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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > kigo footwear drive shoes > Test Report by Ben Mansfield
Kigo Drive Shoes
Kigo Drive Shoes
13 October 2011
Kigo Drive Shoes
The Kigo Drive shoes are a minimalist shoe designed to offer the wearer the feeling of going barefoot, but with some protection from sharp objects on the ground. The shoe, according to the manufacturer, enhances proprioception which is the ability to feel the terrain as though I am not wearing shoes at all. It features a thin, zero drop outsole which means that there is no heel rise or arch support. It's upper is made from CYCLEPET which is a recycled, post-consumer material. Kigo uses certified non-toxic dyes and glues, as well as water resistant treatments on the shoes.
The sole of the shoes are minimal with very simple traction which resembles a magnified fingerprint that extends to slightly cover the toe and heel area of the shoes. Lacing is accomplished via a simple elastic cord loop with a spring loaded cord lock which serves to adjust the tension on the cord. The upper is comprised of multiple sections of the CYCLEPET material stitched together with double rows of tight stitching. There is a small grab loop on the heel of each shoe that is too small to fit my finger through but large enough to grab for pulling on the shoes.
The Kigo Drive fingerprint sole
A minimal tongue is held in place by a small sewn-in loop through which the laces pass. Inside the shoes is a minimal, removable footbed with little to no padding.
There is a piece of webbing where the tongue joins the upper near my toes, and three eyelets up each side of the shoe to complete the lacing system. The shoes themselves are very flexible, and can be easily folded in half or squished into a tight spot in a backpack.
Included with the shoes was a small sticker with cleaning instructions. The Kigo Drive shoes are water and stain resistant, and the manufacturer indicates that they can be kept clean by simple wiping with a damp cloth or gentle machine washing without soap or detergent. Air drying the Kigos is recommended, though Kigo does indicate on their website that a gentle drying cycle can be used should the shoes begin to feel stretched out.
My normal shoe size is men's US 11, but the Kigo Drive shoes come only in half sizes in my size range, so I'm testing a men's US 11.5. The Drive shoes come in two colors, grey with yellow stitching or black with grey stitching. I'm testing the black model.
The Kigo Drive Packed and Ready for Adventure
Trying the Kigo Drive shoes on at home, I noticed how minimal they feel on my feet. I do have some other "barefoot" style shoes, so the feeling was not entirely foreign to me. I tried these shoes barefoot, as well as with a very thin pair of wool-blend socks, and the fit in both cases is just fine, despite the extra half size from my normal shoes. The overall styling is not unlike a driving shoe (hence the model name, I suppose). Despite weighing significantly more than the manufacturer's claim, they are still very light and should serve my purposes well. I foresee myself using these as camp shoes as opposed to wearing them for all-day backpacking... I don't think my feet and legs are quite ready for backpacking for extended periods of time with a heavy pack with minimalist shoes, but they should be a nice change from my hiking boots at the end of a long day.
The lacing mechanism and elastic laces allow nearly infinite adjustment, so I can fine tune the fit. It it possible to over-tighten them, and leaving them completely loose allows them to slide around a bit on my feet. With around the house experience only, I can say that the most comfortable for me so far is to tighten them just enough to keep them from sliding around but not much more.
I can definitely feel subtle differences in the ground (or floor) while wearing these shoes, so Kigo's claim regarding proprioception seems accurate. Having a thin rubber outsole, however, means that my feet will be much better protected than just going barefoot around camp, when I can no longer bear to wear my boots any longer. I'm looking forward to getting these out in the field for some real use.
3 January 2012
I was able to take the Kigo Drive shoes along on two weekend backpacking trips since my initial review, for a total of five days of backcountry use. I also wore them on a one night car camping trip with my daughter. Both backpacking trips were to the Allegheny National Forest in western Pennsylvania - late October and just before Thanksgiving (mid-November). The trip in late October was to the Tracy Ridge area which provides multiple interconnecting loop trails that can be combined in a number of combinations for hikes as short as a half day and as long as a long weekend, or probably more. For this trip the weather started out really rainy and cool, and the forest was pretty wet as it had been raining for several days before we arrived. As the weekend progressed, however, the skies cleared and the weather turned out to be beautiful for the last few days.
Kigo Drive Shoes relaxing after a hard day at the office
One of the nice things about Tracy Ridge in the fall is that hikers can take advantage of a few hike-in or boat-in only campgrounds along the Allegheny reservoir that are beautiful but often crowded in the summer months... these are all but abandoned after the water level is drawn down. The picture at left is how I spent the second afternoon of this hike - with the Kigo Drive shoes replacing my hiking boots for post-hike, around-camp duties. In fact, all of my usage of the Kigo Drive shoes is similar. I'm not quite comfortable hiking in them, but they're light enough to carry in and much appreciated by my feet once I get to camp as end-of-the-day replacements for my boots.
Weather during my October trip was, as I mentioned above, pretty nice. The daytime temps ranged from about 40 F (4 C) to almost 60 F (15 C). The trip in November was almost a twin, with highs between 50 F (10 C) and 60 F (15 C), with the exception of Friday, which was a little cooler, around 35 F (2 C). Evenings on both trips were around freezing. The elevation in the Allegheny National Forest ranges from about 400 feet (120 meters) up to about 2500 feet (760 meters) above sea level.
