Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


31 Comments

Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail

So far I have put two runs and 24 miles on my VIVOBAREFOOT Breathos. As you can see by the amount of dirt on them in the photos, they have been rugged miles – full of dirt, mud, pond scum, horse poop and heavy brush (I have a small bladder, and spend a good deal of time off the path).

Actually, that’s not true. I’ve put more like 27 miles on the Breathos. I first wore them walking my dog on the trails right by my house. I decided to wear them walking first because I wasn’t sure how they were going to fit and I didn’t want any surprises to end my next trail run abruptly. Why? Because my first thought as I took them out of the box was, “Crap. They’re kind of narrow.” I compared them to my Neo Trails. There is a definite difference. And being as sensitive to the width of shoes as I am, this could have been a problem.

Width difference: Neo Trail on left, Breatho on right.

But as soon as I wore them walking, I learned why the slight difference in width is there. The upper of the Breathos are made from a really thin mesh rather than the much thicker padded mesh of the Neo Trail, making the extra sole width unnecessary. Once I started to walk in them it all clicked: the mesh is stretchy. Stretchy mesh makes anything feel looser (just look at skinny jeans, or the Vibram SeeYa).

With that little mystery solved, it was time to take these babies out for a spin.

Looks

Like most footwear companies, VIVOBAREFOOT has a pretty consistent stylistic theme to its products. The look is classic, a bit retro and not necessarily as “sporty” as what you would typically find out there in the running shoe world. The one superficial comment that I have about Vivo’s styling in general is that most of their shoes seem to look more jeans and t-shirt than running tights and sports bra. Sparsely styled, block coloring, roomy and shapeless lasts. But that’s not so much a criticism as it is an observation.

With that said, the Breathos are the sexiest shoe in Vivo’s athletic line. At first glance they look just like everything else Vivo makes, but they’re much sleeker, leaner. They remind me of the Minimus Trail that NewBalance makes (which I can’t even get my feet into, otherwise I would have reviewed them) – rugged, curvy and perhaps a little showy. The Minimus has so far been my pick for the best looking minimalist shoe. The Breatho has that same edge. It has better lines and much more shape than some of Vivo’s other offerings, making it a shoe that’s just as beautiful as it is functional. As a consumer and a designer, I know this is extremely important to the success of a product.

The only suggestion I would make on the looks front is to add more colors. The only color ways they offer at the moment for women are pink, blue and black, while the men’s styles always seem to have more and better color choices. Really? Most men don’t spend three seconds making a color choice on their footwear, but women? We are generally much more selective and appreciate a well-rounded group of color choices. I say give us some oranges and purples and yellows. Maybe even some heather gray.

Now that I’ve gotten that out, on to the important stuff.

Fit and Feel

If you’ve read my past reviews, you probably realize that I’m not one of those really smart technical reviewers who is hyper-focused on factors like weight or the differences between shoe materials. The way I see it, my feet don’t understand weight in tenths of ounces or know what EVA rubber is. They just know how it feels to land in the shoes I put on. They feel heat and cold, crunched and roomy, security and flexibility. And when I test a new shoe, I pay much more attention to what my feet tell me than all the stats that matter to the big-time shoe reviewers.

Maybe that’s just a girl thing. Or maybe it’s why I’m not a big-time shoe reviewer.

But I digress. I took my Breathos out walking instead of running for the first time, because I really wasn’t sure how I was going to like them. But the walk was fine and I learned that what I originally thought would be a width problem was no problem at all. The only thing is, I still haven’t figured out exactly how tight to lace them. The tongue of the shoe is attached to the rest of the upper (smart move) and is made of a moderately thin and breathable wicking fabric. So if I tie them too tight I can feel the lacing on my metatarsals even though the laces are spaced out really nicely, as if that decision was made in order to add comfort. But it wasn’t comfortable at all so I loosened them, and then the minute I started running they felt way too loose. My foot was sliding around because the mesh has so much give, much more like a sock than most of the other shoes Vivo offers. So I tightened them again and they held on to my foot better. After awhile I didn’t feel the laces as much anymore, but I still kept futzing with them unconsciously every couple of miles during my 14 miler the other day. This could have been a downfall of my wide feet, maybe most people with normal feet won’t have the same issue. but I’m curious to find out if they do.

