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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > kigo footwear drive shoes > Test Report by Kurt Papke
Test Series by Kurt Papke
My backpacking background is a combination of the Minnesota area, where I have lived most of my adult life, and Southern Arizona where I moved about two years ago to Tucson for a new job. I have been transitioning to barefoot-style running shoes over the last 5 months, and I am looking forward to trying my hand at hiking in minimalist footwear.
Caveat: my transition to barefoot-style forefoot-strike running has been fraught with calf cramps, Achilles tendon problems and lately a flare-up of my Plantar Fasciitis. This has greatly strengthened and toughened my lower legs and feet. Readers of this review should not infer that all the results of this test would be typical of someone who has not been through similar conditioning.
Note that the shoes weighed nearly double the nominal weight from the manufacturer's website. Certainly I am measuring the largest size made by the manufacturer, and the nominal weight is perhaps derived from a shoe in the middle of the size range. I cannot account for the substantial difference in weight between the left and right shoe. I repeated my measurements several times to make sure I was not making an error, and the results were very consistent.
Key features as stated by the manufacturer include:
Initial InspectionOn removal from the packing I inspected the shoes for any obvious defects or workmanship problems. The stitching looked perfect, but I did see a bit of glue oozing from the edge of the soles. This can be seen in the following photo as a thin bead along the soles in the toe area.
The Kigo Drive shoes (hereafter referred to as "the Drives") felt incredibly light when held in the hand. They are also extremely flexible. They remind me a bit of bedroom slippers. I was a bit surprised, but not disappointed, that the insole is removable. During the test I may try them out with a few other insoles I have.
The fabric on the uppers appears to be a canvas-type material, both outside and inside. The cording for the "speed lacing" system is stretchy elastic. The soles are a fairly soft rubbery compound. The tread pattern is visible in the above photo, with very shallow tread depth.
First ImpressionsSize: my foot is a US 12, midway between the 11.5 and 12.5 sizes (EU 43 and 44) available so of course I went with the larger size. When I put them on with no socks (which is how I prefer to wear minimalist shoes), they seemed a bit large. With a pair of midweight wool socks they fit absolutely perfect, so it looks like I will be wearing socks with them. It gets a little chilly here in the Sonoran Desert during the Winter, so nothing wrong with wearing socks.
Ease of on/off: these shoes go on in seconds with no effort, and come off the same way. I like that.
Lacing: accomplished with the "speed lacing" system. By pressing the button in the middle of the clasp the laces can be easily tightened, though with the elastic cords I couldn't get too much tension on them.
Trying them out: after lacing them up I walked around the house on our concrete floors. These shoes feel very light. Though I know they are not going to come off, they feel like they are going to slip off my feet. I think I just need to get used to that.
Looks: I felt at first like I was walking around in slippers, but once I had a pair of hiking pants on and peered down at them they looked remarkably like a hiking shoe.
The next morning I skipped my usual run and went for about a 4 mile (6 km) walk on concrete/blacktop paths with the shoes. By the end of the walk I was used to the feel -- no they are not going to fall off my feet! They do have a little bit of cushion to them, likely from the insole that has a little bit of foam structure. I could not feel the tiny pebbles that I can detect when running barefoot-style.
SummaryI am excited to get these shoes out onto the trail. I am particularly interested to see how well they cope with the sharp rock fields I often have to hike through, and how well the soles grip the large granite boulders I frequently traverse.
In the following table I have differentiated the total distance hiked versus the distance hiked with the Drives. One thing I have learned during my transition to minimalist/barefoot-style running shoes is to start small and gradually increase the distance. I rarely run more than 4 miles (6 km) in my minimalist running shoes. I plan to carry a backup pair of hiking shoes or sandals when I use the Drives and transition to the backup when my feet begin to tire to minimize injuries and pain the next morning. Column four in the table lists both the Drive distance and total distance hiked.
It is also worthwhile noting that all my hiking is done with trekking poles. This takes a lot of stress off my knees and feet, especially on descents. During my testing of the Drives I certainly appreciated the relief the arches of my feet received from using the poles.
Field Usage Observations
My memory was too kind. There were long stretches of the trail that abounded with fist-sized rocks, too big to not cause pain when stepped on, too small to provide a flat surface for my foot. I was able to navigate these stretches without any major issues, but I had a couple of instances where I really had to bear down on my trekking poles to avoid the sharp pain that I was beginning to sense when I stepped in the wrong place.
