Road Test: Minimalist Running Shoes

Goodlifer: Road Test: Minimalist Running Shoes Ever since someone first decided to take a chance on running in Vibram FiveFingers (which were originally designed for yacht racers), barefoot running has continued to grow in popularity. Now often referred to as minimalist running — more appropriate since the practice often does, in fact, involve shoes of some kind — it is believed to help improve runners’ posture and form and help prevent injury. There have been many studies on the physical impacts of minimalist running, and whether or not it does prevent injury. After having transitioned from “conventional running” about a year and a half ago, I can say that it has definitely helped me. A former basketball player, I always had trouble with my knees. It was on and off, sometimes they were fine and sometimes I was in constant pain whenever I had to sit for more than twenty minutes. I always enjoyed running, but it seemed like every time I managed to get into a good groove, the knees began protesting. I can’t even remember how I came across it, but a few years ago I started researching the concept of barefoot running. In short, people had started questioning the cushioned high-tech spaceships that we have been enveloping our feet in and the heel strike style of running that they enabled, and were looking to more primitive, less injury-prone runners for answers. I got a pair of minimalist running shoes and started experimenting with the forefoot strike-style. Then, by pure chance, I found myself on a beach in Costa Rica in need of reading material, and one of my co-travelers offered to lend me Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. This book cemented my interest in barefoot running and I have not looked back (to the cushy neon foot-spaceships) since. When starting to transition into minimalist running, it’s important to take it slow, especially if you’ve been running in “conventional” shoes for a long time. The muscles in our legs need time to adapt to this new style, and all those small stabilizer muscles that have dozed off because we’ve been giving them too much support need to wake up and get to work. To ease into it, I started transitioning from heel strike to forefront strike running wearing my regular old shoes. Then, after a few weeks (for some people it takes longer — months or even years) I started doing short runs in my minimalist shoes. My legs, especially the shins, hurt like hell in the beginning, so I would only do two miles or so. Now, I do a few 4-6 mile runs every week. After six miles, I find, the inside of the shoe starts giving me blisters (probably because I don’t wear socks). But I have no more knee or joint pain. Most major shoe brands have jumped on the barefoot bandwagon by now, but there are some conscious options out there. For the past year, I’ve been testing out minimalist shoes and have found three favorites that I like for different reasons. Kigo Drive minimalist shoes Most Versatile: Drive by Kigo Footwear Besides the fact that it’s made from post-consumer recycled PET and certified non-toxic dyes and glues using low-carbon production methods, I like the Kigo Drive shoe because it’s very versatile. My pair has been running trails and pavement but also hiked through rivers and swam in waterfalls in Costa Rica. The water and stain resistant material, adjustable lacing and flexible outsole make them ideal for watersports and running in conditions, like wet mud, that would quickly cause other shoes to perform worse. The Kigo is great for the adventurous, multi-sport kind of person, and perfect for traveling with as they can be rolled up. As an added bonus, they are also vegan. $91, Kigo Footwear Soft Star Moc3 minimalist shoes For Hardcore Runners & Hikers: Moc3 by Soft Star Shoes Designed by veteran running shoe expert, Mike Friton, the Moc3 is an extremely lightweight (less than 5oz) slip-on shoe that provides maximal groundfeel. Soft Star is one of the last remaining makers of footwear that is entirely made in the USA. Raw materials are sourced as close to the company’s Oregon headquarters as possible, the leather is tanned in the US and sole material purchased from Vibram’s US-based product lines. All shoes are handcrafted in Oregon by a team of craftspeople affectionately referred to as “elves.” For running, the thin (2mm) soles are best suited to dirt, grass and moderate trails. Only those who are very tough-footed will want to wear these on more rocky trails. Hardcore minimalist runners will love these, as they almost give you the feel of actually being barefoot. I’ve found that they are perfect for hiking. The slip-on style is quick and easy to put on, and the perforated leather uppers and moisture-wicking liners make them highly breathable (although not water resistant). The Moc3 is a great option for those who don’t like shoes with toes. The innovative design still ensures optimal movement and they can also be worn with socks. The minimalistic weirdly cool design also make them good for wearing on the street. $94, Softstar Shoes Vibram FiveFinger shoes The Classic: Vibram FiveFingers KSO I really didn’t want to like Vibrams. Anything with a cultish following usually turns me into a skeptic. For the longest time I also thought they didn’t fit me — my toes just didn’t seem to correspond well with Vibram’s idea of toes. Then, I randomly tried on a pair of men’s KSO and they fit like a glove. I was lured in. I still think they look kind of awkward, but at least they’re black (yes, I extend the meaning of minimal to color as well). Actress Shailene Woodley famously wore a black pair on the red carpet at a Golden Globes after party, which provoked lots of comments (both positive and negative) from the world’s fashion police. Style factors aside Vibrams are great shoes for running. I’ve had mine for over a year now and with some small mending they’ve proven to be quite durable. To me, toe shoes tend to give you more bounce in your step. Maybe it’s the freedom of not having your toes all crammed together. I don’t know, but it feels good. One thing that bugs me, though, is that rocks and small branches can get stuck between the toes of the shoes as you’re running. I guess you could call it immersing yourself in nature. Men’s KSO: $85, Vibram FiveFingersWomen’s TrekSport: $100, Vibram FiveFingers What are your favorite minimalist running shoes? Share in the comment section.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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  1. I already burned through two pairs of Vibram 5 Fingers as once I went barefoot, I was definitely not going back. I’ve moved onto the New Balance Minimus Trail Runners as per my brother’s suggestion (he rocked a version of these throughout 1663 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail). I love their light feel with such great grip as adventure hiking and running is my fave way to get outside.

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