Other than that I definitely liked the Breatho. I found them to be slick, form-fitting and true to size. Also a whole lot cooler (temperature-wise) to wear than the Neo Trail. And because they are so light, I consider the Breatho and the Neo Trail to be perfect summer and winter companions.

Side note: I have a tendency to run right through puddles rather than jumping over them (unlike normal people with brains). And since it’s still kind of chilly outside in mid-March, the Breathos didn’t dry right away and my toes got kind of cold afterward. Which will make them perfect for the summer! And they were dry in an hour or so – unlike the Neo Trails, which kept me warmer when wet but took several hours to dry.

I will say that I’ve resorted to keeping the insoles in these shoes, because I just don’t like the way the lugs feel on the balls of my feet and my toes. A soft sole equals more sensitivity, I guess. Gotta take the good with the bad.

Performance

I like to get dirty when I run.

Because they use the same sole, the Breatho’s trail performance is the same as the Neo Trail. The 4.5mm directional lugs cut through dirt, rocks and sand just as well, and I was pretty happy with that. I really, really like Vivo’s trail soles. I feel extremely confident and sure-footed on them. And I’m such a huge fan of the super flexibility – even though it gives up some protection, the way it curves around the terrain like a bare foot means the difference between a strong trail run and a bummer ankle sprain. Even if I have to take an occasional sharp rock to the arch of my foot.

Because I am training for a hilly 50k this spring, I have been tackling as many hills as I can find on my long runs. One thing I always hated about downhill running (besides my tendency to take them too fast and anger my IT band) was that my feet would always slip on rolling rocks and sand. In the Breatho I might still slip on the worst stuff, but it takes a lot more before it happens.

Price & Durability

I’m not entirely sure why, but the Breatho Trail is priced lower than almost the entire VIVOBAREFOOT shoe line. Maybe it’s that the lighter materials aren’t expected to last, or maybe Vivo decided to go easy on the price of this shoe in anticipation of its popularity. Either way I think it’s a decent price, and so far as I can see, worth it. They seem to be well constructed, for the most part.

The one thing I did notice happened to my particular pair is that after only a few wears there is some loosening of the stitching on the heel tag. I didn’t notice it right away, but I realized it after I took this picture.

I don’t remember using the tab to pull on the shoe, so I’m not sure how it even happened. Could have happened in production. But it looks like a surface flaw that probably won’t have any detrimental effects on the rest of the shoe, unless it starts to pull away at the fabric on the heel. But I’ll definitely check back in after a few hundred miles on these, and let you know how they last.

Conclusions

  • Beautifully crafted shoes that appeal to the sportier side of trail runners
  • Light, breathable and stretchy uppers that wear more like a sock than previous Vivo models
  • A good fit for warmer weather and climates
  • Flexible sole grabs onto the trails and provide excellent stability
  • Exceptional off-road traction that is on par with the popular Neo Trail
  • Rugged lacing can be a problem for some, against the soft fabric of the uppers
  • Color choices are a bit sparse on the women’s side
  • The price is nice, durability is to be seen.

And, my 14-Mile Run

And as a special addition to today’s review, I am adding some photos of my latest trail run in my Breatho Trails. Know why? Because these shoes got me through 14 MILES this weekend – my longest run. Ever. That’s worthy of a little celebration, don’t ya think?

Most of this trail is regrettably flat, but there are some hills. Unfortunately for you, I didn’t have the wherewithal to take photos while I was figuring out the hills.

Oscar is an excellent trail running partner. He’s always up ahead with this look like “well, are you coming or not?” Best dog in the world.