Very early on I picked up a small pebble in my right shoe. Too small to bother stopping and shaking it out, but too big to not be a bit irksome. It seems ironic when wearing shoes that allow me to feel every rock beneath me that I would be bothered by one small pebble inside the shoe, but I think it's due to the fact that I feel it every step in the same place.
The Sweetwater Trail leads to the top of Wasson Peak, the highest spot in the Tucson Mountains. I was able to hike all the way up to the summit in the Drives, but I could really feel my feet tire the last mile (1.6 km) or so. When I sat down to have my rest and snack at the summit I changed to my trail running shoes. I felt like I was walking on pillows all the way down the mountain, but I did end up forming a blister towards the end. The blister was not from the Drives, I didn't even have a hot spot when I took them off. I noticed how small a space the Drives packed into compared to my trail runners.
When I checked my GPS log after the hike was over I was surprised at the pace I was able to maintain in the Drives on the ascent. I was a little concerned before the test began that they would slow me down, but it looks like that was unfounded. During the descent I was amused to see the distinctive swirl of the Drive's tread pattern in the dust and sand that I left on the way up. I naturally stepped in any flat areas and avoided rocks when wearing the Drives.
What a great trail. This baby threw everything at me: pine forest with soft needles beneath my feet, rocky ravine crossings with boulder fields where the dirt is washed away, and fine gravel along mountain ridgelines. Here's a photo of the shoes on one of the not-so-pleasant-on-the-feet areas:
My destination on this hike was to head up Bassett Peak to see the crash site of a B-24 bomber. I was able to see the crashed airplane from a distance, but I'm not much of a rock climber so I wasn't able to get up close. I turned around just short of the peak, as I wanted to get back down to the creek to camp by nightfall and my feet were getting very tired. At about the 7 mile point (11 km) I changed into my alternate shoes, as I didn't want to descend the canyon in the Drives. I've learned that the transition to minimalist hiking shoes is mental as well as physical: not only did my feet hurt, but I was just plain tired of dodging rocks.
Several times during the ascent the shoes "rolled" on my feet laterally when my foot pushed down a sharply angled surface, i.e. stepping on a large flat rock that slanted steeply to the left with my left foot, or angled to the right with my right foot. My ankle naturally bends to accommodate the angle, but unexpectedly the shoes slid laterally on my foot almost to the point where they came off. I attribute this to a combination of their somewhat loose fit and the inability to really tighten down the laces due to the elastic in them.
That night I used the Drives for camp shoes. They fit great into the shelf of my hammock (see my review of the Blackbird Warbonnet). I've always been concerned since I started backpacking in Arizona that I was going to step into my camp shoes that had been sitting outside my hammock all night, and find a scorpion the painful way. It was so nice to slip on my shoes in my hammock before getting up with the full assurance that they had been stored up off the ground and inside bug netting.
The next morning I had only about an hour-and-a-half hike out to my vehicle. It was a gentle descent along the creek so I wore the Drives the rest of the way. I was pleasantly surprised that morning how little foot pain I had, though by the time the hike ended my feet were quite fatigued again. On the way out I noticed the distinctive tread pattern of my hike up the day before in the dirt:
Clearly if I was to commit a crime, I would not wear the Kigo Drive shoes because the CSI would figure out who the perpetrator was just by looking for footprints!
The photo also shows a foot-friendly section of the path I trod that day. This type of soft dirt trail is ideal for minimalist shoes such as the Kigo Drives. By about lunchtime my feet were getting very fatigued, and a recent flair-up of my Plantar Fasciitis caused me to switch over to my Ecco Tahoe shoes (see my review of those shoes on the BGT website). As can be seen from the statistics in my Field Use table above, this is a very steep climb, as the trail has few switchbacks. This is hard on my arches and Achilles tendons.
Not all of this hike was on the soft dirt pictured above. The trails crossed dry stream beds many times which consisted mostly of rocks and boulders. I was impressed when boulder-hopping how well the Drives gripped the rock -- I had no slips.
I ascended the mountain on the Six Shooter trail, and descended on the Icehouse/Telephone Line trail. This was my first visit to this mountain, and I learned that I should have done it the other way around as all the great campsites were on the former, and late in the day I didn't come across any spots with a view and a breeze on the Icehouse trail. Also, my feet were killing me, and I wanted to ice them up, and despite the name of the trail the only ice to be found was back home in my freezer so I pushed on and drove home instead of camping.
