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WIDENING THE RUNNING PARADIGM
Looking back at the evolutionary development of humans, our physiology and subsequent bipedalism has become a characteristic trait for our species.
Text by Eugene Kan
Looking back at the evolutionary development of humans, our physiology and subsequent bipedalism has become a characteristic trait. The whole idea of “persistence hunting” enabled humans to develop a respectable degree of endurance and efficiency. While we as humans are far from the fastest, we’d rank as one the animal kingdom’s finest for covering long distances. Yet, the act of running itself was largely an oversight among the non-athletic elite up and until the 1970s. Thanks largely in part to the 1972 Olympic Marathon win by American Frank Shorter, this event effectively set the wheels in motion for a movement that would later claim 25 million participants within a span of two decades.
Aside from Shorter’s historic win, the work of Nike-affiliated personalities Bill Bowerman and Steve Prefontaine cannot be overlooked – They were major catalysts in the development of running which trickle down to the masses. Since then, running has come to represent a substantial slice of the sporting pie, garnering sales of roughly $3.35 billion USD in 2009.
In recent times, industry running groups from the creative community have been popping up as a sort of social gathering. This has been an awesome development in a time where past meetings
saw themselves perennially linked to major booze fests as the unifying theme. Once again, I have to tip my hat to Nike for helping promote the sport into a greater lifestyle context through its crossover initiatives such as the highly respected fashion meets performance GYAKUSOU collection with UNDERCOVER. Without straying too far off the path of this feature, an increasingly serious obesity pandemic is taking over many parts of the Western world. Our ability to remain healthy through our youth and old age is not something people or myself should take lightly.
As a sport, running is as simple as they come. It’s something that the human body has largely been able to achieve without any outside instruction. It is at the root of almost all sport and something innate in our evolution. Yet we’ve seen running offerings diversify itself immensely in recent times. Despite the fact we’ve been able to run equipment-less, there has been a rather notable integration of outside influence in the form of running shoes. Most of what you see in the retail landscape follows the idea of cushioning, motion control and stability – under the assumption the human foot cannot oversee these biomechanical elements on its own – with extraneous technologies built in.Given the general diversity of the human species, there may be some basis for these extra touches.
However as we’ll see soon, there may be more to designing running shoes than piling on the cushioning and motion control/stability features.
The big trend of the last few seasons has been the development of a more minimalist running shoe. However, minimalist is an extremely vague term that much like defining streetwear, has its own connotations among different crowds. The general scope of minimalist footwear is something that leans towards a barefoot experience. This means less cushioning & support, a lesser or zero heel to toe drop, flexible sole and a lightweight design. There are varying degrees of this but this is an accurate checklist few should argue against.
It has been said that more minimalist footwear often promotes changed foot strikes towards midfoot and forefoot strikes – which goes against the conventional form associated with a 30-some year old running shoe formula – and can offer greater running economy and less injurious runs. Studies show that upwards of 30% of runners each year experience some sort of pain or injury through running. As of mid-2010, minimalist running shoes represented only 2% of total footwear sales suggesting something is up with traditional footwear design or the heel striking running form it promotes. Prior to the tackling of the minimalist trend by big running brands, shoes once made for outdoor water sports such as Vibram’s 5 Fingers were a good option. Vibram went on to embrace their popularity to create running-specific models of its popular toe shoes. This had lead other big companies such as adidas to launch their own competitor – albeit designated as a workout shoe – the adiPure Trainer as
well as FILA and their Skele-Toes.
Despite the increased cushioning that has been the norm for so many running shoes, this seems to have a paradoxical effect on mitigating impact forces when running. These thick and robust midsoles reduce the human body’s own proprioceptive abilities – that means the ability for the body to adjust the level of cushioning via sense – and in doing may actually increase impact relative to more minimal or barefoot running. Simply put, if your foot has less cushioning at its disposal, it will take the proper preventative measures to ensure that you aren’t running an in injurious manner. At times, all that extra cushioning may led your body to turn off its stress signals leading to trouble down the road.
