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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > Vibram FiveFingers Sprint > Owner Review by David Wilkes

Owner Review by David Wilkes

Vibram Sprint Shoes

July 27 2009

 Owner Information

Name: David Wilkes
E-Mail: amatbrewer@yahoo.net
Age: 42
Location: Yakima Washington USA
Gender: M
Height: 5'11" (1.80 m)
Weight: 197 lb (89.40 kg)

Biography:

I started backpacking in 1995 when I moved to Washington State. Since then, I have backpacked in all seasons and conditions. I have usually only managed time for 1-3 trips a year averaging 2-5 days, and as many day hikes as I can. I am currently getting into condition to summit some of the higher peaks in Washington, Oregon, and California. I prefer trips on rugged trails with plenty of elevation gain. While I continuously strive to lighten my load, comfort and safety are most important to me. My current pack is around 30 lbs (14 kg), not including consumables.

Product Information

Manufacturer:

Vibram

Year of Manufacture:

2009

Manufacturer’s Website:

www.vibramfivefingers.com

MSRP:

US $80.00
Listed Weight: 5.6oz each (Men's size 42)
Measured Weight: 5.7 oz  (162 g)

Product Images
Image courtesy of Vibram fivefingers

Product Description: (Per the manufacturer)

 SPRINT IS BEST FOR: Light Trekking, Climbing, Canyoneering, Running, Fitness Training, Martial Arts, Yoga, Pilates, Sailing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Surfing, Flats Fishing, Travel 

Review

 
USAGE:
  • Day hikes (at least 3 averaging about 3 mi / 4 km each) , as well as ‘camp shoes’ (on two backpacking trips totaling about 5 days and one overnight car camp) where I wear them around camp and while exploring. I have worn them for a 2 mile (3 km) hike with a full backpack (in snow!) as well as around the house, neighborhood, and even to mow the lawn. [NOTE: I don’t recommend wearing them for mowing the lawn or for extended wear in snow for obvious reasons]
  • Indoor workouts (Treadmill & Wii Active) at least 3-4 times.
  • Day to day wear; various stores, around town, and while at a water park. I wear them just about any place/time I think I can get away with it (and can ignore the eye-roles and sighs I get from my wife).
  • Sole [no pun intended] footwear on an overnight backpack with my 6 year old daughter (her first backpacking trip)
  • Canoeing (3-4 trips) ranging from 1-5 hrs. each
  • 3 day family camping trip (including some canoeing and fishing)

Cold toes
Chilly toes!
I have been trying to find just the right way to describe the Vibram FiveFingers Sprint shoes. So far the most descriptive analogy I came up with is “lingerie for your feet.” That is to say, they are like being bare…but better!

I grew up in Hawaii, and throughout most of my childhood, dressing up meant wearing a pair of shorts without holes and my good flip-flops. I spent much of my time barefoot. After 6 years in the navy and many, many more living in the “states” (for those who use that term, Hawaii is a state by the way) the rhino hide I had developed on my feet has softened quite a bit. I can still walk barefoot where most people I know can’t, but I am no longer impervious to sharp rocks and hot pavement like I used to be.

When I first learned about the FiveFingers line of footwear I was very interested, but having very wide feet I have learned that it can be difficult to find well fitting shoes, so I waited until I had the opportunity to try some on. I tried on a few different sizes of the Classic model and found they just did not fit me very well around the heel and instep. I normally take a size US 9 or sometimes 10 (43-44) but I found with the Sprint my best fit was with a US 8 (41)!

While examining these shoes (especially from the inside) I could not help but to compare the construction and design of these to my rock climbing shoes (however these are far more comfortable for my wide feet!).

Being a very different and original type of footwear, the Vibram fibefingers site has a size conversion chart (see below) which converts the foot length to the recommended size for each style they offer. When trying them on the clerk told me that most people end up finding they go with a smaller size than they normally would, and for me I found this to be true as noted above.
Sizing chart from manufacturer's web site
When I first put them on I was concerned about them rubbing in places I am not accustomed to, such as across the top of the foot or just above the heal at the base of the tendon. I have had issues in these areas with other tight fitting ‘aqua sock’ type shoes and sandals, but not with these. I wore the shoes for about 2hrs on the first day. Over the next 3 days, I wore them off and on with no signs of rubbing or hot spots. Within a week I could wear them all day with no problems.
I have read that some people have difficulties in getting their toes to go into the individual sections of the shoes. I experienced a slight learning curve during the first few times I put them on, but have had little trouble since. Now I find them as easy to put on as a pair of ski gloves.

