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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > Vibram Five Finger FLOW > Test Report by Chari Daignault

VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS FLOW SHOES
TEST SERIES BY CHARI DAIGNAULT
LONG-TERM REPORT
November 17, 2008

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE INITIAL REPORT - July 7, 2008
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT - September 15, 2008
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT - November 17, 2008

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Chari Daignault
EMAIL: chari.daignault@gmail.com
AGE: 46
LOCATION: Orlando, Florida U.S.A.
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 6" (1.70 m)
WEIGHT: 135 lb (61.20 kg)

I've been an ultra light hiker for 35 years -- I take the bare minimum with me and prefer a pack under or close to five pounds. I've hiked all the Florida State Forest trails in Central Florida and climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan when I was nine. I have hiked dry & sandy, rough & rocky and wet & boggy trails and as a result, have found what does and doesn't work for me in terms of equipment and clothing. Central Florida affords a lot of sun and rains, with high temperatures and massive humidity. It's a great testing area for clothing, footwear and headgear.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Vibram USA, Inc.
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website:
Vibram FiveFingers
MSRP: US $90.00
Listed Weight: 11.2 oz (318 g) - W37 [pair]
Measured Weight: 11.8 oz (335 g) - W39 [pair]
Available Colors: Black, Grey-Camo
Color Tested: Grey-Camo
Size Tested: Women's 39

Vibram FiveFingers Flow
Vibram FiveFingers Flow - From Manufactuer's website

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

When the Vibram FiveFingers FLOW shoes arrived, I thought the box looked too small. Once opened, I could see that shoes without all the bells and whistles, heels and whatnot don't really require much of a box. I immediately took off my shoes and socks and tried the FLOW shoes on. I found myself staring at my feet while I wore them. I recommend using the enclosed instructions for trying them on; I would have had a much easier time with it had I done so, as there is a definite method for putting them on.

Vibram FiveFingers Flow
They go with jeans!


The tops of the shoes are a nice light grey colored Neoprene; the soles a thick rubber in green camo. The interior EVA footbed is yellow in color. The rubber soles come up around the tops of each of my toes and along the outside edges of both my big toe and my little pinky toe. I hope this will help a lot with preventing any stubbing of my toes when climbing on rocks or running on trails.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

The instructions recommend that you initally walk barefoot a bit on carpet to accustom yourself to the feeling of being barefoot prior to trying the shoes on for the first time. I love going barefoot and aside from work and working out, I wear a name brand rubber clog-type shoe which is very similar to being barefoot, so I opted not to do the carpet walking and went right to trying on the FiveFingers FLOW shoes.

The first thing I learned when trying on the FLOW shoes was that even though I've worn gloves a lot during my lifetime, and can put them on with my eyes blindfolded; there was no preparing me for the fumble-fest that was me trying on the FLOW shoes for the first time. Slipping my fingers into their respective finger slots in gloves is nothing like trying to stuff my toes into the toe slots of these shoes. I finally decided to read the instructions.

Per the instructions, I slipped my foot in and carefully placed my big toe first. I then moved down the line of toes and lined up each successive toe. I found that once lined up, I could grab the fabric between each of the toes and tug it down toward my heel. This helped to ease my toes into their places within the shoe.

Vibram FiveFingers Flow
Top View


TRYING IT OUT

Initially, the fit on my toes felt almost claustrophobic; I'm not used to have my individual toes encased, nor am I used to having my entire foot encased so tightly. It took some getting used to, but eventually, I became accustomed to the feel and actually came to enjoy wearing them.

Vibram FiveFingers Flow
Side View - Outside


After getting my toes into their places, I pulled the heel loop and eased my heel into the shoe. After my heel was in place, I tightened the strap across the top of my foot and then tightened the strap across the back of my heel. The instructions recommend doing it in this order. After my heel strap was in place, I loosened the strap across the top of my foot and adjusted it until it was comfortable.

Vibram FiveFingers Flow
Side View - Inside


I ran on my treadmill for two miles, as a severe thunderstorm outside prevented me from trying the shoes out on the trails. The Vibram FiveFingers FLOW shoes were surprisingly comfortable, as even though my treadmill has a cushioned belt, it's still much less forgiving than running on dirt or grass. My feet didn't experience any extra stress or pounding and felt good. My only issue was that after two miles, I began to feel a hotspot forming on the back of my right achilles tendon. I opted to stop at that time and remove the shoes. I found that a seam inside the right shoe was stitched badly and had extra thread sewn into it, which was irritating the skin on my achilles tendon. The left shoe had a nice, clean stitch and was not causing any discomfort. I will see if I can clean the stitching up on that shoe to prevent the irritation.

TESTING STRATEGY

I run on trails four to five times a week. I average 3 to 5 miles [4.83 km - 8.05 km] during these runs. I plan on using the Vibram FLOW shoes on these trails for both trail running and hiking.