As for increased performance, a study back in 2001 discussed that the body uses 4% less energy when running barefoot relative to traditional footwear. We can’t extrapolate the findings but I’d like to see a study that tackles this idea of running economy based on foot strikes rather than mid/forefoot-striking barefooted runners vs. heel striking shod runners. The trouble lies not so much in footwear itself, but rather the technique it seemingly promotes through heel striking. Whether or not heel strikes are the basis of injury are debatable, but from a performance perspective there seems to be evidence that midfoot and forefoot strikes can lead to increased performance.
Many major companies have taken different approaches to tackling the minimalist movement. Each has their own particular philosophy and we wanted to explore some of the current offerings out on the market. While there are some models reviewed that have a strong minimalist flavor, others follow a more traditional route. Many people can and have gotten away just fine with traditional footwear styles and as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
But increasingly, the whole notion that the foot needs corrective measures in footwear design is being called into question. Even Nike’s own Alberto Salazar has gone on the record to say that the technologies created to mitigate the natural rolling of the foot through the gait cycle (known as pronation) are without scientific merit. The vilification of pronation is losing steam as people begin to understand that pronation is naturally needed as part of the running process. Your body takes into account several factors including speed and surface, and together they all work in unison to carefully control impact when running. The educational basis of footwear design is seemingly set for a rocky shake-up.
Moving onto the next culprit aside from pronation has been the way in which runners foot strike. Despite heel striking being denounced, the act of heel striking is quickly being dismissed as the sole reason behind injuries. The complex nature of running and the breakdown of its biomechanics have brought to light proprioceptive heel strikes that allow those to continue running injury-free despite going against the physiological grain.
That means your body is smart enough to adjust for impact through each step. The attention now turns to the angle of the shin and the bend of the knee upon impact.
With a heads-up regarding two important notes in the design and implication of footwear design in running health, we can move further into what some people have constituted as proper running technique. Midfoot striking involves landing relatively simultaneously on your forefoot and heel while forefoot striking involves no impact at the heel. A positive aspect of midfoot and forefoot striking by experts has been its ability to prevent overstriding which often involves an extended knee. With forefoot and midfoot running, since your center of gravity is over your feet, the impact to the joints is considerably less.
So there’s a bit of a primer before we move forward into the shoe reviews. I personally never ran as a primary form of exercise or competition, but it has always been a fundamental part of all sports I’ve played. Lucky to never have suffered any sort of serious running ailments, I’m a born-again midfoot striker who like many followed a heel striking approach.
1 // ADIDAS
2 // ASICS
3 // BROOKS
4 // MIZUNO
5 // NEW BALANCE
6 // NIKE
7 // SAUCONY
8 // VIVOBAREFOOT
9 // CONCLUSION
Among the heavyweights of the sporting world, adidas has the most pedigree and history. The Three Stripes have been crowned champion at every which level in the world. This success can be based on its ability to work with top class athletes to engineer great product innovations. adidas has rightly understood that running is the absolute basis of many of our favorite sports and have developed a product line to work with this philosophy. The adiZero franchise has been their most important sporting development of the last few seasons as it spans all of adidas’ major sports disciplines. The emphasis on lightweight product is both a great marketing point, a psychological boost to the athlete and of course the hopeful increase in actual performance. Earlier this year, they launched the adiZero Feather which was announced as the lightest shoe in its class at 6.7 oz.
To start off, of course I’ll bring the shoe’s weight into the spotlight. It truly does feel extremely light given its stance and coupled with the dynamic color and design, it isn’t a shoe that will pass by without a few stares. The overall fit was quite good and the SPRINTWEB offered the necessary support and breathability required. The breathability is an important feature for the Hong Kong runner especially given the climate, heat and humidity levels. The by-product of weight shaving is greater moisture control, so no qualms about that as they both complement one another nicely. I felt the SPRINTFRAME did it’s part to offer a bit more explosiveness off the push but it’s something I could also do without. For those with experience running in adidas running shoes, the adiPRENE+ is no surprise and provides a suitable amount of cushioning for all but the heavier runners without an overly mushy and unresponsive feel. Overall the fit is meant more so for narrow feet and I when it comes to the weight game, a narrow last will obviously make the weight numbers a bit more attractive rather than a wide and more accommodating last. The fitting was probably one of the biggest detractors for me and factored into my personal rating, but the microscopic weight will have many people interested if they want a well-cushioned and lightweight trainer.
