Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aqua
I have to preface any shoe review with this disclaimer: I’m a
barefoot runner. I only use shoes in extreme temperatures, extremely
rugged terrain, or when running indoors at an establishment that
disallows barefoot running (like my local YMCA.) I do wear shoes at
work (I’m a high school teacher), during the winter, and when
frequenting most businesses. As such, I am always searching for shoes
that allow me to run in extreme conditions and wear casually.
I’ve known about
Terra Plana’s Vivo
line for some time. As a teacher of barefoot and
minimalist shoe running, I’ve done a lot of research on shoe options.
However, I never tried them myself. I’m a pretty skeptical person.
Their claim to be a “barefoot shoe” seemed to be akin to Sylvia Browne’s
claim of being able to see peoples’ future… it’s just clever marketing
to bilk money from unsuspecting saps. I was contacted by the Vivo
Barefoot USA offices to try a pair of their Aqua shoes. While I was
very skeptical, I was curious to see if their claims were even remotely
When the box arrived, I was pretty excited. I had read a few
reviews online, but most came from people that had a preference for
running in minimalist shoes. There weren’t many comments from runners
that ran almost exclusively barefoot. This would be a fun experiment!
I opened the plain gray box. Inside were two fabric bags containing
each individual shoe. This packaging was a nice touch. I took the left
shoe out of its bag. I didn’t know what color I would receive (they
come in a variety of colors, some of which would not be appropriate for
my school.) I was relieved to see the dark brown model.
My first impression was not necessarily positive. The shoe was
slightly heavier than I anticipated. I read that some people enjoyed
running in Aquas. As a barefoot runner, the weight of a shoe is
critical. For comparison, they were about as heavy as my Vibram KSOs
and slightly heavier than my Saucony Kilkennys. The Aquas weighed about
half as much as my traditional dress shoes I sometimes wore at work.
Also, I found the sole to be much stiffer than I anticipated. It could
easily be bent, twisted, and rolled into any shape, but my preference
had always been extremely flexible soles.
On a positive note, the shoes looked very cool. The style was
definitely better than any minimalist casual shoe on the market today.
Also, the sole was very thin… maybe a few millimeters throughout. The
heel and forefoot were the same height, a necessity for any minimalist
shoe. The workmanship was top-notch; neither shoe had a single flaw.
It is obvious that quality control is important to Terra Plana. The
shoes were wider than any casual shoe I found, which is usually a kiss
of death for other minimalist shoes. So how did they feel?
After carefully inspecting each shoe, I put them on and walked around
my house. To say I was amazed would be an understatement of epic
proportions. They felt amazing! At first, it was hard to describe the
experience. Most minimalist shoes I tried seem to be designed to hug
your feet to move with the natural motions of the foot. It is as if
they are designed to be sock-like. The result is always some degree of
awkwardness as the materials of the shoe cannot work in perfect unison
with the complex motions of the foot. The Aquas were different. It
felt as if my feet were working in the exact same way as they would if I
were walking barefoot. I could feel my toes splaying with each step as
the wide toe box allowed for this natural movement. This feeling was
unique; it is the first shoe I have tried that allows for freedom within
the shoe, yet does not feel “loose” or sloppy.”
The weight of the shoe was not an issue while walking around. The
shoes felt lighter than I had originally anticipated. I’m not quite
sure what to attribute this to other than the fit. I had used a pair of
driving moccasins prior to the Aquas. They are a lighter shoe, but yet
feel heavier in actual use.
The purpose of the stiffness of the sole, which I was concerned
about initially, became apparent. It allowed my foot to move freely
within the shoe without being impeded by the floppiness of the sole. I
was also surprised that the sole felt much more flexible on my foot than
it did in my hands. As I later read, the soles contain a layer of
Kevlar-like material to offer protection against punctures.
After thirty minutes of walking, skipping, and jumping around my
house (hey, it works well as my testing criteria!), I was convinced of
the claims made by Terra Plana. This shoe really did work as
advertised. If only I could say the same about Sylvia Browne…
The true test came a few hours later when I wore the shoes for a run
around the block. Initially, I did not wear socks and removed the
insole. Running was okay, but not as impressive as walking. The shoes
were a bit too heavy for my tastes. Aside from that, they continued to
function in the same way as walking. I could feel my feet moving within
the shoe just as they do when running barefoot. The sole was a bit too
unresponsive for me, also. I couldn’t “feel” the ground as well as I
like. This will always be an issue with any minimalist running shoe.
