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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > Vibram Five Finger FLOW > Test Report by Thomas Vickers

Vibram FiveFingers FLOW

Initial Report - July 5, 2008
Field Report - September 22, 2008
Long Term Report - November 18, 2008

Thomas Vickers

40 years old
Male
5 ft 11 in tall (1.8 m)
175 lb (79 kg)
redroach@pobox.com
Southeast Texas, Houston Area


Tester Background:
I grew up in the piney woods of southeast Texas. Camping was a quick trip into the mosquito-infested woods behind the house. My style has evolved and over the last 4 or 5 years, I have begun to take a lighter weight approach to hiking gear (I still use sleeping bags and tents, just lighter versions). While I have flirted with lightweight hiking, I feel that I am more of a mid-weight hiker now. My philosophy is one of comfort, while carrying the lightest load possible.


Initial Report
July 5, 2008

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Manufacturer Information:

Manufacturer: Vibram

Website: http://vibramfivefingers.com

Year Manufactured: 2008

MSRP: $90.00 US

Weight: 6.6 oz (187 g) each or 13.2 oz (374 g) per pair

Information From Tester:
(all measurements approximate)


Color/pattern: Black

Weight:
Left foot: 6.95 oz (198 g)
Right foot: 7.20 oz (204 g)

Length:
Left foot: 11.5 in (29 cm)
Right foot: 11.5 in (29 cm)

Width:
Left foot: 4.25 in (11 cm)
Right foot: 4.25 in (11 cm)

Size received: 43 EU

Tester's shoe size: 10.5 US

Initial tester expectations:
After visiting the Vibram website I figured that the FiveFingers FLOWs were going to be interesting.  I figured that they were going to be typical "water socks" with tacky soles that would be easy to get on and probably well suited for water use. The pictures and descriptions seemed to be pretty straight forward, but I was still worried that as neat as they looked, I was missing something. 

Manufacturer's description:
UPPER - 1.2 mm Neoprene & Hypalon® straps,CAMO SOLE- Vibram TC-1 performance rubber,BLACK SOLE- Vibram GM-50 grip rubber
FOOTBED- Antimicrobial microfiber. 2mm EVA footbed provide the thermal insulation and protection. And our new GM50 performance rubber (available only in black) is razor-siped for added slip resistance over a variety of surfaces.

Tester's Description:
The Vibram FiveFingers FLOWs are a bit difficult to describe. My oldest daughter refers to them as daddy's "monster shoes," but I think I need to provide a bit more detail that than.  The FiveFingers FLOW is basically a neoprene toe-sock (a sock that has individual toes rather, more like a glove for the feet vs. a mitten) that has a hard rubber sole. The neoprene upper cover the entire upper part of my foot and fit tightly around the base of my ankle.

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Mine are an attractive black color on the upper and sole while the interior footbed is a bright yellow.  There is also a bright yellow "Vibram" logo on the outside edge of each FLOW as well as on the bottom of each sole. The FLOW is secured in place by two straps made from Hypalon® (appears to be some sort of rubber).  One strap is secured on the outer edge of the upper, stretches across the arch of the upper, loops through a rubber loop then returns back over the arch of the upper. It is held in place and adjusted by a length of hook and loop fastener on the loose end of the strap.  The other strap works in much the same manner, but wraps around the heel of the FLOW.  This means that the FLOW can be adjusted across the heel and across the top to ensure a secure fit.

The sole of the FLOW is pretty impressive.

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The GM-50 Grip rubber sole is fairly hard and not at all tacky. The sole is thicker on the balls of the foot, the heel area, and on the toe pads.  The sole is razor sipped (this appears as small groves/slits in the sole material) on the balls of the sole and on the heel area, but not in the center of the FLOW's sole.  The sole does not really come up on the inside of the FLOW, but does come up higher on the outside edge of the FLOW and over the front and top of each toe. 

There is also a pull loop on the upper back portion of each heel to help pull the FLOWs onto my feet. It appears to be made of the same material as the straps.