Price: $100 USD
Features: SPRINTFRAME, adiPRENE+, SPRINTWEB, adiWEAR
ASICS has long been a respected brand amongst runners and athletes alike becoming a dependable option for footwear under the traditional scope of running shoes. While smaller and running-concentrated brands have entertained the thought of moving down the ladder of support and cushioning, ASICS has been a little more reluctant. ASICS’ head researcher Simon Barthold has some choice words regarding the minimalist approach. Earlier this summer, Barthold claimed there was no substantiated studies to back-up current minimalist running claims and that the current paradigm of “rear-foot strike pattern design” is not broken. This may be true for many runners out there, but the science is slowly weighing in the opposite direction. With this in mind, ASICS introduced its 33 by ASICS collection this past summer. Under the umbrella were two models, the Gel-Blur33 reviewed here and a more affordable Rush33. The nomenclature was inspired by the 33 joints that form the feet and create one of the most complex pieces of human engineering on the body.
When I say that minimalism comes in many shapes and forms, the Gel-Blur33 from the 33 by ASICS line is indicative of that. The shoe from first glance looks far from minimalist given the height of the tooling and a noticeable difference between the heel and forefoot. But aside from that, the shoe feels very good on the foot. The most minimalist part of the shoe is probably the tooling which hopes to offer greater flexibility while maintaining a thorough amount of cushioning. The toebox is very accommodating for my wider feet yet the The GEL cushioning felt great and was pretty soft and plushy when walking around, but as a midfoot striker, you will find it easier to clear the heel with a lower drop shoe. I’ve never really felt the need for a great heel fit in runners due to the uni-directional nature of the sport but the heel fit was the best of any tested. The ventilation and ComforDry sockliner made for a pleasurable experience on otherwise hot and sticky runs. To call this a minimalist running shoe is perhaps a bit of stretch, but for those looking to transition, I think it could work. If you’re not a personal fan of softer cushioning, the Gel-Blur33 may not be the best option but the overall fit was my one of the greatest strengths of the shoe.
Price: $85 USD
Features: Impact Guidance System (I.G.S.), GEL: ASICS’ signature cushioning system, Solyte Midsole, ComforDry Sockliner
Brooks is a brand that has largely resided within the running market. Drawing more familiarity among enthusiasts, the American brand based in Washington has dedicated itself to helping further running experiences with design that encourages longer, faster, farther and happier runs. Their eclectic range covers a variety of biomechanical styles and gaits with some of its own ground-breaking innovations on both a performance and environmental level including BrooksDNA, BioMoGo, Progressive Diagonal Rollbar and HPR Green. A particular model from Brooks, the Beast has often garnered a lot of mention for its copious amounts of stability and motion control but this has now been contrasted by a new lighter weight neutral model known as the PureConnect which is a nod to the increasing diversification of the running brand.
The Brooks Glyercin was a shoe that would probably be best fitted for heavier set runners wanting greater amounts of cushioning. It was a bit too bulky for my personal taste. Perhaps it was a fitting issue and I should have sized up but the restrictive overlay on the toecap was something I wasn’t a huge fan of. Overall, the tooling was designed with an interesting rocking motion that I assume helps with the gait cycle. If you’re on your tippy toes and lean forward, you’ll almost be propelled forward after hitting a certain threshold. Despite the Omega Flex Grooves, I found the outsole overly stiff and it didn’t really break in as desired following several wearings. Despite all my negative notes, the shoe sits as a neutral cushioning shoe that has been one of Brooks’ marquee products over the last few iterations.
