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Kit review: Vivobarefoot Neo Trail running shoes

Written by Fiona January 20 2014

Another blog in the new barefoot running blog series.

Vivobarefoot Neo Trail footwear

Vivobarefoot Neo Trail footwear

Vivobarefoot sell barefoot (or minimalist) running and walking shoes – and they offer coaching and workshops in how to safely run barefoot. In fact, it could take a while for you to “safely” run in Vivobarefoot’s range of shoes because it’s important – and this comes from the mouth of a barefoot running coach – “to build up slowly and gently to running in the ultra-flat minimalist shoes created by Vivobarefoot.”

The current King of Barefoot Running technique is Lee Saxby, who is behind the Vivobarefoot Training Clinic. I recently attended a workshop by one of Lee’s trained coaches, Rannoch Donald, who offers instruction in how to become a safe and efficient barefoot runner. (More of that to come in another blog).

Why barefoot running is so popular

There are many claimed benefits to barefoot (or minimalist) running. After the transition period, when you move slowly from traditional and engineered trainers to minimalist footwear (like Vivobarefoot shoes), the next stage is faster, more efficient running with far less potential for all the normal niggles of running.

Barefoot running converts wax lyrical about feeling “more fluid”, “like they are floating”, “faster” and “smoother”. They talk about a running style that rarely causes injuries.

This is because we, as humans, were designed to run barefoot. And while we now need to wear something on our feet because of harsh terrain and ground, the flat barefoot running shoes help to mimic our natural running style.

It’s thought that by running as nature intended (this includes walking, running and sprinting but not jogging!), our bodies will perform better.

Read the blog about Sam’s steps to minimalist running.

On test: Vivobarefoot running shoes

In the running shoes department there are road runners and off-road runners. On test in this blog is the Vivobarefoot Neo Trail off-road running shoes.

These water resistant shoes are aimed at the performance end of the off-road running market with an emphasis on speed, comfort and grip on tough and muddy terrain.

What I noticed immediately is the flatness of the shoes. This is something that will feel very strange if you have been wearing “engineered” trainers for years. And, let’s face it, most of us have been wearing these kind of trainers.

Engineered shoes are the ones that offer support and cushioning with around a 10mm to 14mm heel-to-toe drop. That’s quite a lot of heel-to-toe drop.

Minimalist trainers range from 0mm to 6mm heel-to-toe drop so they are much flatter to wear than “engineered” trainers.

The difference in heel-to-toe drop is the reason why you need to build up to wearing minimalist shoes. Moving from a more defined drop to a flatter shoe will pout a lot of strain of the Achilles tendons and calf muscles; in some cases the extra stretch is 14mmm.

But with a slow and careful transition the calf muscles and tendons will slowly extend back to where they would more naturally be.

Vivobarefoot trainers also look a bit cartoony. They are rounded and bendy. This isn’t a bad thing and the shoes fit your feet really well. They seem to be rounded in all the right places.

Out on the trail in Neo Trails

I haven’t run far in the trainers because I am still building up to barefoot running. I ran a short distance on a muddy and stony off-road section.

Vivobarefoot Stealth road running shoe

Vivobarefoot Stealth road running shoe

Despite being flat and lightweight the trainers were really comfortable.  The sole has a fairly aggressive stud pattern which offers good grip in the mud and on grass.

The sole is thick enough to cope with most stones (ie the stones don’t hurt your feet through the soles). For an off-road trainer they are also good at keeping out the muck and wet.

The shoes feel robust and well made and I reckon they will stand the test of time (although I haven’t been able to try this yet).

The Neo Trail are just one pair in the wide Vivobarefoot trainers range. The website boasts a handy size guide, in which you can tell the computer about your current trainers and size and Vivobarefoot then recommend the right size in their brand of trainers.

I can only see minimalist running growing so I reckon Vivobarefoot will become on of the bigger players in barefoot shoes, alongside al the other companies, such as Inov-8 and Merrell.

Price £90 from Vivobarefoot

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