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Five Fingers… I’m Just Not That Into You Anymore…

Posted by on Nov 7, 2010 | 28 Comments

Vibram, I’m sorry.  It’s me, not you.  Really.  We had some good times.  I just think we’re heading in different directions.  I mean, I really appreciate everything you’ve done.  For a few years, you were the one.  You captured my heart.  But then you changed.  You started getting… you know… bigger.  You started adorning yourself a little to much.  I liked you when you were simple.  You were everything I needed and wanted.  Now… I’m not so sure.  I’ll be honest… there are more fish in the sea.  I kinda like these other fish.  Don’t worry though, I’m sure you will find plenty of others.  You’ve got a unique look.  You’re popular enough… you won’t have any problems finding someone else.

Back in the day, the Five Fingers were THE answer.  I LOVED my KSOs.  I used them for speed work.  I wore them to the gym.  They were my default winter shoe.  I ran a 100 miler in them.  They had their limitations, notably horrible traction and a god-awful stench.  Still, they served the purpose.

My KSOs and Buckle from Hallucination 100 Miler, 2009

The only other realistic option were aqua socks, which were usually ill-fitting and lacked durability.  In my opinion, they were a distant second choice.

Terra Plana’s EVO changed the game.  While the shoe had some flaws, it gave runners a viable alternative to Vibrams.  I liked the original EVOs, and used them at about the same frequency as my KSOs.

Vibram made an effort to produce some good shoes.   In some cases, they succeeded (Treks).  In some cases, they failed (Flows, Bikilas… though many people LOVE their Bikilas).  In my opinion, they never improved on the original KSO design circa 2008.

I am also dismayed at their inability to meet demand this last year coupled with their apparent drop in quality control.

Despite these short-comings, Vibrams aren’t bad.  My souring probably has more to do with the competition.  The once-barren true minimalist shoe market is beginning to explode.  Terra Plana’s EVO II is a significant improvement, which moved it ahead of KSOs (my opinion).  New Balance is producing their promising Minimus line, though it apparently utilizes a raised heel.  Inov-8 released their X-Talon 190 (my preferred mud shoe) and F-Lite 195 (have not tested yet) and rumored BareGrip 200.  There are other new kids on the block (who has “The Right Stuff” running through their head right now?)  like Skora, ZEM, Merrell, GoLite, SoftStar, and of course, Barefoot Ted McDonald’s Luna huaraches.  Simply put, there are better options available or in the pipeline.

Vibram’s case isn’t helped by their seeming unwillingness to support anything the barefoot running community develops.  When the Barefoot Runners Society was being formed, Vibram wouldn’t even accept our offer for free advertising.

Along similar lines, Vibram has done a poor job of educating their customers about the potential issues new minimalist shoe runners may experience.  While this has been a boon for me (in regards to book sales and site traffic), I think Vibram could have afforded some sort of education program.

While I still like the fact that VFFs stimulate more conversation than both barefoot and other minimalist shoes, it’s just not the best tool for most runs.  I think they will continue to grow in popularity, but the peak will occur sooner than later.  Eventually the VFF toe-pocketed design will join acid-washed jeans and the mullet… fads that can only be found in Walmart.

Of course, the company itself does some great stuff.  They make world-class soles from non-minimalist footwear.  Given their recent foray into minimalist shoe outsole design, I suspect they will shift their focus from the Five Fingers to more of a support role.  Time will tell, I guess.

What are your thoughts?  My readers range from experienced barefoot runners to minimalist shoe fanatics to complete novices.  How do YOU perceive Vibrams these days?  Has it changed over the last few years?

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28 Comments

  1. Barefoot Tyler
    November 10, 2010

    I run barefoot. I go to class(college) in my KSO’s. The other day I wore them to run around the track when it was cold and rainy out and they felt fine. I don’t have anything against vibram, nor am I a fanboy. People ask me how it is to run in them and I simply say, “It’s the second best thing to running barefoot.”

  2. Jesse
    November 10, 2010

    I still love my KSOs. Im on my third pair. I guess I’m not too fond of the idea of being labeled a “follower” of the trend of wearing them. I like running in them, though, so anyone who calls me a lemming can stuff it.
    On the smell-its not Jason’s feet. Mine smell awful, and I’ve never been one to have smelly feet. They have a smell all their own that is comparable to cat feces or old lawn clippings! Vibram is a good company that has done quite a bit for bringing “natural running” into the spotlight, but I suppose they can’t stay on top forever.

  3. Richard
    November 10, 2010

    Still love my KSOs. The other manufacturers have been WAY too slow to produce any viable competition. The EVOs are far too expensive, and people looking for a truly minimalist shoe for winter won’t be best served waiting until next March. Which leaves…?

    As for the free advertising offer, Jason, I would advise my consulting clients to do the same (sorry!). The BRS website is relatively young, not backed by a major company/publisher, obviously has a strong barefoot bias, and people on the forums, or in the articles, may have a go at VFF. Perhaps they were waiting to see how the site pans out. Also, they pretty much don’t need to advertise because everything they do is written about for free – the best form of advertising you can get.

