Gadling Gear: Vibram Five Fingers

Ultralight packing is the constant quest for perfection. Each item put away in the bag must be outrageously useful, versatile, small, and light. That rules out almost everything.

And for a while, the ultimate shoes escaped me. Sandals are light and small, but not versatile. I couldn’t run or hike with them.

I had some gore tex trail running shoes that I liked, but they weren’t light and small. They were fairly versatile, but were a disaster at the beach.

For a long time I carried two pairs of shoes. One in the backpack and one on my feet. Not perfect, but not bad.

Then I stumbled across the perfect pair of shoes by accident. My travel mate bought a pair during a brief stopover in LA.

Vibram Five Fingers.They looked ridiculous at first glance, like a combination of a glove and a ballet slipper. I had read about them online, specifically that a small subculture of runners absolutely loved them because they were like running barefoot and promoted proper running form.

But I wasn’t convinced. They seemed so minimal that they must fall short in some area or another.

As our trip took us through Southeast Asia and my friend’s Five Fingers began stealing the spotlight from his other shoes, I started regretting that I hadn’t bought a pair.

I searched across several countries trying in vain to find a pair of these shoes. They were sold out or unavailable everywhere. All of a sudden a cult following had developed and they were in short supply.

Finally I contacted Vibram to see if I could get a pair to review. They agreed under the condition I didn’t run with the bulls wearing the shoes. Fair enough.

Now I’m a full on convert. I still have my sandals (for now…), but the Gore Tex trail shoes are gone.

To put it simply, wearing Five Fingers feels like cheating. You feel like you’re walking around barefoot, but with armor. It’s weird.

The experience of walking with the five fingers is incredible. The shoes are so light that you don’t notice they’re there. You can feel the texture of the ground below you. Walking on grass is fun.

Running in the Five Fingers does take a bit of time to get used to, as Vibram will tell you, but once you get used to it it’s actually a lot better for your body than normal running shoes. For more information on that, look up the “POSE” method of running.

They’re not waterproof, but they dry quickly enough that you don’t mind getting them wet.

They’re not formal shoes by any stretch of the imagination, but I wore mine with a Tuxedo on the Queen Mary 2. The shoes are so interesting looking that they curiously asked about them rather than giving me flak for not having proper footwear.

The one thing they’re not good for, apparently, is running with the bulls. My friend got pulled out of the street because the police wouldn’t believe that they’re actually running shoes. For everything else, they’re fantastic.

The shoes come in a few different styles which you can see at Vibram’s Site. My friend swears by the Classics, and I love the KSOs that Vibram sent me because sand and gravel don’t get into them.

It’s tough to get a pair of them right now, but your best bet is probably a local high end running store or outdoor gear store. Most online stores are backed up by weeks or months.