy to keep clean. At the top of this post, you can see a picture of them after some pretty extensive use through mud and water, on hikes, and around the yard.
They look pretty darn good, and as of yet I have not noticed the pernicious odor some claim these kinds of shoes create. None of the grip has gone out of the soles and that is a very good thing. This is probably the best reason to buy these shoes, aside from their light weight. They’re also great shoes for around the house and yard, though I know this is not as hardcore as their advertising would lead you to believe. I would not, however, wear them if you are going to the home store or shopping. The concrete slab floors will kill your feet.
All in all, they held up very well, much better than I was expecting, given how light they are and how little material there is in the actual shoe. I was never convinced of their health properties, so the lawsuit doesn’t move the needle for me. Instead, I think the shoes are worth buying for other reasons: weight and grip. They aren’t essential, but they are different and they do work. Just don’t think they will make you into some barefoot survivalist or marathon runner.