Initial thoughts:
The FLOWs arrived with an instruction booklet on how to use and put them on and two tags attached to one of the FLOWs. One of the tags states that the FLOWs are protected by the "Aegis microbe shield that controls odor, staining, and deterioration."   The other tag lists the benefits of Vibram's "barefoot technology."   According to this tag, the flexible straps on the FLOW can be trimmed shorter and that the flexible sole and individual toe pockets strengthen and stretch muscles.

My initial inspection showed that the FLOWs were well constructed with no loose seams or stitching in any spot. My only concern was what appears to be extra glue present on the upper part of the big toe area of both FLOWs, where the sole wraps around and meets the neoprene upper. Hopefully this is just an unavoidable part of the assembly process and not a production flaw, but only testing will tell what it means to the prolonged durability and performance of the FLOWs.

I expected the FLOWs to be a bit softer in the sole area with more of a 'sock' feel to them.  I was mildly surprised when I took them out of the box and inspected them.  The sole was much harder and less tacky than I expected, but I liked the way they felt in my hands.  Once I finally got them on I was really surprised to find out that they feel more like shoes than I had expected, but without the wasted material or weight.  The only way I can describe my initial wearing of the FLOWs was something between a shoe and barefoot. It wasn't a bad feeling, just something that was going to take some getting used to.

I have worn the FLOWs for most of two complete days so far and I can pass on initial observations that I had not expected after seeing the website or opening their box. The first is that they are difficult for me to get on.  I follow the provided instructions (insert toes and then pull the heel up only after getting all the toes in place), but have had great difficulty getting my last two toes into their toe pockets.  I don't think this is a design flaw, just the way my feet work. I have apparently have problems separating my smallest two toes, but with a little effort, I can get them into the proper position and get the FLOWs on my feet.

The other thing that I have discovered is that I have to be very careful when pulling the heel up on my foot so that I don't get the pull strap on the back of the FLOW folded over and stuck inside with my foot. This is actually very painful and I have always had to pull the heel back off to get the pull strap out.  I don't see this as a problem as long as I take my time and put the FLOW on slowly.

Final thoughts:
I am really excited to test the Vibram FiveFingers FLOWs.  They look completely different from anything I have ever used and I am hoping that they are as comfortable and versatile as they appear in my first couple of days of using them.  I do wish that I could get them on quicker, but because of my toes I don't know if I am every going to quick about putting the FLOWs on my feet.

Things I like:
1. Soles are stiffer and thicker than I expected
2. Soles wrap up over the front of the toes
3. Snug fit

Things I don't like:
1. A bit slow to put on
2. Easy to get the heel strap folded inside with my feet

Field  Report
September 22, 2008

Locations:
Sam Houston National Forest
Jones State Forest
Other locations in Southeast Texas

Conditions:
Temperatures from 65 - 100 F (21 - 38 C). 
The terrain has been hard packed dirt roads/trails, grass, leaves, concrete, and asphalt

Activities:
·Overnight hikes on the Lonestar Trail (4 days/2 nights)
·Dayhikes in W.G. Jones State Forest (4 days)
·Other activities (8 days)

Putting on the FLOWs:
One thing that has gotten a bit easier for me over this part of the test is putting on the FLOWs. It seems that the longer and more often I wear them, the better they form to my feet and stay "open". They are still not as easy for me to put on as I would like (which means it takes too long), but I can get them on without too much trouble. The main issue that I still have is the fact that my smallest toe does not wish to be separated from my other toes. I have to do a weird "stretch the little toe out" move ever time I put the FLOWs on and sometimes it still gets jammed up.

With all of that being said, I think Vibram has done a good job of making the FLOWs work. They are not as quick and easy to put on as I would like, but when I consider the fact that they have to fit a wide range of feet sizes and shapes, the FLOWs work and are pretty well designed. This was one item that I figured was either going be either very poorly designed or work great. In my humble opinion the FLOWs are right in the middle of that last statement. They don't jump out and grab me as being perfect and they don't disappoint me be being completely useless.