Much like its brethren the Glycerin, the Ghost has some of the same performance sensibilities. It is however positioned as Brooks’ most universal neutral cushioning shoe. The key tech, the BrooksDNA is an interesting concept to me as it has the ability to adjust cushioning based on the necessary surfaces, speeds, weights and gait. I didn’t vary too much from surfaces given the lack of greenery around my areas but it does provide a bit of a difference when I took into account speed. At a time where there’s been a degree of specificity with every which need, it’s nice to have a shoe that can perform in a more versatile manner. For me personally, there’s simply too much midsole, however that’s not to say heavyset runners will benefit and appreciate the cushioning brought on by both the Ghost and the Glycerin.
Price: $130 USD
Features: BrooksDNA, Omega Flex Grooves, Tuned Density Midsole
Mizuno has been plying its trade in the athletic world for over 100 years. Since its inception in Osaka back in 1906, the brand has been multi-disciplinary in its pursuit of athletic perfection including running, track & field, golf, baseball and softball. The brand’s commitment can best be summed up in its brand ethos: “Contributing to society through the advancement of sporting goods and the promotion of sports.” We unfortunately didn’t have the chance to test it, but Mizuno made waves this summer with the release of its new marquee foamless model, the Wave Prophecy. The innovation came thanks to a full length Infinity Wave plate which served as the main driver behind cushioning and comfort.
Mizuno’s Wave Engima enters the Japanese brand’s roster as an amply cushioned neutral shoe. Right off the bat, you definitely feel a firm sense of cushioning. It was a far cry from the cushy rides that marked some of the other models tested but this firmness to some might be construed as a lack of overall cushioning. Following a decent amount of break-in, the shoes felt like they came into their own as the AP+ cushioning seemingly became more responsive and a bit softer. The use of Mizuno’s Wave Technology enjoys proper force dissipation with each footstrike, while the Smoothride tech ensures a proper and smooth transition as your foot goes through the gait cycle. Despite the desire for many midfoot strikers to maintain form throughout their runs, towards the end there are times when a lack of fitness may result in your form breaking down, making a shoe like the Wave Enigma a suitable choice. However given the price point, I would say there are quite a few options out there to also potentially consider before purchasing the Wave Enigma.
Price: $130 USD
Features: Mizuno Wave Technology, SmoothRide Engineering, Dynamotion Fit
New Balance in both the running and corporate world is a bit of a rarity thanks to it being one of the few companies still under private ownership. The brand has always been known as a runner’s brand who has long aligned itself with the needs and desires of runners across the world. Among the bigger brands out there, New Balance has embraced the whole minimalist movement with the development of its own range of sleek footwear that serves well as a transitional/minimalist shoe. The MT10 was developed in close association with ultra runner Anton Krupicka which ensures the isnights of the foremost runners helping in the development of their product. Since then, new zero drop models are on the way from New Balance in the form of the MT00 and MR00.
The debut of New Balance’s new Minimus line has been one of the largest endorsements of minimalist running from a major shoe brand. The MR10 (Minimus Road) and its 4mm drop (difference between where your heel and forefoot sits) is a step in the right direction for those looking to transition from more traditional supportive shoe. Cushioning wise, the MR10 does feature its fair share with a robust midsole but it does keep a good amount of flex given how thick the midsole is. The most noticeable element for those transitioning is a nice roomy toebox that will provide enough room for foot splay (toes spreading apart most notably during midfoot/forefoot striking). With the minimalist approach, you won’t find any real restrictive heel support which is symbolic of a shoe on the minimalist tip. One of the weird things though was how your foot sits atop the platform, almost as though the lateral side is raised and effectively angling your foot. From a biomechanical point of view, I couldn’t tell you in fancy scientific terms the exact reasoning but I suspect it’s beefed up on the lateral side as many people land on the outer portion and then roll inwards. It didn’t really affect me when running, however it was noticeable even just walking. I think I would like the new incoming MR00 cause I felt the cushioning a little overbearing on this model.