As a barefoot runner, my preference is to have nothing between my foot
and the ground. The trade-off is protection. To really test the shoes,
I ran on an extremely technical trail near my home. I could easily run
over any obstacle (rocks, roots, chunks of sharp ice, etc.) without
problem. What the shoe lacked in ground feel, it made up for in
Since most runners are not barefoot runners, I gave the shoes to
two runner friends to test out. Both are in the very early stages of
transitioning to barefoot and minimalist shoe running. Both LOVED the
shoe for running. It was obvious they appreciated the degree of
protection offered by the shoe coupled with the design that allowed for
natural foot movement. As a running shoe, hard-core barefoot runners
will probably shy away from the Aqua. New barefoot and minimalist shoe
runners would likely find the Aqua to be an excellent running shoe
Over the next four weeks, I wore this shoe daily. It performed
flawlessly as a daily “work shoe.” The lack of a raised heel and design
that allowed my foot to move as intended makes this an ideal casual
shoe. As time passed, I actually experienced less aches and pains from
standing and walking at work. I would confidently rank this shoe as the
best casual shoe I have ever worn. I always recommend my barefoot
running students spend as much non-running time barefoot as possible.
This shoe would be a perfect solution for occasions when my students
must wear shoes.
As a running shoe, it would be ideal for new barefoot or minimalist
shoe runners. More experienced barefoot runners may prefer a more
minimal running shoe. Terra Plana is preparing to release their EVO
running shoe, around March of 2010. If the EVO is designed based on the
same principles of the Aqua, it would be hard to imagine it wouldn’t be
a runaway success.
Here are a handful of other issues:
• Cost- these shoes are expensive compared to the other minimalist
options available. It retails for $150. This is what initially
prevented me from seriously considering this shoe as a minimalist
option. I don’t have a problem spending more for quality products, but
my skepticism prevented me from spending the money on one pair of
shoes. After testing these shoes, I would not hesitate to spend $150
for these shoes. Truth be told, I think they are under-priced for the
value. Not only are they the only causal shoe I’ve tried that acts as
advertised, the design, construction, and durability are impeccable.
• Fit- My Aquas are EU size 45, which is larger than what I would
normally wear. I would recommend ordering one size larger than your
• Traction- Traction on dry and wet surfaces is very good. Traction
on ice is bad. I live in Michigan, so I spend a good deal of time
walking on icy sidewalks. The Aquas perform very well on every surface
• The company- The more I researched Terra Plana, the more impressed
I became. They are a socially and environmentally-responsible company
that is deeply concerned with producing quality products that meet the
demand of their intended audience. Their customer service is
second-to-none. I anticipate this company will grow by leaps and bounds
as the barefoot/minimalist shoe movement takes off… I really hope the
company doesn’t lose this “family” feel. Even though Terra Plana is a
major player in the world of shoes, they do not have the ‘faceless
behemoth” feel of corporations such as Nike. I won’t go into more
detail for brevity’s sake, but you can read more about the company here:
If you are a current or aspiring barefoot runner looking for a
casual shoe for work or play, this shoe is second to none. After using
this shoe for a month, I couldn’t even recommend an alternative to this
shoe. It will allow you to develop and strengthen your feet and legs
during non-running times by allowing natural foot movement. The cost is
of this shoe is a value for the quality and function of the product. If
you are a new barefoot or minimalist shoe runner, the Aqua could be a
viable option as a running shoe. I am eager to test other models from
Terra Plana’s Vivo
division. Some other styles could easily be used for
business or business/casual dress, and the EVO promises to be a quality
minimalist running shoe. Terra Plana also produces an excellent line of
women’s shoes. After hearing me rave about these shoes, my wife is
looking forward to trying the woman’s line. If you have any questions
about the Aquas, please email me at robillardj “at” gmail “dot” com.