User Review: Vibram Men's FiveFingers KSO Trek
Price Paid: $85 / $145
Having gotten on board the Vibram Five-Fingers train very much at the beginning, I have nearly two years' experience walking and running in Five-Fingers. And must say that they are unequivocally my favourite running shoes of all time.
It certainly took a little time to get used to (muscle ache in my calves like nobody's business at first) and it required changing my stride pattern, but this all benefited my running significantly: I have considerably less knee and back aches than previously, and haven't sprained an ankle since I began using them. Prior to this, I was spraining or twisting an ankle about once every six months.
The Vibram Five-Fingers provide super ground-feel, and excellent protection against sharp objects. They don't protect you entirely from bigger objects that can (painfully) bruise the bottoms of your feet, but this is a self-limiting and self-educating process - the more you run in them, the harder your feet get, and the more careful/aware you are of where you place your feet.
I run a combination of heel and toe landing, with forefoot running accounting for about 70% of the total. The heel running is reserved for long flats or soft ground - and is still a bit different from running in cushioned running shoes.
The KSO offers minimalist protection but also minimalist weight. They are exceptionally well made, and the newer models have resolved several of the issues that plagued initial models - among others the abrasion on the tops of the toes (from scuffing or scraping as well as from friction) and the smellyness issue.
All V5F can be machine washed, but I try not to do it too often. That being said, my 2nd pair of KSOs have now got something like 20 washings behind them, and they're holding up brilliantly. An occasional dose of Lysol or Sagrotan to keep bacteria to zero supports the shoe's naturally integrated anti-bacterial properties. It's worth drying them well (in indirect sun, even) after you run in them... this helps keep them fresh(er).
The KSOs have the added advantage that they're ideal for wet conditions - be it rain or in the water. The only caveat - when running in the rain/mud, take care on turns - they don't have any real traction, although they have plenty of grip on smooth wet surfaces. I wiped out once in a muddy patch, which didn't result in any serious injury, thankfully, but did a number on my clothes and my pride...
The KSO Trek is a wonderful shoe both for trekking/hiking and for casual wear. The kangaroo leather uppers are tough, thin and veeeeery comfortable. The ventilation-critical zones are made of a lycra-like fabric (like on the KSOs), which is comfortable in warm weather, but can get fresh in winter... I'd have wanted Vibram to make the interstices (between your toes) out of leather as well, to give them just that much more solidity/resistance.
The soles are considerably thicker than the KSO, but also have waaaay more traction - really good traction actually. For scrambling/approach climbing they are ideal. But also on regular trails, for hours at a time, they provide good protection (also from bruising, although not entirely) and excellent traction in nearly every possible condition.
I don't run in the leather ones (too expensive!) but my wife runs in her KSO Trek Sports, which are the same save for the uppers, which are mesh/fabric.
Getting the right fit is absolutely critical. I normally wear a 41-42 (that's 8-8 1/2 US size) shoe, but wear a 40 in the V5F. It's really important that you try them on and choose a close-fitting pair before you buy them! Otherwise you'll slide around and it will be uncomfortable, potentially even painful if a toe slips out of its little pocket and gets cramped on the next step...
They really should fit snugly (not bindingly tight, but snug) from (longest) toe to heel. The strap is uncritical, as you can shorten it, and I can't imagine any foot that would need to lengthen it!
Getting into a pair of V5F is a learning process - I've found that sliding my foot in half-way, then putting the shoe on the ground, and with a little pressure/weight on the foot, sliding it forward is the most effective way. You also learn to spread your toes a bit... Then a little wiggle, and pull up the heel (the shoes have a heel-loop, which is a great help!), slide back into the heel pocket (this is why it's important that they fit snugly!) and strap'em tight!
All in all, the price these shoes command is well worth what you get - quality, a great fit, and a wonderful feel. And they are a great conversation starter at bus-stops, on trains, in cafés, on the street... etc. etc.
These shoes get my five stars every time.
(PS: watch out for counterfeits - they are not nearly as supple and well made, and don't fit or feel nearly as good as the originals. Pay the difference, it's worth it.)