A little over a month ago, after a race on a Saturday I popped into Goodwill since it was nearby... lo and behold.. sitting on the shoe rack (with a golden aura around them) was a pair of basically new Vibram VFF Flow's just like the ones below... in my size... for $19.99... no way I could pass that up, especially when they retail for $90 to $100... so, the shoe collection grew! I must really be getting into "barefoot" running, based on the number of minimalist shoes I own :-).
Since that time, I've had an opportunity to put some miles on these, and I wanted to provide my initial impressions.
These are my first pair of VFF's, so I can't compare them to any other styles out there. I can tell you that I really do like the feel of the individual toe sleeves, and the overall running comfort. That being said however, this particular style runs really warm, and they fit really snugly... in an almost claustrophobic way. The upper is a neoprene material, so it feels like a putting on a wetsuit. Once I was in them, my feet felt like mini Jacques Cousteau's sans aqualungs.
Now, the bonus of this 2mm neoprene upper is that these are very warm. When I first put them on in the house, I could feel my feet and toes start to sweat a bit. The material doesn't breathe very much, but I guess that is the point of this particular shoe, as it is targeted for cold weather and water sports.
My first runs in these were on the roads in the neighborhood, and all were around temps ranging from 15-30F (-9 to -1 C). I had no problem with my feet staying warm in the Flows. Had I been wearing other minimalist shoes, I may have included wool Injinji toe socks, but they were not needed here. Not even sure I could get these on with socks however. On a few runs I purposely stepped into available puddles to see what the cold water would do. As expected, the water soaked in, but then proceeded to warm up and stay warm around my feet and toes.
From what I understand, the Flows have a 2mm insole, on top of a 3 to 3.5mm sole, so a little less ground feel than what would be expected from a KSO for example. This extra insole probably helped with the insulation from the frozen ground. Even with it however, I thought the ground feel was really great (probably the best out of the shoes I own), and I liked the ability to flex my toes individually.
As for the sole, there is some very fine siping cut into the forefoot and heel area, but my guess is that these probably help most on wet pavement (like tires) etc. As you can see, besides the siping, there really isn't any kind of tread or traction design on these. I avoided as much ice as possible, as you are not going to get any kind of traction. I would be concerned with slick mud of course also.
Besides the cool looking camo soles, I also liked the ease of tossing these in the washer after trashing them in the mud. They wash up nicely, and dry out quick also... well, in Colorado's single digit humidity they do!
In addition to putting some road miles on these (including the bane of minimalist/barefoot runners.. the dreaded chip seal), I also took these out on the trail.
And where would that be? The Manitou Incline of course!
The Flows performed well during the climb up the Incline. Temps were around 20F (-7C), but most of the railroad ties were clear of ice. In the few places I had to go on compacted ice/snow, my feet stayed plenty warm. I also appreciated the ability to "wrap" my toes around more things such as rocks to gain a little better feel as I worked my way up. Certainly one of the advantages I can see in the VFF style of shoe over my other minimalist shoes.
Arrived at the top just at sunrise again... never get tired of this view that is for sure. From here it was the 3.5+ mile run down Barr Trail, and again, the Flows worked well. They didn't have the same protection as I get from my Neo Trails for Trail Gloves, but I enjoyed the extra feedback and just took my time and watched my step... and it certainly reminded me to keep the proper form while descending the sometimes rocky trail.
So, I do appreciate the extra warmth of these shoes for winter running, however once summer arrives, my guess is that I won't wear these much. However, I think they would make a great water sports shoe, and I may try and use them for those occasions. Regardless, I did enjoy my first experience with Vibram Five Fingers. Since I love trail running so much, the pair I'd really love to try out would be the new Spyridon LS's as they were built for trail running. Hopefully I'll get that opportunity sometime soon!
Once again, thanks for tuning in. And of course, I'll leave you with yet more sunrise shots from the Incline and Barr Trail.
Last minute update! Ladies, if you are looking for a chance to try out the new Merrell Barefoot Dash Glove.. check out this link to win! http://www.runningandrambling.com/2012/03/merrell-barefoot-pace-glove-review-and.html
"You were born to run. Maybe not that fast, maybe not that far, maybe not as efficiently as others. But to get up and move, to fire up that entire energy-producing, oxygen-delivering, bone-strengthening process we call running." ~Florence Griffith-Joyner