In July, I will be kayaking and canoeing in the Wekiva Springs State Park for a week. During that time, I will be trail running and taking part in several day hikes as well. This will entail me needing shoes that are not only waterproof or at the least water-tolerant, but that are also versatile and multifunction. Daily, I alternate workouts between pilates for flexibility, fitness training for strength, and Karate so I can look fierce while running away from danger. During testing, I will wear the Vibram Five Finger FLOW shoes for all of these activities, including the running away.

Things I wish to find out during the testing period:

* How well do the Vibram FLOW shoes fit? Are my toes encased tightly or do they slip around a bit?
* How much arch support do they provide?
* Does the portion of the shoe that lays across the top of the foot cause any chafing when wet? What about across the back of the achilles tendon -- will that chafe?
* Will the areas between the toes get sore spots? [I know that *my* toes are not used to having anything between them]
* Does debris enter the shoes easily?
* Will I develop any hot spots on my feet due to not wearing socks -- whether dry or wet?
* Are the shoes seamless inside? If not, are the seams well-covered to protect my delicate feet?
* When wet, will my feet slip around inside the shoes?
* How well do they grip on wet, slippery surfaces?
* How well do they grip on just wet surfaces?
* How well do they grip in mud?
* How do they do in sand or loose dirt?
* How do they hold up to washings? [the FAQ indicates they can be machine washed]
* How well do seams and glued areas hold up during repeated daily use?
* Are there odor problems due to having wet, bare feet in them?
* How long do they take to dry?
* Do they make a good camp shoe?

SUMMARY

Other than the stitching issue with the right shoe, the Vibram FiveFingers FLOW shoes fit perfectly. They are comfortable [based on the limited amount of time I've worn them] and they aren't too bad looking. I wish there were an easier way to put them on but, speaking for myself, toes are not the most flexible parts of the body.

I am excited about testing these shoes and look forward to trying them out during my various outdoor and indoor activities.

This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be appended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information.

Many thanks to Vibram USA, Inc. and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the FiveFingers FLOW shoes.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I've been testing the FiveFingers FLOW Shoes in various locations in Central Florida. One location is the Hal Scott Nature Preserve, which is near my home. The average temperature this time of year in the area I'm testing in is 91 degrees Fahrenheit [33 C], and the elevation is about 12 feet [3.6 Meters] above sea level. The terrain is mostly flat, with sand, gravel, scrub brush, local trees and the occasional creek or river to cross. I do day hikes 2 to 3 times a week out there and have worn the Flow Shoes during many of those hikes.

I spent 8 days and 7 nights camping in the Wekiva Springs State Park in July. We hiked in about 2 miles [3 km] and camped lakeside at Sand Lake. The average temperature during this time was 92 degrees Fahrenheit [33 C] and the elevation is 25 feet [7.62 m] above sea level. The terrain is a flatwoods with streams, a river, and a lake. There are about 15 miles [24 km] of hiking trails throughout the park. While there, we drove out to the Wekiva River for some canoeing and swimming. I wore the FiveFingers FLOW Shoes for all hiking activities along waterways and for all canoeing and water activities during this trip.

I've worn the shoes on several walks around my neighborhood and I've also worn the shoes during my daily indoor workouts at home.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

As advertised, the Vibram FiveFingers FLOW Shoes are definitely meant to mimic going barefoot. Albeit, the bottoms of my feet were protected from surfaces baked to searing temperatures by the sun and they were protected from sharp objects and dirt. However, my feet were not protected from bruising caused by any sharp or hard objects I may have stepped on.

I found that when hiking with the FLOW Shoes, if the trail was very rocky or had a lot of gravel, I'd have to stay off-trail and walk in grass or a softer location because it was just not comfortable having small rocks jab up into my feet. After hiking about a mile on a trail that was interspersed with gravel, I could feel that the balls of my feet and the bottoms of my heels were getting sore. When wearing the FLOW Shoes, I noticed my foot muscles worked much harder than they would when wearing regular hiking or trail running shoes; probably due to the FLOW Shoes having no arch support. So the soreness in my feet could be attributable to both feeling hard objects through the soles of the shoes and also due to the extra workout my feet were getting while hiking.

For running, I found the FLOW Shoes to work great on my treadmill indoors, which has a slightly padded deck. For outside running, I ran in grass and on soft ground coverings. For me, wearing the shoes for long walks on the sidewalk or in the street became uncomfortable as time went on, as cement does not give way to allow for the natural contour of the bottom of my feet. I tried to run on the sidewalk for a short distance, and it was not comfortable at all.

The shoes performed wonderfully for all indoor workouts I did. This included running on a treadmill, Pilates, free weights and martial arts [Karate].