How to use them:
One thing that I really thought would be great for this type of footwear was stream/water crossings. So far I have had two issues with using them in this manner. The first is putting them on. They are just too time consuming for me to put on and take off just for water crossings. The other issue that I discovered is that when there is a dry summer in Texas, there just is not a lot of water to cross.  Luckily for me I found ways to work around the problem of a dry summer.

Other than fancy "water" shoes I also envisioned using the FLOWs as a camp shoe. I normally carry cheap "flip flops" for this role, but the FLOWs provide way more coverage and protection to my feet. Their weight is an issue for me since I would prefer a much lighter camp shoe, but after a couple of nights out I am more than happy with the extra weight. After taking my boots off it was nice to stretch my feet and then put the FLOWs on. I could move around without slipping or stubbing my toes and there were no sudden screams when I stepped on a pine cone or two.

I also wore them around the house and on short day hikes on a lot of days. I decided that one thing that I needed to test was how well they handled being wet so I even went off to the pool one day for an afternoon of watery delight. The FLOWs did not stretch out, get squishy, or slippery while being worn in the pool for several hours.  One thing that surprised me was that when I got in the water, I had a difficult time telling that my feet were wet. The FLOWs fit so tightly that despite the water penetrating them, I could not tell that my feet were wet.  My feet did not slip around inside the FLOWs while in the water or afterward when I spend a couple of hours walking around my yard. This really impressed me because I was fully expecting the FLOWs to get wet, stretch out, then allow my feet to slip around inside of them.  Sometimes it is good to find out that my expectations were completely wrong.

Another selling point for the FLOWs is that when I have used them outside on hot days, it is very easy to pour water over them to cool my feet. It usually took about an hour for them to dry completely, but it was a nice way to cool my feet off without taking the FLOWs off and letting them air out.

Comfort:
Walking barefoot is something that I do not like to do for several reasons. I am prone to smashing my toes into any object I can find, I tend to step on spiky things, and without some sort of arch support my feet hurt in a horrible manner. The good news is that the FLOWs prevent at least some of these issues from happening.

The soles of the FLOWs wrap up and cover the front part of each separate toe. This has been greatly beneficial since when the sole smashes into an object it tends to protect my toes.  I did not expect the level of protection that I have received, but I am grateful for it. There have been several instances when I was sure I was going to hop and howl, but the sole of the FLOWs protected my toes from any serious pain and damage.   As a master toe stubber, I am very impressed with the level of protection that the FLOWs have provided to this point.

I have also discovered that the sole of the FLOWs is very deceptive. My initial expectation was that it would be a much tackier substance, but it was stiffer versus tacky when it arrived. After I got the FLOWs on my feet and walked around a bit I was surprised again by how thick, yet flexible the sole was.  There were more surprises to come as I continued to wear the FLOWs. The first is that the soles are very grippy, even when wet. When walking on wet bull rock or tile I have never slipped in the FLOWs. The sole grips slick surfaces like a champ and I feel secure walking no matter what the surface material is like or how wet it is. 

The other thing I like about the soles is the fact that they do protect the bottom of my feet pretty well. I have walked on all sorts of surfaces, but two instances illustrate how well the soles on the FLOWs work. Bull rock is rounded river rock that is 2-6 in (5-15 cm) in diameter. It is very slick and difficult to walk on barefooted, but with the FLOWs on, I   did not slip and I did not have a difficult time walking on the bull rock.  I will even go so far as to say that the FLOWs make walking on the bull rock easier than sandals do.  The other instance when I realized that the FLOWs were great at protecting my feet was when I was standing on the end of a concrete driveway. There was a layer of loose gravel on the end of the driveway and as I was standing there I realized that the gravel was not biting into my feet or making me do some sort of strange gravel dance to get off of it.  With the FLOWs on, I barely realized that the gravel was there. 

The one thing that I don't like about wearing the FLOWs is that they do not provide any arch support. Of course this is a problem for me when I go barefoot, so I felt that this would be a problem with the FLOWs and I was correct.  I really can't complain about it because any time I do not have arch support, my feet begin to hurt after a while. So the FLOWs definitely mimic going barefoot when it comes to the lack of arch support.