About these ads


18 Comments

Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail

When my contact at Vivo asked me what shoe I wanted to try for my next review, I told her that I’d been looking for something that would handle the trails during a New England winter. Last year I was forced to the roads for all my training runs because taking my Bikilas to the icy trails was like running on ceramic floors with two bars of soap strapped to my feet (so are the standard Neos, by the way…I found that out the hard way this afternoon). She shipped me this pair of Neo Trails.

Sorry these are all muddy post-run photos. Forgot to shoot them before trying them out.

Not exactly my normal choice of colors, but hey, they were free. No arguing with that. And they actually looked kind of rugged and outdoorsy like I would picture a traditional trail shoe looking, so I tried the suckers on. They fit exactly like my Neos (no surprise there), with their wide toe box and soft, slipper-like last. The only big differences between the Neo and the Neo Trail are the lock-lacing system and the 5mm lugs. Of course they’re a little heavier (and also a bit stiffer, although not as stiff to me as the Merrell Pace Gloves), but I’m sure I was more grateful for the aggressive, grippy sole than I was mournful of a lighter shoe.

Pretty flexible, for aggressive trail shoes.

Side by side, with my Neos.

The Neo Trail, like all of Vivo’s great minimalist running shoe lineup, is made from 100% vegan materials and constructed soundly, as always. Although I chose to wear socks in mine (it is winter, after all), there is a nice soft inner lining so you could go without them. Also it comes with the usual removable insole, but I left mine in for the bit of extra padding I might need for the rocky trails ahead.

It seems almost serendipitous that I got these shoes when I did, because only a few days before I had, on a whim, signed up for a 50k trail race in May. That means for the next four months I’ll have to put a lot more trail time into my long runs. I had two rather life-changing long runs with these shoes, and I will have to say that they gave me everything I needed to feel confident about that trail race.

Running in snow and ice is one of my biggest fears, especially because I have accident-prone ankles. But my last run in these, in particular, settled all my fears about it. It was eight miles through brand new trails for me. It was 1/3 ice, 1/3 snow and 1/3 bare earth (rocks and sand). Two miles in, knee-deep lake water had crept up onto the path. All of this gave me a fantastic obstacle course to test out the Neo Trails.

Rocks and sand were no problem for this shoe, of course. It was built for that sort of thing. I glided over the trail bed, hardly feeling the sharp rocks beneath the puncture-proof sole. The lugs did their job of digging into the earth and forming a nice barrier between it and my foot. And because the sole is so pliable, the shoe didn’t roll over every time I landed funny on a rock, and take my ankle with it – it simply curved around the uneven ground, letting my foot remain strong and my body balanced naturally. This feature, intended or not, may be the best thing about this shoe for me.

These shoes match the rocks on the trail. It’s like my feet disappeared!

The Neo Trail’s grip on snow was faultless. A shoe like this almost begs for hard-packed trail snow. I felt strong and confident running those miles of snow, some icy, some of it crunchy with old footsteps. The hydrophobic mesh and microfiber uppers stayed dryer than many shoes, and relatively warm. Well, that is until I dunked them into 40-degree water. Twice.

But after a brief period of frigid, squishy enjoyment, they stayed kinda wet but they warmed more than I thought they would and kept me from getting frostbite. Bravo on that front – I had failed to choose my wool Injinji’s that day, and was just wearing regular socks. I do suspect though, that the materials in this shoe might be way too hot for summer trail runs. I hate having hot feet. I hope Vivo will come out with a version of these that have a more breathable upper for hot days.

Even the ice was nice. This shoe didn’t let me fall on my ass! Not even once. There was a footfall here and there that indeed brought on a brief slide, but I mean…we were talking about sheer ice here, hard as a hockey rink and bumpy as hell, with absolutely nothing to grip. In my other running shoes, I might have given up and resorted to scooting past those bad parts on my bum. The Neo Trails did a job above and beyond what I expected out of them on the ice. Superb.

