Even if you’re not a part of the worldwide running community, you’ve probably seen someone wearing a pair of the odd-looking Vibram Five Fingers shoes at some point in the past decade.
Certainly peculiar, the silhouette of Vibram Five Fingers is so minimal that calling it a shoe feels generous. It’s more of a sturdy ankle sock, or a glove on the wrong body part, or even an exoskeleton for your foot. Whatever it is, though, it sure is popular.
Vibram Five Fingers actually look like a foot; the “five fingers” in the name actually refers to the five toe compartments to keep each foot’s digits separated.
While curiosity has brought many people to give them a try, either as a day-to-day shoe or as an athletic shoe, many others are left scratching their heads and wondering why footwear like Vibram Five Fingers even exists.
Are Vibram Five Fingers Good For Your Feet? – A Bit of History
The Vibram Company was founded in 1937 and is based in Italy, and it makes rubber soles for shoes made by a number of other companies, including Merrell and Lowa.
Their Five Fingers, a so-called minimalist shoe that offers your feet protection from the elements but no actual cushioning, was developed in 1999 and first made available to the public in 2005.
While Vibram Five Fingers are currently best known as a “barefoot” running shoe, the genesis of the product was more for activities for which you’d normally do barefoot anyway; the shoes just provide some extra protection and traction on wet and slippery surfaces, such as kayaking, canoeing, and sailing.
However, runners began paying attention after several 2010 studies noted that these shoes were barely a half step up from barefoot running, which runners (including some prominent marathoners) from Kenya and Ethiopia had been doing successfully for years.
The thinking was that conventional running shoes like those made by Nike, Adidas, Brooks, and most other companies, provided so much structure and cushioning that runners’ feet didn’t hit the ground in a natural way.
They’d strike too hard on their heels as they ran, but they didn’t really pay attention to the force this exerted on their feet and legs since their shoes bore the brunt of the impact.
However, running in more traditional shoes resulted in a high incidence of unnecessary leg and foot injuries.
They suggested that running with shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers, which mimicked barefoot running, these injuries could be greatly reduced.
It was logic that seemed to make sense to both serious and casual athletes alike, and they were intrigued – so much so that by 2011, the company had sold more than $100 million worth of their Five Fingers in that year alone.
Are Vibram Five Fingers Comfortable?
In short, yes – wearing Vibram Five Fingers is about as comfortable as being barefoot, since there’s not much of a shoe there forcing your foot into a particular shape or lifting your heel off the ground in an unnatural way.
They’re also super lightweight. If you enjoy not wearing shoes, Vibram Five Fingers are about as un-shoe as you can get
Vibram touted the benefits of the shoes in its marketing pushes, but not all users found that using their Five Fingers yielded such great results.
The company was hit with a class action lawsuit in 2012 over misleading health claims of using the shoes, and while they did not admit to any wrongdoing, they soon settled for $3.75 million, enough to provide a refund for each claimant
Making matters worse for Vibram, a 2013 study out of Brigham Young University suggested that running in barefoot shoes like Vibram Five Fingers may actually cause minor foot issues.
The paper cited increased incidence in bone marrow edema, or excess fluid in the bone marrow, in runners as a result of barefoot shoes’ unnecessary stress on the feet.
While the study didn’t say to stop using barefoot running shoes, it did caution users to start slowly and build up their use.
And really, that’s the key answer to this question: Vibram Five Fingers are incredibly comfortable once you know how to move in them.
You can’t just throw on a brand new pair of Vibram Five Fingers and go right out and do all the things you’d normally do in regular shoes, and you certainly can’t run a 10k with them straight out of the box.
You can, however, definitely build up to those things with time.
When you first wear a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, you’ll notice that you feel the ground much more acutely.
You can make all the metaphors you’d like about being spiritually one with the Earth in a pair of shoes like this, but when you feel the ground in such detail, you’re much more purposeful in how you walk and run.
You start to pay attention to how your foot hits the ground, since you don’t have as much impact cushioning as you’re used to. (You are protected from things like splinters and anything that might be damaging to step on, but that’s about it.)
Are Vibram Five Fingers Good For Running?