    Also, it’s worth remembering that people use VFF for loads of other activities, not just running: yoga, martial arts, climbing, kayaking… Interestingly, it’s mainly runners who knock them.

  4. ludo
    November 9, 2010

    Never really liked my VFF (Classic & Trek)either. Get blisters on the sides (because of the seams) when running with them.
    The fit is not for everyone and the quality control is definitely going down.
    They served a purpose but it’s time to move on….

  5. Ben S
    November 9, 2010

    While I strongly believe less is more, I’m not willing to pay more for less. Next year I will begin (again) serious attempts at my lifelong goal of a sub 16 5k. Footwear I’m considering to accomplish this feat are the VFF Sprints, Luna huaraches (Patrick ran nearly 2 sub 16s back to back in them), or perhaps even my own bare feet. This winter I intend to run through the winter outside on snow covered trails. I’ll probably wear my VFF KSOs. In the meantime, I’ll be daydreaming about Baregrips – maybe next year if the price is right?

  6. Phocion Timon
    November 8, 2010

    I’ve never really like my VFFs but they were really the only game in town for minimalist running. I tried cheap canvas sneakers and while they are good for minimalism, the typical sneaker is too narrow. My original KSOs finally wore out I bought another pair last month. The new ones are apparently not as well made and I immediately worked up a blister. I’m waiting for Altra Running to get their zero drop “Adam” on the market.

  7. barefootbrooklyn
    November 8, 2010

    I love my first pair of Classics … but my second pair (identical style and color) aren’t as great; I have questioned the quality of late.

    … thought Vibram was a bit snooty at the recent TED-style talks in NYC, too.

  8. Viper
    November 8, 2010

    Considering I just got my first pair of KSOs a couple weeks ago, I hope you’re wrong. But maybe I’m late to the bandwagon. I resisted the fad for so long, but decided the Vibrams are the best option for the money. The Terra Planas seem ridiculously overpriced. Why do we pay more for less shoe? I’m intrigued with the ZEM and will likely give those a try. Cheers!

  9. Matt
    November 8, 2010

    I use Bikila’s and find they work great when I run “out the door” in the urban jungle filled with trash, rocks and glass (meaning I can’t run on naked feet, which is my favorite). Problem is, it’s getting a little cold up here (MN) and I’m needing something I can wear socks with. The Bikila’s fit too tightly for a sock (Injini) due to my oddly shaped/sized toes so first up is my KSO Trek’s with Injinis, and if that won’t work, I’ll pony up for some Evos, I guess… But $160 is harsh.

  10. Chris
    November 8, 2010

    Say it ain’t so Jason! I still love my VFFs. I have the KSO, TrekSport, and Bikila. I like them all. Haven’t tried the Evo…it appears to be a solid minimalist shoe, but is too expensive. Along with barefooting, I rotate my VFFs, Mizuno Wave Universe 3, and Feelmax Osma. Hope they all get me through this winter.

  11. shel
    November 8, 2010

    yea, it’s not me – it’s them. not feeling them so much anymore, with the better options out there. there is some downside to toe separation afterall… who hasn’t had overly cold toes OR jammed a toe on a root OR slipped and slid their way down a muddy hill?

  12. Joe
    November 8, 2010

    My problem lately is that I run at night. The sidewalk around my house is not very forgiving. I can’t count the number of times I have stepped on a sharp rock and had to deal with some sort of problem from running barefoot. My solution for that problem has been the Bikila. With its sock liner it seems to go the distance without causing discomfort and blistering, I get from all the other Vibram FiveFinger models I own. I am really looking forward to some cheaper alternatives, because I can’t afford to keep buying Vibrams.

  13. Pasha
    November 8, 2010

    I have an old pair of KSO Treks for work, a pair of KSOs for running and an older, worn out pair of KSO that I wear at all other times. I guess I am little obsessed with them, but this post does make me think: is there any value in toe separation? I’ve not tried any other minimalistic shoes, so I don’t know. I’d love to see a study of toe-shoes vs regular shoes.

  14. Duncan
    November 8, 2010

    Well, I have to say that I love my VFF Classics more every day! I also have a pair of Ted’s Lunas and, of course, bare feet which are perpetually smiling since they said “goodbye” to conventional shoes a year and a half ago. Nope, I ain’t tradin’ mine in, I owe them way too much!

  15. Daniel Howell
    November 7, 2010

    Jason, I’ve never cared for Vibrams as a running shoe. I bought the original and wore them for running once… ONCE. I had been running barefoot (i.e., NAKED feet) for nearly two years before I tried VFF, so maybe that had something to do with it. On the other hand, I wore their Moc throughout January & February last winter for my feet outdoors (not running). I’m basically a full-time barefooter and I wore the Moc as a glove in the coldest winter months. They were great for that purpose.

  16. Jeremy
    November 7, 2010

    Btw Jason, why is it that you regard the flow as a failure? A lot of people the birthdayshoes.com forums say they’re a great cold-weather replacement for the kso. I’m just curious what additional problems beyond whatever might be wrong with the kso that you’re thinking of.

    Thanks.

