Gear Review: Vivobarefoot Neo Trail

It appears that the barefoot/minimalist footwear craze, spurred on by the book Born to Run is here to stay. More and more companies are coming out with a range of minimalist and natural running footwear models intended to get you back to that smooth natural gait our ancestors perfected (or something like that). The Vivobarefoot company has been around since 2003 and thus learned a thing or two about barefoot/minimalist running before most of us even knew what it was.

I put the Vivobarefoot Neo Trail Shoe through a couple of rigorous trail workouts and I must say I was impressed. The first thing I noticed about this shoe was it’s incredible traction on rough and loose terrain. The sole of the shoe is made of a tough flexible (recycled) rubber, complete with an intricate series of lugs providing the runner with unbridled traction, especially for a minimalist shoe. When the company says this is the “trail version” they aren’t joking. It held up quite well as you’ll see in the video below. The second thing I noticed was  how incredibly light this shoe is designed. There is simply no extra weight for this shoe, which provides a true almost-barefoot feel on the trails. Rarely do shoes live up to their lofty titles, but the Vivobarefoot neo trail is the closest any shoe may come. The shoe is also designed with a toe guard preventing any unnecessary blackened or bruised toes. In addition, the manufacturers have somehow rivaled this shoe with the most comfortable thing you ever have or will put on your feet. I’ve worn a lot of different shoes, but was surprised at the ‘slipper-like’ feel of this shoe immediately. The break-in period for these shoes, in terms of comfort, is non-existent. Before I trashed them on the trails I wore them around the house for a few days just for fun.

The Neo trail upper is a light breathable fabric that works well with the standard lacing system. The lacing system may be my only partial complaint. The shoe has a standard lacing system, but given the rest of the shoe’s innovative feel, I felt they could’ve spent more time in this area. Perhaps something a little more slick, such as fewer laces and/or more of a strap (aka Five Fingers) or stretchable material. There was also way too much shoe lace for shoe, but that’s an easily solved problem. Nonetheless the shoe is everything a runner would want in a minimalist barefoot trail shoe – super lightweight, breathable, comfortable and with plenty of traction for all types of trails.

The Vivobarefoot company also espouses their shoes improve your ‘proprioception’ – which means your body’s sense of its own position. To a trail runner you can break this down to ‘Can I feel the trail’? I’d have to say the the Neo Trail shoes did give me a great feel for the trail, almost the closest thing I could imagine without using Five Fingers or going barefoot. Given our local trails and cold weather conditions my preference would still be the Neo Trail shoes. The traction lugs detract slightly from feeling the trail, but there’s gotta be some sacrifices for the incredible traction these shoes provide.

If you are not familiar with barefoot or minimalist shoes you should work into these shoes (or similar shoes) over a long period of time. Begin with short slower runs and gradually build distance and speed. The Vivobarefoot Neo trail shoes provide virtually no heel padding as would your typical trail shoes. Speed work and hills will put a significant amount of force on your lower leg and foot muscles and tendons, so take it slow and gradually ramp up your barefoot running. Too fast too soon can result in injury (and some sore leg/foot muscles you didn’t  know you had). Heed the warning or you’ll end up limping around for a few days after your first few minimalist workouts like I did, even if you’re a seasoned runner.

MSRP: $115 CDN

Product supplied by In-Sport Fashions – http://www.insport.ca/

Here’s a short video of one day trail testing the Vivobarefoot Neo Trail shoes.

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