I was sitting in the chair at the dentist’s office. I had cotton in my mouth and the Spongebob theme was playing on the TV overhead. The dentist, who is unaware of my running adventures, walking in the room and immediately notices my shoes.
“Whoa! Those are some awesome shoes… where did you get them?”
Thus started a 15 minute conversation about barefoot running. I think I convinced him to try it.
I haven’t found a pair of shoes that stimulate this kind of discussion since I stopped wearing Vibrams. Terra Plana’s EVO IIs are that aesthetically striking. Of course, this is more than just a pretty shoe…
Earlier this year, I reviewed the first generation of Terra Plana VivoBarefoot’s EVO minimalist running shoe. At the time, the EVO was one of the first true minimalist shoes to hit the market and compete with Vibram’s Five Fingers. Since I live in a clod climate (Michigan), having some foot protection for winter trail running is a necessity on most days. I had been searching for a quality VFF replacement for some time, and the EVO fit the bill.
The original EVO was a good shoe. Terra Plana built the shoe around solid principles: a flat, flexible sole, toe box wide enough to allow for toe splay, and a lightweight, breathable upper. For the most part, the shoe was a resounding success. In my opinion, the only negative was an exposed seam along the tongue. When wearing the shoes without socks, the seam had a tendency to cut into the top of your toes. Furthermore, the seam would be pushed down into your foot when the shoe was bent during a toe-off phase of the gait cycle. Aside from this singular issue, the EVO was a very good shoe.
I was very eager to try the second generation. First, this shoe has an added cloth liner for cool-to-cold weather running. Second, the seam issue had reportedly been corrected. I was curious how the EVO II would compare to the rapidly-growing minimalist shoe market. Shoes like the Inov-8 X-Talon, F-Lite 195, and soon-to-be-released BareGrip 200, the New Balance Minimus line, GoLite’s upcoming Tara Lite, Barefoot Ted’s Luna and Leadville sandals, and a host of other options give the barefoot/minimalist shoe runner many choices. If the EVO II could overcome the minor problems that plagued the first generation, it could remain in the upper echelon of true minimalist shoes.
When the EVO Iis arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see the new color combination. The shoes were black with yellow accents. The hexagon pattern of the upper looks even better in black. Outwardly, they look nearly identical to the first generation EVOs (color aside).
The shoe’s aesthetic qualities, in my opinion, really distinguish the shoe from the competitors. It’s a sleek shoe that was obviously designed by a style-conscious team. Whenever I test minimalist shoes, I like to wear them casually. The EVO II is the first shoe that routinely receives positive attention. Looking for a shoe that will help you get a date? Look no further.
I wanted to test them immediately, so I removed the insoles (standard operating procedure), slipped them on, and headed out the door. The moment I slipped them on, I could feel the difference. The interior was softer due to the new liner. After only a few steps, I noticed an immediate difference in the apparent shoe function. The material around the tongue was no longer pressing down into my foot, and I could not feel any interior seams. So far, so good!
I was watching my three lovely children at the time, so I couldn’t actually go for a run. I had to settle for an impromptu game of tag with my six year old daughter and four year old son. Their quickness required many quick cuts, sprints, and the occasional jump on grass and asphalt. After a few minutes, I forgot I was wearing the shoes. There was no noticeable distress from the shoe interior. This was another good sign.
After our game of tag, Shelly relieved me of babysitting duties and I was able to go for a formal test run. I try to standardize my testing procedure as much as possible. This includes a three mile run on gravel roads. The large, protruding rocks over hard-packed clay and dirt are an excellent approximation of rugged, technical trails. I use this route to assess how much protection and ground feel a particular shoe possesses.
The sole of the EVO II appears to be the same as the first generation. On a scale of one to five, with one representing minimal protection but superior ground feel and five representing superior protection but minimal ground feel, I would rank the EVO at about a two. You can definitely feel relatively small rocks, but have enough protection to run comfortably on gravel.
During the run, I noticed the shoe seemed to fit a little different than the first generation EVO. It felt as if the shoe itself allowed my foot slightly more freedom to move within the shoe. The net result was a more barefoot-like running experience
At first, I thought the shoe may have been made from a different last. I checked with Terra Plana, and they confirmed it was the same as the first generation. After testing both generations, I think the change can be attributed to the material surrounding the tongue. The changes Terra Plana made definitely improved the shoe.
Aside from the gravel roads, I also tested the shoe on some technical trails, in mud, on a wet leaf-covered trail, and on a sand hill. The shoe performed extremely well on the trail regardless of the debris or obstacles. The sole offered great traction on dry trails and hills regardless of composition.
In mud and a wet leaf-covered trail, the sole provided more traction than any of the Vibrams I’ve tested, but was not as good as the X-Talon 190s I reviewed earlier this year. Of course, that particular shoe was designed for muddy conditions, so it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.
On sand, the shoes performed as well as any other shoe I’ve tried… not well. Nothing beats barefoot on sand.
Unfortunately, it will be some time before I will have the opportunity to test the EVO IIs on snowy trails. Based on my limited experience with the first generation last winter, I can assume they will be a significant improvement over my previous winter running shoes- a worn pair of Vibram KSOs. I have never had a problem with cold feet in minimalist shoes (including the first generation EVOs), so the new lining likely will not dramatically improve the winter running experience. For runners that DO get cold feet, the EVO may offer the added benefit of warmth.
I would be hard-pressed to recommend any significant improvements to this shoe. I think Terra Plana has improved the basic design of the shoe to the point where improvement is unnecessary. I would like to see specific models designed for specific conditions. For example, a lighter model with a thinner sole would be ideal for short road races. Another model with more aggressive tread would be good for muddy conditions.
For me, this shoe will be a cool-to-cold weather road running shoe when conditions make it too difficult to wear huaraches. The EVO IIs will also be one of two or three options for trail running. Right now, I am using the shoe mostly for casual wear. I have not tested it yet, but I think I may also use this shoe for any indoor activities (basketball, dodgeball, etc.)
The EVO II will face significantly more competition this season than it did the first time around, but it is more than capable of holding its own. It is a shoe that excels in both form and function. For a runner looking for a true minimalist shoe (as opposed to reduced running shoes like the Nike Free or Saucony Kivarna), the EVO deserves serious consideration.
 The shoe does come in colors other than the black/yellow combination pictured above, see Terra Plana’s website for other options.. Additionally, the original EVO model has been updated to correct the original rubbing seam problem.
If ordering before December 31st, 2010, use the coupon code BARERUNUNI at checkout for 25% off!
Disclosure- product provided by manufacturer.