  17. Patrick Sweeney
    November 7, 2010

    I agree 100%. Way too many people ask me about Vibrams (which I hardly wear) I’m not vindictive toward the company and I don’t necessarily discourage people from buying them. With their current product if I put KSO’s on my feet they will rip open at the toe seem during my first sub 7 min mile. The company needs to focus more on quality if they want to be more than a fad.

  18. Tim100
    November 7, 2010

    Stop whining…you sound like the little kid who doesn’t want to share his toy or like the people who don’t like Apple anymore because everyone has an iPhone. The fact is that this pipeline we are all waiting for has yet to be tested, evo’s are too expensive, and the kso’s are still great, inov8 are way narrow, and huraches suck in the winter. Stop complaining and remember the positives. By the way, the smell factor is because of you, not the shoes, I put 35 mow in mine road and trail and have no problems with smell. And finally, I love the Website and will continue to follow it regularly. Thanks for all the great work!

  19. Janice
    November 7, 2010

    I still like my Vibram Five Finger Classics. They feel like ballet slippers. Nice and loose. Easy on and off for triathlon transitions. That being said, my favourites are Evo Barefoots. Of course my first choice is my own bare feet. I’m not into the newer Vibrams. I just like the classics.

  20. Jeremy
    November 7, 2010

    @Dan

    Inov8s are harder to find in Canada than vffs. It’s not like they come here before the US just because we’re a member of the Commonwealth ;) We’re still a smaller market.

    Runningfree.com is supposed to be getting the flite line early next year though.

  21. Kent
    November 7, 2010

    I do love my Bikila’s which I have only had for a short time. They replaced my Classics which have in turn replaced my thongs.
    I did buy the Terra Plana’s Evo 1st gen shoe and I do love it. But I try and rotate between the 2 shoes for my runs and of course barefoot rules them all.
    But I don’t know if I would buy another pair of VFF’s again especially with all of the other companies bringing out minimalist shoes next year. Time will tell.

  22. Dan
    November 7, 2010

    @ Kate/KittyK

    Try looking at the Inov8 options… it’s a UK brand and probably easier to find in Canada.

  23. Jason
    November 7, 2010

    Thanks for the comments everyone! Don’t get me wrong, VFFs still have a place TODAY. In the near future, they will be surpassed by other more innovative companies. I think Vibram’s value will be in a support role… they will make some damn good minimalist soles.

  24. Russ Taylor
    November 7, 2010

    I too, really like my KSO’s, Classics, and Treksports. They all have their application. But I would have to agree that looking at their new planned shoes for 2011 kinda turned me off a bit. I would love to try a pair of the new Evo II’s. Maybe someday. I would also like to give some Inov-8′s a try but they seem to be having difficulty keeping up with demand too. This summer I wore my classics almost every day and as long as Vibram keeps a simple version of the KSO around I’ll probably still be quite a long term customer.

  25. Jeremy
    November 7, 2010

    I’m just tired of the relatively impractical toe pockets. While I’ve never really wanted attention for my footwear (or other clothing), I will miss it a little bit as I try out slightly more normal looking shoes like terra planas.

  26. Kate (KittyK)
    November 7, 2010

    Nope, I totally agree with you. I have a pair flows (only because I have had awful luck with the KSO’s and their quality issues) and a pair of sprints.

    They were great for when I first started and they did the job when I started trail running. Now though, I hate the fact they are getting bigger when I actually want something more minimal. I hate the cold-toes problem. I hate the smell (although for some reason the flows don’t smell as bad as the KSO’s/Sprints despite being older). I hate the fact they seem to be moving away from the core values that the minimalist runners connected with.

    I am looking at the alternatives and wondering what else is out there. I like the idea of the Merrells and of course the Luna sandals. The problem I have is that I am on the wrong side of the Border (northern border). Canada is about 18 months behind the US in BF running and I suspect that it’s going to be a while until a wider of selection of minimalist shoes are available. The VFF’s are still only available in the 3 models and for only about 6 months of the year here, because they sell them as Aqua shoes. I could jump in and buy over the interweb, but call me old fashioned I want to try them on first!

    I will find a solution. My trusty VFF’s will keep me going until I go stateside next year and then I think I may call time on my love-hate relationship with Vibram!

  27. Brandon Mulnix
    November 7, 2010

    Can we still be friends? I think we should see other people?
    Jason, since you have moved on, is it alright I picked up with where you left off? Can I be the rebound runner?
    I really like my Trecs. I like the traction, I like the ground feel, and I like the light weight feel. I still like barefoot the best, but if I have to heal and cover up my toes, I really like my five fingers. Now that is totally because I have not shopped around. I am not that easy of a guy. If any of those other companies needed people to test their shoes, I might cheat. You know what I mean. When they throw themselves at you like that its tempting…..

    So Thanks for the sloppy seconds, see you on the trail!

  28. Jon
    November 7, 2010

    I agree. I think vibrams are turning in to a fad. And I think this because everyone is wearing them now and has nothing to do with being minimal. They “look cool” now. But in their defense, they’re still half the price of EVOs. I’m wearing the Bikilas now, but they don’t have the same ground feel as my KSOs so I’d give the Bikilas a FAIL also. I guess I’ll have to stick with my Walmart water shoes for the winter.