I avoid wearing shoes without socks. I have found that my feet tend to stink, and after the first few days of wearing the Sprint’s I noticed they were starting to smell a bit ripe. I washed them (tossed them in the washer with my cloths) and they did not retain any odor. Since then I have had intermittent issues with odor when wearing them for extended times (more than a few hours). After I had owned them for a few weeks I started taking them into the shower with me and rinse them. This seems to work well. I noticed that the inner liner of the shoes under my feet almost immediately became dirty, and they can get very dark after extended wear. I have found a quick rinse while in the shower removes most of this, but the stains are gradually getting darker (as they do in any footwear). Also I have had a few occasions where sand and grit would work its way into the insole and was difficult to remove (I had to let them dry completely and then wash them out again). I have started using an old trick I learned years ago, where I put antiperspirant on my feet. So far this has completely prevented odors during day hikes, and I plan to continue.

I find being barefoot to be very comfortable, and prefer to be barefoot whenever possible. As a testament to how comfortable I find these, I have found myself wearing them around the house and in other situations where I would otherwise have preferred to be barefoot. So far the only discomfort I have experienced with these is due to an injury where I caught my toe on an object (while barefoot) and pealed back part of the nail of my little toe. Occasionally when I put the Sprint’s on it will cause some pain and I need to pull the shoe away from that toe slightly to relieve the pressure. However, prior to a recent trip I put a gash in my foot just below my right pinky toe when I kicked the corner of a piece of wood (again barefoot…maybe I should just wear the Sprint’s all the time?) I needed to keep an adhesive bandage on the wound to stop the bleeding and keep it clean. I was concerned that this would prevent me from wearing the shoes, but I was surprised that I had no problem. I experienced no discomfort at all. I received this injury 2 days prior to my using the Sprint shoes for an overnight backpacking trip! The only problem I had was when I stepped down on a rock right under my wound (ouch!)
On a side note, I have caught my little toe (the same one with the above mentioned injury to the nail) a few times on objects (rocks, branches, bedposts) and these shoes as far as I can tell do nothing to prevent or lessen this type of injury (a real problem for those as clumsy as me).

Prior to my daughter’s first backpacking trip I wanted to scout out the intended trail and camp site. I decided to go light and fast. I brought minimal gear and wore the Sprint shoes. I was amazed at how quickly I traversed the trail. I was virtually skipping, in fact I even ran part of the way back. The feeling of removing most of the weight off of my feet was incredibly liberating. On the trip with my daughter, I wore the Vibram shoes exclusively. While the trip was short, the trail did include a very steep decent in loose dirt and very sharp and loose talus where I descended with our packs before returning to guide my daughter down. Aside from having to remember that I did not have the traction I would normally have had I been wearing my boots, the shoes worked well (in spite of the foot injury mentioned above).
Backpacking
Can these be used for backpacking? ... YES!

At first, I felt the soles were a bit too slick and did not provide much grip. However, after wearing them more, I found they provide at least as much grip as bare feet (maybe more in some conditions). The difference is that with bare feet I can feel my feet slipping sooner than when I am wearing these shoes, hence the feeling of less traction. On one backpacking trip I wore the Sprint shoes most of the weekend around camp and while exploring. I decided to try them out for the 2 mile (3 km) hike out, wearing a 40 lb /18 kg pack. The route was a dirt road partially covered with calf deep snow/ice. As expected the shoes did not provide much traction in the snow and ice (about the same as being barefoot) and my feet would get cold and wet when in the snow but quickly warmed up when walking on the dirt. I would not recommend the shoes for these conditions as extended wear in snow would surely pose a risk of frostbite, but it was a fun experience and I got some amusing looks and comments from the other hikers I ran into along the way. I wore them once while mowing the lawn, primarily to see if they would pick up grass stains (they did not). They did not provide much traction in the freshly cut damp grass and they would provide virtually no protection from the spinning mower blades should I slip. While I gained experience in what the limits are for these shoes, it is an experiment I do not intend to repeat and would not recommend.

Something that has taken getting used to is the feeling of things between my toes. The first time I wore them I walked into an area of fine gravel and sand, and I could feel the sand getting between my toes. At first I wondered how it had gotten into the shoes, after looking, I realized that the material between the toes is so thin, it just felt like the sand was in the shoes, but in fact it was not. On another trip I was walking through some grass and underbrush, I found I had to stop a few times to clean the grass and flowers out from between my toes (it was kind of funny to see flowers caught between my toes).