After a bone-jarring one-hour Jeep ride up Charouleau Gap I arrived at the trail head and noticed patches of snow. Once I got on the trail the snow covered the ground, with the depth increasing to about 3 inches (7.6 cm) by the time I turned around. Here's the Drive shoes in the snow:
The snow was quite crusty, so my feet didn't really get very wet. There was a little snow melt around the soles that eventually seeped through the shoes, but not enough to give me wet or cold toes.
I was surprised how well the shoes did in the snow. The flexible soles allowed me to dig into the snow with my toes for traction on the ascent. The shoe soles did not feel slippery on the snow, though with the crust it had a grainy texture that added to the traction.
I did slip and fall once on the descent. I was overly aggressive in stepping on a large granite boulder that sloped down too steeply, and my feet went out from under me, fortunately no damage other than my pride. I wouldn't have expected any shoes to stick to that rock in these conditions. Overall, I was quite pleased with the Drives on my first snow hike with them. In fact, the snow cushioned the bottoms of my feet, so I had little fatigue from walking on rocks and stones.
I had to pull the spines out with a pliers. I was surprised none of the spines penetrated to my feet. On careful inspection, several of them were sticking through the inside of the shoe, but none far enough to really penetrate my thick socks and cause a problem. Conclusion: the Kigo Drives are not impervious to cactus spines.
The picture was taken at a nice flat spot at the summit, but that is not indicative of the hike. The scramble on the latter part of the ascent was pretty interesting with the Drive shoes on sandy mud and rocks, on a slope steep enough that I left my trekking poles behind so I could use my hands. The shoes actually did quite well all things considered: I never slipped, did not fall once, never felt like I had unreliable footing.
By the time I got back to the Jeep I was ready to turn the heat on and warm up my feet. The Drives were fine for a couple-hour day hike on a wet cold day, but I don't think I would recommend them for anything more than a few hours in these conditions.
|Terrain/ trail type
|January 15, 2012
|Santa Catalina Mountains, Coronado National
Forest north of Tucson, Arizona
|Desert canyons & wash
|Partly cloudy, 60 F (16 C), dry
|January 21-22, 2012
|Rincon Mountains, Saguaro National Park East
Unit, East of Tucson, Arizona
|Mostly sunny, 29-65 F
|Midweight wool with silk liner
|January 29, 2012
|Tortolita Mountains, Northwest of Tucson,
|Sunny, 50-55 F (10-13 C)
|Midweight wool with Coolmax liner
|Feb 5, 2012
|Rincon Mountains, Saguaro National Park East Unit, East of Tucson, Arizona
|Partly cloudy, 60 F (15 C)
|Midweight wool with silk liner
|Feb 24-26, 2012
|Organ Pipe National Monument, and Cabeza
Prieta National Wildlife Refuge near Ajo, AZ
|Basalt and granite rock fragments on a Jeep
|Sunny, 50-80 F
|Midweight wool with silk liner
This was a nice stroll in the bajada of the Rincons along a trail
much-used by horses, so the desert had been packed down very
well. As the above picture shows, this is the kind of trail
one hopes for with minimalist shoes!
This was a two-night weekend backpacking trip. On Friday
night I camped at Organ Pipe National monument in the park
campground and used the Drives as camp shoes. They were
Saturday we drove as far as we were allowed up Charlie Bell pass
into the Cabeza Prieta wilderness, parked our vehicles and
backpacked into our campsite across the pass. This was the
worst trail for minimalist shoes I could imagine. We hiked
on a Jeep trail which had many decades to erode, leaving only bare
rocks behind. Backpacking on this was very painful on my
feet, and after the walk in I bailed on any more hiking on this
trip in the Drives and used my backup shoes. I did use them
Saturday evening and Sunday morning as camp shoes, and once again
they were perfect.
After the Charlie Bell trip the Drives were saturated with dust,
so I threw them in the washing machine and let them dry
overnight. The result is shown in the above
photograph. They cleaned up beautifully, and looked none the
worse for the distance I've hiked in them. In fact, the
soles had pretty much no wear at all, which is pretty
remarkable. I'd add the following summary to the list I
prepared after 2 months:
I intend to keep using the shoes for the foreseeable future,
primarily as camp/backup shoes. I have tried many shoes for
this purpose, sandals, flip flops, Crocs, etc. I do want my
camp shoes to double as backup hikers in case I get blisters or
just want to treat my feet to some variety. It is nice to
know I can use the Drives in camp, and hike quite a distance in
them if I need or want to. If I can eventually condition my
feet to use minimalist shoes as my primary hikers, I would not
hesitate to use the Drives for non-technical trails.