The Minimus Trail 10 has come to represent New Balance’s most minimal offering to date in its relatively new Minimus line. A special Vibram outsole and a much thinner midsole makes for a shoe with a great feel for the ground. The upper is made of a breathable mesh, and the lack of overlays on the tip of the toebox makes for very accommodating fit. I never really got the chance to test it on trails since we’re a bit lacking in Hong Kong and it requires a bit of a trek to hit up the wilderness, yet these would work fine for those looking for something more minimal than the MR10. The ACTEVA midsole is made with Dupont Engage that makes it 12% lighter than standard options to help dial in the shoe at a very respectable 7.5 oz. Despite the wider toebox, one of the downfalls of the design is a strip of rubber-like material that runs along the width of the toebox. Myself along with other reports have noted that the material is overly restrictive and ruins what would otherwise be a perfect fit in my opinion. I did at times find the strip to offer too much support and restriction and wish there was a better option. Perhaps an overlay with a bit of elasticity would be a better option but otherwise the MT10 does come in multiple widths including 2E and D. The New Balance MT20 has since released after a relatively short 4 month lifeline to the MT10. The upper seems more restrictive, however some are questioning whether this is an indirect admission that the MT10 wasn’t up to scratch. I personally beg to differ and despite the horizontal strip across the midfoot which can be “engineered” (aka cut to open up the fit), the shoe is a solid performer and was probably my favorite among all shoes.
Price: $100 USD
The ubiquity of Nike and the long standing knowledge behind its history makes this brand descriptor relatively futile. Most frequenters to HYPEBEAST will have a rough idea of the background surrounding a favorite among many the world over. Nike has been one of the strongest proponents of running as a casual sport since promoting it into the athletic light back in the 70s. Back in the day, Nike worked its way into reaching an astounding market cap of 50% by 1980. Since then, Nike has not looked back, continually being the innovators and cultural drivers through sport and lifestyle. The introduction of Free technology was the first adoption of a more barefoot stance by a major athletic brand when it was introduced in 2004. Despite the good start, the franchise waned in development and never really fulfilled its duty for those wanting to traverse down the ladder of minimalism from the original 5.0 model (5 was located at the center between 0 “barefoot” and 10 “a traditional runner) towards the lower end of the spectrum. It was only as recent as this year that a 3.0 model was released. Many have sung the praises of the Free and should Nike continue to push the agenda will find great success in the growing segment. However taking a step back, the marketing machine that is Nike has often relied heavily on the marketing of technology – yet Nike Free arguably doesn’t have the same promotional value or visual appeal of visible Air or Lunarlon.
Upon its introduction, the Nike Free was the mainstream world’s first introduction to more barefoot-styled running. But in this current landscape, the Free is a bit far from being associated with a near barefoot shod running experience although the shoe does maintain some of the characteristics associated with minimalistic running. The wide toebox and ultra flexible outsole is still something to marvel at and many people will see themselves (not so) carefully manipulating, twisting and bending the shoe. Of course the sipes are needed to create a necessary flexible experience. My experience with the Free Run+ 2 is a relatively positive one. The shoe is comfortable from the get go and there requires no break in. I prefer to run sockless but I was punished with some hotspots due to exposed stitching towards the end of one particular run. Given the ubiquity of the Free Run+ series through various retail channels, the shoe is a good step towards working your way into more minimal options if you so choose. The incorporation of a Nike and Apple NikePlus feature allows you to keep track of all your movements and runs and could be a good motivator for those needing it. I feel like this shoe itself is deserving of five stars yet the potential of Nike Free tech is huge in itself and could really push the minimalist agenda if Nike was to dedicate greater attention to the product.