I have found these shoes to work well at protecting my feet from hot surfaces (such as pavement) as well as small thorns and such. However, the thin material between the toes and on the sides of my feet provide no protection at all (aside from a bit of UV protection as I will mention later). Larger objects such as rocks can be painful if I am not careful. I find it is a good idea when wearing these to walk as I did when I was a kid walking barefoot. That is that I don’t worry about hot and rough surfaces and I can ignore small items like some broken glass and thorns, but larger items I avoid (e.g. large thorns and pieces of glass) while treading carefully on others (e.g. large rocks and branches).

The shoes provide some UV protection, as evidenced by my wife and daughters constant teasing about having tan lines on my feet that make me look like I have been wearing “Mary Janes” (whatever those are). Due to the amount of uncovered flesh when wearing these shoes sunburn is a real concern. When I was a kid I remember how many tourists I would see who had burned the tops of their feet because of wearing flip-flops in the sun. So sunscreen on the tops of the feet when wearing these is a good idea.
Camp shoes
Comfy camp shoes

I really like wearing these for my indoor workouts. They provide much of the versatility and sensitivity of being barefoot with more traction (on the carpet, mat, & “Wii” balance board) and comfort (especially on the treadmill). The only drawback is I find is that due to using the shoes outdoors, they transfer more dirt to the rubber cover on the “Wii” balance board, but since this is removable and cleanable, it is not really a significant problem.

I have recently taken up canoeing, and found the Sprint shoes ideal for this. The canoe I purchased has seats that I found difficult to get my feet under (so I can paddle from a kneeling position) when wearing sandals. The sandals tend to get caught on the edges of the seat. The Sprint shoes do not have this problem and I am able to move from a seated position to kneeling and back with no difficulties.

On a family trip to the Oregon coast I decided to do something I have not done since high school, run on the beach. I wore the Sprint shoes. The shoes picked up quite a bit of sand when I crossed the soft part of the beach so after getting to the packed damp sand I emptied them before starting running. The feeling was like running barefoot, in that I had no support and could feel my ankles and associated muscles getting quite a workout. However I was glad I had them when I noticed that a section of the beach I was running across had a few jellyfish washed up. Stepping on one of them barefoot could have been unpleasant, but since I was wearing these shoes I continued my run without pause. I also climbed a very large sand dune on the beach in Pacific City Oregon wearing the shoes, and while they did fill with quite a bit of sand, I was surprised that it was not uncomfortable as it would have been had I been wearing running shoes or similar. I was actually surprised by how much sand I dumped out, since while I could feel it, it was not uncomfortable.
Nice cool toes
Nothing like a cool stream on a hot day!


It is our custom at BackpackGearTest.org to only report on our own personal experiences and not the opinions of others. However I do think in this case the comments (and looks) I receive while wearing these is relevant to the report. I find most people I know who see me wearing them (some of my co-workers asked me to wear them to the office one day so they could see them) find them ‘interesting’ and a few have expressed an interest in getting them for themselves. Most strangers seem to find them very curious (often giving me double takes and sometimes pointing), and many even approach me to ask about them. I have yet to receive or overhear any negative comments about them (if you don’t count the eye-roles from my wife, and my daughter absolutely refusing to allow me to wear them on her 6th grade class hiking trip). In fact, while at a water park a few of the lifeguards commented on how they looked like they would be ideal for their work.

Regarding the ascetic aspects of these, I personally believe the brighter colors are better looking than the more subdued ones. When I purchased mine they had a few choices for the Classic style, but only had the Sprint in red. After trying them on and looking at the other colors available it is my opinion that the more subdued colors suggest an attempt to hide the shoes (almost apologizing for them), and in my option draw even more attention to them. I feel the brighter colors show a level of confidence and ‘I like these’ attitude that makes the overall look more pleasing. Nevertheless, since this is a matter of taste (something I am not known for…ask my wife) and very subjective “your mileage may vary”.

As mentioned above, after finding them so comfortable, I have started wearing them a lot, and as such the long term durability of these is something I wonder about. My primary concern is how long it will take me to wear through the soles. So far I have found little to no signs of wear (aside from the above mentioned stains on the insole). These seem to be holding up as well if not better than other shoes I have in the same price range.

I am so pleased with these that I am considering purchasing the “FLOW” style (Tested by BackpackGearTest.org in 2008) this fall (please don’t tell my wife!).

 



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