Barefoot Shoes Comparison
Minimalist Shoes / Barefoot Shoes Review
Following is my comparison and review of three pairs of minimalist shoes / barefoot shoes – the Vibram FiveFingers KSO, New Balance Minimus MT10 and the Zem Ninja Split Toe Lo. If you’re considering purchasing these, or any minimalist footwear, I’d urge you to read on.
I’ve been a big fan of barefoot shoes (sometimes called barefoot running shoes, minimalist shoes or even minimalist running shoes) for a few years now. I’ve chronicled my love for the style in an earlier post that you can read here. I believe wholeheartedly in these shoes, and as more manufacturers come out with more styles, having adequate reviews and comparisons will be increasingly important. After all, these shoes aren’t cheap.
How I Evaluated
I’ve owned each of these shoes for at least a few months. I wear them when it feels right, and I’ve worn each of them enough times to know what I like and don’t like about them. I haven’t put them through some sort of complete or objective testing, or even done the same things with each pair of shoes.
Vibram FiveFingers KSO – According to the FiveFingers rep I’ve met a few times, these are the most popular Vibram FiveFingers shoe, due to the versatility. I purchased these in August of 2009. Few people had them at the time so I was interested in trying them. Getting them to fit was a novel experience, and I had to travel from Vermont to Maine just to buy them. I forget what I paid for them, but they were around $100. I’ve worn them ever since, though as my minimalist shoe collection has expanded I’ve reduced the scenarios where I wear them. I’m currently wearing them for CrossFit when we’re outdoors on pavement. I wore them hiking a few days ago, too.
New Balance Minimus (MT10) – I purchased a pair of black and yellow after finding how much I really loved my Vibram FiveFingers KSO. I couldn’t wear the Vibram shoes at work, as they look so odd, so I researched alternatives. A number of people at my CrossFit gym wear the New Balance Minimus to work out. I sprung for a pair of the MT10 at the end of 2011. I’ve worn them nearly every day since then. They’ve become the shoes I wear when I go out in public and care what people think (such as when I go to work). I chose the MT10 because it seemed to have the most responsive and thinnest sole of the New Balance Minimus options I found. If I remember correctly I paid $95 for them. I’ve since bought a second pair, gray and orange, for $50 on clearance.
Zem Ninja Split Toe Lo - I purchased these online from Zem’s website a few months ago. My girlfriend had found the company somehow and clued me in. They’re inexpensive, $39.99, and they’re incredibly lightweight. I dot get some strange looks from people when I wear these, so they’ve become the shoes I wear when I go in public and don’t care what others say. Admittedly, this isn’t very often. Of the three pairs of shoes here, I’ve worn these the least.
Vibram FiveFingers KSO – Despite being the original barefoot running shoe, these are still the closest to being barefoot. They allow my foot to flex completely in all directions yet offer just enough sole to keep little rocks from embedding in my foot. I’ve worn them for everything from running to hiking and weight-lifting. The only thing preferable to the Vibram FiveFinger KSO is being barefoot. They’re also machine washable for when they get too dirty.
New Balance Minimus (MT10) – I love that I can wear minimalist shoes out in public and not have anyone look at me strangely. These shoes have allowed me to embrace the “barefoot” concept I am so passionate about but avoid the strange looks received when wearing some other shoes. I’ve found that they hold up very well to daily use – the sole has worn a bit, but as this is a minimalist shoe, it doesn’t matter.
Zem Ninja Split Toe Lo - These are the least expensive minimalist shoes I’ve found. They’re comfortable and weigh so little you forget you’re wearing them. Even though my foot seems to be a bit between sizes, they fit well and don’t come off. I enjoy them as an alternative to sandals.
Vibram FiveFingers KSO - While I have gotten used to them, the individual toes make putting the shoe on a bit more challenging than with other shoes. Some people have issues with things between their toes, though that doesn’t bother me. The biggest downside, though, is the appearance. There’s no getting around the fact that the Vibram FiveFingers shoes look radically different from other shoes, and that is always going to bring some strange looks. I have narrow feet and the velcro closure doesn’t secure them as well as I’d like, plus it leaves a fair amount of the strap hanging loosely off the shoe. I find that it’s easy for these to get smelly, but it’s hard to know how much of that is from my foot and how much is from the conditions in which I wear them.
New Balance Minimus (MT10) - I don’t have much negative to say about these shoes. I wish they came in more color options, but that’s trivial. I found the stock laces to be very long, so I swapped them out after a couple of weeks. If I want to be very picky I could say that they should cost less, as there is less going on with these shoes than more traditional sneakers, which usually cost less. I suspect that the price will come down over time. If I was using them to run in, the wear on the sole might affect my traction, but I can’t be sure.
Zem Ninja Split Toe Lo - While I haven’t taken them outside for running, I can’t imagine the sole would hold up for long. I noticed that Zem recently released a trail shoe called the Terra. It looks to have a sole that looks far more durable, which supports my theory. Instead of specific numeric sizing, the Zem Ninja Split Toe Lo is sized more like shirts – small, medium, large, etc. I do like the dexterity offered by the split toe, but I’ve actually received more “what are you wearing on your feet?” comments with these than with the Vibram FiveFingers KSO. I attribute that to the novelty of these shoes in my area.
If I could have only one pair of barefoot shoes, it would undoubtedly be the New Balance Minimus MT10. I could wear it anywhere and everywhere if I chose, especially if I had a pair that I used for active pursuits and one that I kept from getting too smelly.
The Vibram FiveFingers KSO is wonderfully durable and a great all-around shoe, especially if you don’t mind getting some strange looks. I will say that the public perception is changing, though, as more people get involved in barefoot running and try the Vibram FiveFingers barefoot shoes.
The Zem Ninja Split Tow Lo is wonderful for its’ light weight and cost. The sizing can be a bit difficult but if you prefer barefoot, there’s nothing like these. This is the least useful of the three shoes for my lifestyle.
Just a few days ago I purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS. As the KSO was so slippery on the bottom, I needed something with some tread. After I use them for a bit I’ll post a review. I’m also hoping to buy a pair of New Balance Minimus Zero – as I believe strongly in a zero-drop shoe sole.
If you have anything to add to this review – be it comments or criticism – please leave me comments below. Thanks for reading!