Some people have neat, balletic, narrow little feet, that can slip into the skinniest of shoes and feel comfortable. Other people jam their feet in and accept foot binding as a normal part of their lifestyle. Then there's a third group, who are lucky enough that their genetics bestowed on them giant, slabby pieces of meat for them to propel themselves through the world with.
Lucky enough, that is, until shoe designers favoured narrow feat, and suddely the giant stable leaver becomes a source of pain.
I am in the latter group: I posess giant, wide meat paddles for land and sea. Highly dextrous toes. A hatred for narrow shoes, brought by years of calf cramp and torment.
About six months ago, I found Vivo's shoes, and tried them. They have a wonderful, wide toe box, almost no sole to interfere with a natural gate, and a lot of work ahead of one to actually be able to wear them for more than ~2000 steps in an urban environment. While this sounds, and is indeed sold as an idyllic experience, what's missing from the online marketing tale is the huge amount of work required to take one's feet from the coddled soft pieces they are, to the hard, strong tools capable of properlling oneself across our modern concrente landscape, effectively unpadded.
One has to build up slowly. A day, a day off. Two days, a day off. Three days, a day off. One really does have to do follow their Journey to be able to comfortably wear the shoes. I still use the basic series of exercises twice a day: rocking forward onto my toes, back onto my heels, repeating up to ten times, then sinking into a squat, before rolling forward into a kneeling back bend:
Is it worth it?
I think so. The best description I have is that until now, I have been blindfolded: I had no idea how much of a sensory experience my feet are capable of relaying. The world has rich textures - even concrete and tarmacadam - that I now enjoy. Taking my feet offroad is incredible. A dirt trail is different to a meadow to mud to rock.
The increasingly rare occasions that I wear 'normal' shoes now are very, very muted days for me feet. I find it harder to achieve good posture as my heels sink into the cushion of the heel cup.
Where have I worn my Vivo shoes?
For travel, every day, on an 18km hike in the Alps, 30,000 step days around cities. Everywhere. I have three pairs: RIF Swim Run, Primus Trail Swimrun, and Hiker FG. The Hiker were my first pair, followed by the Trail, and then the Eco Suede RIF Swim Run (no idea why these have swim in the name).
Both the Hiker and the Trail have the same sole, and equally padded insoles (padding here is relative). The RIF, however, have no insole, and just a very thin outer sole: I struggled with these until I put insoles in them; they're just too thin for me to enjoy.
About six months of wear on the Primus trail, worn almost every day for those six months
What about running?
I haven't run that much in them, but the few runs I've had feel very powerful: with a very light shoe less energy is used moving the shoe back and forth, and the drive I get off the substrate feels wonderful. The control, too, as my foot is fully employed in each step, feels superb. Usually I run in OnCloud shoes, but as they've gotten narrower I've started the migration to running in my Primus Trail Swimrun.
Due to the lack of padding, I find I am more careful, both with my gate, but also of over-exertion, which is a boon.
What else reccommends them?
Not all - sadly - of their shoes are vegan, but the selection of vegan shoes available is wide. Why wear a cow when one can wear recycled plastic bottles?
Three clear manufacturing approaches stand out:
- Recycled plastic bottles are used to make some uppers (Eco mesh, suede and canvas); ~17 per shoe: https://www.vivobarefoot.com/us/search?term=pet#q=dna.Recycled-PET
- They are investing in novel manufacturing techniques, and have a shoe that's upper is made out of algae (it smells different, too)
But what about ball walking?
There's this man: he explains how to 'walk medieval': more specifically, he explains about a very thin type of shoe - more a thick leather sock - that was worn by medieval people requires one to walk more on the ball of one's foot, with a gate similar to the one suggested by Vivo.
This is in the same direction as the running gate of the popular running philosophy of landing on the balls of one's foot, and using the whole leg as a spring, instead of relying on the cushioning of the shoe.
The result is, even when walking, an much shorter stride at a higher cadence, rolling the foot onto the ground, with the toes lifted up to deliver tension to the foot and 'catch' the ground.