The fit of the FLOWs is tight. When I take them off I can see the seam marks on the top of my feet. No matter how long I wear them, they are still tight and there are still seam imprints on my feet. This is something that I like since I was worried that they would eventually stretch out and be loose on my feet. The tightness of the fit also means that I have not had any problems with debris getting into the FLOWs. Having worn them on a wide variety of surfaces I am surprised that I have not had at least some debris issues, but other than a large number of ant stings around my ankles due to the low cut of the FLOWs, I have no issues with unwanted things getting into the FLOWs while my feet are in them.

Monster shoe weather:
The FLOWs get dirty when I wear them. A quick rinse in the hose or other water source quickly gets them pretty clean. The soles do not retain any mud or dirt at all. This is something that I truly like. All I have to do is rinse them off with the hose and I am good to come into the house without the missus throwing a fit about me tracking something inside after she has swept.

For the first part of this test period I never wore the FLOWs for more than a few hours (2-6) at a stretch and they never developed any really bad odors. They did smell like feet, but a little airing out made them almost as fresh as when they came out of the box.   When I was lucky enough to experience Hurricane Ike recently, I wore the FLOWs for three days straight. I walked in the water in them. I worked in the yard in them. I slept in them. When I finally took them off, my wife tried to banish the FLOWs and myself to the yard, but I got away with just putting the FLOWs on the back porch. They were rather unpleasant to deal with, but nearly a week later, they are returning to a more normal scent.  I am not surprised at this since I did wear them through many cycles of soaking and then drying while still on my feet. Best of all, when my daughter asked me why I was wearing my "monster shoes" I answered her that "Hurricanes are monster shoe weather."

Final thoughts:
I like the Vibram FiveFingers FLOW. They are a bit difficult to get on, but they are like having feet that are on steroids. They keep my feet from getting poked and my toes from getting smashed and I never have to worry about getting them wet or tracking dirt into the house in their soles.  For camp shoes I can not see that there is anything better that I have ever tried. I do wish that I had more water exposure, but for generally kicking about camp or on a slow day hike, the FLOWs are perfect, even in the hot Texas summer. 

There are two things that I do not like about the FLOWs so far. The first is that everyone who sees them remarks about how ugly they are. I do not share this opinion, but everyone around me seems to be an agreement on them.  The other thing has to do with things that get stuck between the toes of the FLOWs. It is pretty much a guaranteed occurrence that at some point while wearing them that I will look down and find a stick, a leaf, or some other strange object sticking out from between my toes.  I never feel these things through the FLOWs, but it is rather disturbing to look down and see a leaf sticking up from between my toes at odd moments.

Things I like:
1. No debris get into the FLOWS
2. They protect my toes from dings
3. The soles work really well in varied conditions

Things I do not like:
1. Things get stuck in my toes
2. FLOWs are low cut in the ankles
3. Everyone but me think that they are ugly



Long Term Report
November 18, 2008

Locations:
Jones State Forest
Other locations in Southeast Texas

Conditions:
Temperatures from 40 - 85 F (21 - 38 C). 
The terrain has been hard packed dirt roads/trails, grass, leaves, concrete, and asphalt.

Activities:
·Overnight hikes along the San Jacinto River (4 days/2 nights)
·Dayhikes(2 days)
·Other activities (6 days)

Hot and cold:
I continued to use the FLOWs as camp shoes during overnight trips as well as for short dayhikes and general use around the yard and other outdoor activities.  With the temperatures finally dropping here in Texas, I got a chance to see how much I liked the FLOWs in cooler weather. I did notice that sliding my feet into the FLOWs in cooler temperatures is much nicer than putting on a pair of flip flops as I come out of my hammock, but they are a bit less warm and friendly than a pair boots and socks.

My initial plan called for me to sleep in the FLOWs, which I had no issue doing when the temperatures were warm enough for me to drape a sleeping bag over my body.  As it got colder, I considered sleeping in the FLOWS, but decided against it because I was worried about the wear and tear on the footbox of my sleeping bag. I do not know if they would have caused damage, but I was not willing to take that chance. With that being noted, it was a pleasure on warm mornings to already have my footwear on when I got up, but it was not easy to sleep this way. This was not  a FLOW problem, but rather a user issue. I simply do not like to sleep with anything on my feet.

