When I first tried Vibram FiveFingers shoes a few years ago, I really liked them. They soon became my everyday shoes – at least when I’m not barefoot. One big drawback they have, especially in the summer, is the fact that they hug your foot like a glove. Despite the thin top and side fabric, they don’t breathe very well, and my feet get hot and sweaty. Maybe not so much compared to regular shoes, but for someone who prefers nothing, the Vibrams, while providing the barefoot ergonomics, still feel like wearing shoes.
I thought I would see what I could find that was open like a sandal while keeping a barefoot feel. I looked at the Teva Zilch, but I didn’t like the big toe loop nor the cross strap over the little toe.
Then I discovered Invisible Shoes. They are basically just a piece of sole material and a string to hold it onto your foot. Invisible Shoes are as close as you can get to barefoot while still offering the bottoms of your feet a bit of protection. My feet stay cooler and drier. No more white stripes from sandal straps or white toes from FiveFingers to mar my all-over tan. They also go great with my usual wardrobe, or, shall I say, my lack thereof.
Okay, so I like the look and feel. How about the actual wearing? Well, once I got them tied right, which takes a bit of patience and careful following of directions, I took a test-walk.
Walk, Don’t Run
I should probably mention right here that I am not a runner. Minimalist footwear has created quite a stir in the running community, but it’s my opinion that going barefoot, or as close as possible, is best for everyone no matter their level of activity. While I can’t remember the last time I ran that I wasn’t being chased, I usually walk a mile or more each day. Most of that is on rocky desert terrain.
Been There, Done That
Since these are not my first minimalist footwear, and since much has already been written elsewhere about the advantages of barefoot walking and running, as well as transitioning to minimalist shoes, I’ll be noting what I have observed to be unique about the Invisible Shoes as well as how they compare, in my opinion, with the Vibram FiveFingers Classic for a walker and hiker.
Breaking The Habit
The first thing I had to learn to do was stop clenching my toes. Having worn flip-flops for years, the sensation of the lace between my toes make me reflexively clench, as is necessary with thong footwear to hold on to them. With the Invisible Shoe, however, this is not necessary, as the lace also goes around the back of the foot. They aren’t going anywhere no matter how swiftly or vigorously I move my feet. Once I broke myself of the toe-clenching and let my foot relax, the walking was great.
Feel The Earth And Air
They felt comfortable and secure over most terrain. The open design means that the rare tiny pebble might get between the shoe and the sole of the foot, but is easily dislodged, usually by simply shaking the foot. I found the complete lack of anything, save for the thin lace, on top of my foot to result in a wonderfully free feeling. On most surfaces the tactile feedback was very similar to the Vibrams. The Invisible Shoes come in different sole thicknesses; I chose the thinnest, 4mm, which is, incidentally, the same thickness as the FiveFingers Classic soles. The Invisible Shoes are actually more flexible, however, as the result of two significant differences. First of all, the 4mm thickness includes the raised tread pattern, so the flexibility is actually equal to a 3mm sole. In spite of their razor-siped soles, the Vibrams retain the stiffer feel of their 4mm thickness. Also, the Invisible Shoes are essentially flat, while the Vibrams have raised edges, especially at the heel, toes, and balls of the feet, further reducing flexibility.
While the Vibrams, with their mostly smooth soles, offer ever-so-slightly better feeling of tiny terrain details, it doesn’t make much noticeable difference in actual use. Possibly more significant is the lack of sides on the Invisible Shoes. This allows for better feeling near the edges of the foot. While I’d already learned the importance of careful foot placement wearing the FiveFingers, I found that with the Invisible Shoes I had to be even more careful because of the more flexible soles and unprotected sides and toes. Still, it becomes second nature and is mostly a subconscious attention that causes little distraction.
If I had to find a fault with the Invisible Shoes, it would be that they are probably not well suited for especially steep terrain or climbing. They offer plenty of traction for normal walking and running, but they just don’t feel especially secure in situations involving extreme lateral forces.
I think I’ve found my new favorite footwear. I won’t be getting rid of my FiveFingers — they still have the edge for cold weather and steep terrain. Overall, though, I’ve found the Invisible Shoes to be closer to my ideal of being barefoot, and about as minimalist as a shoe can get. They never stink and are easy to keep clean. They are thin and light, making them easy to carry and store. Invisible Shoes are inexpensive at under $30 for a pair (even free, if you’re handy and resourceful – DIY instructions are on their website).
Do you have experience with minimalist footwear? Have questions about mine? Comments are open!