But for all its ruggedness, I am fascinated by the fact that the Neo Trail still feels like a minimalist shoe. Although I didn’t feel any of the usual sharp rock bites (gotta love those, ouch!), I still felt the ground. The soft, flexible sole is really the key here, I think. It lets you feel the texture of whatever is underfoot. I could distinctly feel the difference between the various textures of the trail I was on, and of the road (where I briefly tried them). It’s something that not every minimalist shoe company gets right. The only downside to this softness is that I could also feel the lugs of the shoes under the balls of my feet, particularly on harder surfaces like ice and pavement (although I’m not sure why anyone would use them on pavement). It is a drawback to the demand for a trail shoe that is also minimalist. But its a drawback I can take and still call these a truly fantastic trail running shoe, minimalist or not.

Final Thoughts
The VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail is an excellent all-around trail running shoe. It is rugged and protective while remaining exceptionally light and pliable for its genre. Its heavy lugged sole is aggressive enough to provide grip during all trail situations, while still providing an acceptable level of ground-perception that a minimalist runner needs to remain strong…and upright. The Neo Trail will easily become my favorite trail shoe (despite mine’s decidedly masculine color) and will most likely come with me to the 50k in May, if it’s not too hot out.

Soaking wet, after my wet 8-miler.


3 Comments

Fear Conquering: My First Winter Trail Run

I just completed my first ever trail run in the snow! I’m very excited that it didn’t kill me, as once presumed.

Here’s the stats:

  • Number of miles planned: 4.5 to 6
  • Number of miles completed: 5.2
  • Number of 1.5 mile out and backs: 3 and change
  • Average pace: ~13:00 (I was being cautious, don’t judge)
  • Number of people I shared the trail with: 0
  • Number of ominously creaking trees on the side of the trail: 2
  • Number of times my feet slid on the ice beneath the snow: 3
  • Number of times I fell on my ass: 0
  • Number of times I twisted my ankle: 0
  • Number of whole dead branches Oscar unearthed and dragged with him: 6
  • Number of branches Oscar hit me with: 3
  • Number of times Oscar peed on the side of the trail: 5
  • Number of times I peed on the side of the trail: 1
  • Number of natural toilet paper options on snowy New England trails: 0
  • Number of new muscles that introduced themselves today: 3
  • Number of times I wished I was in San Diego: 0

The trail I run is so flat because it used to be a railroad route. See? That's one of the railcars that got stuck here. Just kidding, it's there for show..

This was a lot of fun! Last winter I was sure there would be no way to survive running on the snow, but it is possible with the right shoes. I had to find a place to try out my new VivoBarefoot Neo Trails (full review coming), so for the first time in my adult life, I was glad to see snow.

This is the paved trail I usually run. Today I decided to skip it.

This is the unpaved trail, to the left of the paved one. It just looked more inviting today.

One thing I didn’t realize before about running winter trails is that the snow coats everything and evens out the ground, for the most part. I felt very few rocks and sticks underfoot, and the ground was actually more predictable than regular trails. Either that or I was being so cautious not to slide on the ice that the uneven ground didn’t affect me much. It’s definitely a great workout for my ankles and legs, and it’s pretty much impossible to let your form slip if you don’t want to end up ass-first on the ground.

My feet didn't slip in the Neo Trails. Please ignore the ankle brace on my right foot. Again, being cautious.

I was definitely VERY slow, though. This was the first time I’d run this trail since the day I sprained my ankle on it in October, so it felt a bit like playing with fire. I was barely out of breath for most of the run, but I didn’t care because it was so enjoyable. I didn’t take my music with me, and I wasn’t bored because of it. I learned that the trail was only .75 miles long, exactly, so I could complete 3 out-and-backs for 4.5 miles, or 4 for 6 miles. I wanted to hit 6 because I was feeling great, but as I started the 4th lap I noticed my dog’s tail was low and he was slowing down. I inspected his paws and he had 3 cuts on his front ones from sliding on the ice. Poor guy. So we turned around and went back a little early. I wonder if he would agree that “barefoot is best.”

Oscar taking a nap in the computer room when we got back home. Run: 1 Dog: 0

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 326 other followers