I am glad I took the opportunity to test the VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra because I wasn’t sure at first that I would like the shoe. But, much like the Transformer, the Ultra is more than meets the eye. This is a twofold metaphor too, so stay with me on it.
Gaining in popularity due to its unique features, this interesting cage-shaped shoe is molded completely of EVA foam. EVA is that super lightweight, super squishy rubber from which…yes…Crocs are also made. More on that later. The shoe comes with a sock liner that is completely removable, as well as completely wearable on its own (so they say – I haven’t tried it myself). Basically, the Ultra is like having three different shoes in one.
So you see, the Transformer reference totally fits.
I’m definitely digging all the bright and fun colors they chose for the Ultra. My purple and yellow pair are cute and on trend. The laces are elastic with one of those nifty lace locks. I like elastic lock lacing on my shoes, even though it’s always awkward figuring out what to do with the ends of them. Even still, it’s a much simpler solution. It’s quicker on and off, nothing ever gets untied on its own, and because elastic is stretchy there’s room for error with how tight you make them. With regular lacing I typically tie and re-tie my shoes at least twice every time I wear them. Because I’m
anal just like Goldilocks and my laces have to feel not too loose, not too tight, but just right.
Another reason the Ultra was more than meets the eye to me is because, as it turns out, I like them a lot more than I thought I would initially. Several questions ran through my head upon first being asked to test these. Holey foam shoes, seriously? How weird will they look on my feet? Are people going to think I’m wearing Crocs? How squishy are the soles, and will that affect my form? Which variation of the shoe is more comfortable? And if I take out the liner, how will EVA feel against my bare feet, especially once sweat is involved? Do they pinch, rub, cause hot spots? And where the hell did Vivo get the idea to make these, anyway?
Fit and Feel
When I tried these on for the first time a few of my questions were answered right away. The EVA part of the shoe seemed so much bigger than the liner, which was way too tight and constricting. So I took it out and that immediately improved the fit. Yeah, it’s a bit of a peculiar look with my feet in full view beneath the holes, but I actually sort of like it. They are easily the lightest shoe I have in my closet, weighing in at a bare 3.1 ounces with the liner out.
I want to be sure I point out that the last on these babies is super wide! I challenge any foot in the universe to be too wide for this shoe. For the first time in probably ever, I had to cinch the laces to get a tighter fit. A definite positive for me. So if you’ve got a wide foot like me or if you like a lot of extra room in the toe box, then I recommend just picking up the Ultra Pure instead, which comes sans liner and is $30 cheaper. But if you like a more snug fit or think you’ll want the extra layer for any reason, then by all means go for the full Transformer.
Running in the Ultra was also better than first expected. They’re sorta squishy, yes, but I forgot about that once I got moving. The little bump pattern in the sole is nice, too. I think it’s there for grip, but it’s also kind of massaging. In a barefoot shoe, those things are almost like guilty pleasures! Heh. But I have a feeling that over time the sole will flatten out and get less bouncy anyway, as EVA does. That is, if they don’t wear out first. I do have some question about the overall durability of the Ultra, but I haven’t put enough miles on them yet to determine that for sure. Either way I’m willing to bet that the lower price point offsets any longevity issues for the most part, anyway.
If you’re the kind of person who hates having hot feet, the Ultra is a good shoe to try. I mean, it has holes in it! Especially at the top, the ventilation is great and while you’re moving you can feel the airflow throughout the shoe. It’s pretty nice, actually. Great for sloshing through puddles and streams, too. Although, after a lot of sweating and/or wetness, my foot does get to sliding around a bit in the shoe. Not enough to alter my balance or gait, but enough to cause a bit of rubbing in places. After a hot 5 miler, I had a small red spot at the top of my pinky toe. I think the problem is that even though the shoe is plenty wide, the material doesn’t have memory like a fabric or leather. So the shoe doesn’t alter itself to the shape of your foot as it moves in the shoe. It wasn’t a huge problem for me though, no blisters and the hot spot went away quickly. It is what it is.
Although I do know a few people who go for 10+ mile runs in these shoes, I think my favorite place for them will be short rainy runs, hot summer walks, weekend errands and traveling. I didn’t like these on trail because tiny rocks and sand immediately jumped into the shoe and made it uncomfortable. So that was out. Beach sand might be a little weird too, but maybe not. I’ll have to get back to you on that one, soon as I find time to get to a beach. Summer can’t come fast enough!
- uniquely versatile shoe that’s amphibious and well-ventilated
- it comes in a variety of colors
- wide last, but the liner can be an awkward fit
- easy on and off elastic lacing
- comfortable and squishy
- great for travel and every day, as well as for running
- good shoe for roads and wet areas
- nice price point
- Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail (barefoot-monologues.com)
- Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail (and my first 14 mile run) (barefoot-monologues.com)
- Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Neo (barefoot-monologues.com)
- Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Kali (barefoot-monologues.com)