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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Review: Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa (barefoot-monologues.com)
- Today’s Trail Run Brought to You by: Solid Ice. (barefoot-monologues.com)
February 4, 2012 at 8:19 PM
Great review! I have a lot of the same thoughts about these shoes after running in them. They are my “go to” shoe for the winter… especially snow… they seem to love compacted snow 🙂 Going to post a link to this on my FB page…. good stuff!
February 4, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Thank you for sharing me, Jeff! You like yours too, huh? I was really impressed with them.
February 5, 2012 at 11:18 AM
I do.. but like you, I like my Merrell Trail Gloves… going to post up a comparison, but in many cases they are very different shoes… wish I could morph them together for the best parts!
February 4, 2012 at 8:39 PM
Wow what an awesome review!! Thank you for this. I’ve been looking for a winter shoe for days when I can’t wear my Komodos, and couldn’t decide between all the Neo models. This helps immensely!!!
February 4, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Glad I could help. Thanks for reading, Maria!
February 4, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Maria – if you choose to buy these, I’d very much appreciate it if you reach their site by clicking in one of the links from this blog post or the banner to the right. Thanks!
February 4, 2012 at 10:58 PM
I love the Luggs at the bottom of these things. I did a comparison test on icy and snowy trails with my Merrells and these outperformed them for grip. They do dig themselves into the ground when you need it.
I agree with you about the warmth factor – summer is probably a no-go for these shoes. Like the Merrell Lithe gloves, when they get wet they stay wet – for a LONG time.
I did like the ground feel and thought that it was better than the Merrells.
Although I loved the roomy toe-box, I did feel they weren’t tight enough across the mid-foot. I think as fit goes you are either a Merrell or a Vivobarefoot runner. You either fit in one or the other. I would love the mid-foot security of the Merrells with the toe-box of the Neo’s. Not so much an issue if it was a road shoe, but as it’s meant for trails, this is probably a little concern when I hit the technical trail. Still playing with them to see if I can tighten them up some more.
I am still testing them to see how they cope with on the roads – need a few more runs.
They are the only VIVO’s I have, so I don’t have any others to compare them to.
I have the pale grey and pink ones, which are a darn sight prettier.
Good write up. It’s nice to know that we’re on the same page. I am still getting started on this testing gig — you are a lot more experienced 😉
February 5, 2012 at 2:18 PM
I have the same concern as you about the loose midfoot area. It fits me just fine, which is probably why you prefer the merrells. They squish my foot until I can’t walk in them. It really is, as you say, a foot shape thing. And I’d have loved the pink and gray ones! Ahh well. They’re still great. 🙂
August 31, 2012 at 6:24 PM
Have you had time to determine how your Neo Trails fare on hard surfaces, both in terms of foot comfort and durability of the sole and cleats? Thanks.
August 31, 2012 at 6:26 PM
Kate- Can you tell us your opinion on how the Neo Trails have fared on hard surfaces? Did you notice any accelerated wear on the cleats or tread? And did you find the sensation of the cleats to be uncomfortable on concrete or asphalt? Thanks.
September 6, 2012 at 3:01 PM
This is a trail shoe and as such it’s not a comfortable shoe to run in when you hit concrete or asphalt. I did try a road run in them and after about 5 miles, my feet were pretty sore. After that point I managed to get hold of the Lucy Lites and they are a much better road shoe (and as you may expect they are lousy on trails).
As the Neo Trails and the Breatho Trails (which I also managed to pick up) are a warm shoe. The Breatho’s are better for warm weather, but still warm. As such, the shoes have taken a back seat over the summer as I have been wearing huaraches, Vibrams and Merrells as they are a cooler shoe. So I haven’t run enough in them to notice much wear; also remember I am running on softer and more technical trail, so the wear wouldn’t be so harsh anyway.
With the fall and winter coming I’ll be dusting them off and seeing how they fair with the new ranges coming up. SHould be interesting.
February 8, 2012 at 6:39 AM
Thanks for the great review Trisha, I’ve featured it on the VIVOBAREFOOT blog – http://ow.ly/8Wukw
February 23, 2012 at 11:54 AM
these are my favorite shoe. the larger toe box is so much better than the Merrells I ran in all of last year. I have noticed that my feet are warmer than in my Merrell trail gloves, BUT not so warm that I’d be concerned about running through the summer. I’ll know more in a few months here in sunny california. Nice review. You nailed the finer points of this shoe. I have over 200 miles on mine and there is almost no wear in the tread. My Merrell’s seem to run down around the 250-300 mile mark so I’ll know more in March. Thanks for you review.
February 23, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Thanks for reading! I do really like this show for trails. Tey have made my trail fears go away. The tread really is great and I’m glad they made the design decisions they did over there. I am hoping I’ll get to try out a pair of the new Breathos soon, as a lighter, cooler alternative to the Neo Trail.
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