Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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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.