Lunarlon has been the subject of many of Nike’s performance options since its introduction right around the Olympics in 2008. It has become the backbone of a strong range of Lunar-based performance shoes. Since much of Nike’s strength has come down to the overall aesthetics of its offerings, the simplicity of the LunarFly’s upper has drawn a lot of praise from the running world. Despite the similarity in toolings between various Lunar styles, the LunarFly+ 2 offers a bit more of a softer ride relative to other models including our other review involving the LunarGlide+ 3. The incorporation of Dynamic Support gives you on the fly support relative to your motion control needs. As a neutral runner, I can’t really comment or praise the technology but those looking for motion control seem to find appeal in the technology. The overall toebox is rather roomy and I was a fan of the fit. The outsole was a bit stiff yet responsive to start off but it eventually broke-in comfortably as expected after a few weeks of wear. At $80, the LunarFly+ 2 is definitely worth looking at. The lack of midfoot support (that the LunarGlide+ 3 offers) may be an issue for some who need a real lock down fit, but this was never an issue for me. All in all, a nice interpretation of a traditionally positioned runner.
The Nike LunarGlide+ series has come to represent the current pinnacle in Nike Running innovation. A resilient Lunarlon cushioning system is the shining star of the shoe as this is further paired with a competent midfoot lockdown system for a great fit. Designated as a shoe for the mild to moderate overpronators, the LunarGlide+ 3 is a good “middle of the road” option for those wanting the best of both cushioning and support. I found that the cushioning was a bit firmer than the LunarFly and this disparity was maintained even after a few weeks of wear. The most visible difference between the previous generation LunarGlide and this most recent iteration is the absence of Flywire. Nike’s marquee supportive technology was left out for one reason or another but an inner midfoot strap locks down the foot in comfortable and painfully simple fashion. As mentioned previously I never felt the need for a ton of midfoot support, but I definitely don’t see any issues with having it there. Much like some of its brethren, the LunarGlide+ 3 incorporates a Dynamic Support system for on-the-fly support based on your pronation. Once again, not something I worried too much about, but if you need it, it’s there. Some reports say that the support is greater than some of the other Nike models including our other review, the LunarFly. With much of the upper clad in mesh, you can’t help but experience a comfortable run as your feet heat up. For $20 more than the LunarFly, you’re paying for greater support and more cushioning, should you not need these, the LunarFly’s are a worthy alternative if you’re committed to the Swoosh.
Price: $90 USD
Features: NikeFree, Nike+
At the heart of Saucony’s is a brand who’s unwavering philosophy towards running has led the brand down a route of great product development. The brand’s roots date back almost 115 years to the sleepy town of Kutztown, Pennsylvania in the United States where a local factory was the start for both Saucony and other surviving brands such as PF Flyers. Since then, Saucony’s thorough understanding of the running market has cemented its place in the running world as a great brand for enthusiasts. Saucony’s approach to the minimalist market has taken a more transitional approach creating some very well-received designs that have presented a favorable range of options for those wanting to move away from the traditionally supportive and highly cushioned offerings the market has pushed. Some may not even see the need to go much further than the Kinvara and Mirage.
Few shoes have really been marketed as a transitional shoe but the Progrid Kinvara and its most recent iteration certainly fit the bill. From afar, the overall aesthetics of the shoe would lead many to believe that the overall construction of the shoe is similar to the prototypical heavily cushioned and supportive shoes with towering heel drops that dominate the current running shoe arena. I’m careful to overly sing the praises of minimalistic footwear as many have been able to get by just fine with traditional offerings. This is merely to put consumers on a more varied approach when looking for their next pair of runners. Having earned much praise in the running community, the Progrid Kinvara 2 offers a relatively lower 4mm heel drop with a lightweight and more flexible outsole. The cushioning and tooling still looks rather substantial (or maybe it’s cause I can see past the painted stripe at the top of the midsole which aims to play a little visual trickery?), but I found it doesn’t have an excessive level of cushioning. In the New Balance MR10 review, the lateral side of the outsole is beefed up while the Kinvara 2 is much different. Only a soft EVA is seen on the edges which may present a problem for those who come down a little heavier. The shoe otherwise is a great fit in the toebox with a breathable mesh of varying gauges. If you’re starting off by taking baby steps in the transitional phase, the $90 USD Kinvara 2 is a good option.
