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!
Very interesting. I’ve seen those shoes and I’ve seen minimalist writers write about them, but I don’t think I could manage either kind. I wear Nike “trainers” all the time and I’m happy with them. I’ve also found that shoes intended for food workers — with extra grip on the soles and waterproof exterior — are especially good.
Footwear preferences probbly have a lot to do with what we are used to wearing as well as what activities we participate in. The extra-grippy soles are probably great if you are often around puddles or spills or other wet and slippery places.
Lol, they look very weird, these shoes. Although I’m pretty sure they are quite comfortable…
Yes, they are very comfortable. Thanks for reading and commenting!
I love my five fingers (have 3 pairs), but have definitely been thinking about getting these hauraches especially for during the summer. I like the funny looks I get with my vibrams though… makes me laugh when people think I’m wearing toe socks. Good to know that you are enjoying them so far!
Yeah, I don’t get nearly as many comments with the Invisible Shoes as with the Vibram FIveFingers. They don’t really stand out as much – I suppose that’s good or bad, depending on the situation and if you want to attract attention or start conversation.
Thanks for commenting, Jessica!
They look so comfy! As another AZ resident, I completely understand not wanting close toed shoes in summer! I’ll definitely look into them, although I do have some other similar sandals. It’s nice that guys are getting some footwear options (ladies have a lot of similar shoe choices)!
I think the Invisible Shoes are “geneder-nonspecific” and are ordered based on the measured length of the foot (not shoe size). The VFFs, while they come in men’s and women’s, the only difference between the lines is some of the colors and the sizing scale. But yeah, there are so many more women’s shoe styles, probably because women tend to be more style-conscious than men.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Mommi! What part of AZ are you in?
I normally wear Birks. I have a question on these though….it looks like the top string goes through the sole and is then tied off. Does that create any odd lumpiness that you have to get used to? 3mm isn’t much to work with as far as recessing a knot. 🙂
Any idea as to the durability of these?
Good questions, Robert. Yes, the string between the toes goes through the sole and ends in a knot on the bottom side. I initially was thinking along the lines you are, but in reality the knot is hardly noticeable the first time you wear them, and is quickly forgotten. The knot gets flattened a bit once it is walked in, but the main reason it tends to disappear is because the soles are so flexible that they allow the knot to settle into the space between your “thumb,” second toe, and ball of the foot. The bottoms of most peoples’ feet are not flat – check your own. Plenty of room for a small knot to virtually disappear in there.
As to durability, I can’t speak specifically to these, as I’ve only had them a few months. I’m not expecting any problem, though. I was concerned when I got my first Vibram FiveFingers, with equally thin soles, but I’ve had no problems with them after several years. In fact they have virtually no visible wear. I think what happens is that when we wear thin lightweight footwear that mimics being barefoot, our feet naturally (or learn to?) move in the proper manner. We don’t drag or scrape our feet, which is what wears conventional shoes. Minimalist shoes experience contact, but not scuffing and scraping.
I imagine the knot in the lace will wear out eventually, but there is plenty to spare. I’ll just pull another inch through and re-tie. Oh, and for whatever it’s worth, Steven is now offering a 5000 mile warranty on the Invisible Shoes. I’m not sure just how that works (or how one would prove the accrued mileage), but it certainly suggests his faith in their durability.
Wow, I’ve been looking for something like this for 12 years. I’m barefoot, all the time, anywhere I can get away with it. (if my toes aren’t freezing) I’m always looking for something I can put up with, for when I can’t get away with bare feet. Bob, why didn’t you tell me about this?
Uh, I thought you already had an appropriate shoe solution….?
I’ve heard about invisible shoes but haven’t given them much of a thought. I actually have two pairs of sandals similar to huaraches. I bought one of them from a guy from Africa on a street market in Lisbon, and another pair from the ‘poet shoe-maker’ in Athens, Stavros Melissinos http://www.melissinos-poet.com/eng/press.html. I got “Spartan”, aka Sophia Loren, version of his sandals. I like wearing them in summer, but I still feel I would prefer Vibrams for running and hiking, as they are more flexible and provide better grip. But I agree, that having open toes feels too good and may outweigh the advantage of being able to move toes in Vibrams… oh well, that’s why I alternate them, but prefer to walk barefoot any time possible.
where can we buy these?