Overall, I liked the FLOWs in warm and cool weather.  They kept my feet comfortable around camp no matter how warm or cold the temperature was. I also liked the fact that if it was too hot, I could simply hop in some water or pour some on my feet to cool things off without taking the FLOWs off.

Wear and tear:
I wore the FLOWs a great deal over the test period. I wore them on all sorts of surfaces and while soaking wet and while dry.  Despite heavy usage on a variety of terrains and weather conditions, I feel like they really held up much better than I had expected. There were no rips, tears, or separated seams on the FLOWs when the testing period was over. 

The FLOWs retained their shape and tight fit throughout the testing period. They did not stretch out of shape and grow too loose at any point. In fact, the more I wore them, the more they seemed to mold to the exact shape of my feet.  The hook and loop fasteners on the tightening straps have also held up very well. The fasteners still hold as tightly as they did when I took the FLOWs out of the box. 

Overall, I would have to give the FLOWs an A+ in the wear department considering how tightly they fit and how much I wore them. The only wear related issue that I have encountered has to do with the smell. No matter how long I wear the FLOWs at this point, they always stink when I take them off. The longer I wear them the more they stink and the only thing that seems to alter how bad the smell is is the duration that they are worn or how long they air out after wearing them.  The good news is that a few hours of airing them out gets rid of most of the smell, but as soon as I put them back on, I know they will be rather unpleasant when I take them off. At this point in the test, I refuse to leave them in my hammock with me at night. While I do not like leaving them outside my shelter, I can not bear to have them inside with me while I am trying to sleep.   As long as I keep them on though, I do not seem to smell the stink.

Comfort:
I require a ton of arch support in my shoes or my feet, legs, and back will ache for days afterward.  The FLOWs are a lot like going barefoot, which I liked, but after a few hours in them, I hurt. Usually it was my feet, but that is not really something I blame on the FLOWs. They are designed to be similar to going barefoot and I have the same issues when walking around sans footwear. 

Despite feeling like I was going barefoot at many points, the FLOWs were a vast improvement in my view. I walked on a variety of surfaces and never once felt discomfort because I had stepped on something. The soles on the FLOWs worked very well at keeping the little rocks, sticks and other items from bruising my feet or causing me to hop around like the village idiot. 

Best of all, the FLOWs kept me from stubbing my toes, which is a serious danger for me when walking barefoot. This surprised me because I did not think they were constructed in such a way as to protect my toes, but they did. I dinged my toes several times with the FLOWs on and I suffered little or no pain. If I would have been barefoot at the time, I likely would have come away with a nasty bruise and some serious pain.

Final thoughts:
I was greatly impressed by the performance of the FLOWs. They held together and protected my feet in a variety of environments despite some hard usage.  I like going barefoot, but I hate stepping on things and bruising my feet.  The FLOWs allowed me to fill the gap that I had between barefeet and flip flops in camp.  Best of all, not only were they great camp shoes, but if I had to get my feet wet, the FLOWs were great to wear. I could slosh through any water I encountered and my feet and footware would be dry in under an hour on a warm day. 

I still have trouble getting them on, but that is because of my toes that stick together. I think that Vibram did a great job of making something that would fit a wide variety of feet, be durable, comfortable, and fun to wear.  The FLOWs are going to have a place in my pack for a long time to come.  They are just too useful to leave at home and they provide a great deal of comfort in a variety of situations.

One last thing that I had worried about was whether or not the soles would hold up to hard usage. I drag my  heels when I wear boots and this is the quickest way for me to kill a pair of boots.  I must not drag my heels when I wear the FLOWs  because the FLOWs do not show any unusual or heavy wear on the heel.  

Things I like:
1. Great for using on the trail
2. Comfortable in hot or cold conditions
3. Great for using in water

Things I do not like:
1. Still difficult to get on correctly
2. Smell BAD after wearing for just a short amount of time
3. Everyone thinks they are ugly








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