Despite being well received among many runners with the Kinvara, the Progrid Mirage itself was a slight modification to a proven winner. They don’t exactly cannibalize one another, but the Mirage and Kinvara do have some overlap between one another. The main difference with the Mirage is the integration of slight motion control elements thanks to a midfoot support bridge with a similar heel to toe drop ratio. The overall cushioning of the Mirage is not as soft as the Kinvara 2s that I tested and throughout the running experience, you’re given a more supportive ride that isn’t available on the Kinvara. Another difference is the application of rubber on the outsole on the lateral sides. This is one big change that the Kinvara could probably adopt to help boost the durability of the shoe. The fit and comfort of the upper is welcome with a stretchy toebox that allows just enough manipulation in the upper to accommodate wider feet. Looking at the three models I tested, the minimalist progression would make the most sense going from the Mirage to the Kinvara 2 and finally, the Hattori. I do have a strong suspicion that the Kinvara 3 will probably take on some of the sensibilities of the Mirage including the additional rubber placements on the lateral side.
Saucony’s line of minimalist friendly shoes reaches its current pinnacle with the Hattori. I liken the Hattori to a contemporary version of the Nike Presto with a mostly mesh upper that essentially molds to the contours of your feet in tighter fashion than the Presto. First off, getting into the shoe isn’t a simple feat as its laceless and the collar is pretty restrictive. Given the lightweight and minimalist upper, sometimes I felt that at any given time I could expect to hear a huge tear. Although once you get locked in, unless you order the wrong size, I can’t find too many issues with getting a proper fit. The shoe is extremely lightweight at a meager 4.4 oz with a flexible EVA outsole with bits of rubber on the heel and medial toe. Coming in at such a lightweight with a great almost custom fit due to the material stretch, you feel as though you can really push the shoe through its paces. Once again, some people might complain that this lack of reinforcement at the lateral edges like the Kinvara might make for a quick wearing shoe and I would agree. Breathability is something I wish was a bit better as surprisingly I found it only to be mediocre. The Hattori is a great shoe not only for running but for lounging, although getting your foot puts a bit of a damper on the whole experience. Overall, my main concern relative to the price is how long the Hattori will last.
Price: $90 USD
Features: Memory Foam Heel Pods, Hydrator Collar Lining, Endoskeleton Synthetic Lockdown, Heel ProGrid LITE, High Abrasion EVA (EVA+)
The last 2 years as well as the immediate future will see the rise of many so-called minimalist running shoe lines. However, since 2004, VIVOBAREFOOT has aimed to provide a strong roster of shoes on both the lifestyle and performance tip to satisfy those looking for a more minimalist experience. They’ve dedicated themselves to ultra-thin puncture resistant soles as the driving force behind their products which also incorporate eco-friendly production methods. Front to back, VIVOBAREFOOT’s models as well as its parent brand Terra Plana have created some of the leading minimalist styles. For those who need not undergo any sort of transitional phase, VIVOBAREFOOT’s interest resides in creating something largely devoid of any cushioning and support, a shoe that will provide you with the necessary tactile feel with each step as you trod along.
The Evo is VIVOBAREFOOT’s marquee model which embodies much of the brand’s running shoe philosophy. This includes ultra-thin puncture resistant soles and a shoe constructed of sustainably produced and locally sourced materials. Aside from going absolutely barefoot, VIVOBAREFOOT’s Evo is among the leading contenders for the ultimate minimalist experience. Despite the $160 USD price tag, you don’t exactly get a whole lot with the Evo. For many, they’ll probably gawk at the price knowing we’ve seen a steady decline for performance footwear over the years. Remember the days of expensive performance footwear, those days are long behind us yet the Evo has and will continue to buck the trend. Overall, the shoe does the job as expected albeit in relatively unspectacular fashion. A roomy toebox, a breathable free-flowing upper and zero drop on a 4mm outsole essentially qualify it as those looking for a minimal shoe without the bells and whistles of conventional footwear design. I wore the shoe sockless countless times and despite my feet essentially floating around the ultra roomy toebox, I never encountered any blisters. A word of caution for casual and beginner runners as it’s definitely not something you’ll want to jump into if you’ve spent the majority of your time in traditional running shoes and lifestyle shoes. Circling back to the price tag, for the time being and as of a few years ago, the Evo was with few equals, yet the $160 price tag might be a contentious issue as more options surface that are more wallet friendly.