While at the Wekiva Springs State Park, I wore the FiveFingers FLOW Shoes while canoeing. They kept good grip on the bottom of the canoe and allowed me to freely get in and out of the water or to climb up on the bank easily. The shoes performed well hiking along the banks of the river, which was muddy with a few roots and was a much softer terrain than the trails I'd hiked back home. I would just dunk my feet into the river to clean the mud off my feet while we were clomping around out there.

At camp, I initially tried to use the FLOW Shoes as my camp shoes. Due to the fact that I could not find a way to quickly take them off or put them on, I eventually changed to a clog-type of camp shoe and used the FLOW Shoes for all water activities and hikes along the river and the lake where we were camped. Having to place each toe into their respective places in each shoe did become easier and more familiar the more I wore the shoes, but it did not become a quick process by any means.

I've washed the shoes at least three times by just throwing them into the washing machine and then hanging them up to dry as instructed by the manufacturer. They dried out completely in a couple of hours, but did retain what looks to be water-staining up along the base of the toes. The stains may be due to river mud that had dried along those areas prior to my washing the shoes.

water-stained Flow Shoes
Water stains on Flow Shoes


SUMMARY

For me so far, the Vibram FiveFingers FLOW shoes have proven themselves to be excellent water activity shoes, very light hiking shoes on softer terrain conditions and excellent workout shoes. They do mimic going barefoot, so I've had to adjust my thinking to what I would do and where I would go if I actually were barefoot. Even though the FLOW shoes offer protection, it is limited protection in my experience, and so discretion is advised. I have noticed that I did not have any real problems with sand, dirt or debris entering the shoes.

Things I like:
They're water-compatible
Debris has not entered them
Great workout shoe
They appear to strengthen my feet the more I use them
They look different and start conversations

Things I don't like:
I have to think about where I wear them [this is not an issue with the product itself]
I wish they were easier to put on [this is more of a skill issue]
I wish I could wear them on more trails for longer hikes

TESTING STRATEGY

For the long term, I will continue using the shoes for indoor workouts, short hikes on softer trails, for any water activity which warrants foot protection and around my neighborhood.

This concludes my Field Report on the Vibram FiveFingers FLOW Shoes. The Long Term Report will be added to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information. Many thanks to Vibram USA, Inc. and BackpackGearTest.Org for the opportunity to test this product.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I've continued to use the FiveFingers FLOW Shoes here in Central Florida; mostly in the Hal Scott Nature Preserve, which is near my home. The average temperature this time of year in the area I'm testing in is 85 degrees Fahrenheit [29 C], and the elevation is about 12 feet [3.6 Meters] above sea level. The terrain is mostly flat, with sand, gravel, scrub brush, local trees and the occasional creek or river to cross. I do day hikes 2 to 3 times a week out there and have worn the Flow Shoes during many of those hikes. The weather has cooled down considerably and has been 10 to 15 degrees lower than the average lately.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The FLOW shoes continue to peform well for all indoor workouts, which include running on the treadmill, using free weights and even a stairstepper. I have worn the FLOW shoes on day hikes in areas that have water issues -- areas that won't dry out and that have small running creeks to cross. The FLOW shoes work great under these circumstances and I like that I don't have to worry about where I'm going to step.

They have wonderful traction; especially in wet areas. Walking in sand is about the same as when I walk in sand barefoot, except that I don't end up with any sand between my toes; the depth of the sand determines the amount of work it takes to move about. Dirt and grass feel great and are very easy to walk on .

I still am not able to wear the shoes on any extremely hard surfaces for an extended period of time. My feet begin to cramp and the smallest toes on both my feet get sore spots along the top of them. I also am not comfortable wearing them while walking on gravel or smaller rocks; I can feel the rocks and gravel and it is almost painful. I still haven't been able to discern whether this is due to my feet being ultra-sensitive or if it's because wearing the shoes are just so similar to going barefoot.

SUMMARY

Overall, I still really like the FLOW shoes for indoor workouts, water activities and short day hikes on softer surfaces or wet areas. My feet feel stronger in my opinion and I notice that my toes spread out more naturally now when I am actually barefoot.

People I see out on the trail are very curious about the FiveFinger FLOWs and have asked where they can purchase them -- or at least try them on. I do encourage a try-on prior to purchasing, just to make sure the toes will fit properly and that the sizing is correct. Putting on and removing the FLOW shoes is still a time-consuming process, but it's something I've become accustomed to over the testing period.

CONTINUED USE

I will continue to use the FLOW shoes as my primary workout shoe, unless I'm out running on the road or trail. I'll also use the shoes for any water activities or hiking in wet areas. These shoes are fun to wear and look at and they continue to be great conversation pieces.

This concludes my Long Term Report on the Vibram FiveFingers FLOW Shoes. Many thanks to Vibram USA, Inc. and BackpackGearTest.Org for the opportunity to test this product.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.


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