If you’re a runner who isn’t wholly enamored with more traditional running shoes, especially if you haven’t been able to find a running shoe style that allows you to run pain-free, then you’ll definitely want to give Vibram Five Fingers a try.
However, to emphasize the advice already given, you’ll want to start slowly.
The old saying “walk before you run” comes to mind here, as you’ll want to ensure you’re comfortable walking in Vibram Five Fingers before you start running in them.
You’ll notice that you land more softly, and more on the front part of your foot rather than your heel.
You can start with short runs, ideally on softer, natural surfaces like grass or dirt. Then, once you’re familiar with your new stride and cadence in Vibram Five Fingers, and once you’ve become more intentional with your foot strikes, you can increase your running distance and move to paved surfaces.
You can expect a little discomfort after your first few runs with Vibram Five Fingers (just as you would with any new style of running shoe) as your foot and your body adapt to this new footwear and adjustments to your movement.
It will probably take a week or two for you to get used to them.
Eventually, though, with the more natural running form that Vibram Five Fingers encourages, many runners find that they ultimately have less knee pain, stronger arches, more ankle flexibility, improved balance, and a more enjoyable experience overall with their Vibram Five Fingers.
One important thing to keep in mind is that Vibram Five Fingers are not a fast running shoe; these are not Brooks Hyperions or Nike Vaporflys.
So, if your goal is to increase your speed, Vibram Five Fingers probably won’t get you there. However, what Vibram Five Fingers does help with is proper and more natural running form. If you run for exercise, for cardiovascular health, or just for the heck of it, Vibram Five Fingers are a great shoe to try.
Are Vibram Five Fingers Good For Hiking?
If you’re hiking on well groomed trails and you’ve become acclimated to walking in Vibram Five Fingers, then yes, these shoes are great for hiking.
But they’re not designed for more advanced hikes on uneven and predictable terrain.
Remember, you can really feel the ground with Vibram Five Fingers, and if the ground on your hike is especially rough, your feet will feel every bit of it, and again, you don’t want to put them on for the very first time and then spend the entire afternoon on a strenuous ten-mile hike up a mountain.
You also want to be especially careful while hiking in Vibram Five Fingers to not stub a toe on a rock or tree root, and if you know your trail will be wet or muddy, you might wear other shoes. You can get Vibram Five Fingers wet, but they can take at least a day to fully dry out.
Are Vibram Shoes Good For Plantar Fasciitis?
When answering the question of whether Vibram Five Fingers are good for plantar fasciitis, there are two avenues here: the anecdotal one and the clinical one.
Anyone who’s suffered from the pain of plantar fasciitis, or the inflammation of the tissue between your toes and your heel, knows how excruciating it can be.
Wearing proper footwear is often recommended as a treatment, but fans of Vibram Five Fingers suggest that plantar fasciitis can actually be prevented altogether if you wear barefoot shoes in the first place.
The anecdotal evidence is convincing. Vibram Five Fingers, the argument goes, helps to build up the muscles in your feet and encourages you to not strike the ground with your heel, and both of these things will help to prevent the painful inflammation.
Rather than treating the problem, Vibram Five Fingers eliminate the problem.
However, the clinical evidence paints a different picture. A 2009 study of regular shoes versus minimalist shoes on plantar fasciitis symptoms found no significant difference in pain between those who used more conventional training shoes and those who used a more minimalist shoe like Vibram Five Fingers.
But again, minimalist shoes don’t really treat the symptoms — they prevent the disease.
So: are Vibram Five Fingers good for plantar fasciitis? The good news is that they don’t seem to do more damage, and many users claim that they do help the inflammation from even becoming a problem.
If you suffer from plantar fasciitis and have exhausted a lot of treatment options, using a pair of Vibram Five Fingers to strengthen your foot may be worth your while.
Vibram Five Fingers shoes may soon see a resurgence in popularity, as there’s a brand relaunch planned for the Spring of 2021.
These shoes may have started out as an oddity or a curiosity, but they’ve grown into a strong brand with a significant percentage of the athletic shoe market.
With bad press behind them, and as users understand the process of getting comfortable wearing them, we may see more and more people wearing Vibram Five Fingers for all sorts of athletic activities for years to come.