The VIVOBAREFOOT Ulra is a bit of an interesting shoe to review. It’s far from your usual association with running shoes and it seems to share the design characteristics of two rather iconic pieces of footwear design, the Croc and the Nike Zvezdochka. Much like its Croc counterpart, you certainly can’t fault the shoe for absolute comfort. Only 6mm separate your foot and the ground meaning unlike most shoes on the market, you’ll experience a rather different experience on your running excursions if you manage to traverse multiple terrains. Another part worth mentioning is the featherweight 4 ounces the shoes weigh. For those wanting into the Ultra M club, you should probably have a good understanding of what you’re getting into. Zero support and little overall cushioning is what you get. This means a good understanding of how your body interacts with your running style and your relationship with proprioception are things to consider. It goes without saying clumsy and heavy-footed heel strikers are probably not the best idea with the Ultra. Fit wise the Ultra is a dream as I mentioned. The toebox is extremely roomy but you can’t help but feel a bit goofy every time you stare down at what appear to be glorified garden shoes. The inner bootie is removable as well although I never really felt the need. I feel as though the aesthetics might be a big detractor for the HYPEBEAST crowd but nevertheless the shoe does its job as advertised. Think of them as the Crocochka. Seeing as these are almost half the price of the Evo IIs, I would definitely suggest these over the Ultras if you’re in search of a truly minimalist shoe.
Price: $160 USD
Features: 4.0 mm Sole, 3.0 mm Press EVA Insole, 100% Vegan
Looking back at the shoe reviews, it would have been nice to push this a good two months earlier, yet I clearly misinterpreted how much work it would take to run in each shoe. This combined with a busy schedule and non-running related injuries made for several untimely delays.
Some of the models covered here are probably too minimalistic for those transitioning from traditional footwear. As well some models we weren’t able to test out including the Vibram 5 Finger, Innov-8′s offerings and the Merrel Barefoot.
If you wish to transition away from your current clunky runners, please exercise caution and restraint from overdoing it as many transitional users often experience overuse issues. Many are under the assumption they can maintain similar mileage but this in reality requires the proper adaptation phases. Running in a midfoot and forefoot strike with traditionally raised heel runners seems to be on the way to a supposedly healthier run. Yet clearing a 12mm difference may negatively affect the angle of impact, put extra strain on your ankles and not fully solve the problems you’re looking to address. We can’t stress the adjustment period enough when making the move down the shoe pyramid into a more minimalist offering.
Looking at the greater scope of things (and HYPEBEAST knows full well), the shoes we regularly wear are not exactly the most conducive to foot health. Tight, restrictive brogues on wooden soles and narrow sneakers are effectively putting your feet in good looking foot casts. Going barefoot in a time when we’re all rolling around the city and subject to Mother Nature isn’t exactly a viable solution either. Given the fact that fashion in itself has become an important facet of culture, many of us are happy to continue on this path with beautiful shoes, myself inclusive.
We’re not making a call to toss out all your sneakers and shoes to adopt Vibram 5 Fingers as your go-to footwear… that would be business suicide. But the takeaway is to keep in mind the importance of ensuring that not just footwear, but overall foot health and technique are important parts of the equation to consider before you join your next HYPEBEAST-approved running club.
Like Barefoot, Only Better
Why Consider Footstrike?
Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners
New Study by Dr. Daniel Lieberman on Barefoot Running Makes Cover Story in Nature Journal
The Pronation Control Paradigm is Starting to Crumble: Review of a Study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine
Why a majority of runners, even among international elites, are heel strikers by Blaise Dubois
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