Walking around a wet camp in the Kigo Drive shoes is a little strange - similar but at the same time different to doing it barefoot. The best way I can think to describe it is like walking on a very thin layer of peanut butter - usually sticky and sure-footed but occasionally a little slippery if my foot lands a bit off-center on a wet, grassy or muddy slope. I will say, however, that I don't mind it a bit. I'm happy to be in a shoe that gives me some feel for the ground and a lighter weight than my hiking boots. I don't think the fingerprint soles offer much more or less traction than my own bare feet, the ability to feel the ground is slightly reduced from bare feet but way better than other shoes, and they help me avoid getting my otherwise bare feet cut or pricked by sharp and prickly things on the ground.
In general, they work really well for what they are, which is a barefoot or minimal style shoe. They don't do much in the way of insulating from the cold, but they did keep my feel reasonably dry in wet conditions. The mid-November trip I took on the North Country Trail in the Allegheny National Forest was a little cooler, and I found that my feet would get cold in the evenings, even while wearing some wool socks and the Kigo Drive shoes. I guess they would be colder without any shoes on, and I don't think I really wanted to keep my boots on any longer, so it was the best option for me. Thanks to the extra half-size, I can probably fit a thicker wool sock or even double up on socks inside the shoes to help keep my feet a little warmer on future (and now much colder) trips.
I find that I don't like the feel of the shoes if I tighten them down as much as I'd like to - they're much more comfortable across the top of my foot if I leave some slack in the elastic laces. I haven't experienced any blisters or hot spots while wearing the Kigo Drive shoes. There is one spot on my left instep that gets rubbed a little by the insole, but it hasn't resulted in much more than an itch to date. I have toyed with the idea of just removing the insoles all together, but I admittedly haven't tried it yet.
The black color that I'm testing is reasonably inconspicuous when clean, but the flat black material does highlight any and all dirt... I suppose that gives them some "trail cred." I haven't tried to clean them much more than waiting until the mud is dry and banging them together and then brushing them off with whatever is at hand. This method seems to work fine for surface cleaning but previously dirty spots are still obvious. I will likely try a deeper cleaning at some point. I suspect something as simple as a wet scrub brush might just do the trick.
Long Term Report
28 February 2012
Long Term Observations
I took two more backpacking trips since my Field Report, for a total of 11 days of use. These two trips included one to the Zaleski State Forest in Southern Ohio (one of my favorite weekend hiking loops in my home state) and one to the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania (my favorite "local" hiking grounds).
My trip to Zaleski was cold but dry. Daytime highs were slightly below freezing, and the lows were down to as low as 10 F (-12 C). The elevation in Zaleski is in the range of 500 - 1000 ft (150 - 305 m). That small elevation range is misleading, however, as the trail has plenty of steep ups and downs, and could benefit from a few more switchbacks to save my poor knees. In the Allegheny National Forest the weather was beautiful, with highs around 45 F (7 C) and the coldest night around 20 F (-7 C).
Keeping Warm by the Fire
Winter hasn't really materialized in my part of the world - we had a very dry and relatively warm winter, so the Kigo Drive shoes turned out to be useful for me as camp shoes even through the winter months as the temperatures were unseasonably warm. I did normally wear some wool socks under the Drive shoes for a little extra warmth - that coupled with a campfire (campfires are permitted pretty much everywhere I hike, and most places have semi-established campsites where small rock fire rings have been created by past hikers) each night kept my feet plenty warm. As with all shoes and pretty much all other backpacking gear, I did exercise a bit of caution in keeping my feet near the fire so that I didn't damage the rubber soles or my fleshy toes.
I have continued to use the Kigo Drive shoes exclusively as camp shoes, and haven't backpacked with them as I'm simply not ready or comfortable hiking with a pack in minimal shoes. They have continued to serve this purpose very well, as they are relatively light and easy to pack in, and are a welcome change from my hiking boots in the evenings. I like to start my days early and hike fast, but I also normally try to break for the day relatively early, so I do spend quite a bit of time wearing the Kigo Drive shoes each day in camp as I perform common chores such as getting water or firewood, setting up my shelter, and walking to the privy (er, trees...).
I haven't noticed any issues with the Kigo Drive shoes in terms of durability, despite their minimal construction. They seem to be well made and are showing no loose stitching or delamination of the sole from the upper. I have gotten them quite dirty, and I used a wet scrub brush to remove most of the larger chunks followed by a trip through the washing machine to clean them back to a presentable state. This didn't get them back to completely like-new condition, but I didn't really expect it to. Kigo recommends not using laundry detergent or soap on the shoes, presumably due to the water and stain-resistant coating. I suspect a little soap would clean them up real nice but probably diminish some of the stain-resistance. For me and my use in the backcountry it's a non-issue if they're a little dirty... everything I take backpacking is always a little dirty, despite my best efforts.
The fit has remained the same for me. I haven't noticed that the shoes have stretched out at all, but they are also somewhat loose on my foot, so I'm not really stressing them in a way that would cause them to stretch. I don't like to tighten the laces very much at all - I find that just enough to keep them on my foot is sufficient for my needs and more comfortable than fully tightening them.
With socks, I also haven't had any blisters or noticed any hot spots while wearing the Drive shoes around camp. Without socks I do notice some rubbing as my foot is pretty free to move around inside of the shoe, but it hasn't amounted to any blisters.
Overall the Kigo Drive shoes are a nice option for a minimal or barefoot shoe. I like them for wearing around camp, but I don't think my feet and ankles are quite ready for a full blown hiking trip in them. I don't think the fingerprint soles offer much more or less traction than my own bare feet, the ability to feel the ground is slightly reduced from bare feet but way better than other shoes, and they help me avoid getting my otherwise bare feet cut or pricked by sharp and prickly things on the ground.
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