Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking

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    Addie Bedford
    BPL Member


    Locale: Montana

    Companion forum thread to:

    Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking

    George Matthews
    BPL Member


    I've decide to try it out. Based on the review and feedback, I'm not brave enough to go Class I. I think the following are possibilities for me.

    New Balance Minimus $100
    Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove $110
    Vibram Fivefingers KSO Trek $125

    Now I will way for the best sale I can find as my two old pairs of trailrunners wear down towards a poor man's minimalist : )

    Kathy Hoffman


    Locale: Foothills of San Gabriel Mtns.

    I was given a pair of the Minimus as a gift, and in my humble opinion, Vibram KSO Treks are much better, and here's why….

    The Minimus has a small toe box, which especially going downhill, I found made my toes curl a bit, in an unnatural attempt to keep me balanced and stable. This action actually seemed to go against the whole "barefoot" approach, and felt more like a traditional running shoe to me.

    The separation of each toe on the Treks, while ugly as sin, I have found serve a really valuable purpose. Increased stability. Closer to what your foot experiences walking barefoot, and more stable. Your foot "hugs the road" as it were, and I find gives a more stable and natural feel. They do however, take a bit of getting used to.

    In cold weather, I have also worn light toe socks in the Treks and it did give me sufficient warmth.

    Kathy Hoffman


    Locale: Foothills of San Gabriel Mtns.

    Just my observations from having owned (and loved) both the KSO's and the KSO Treks:

    1. Try not to order online if possible. Fit varies widely, and even varies between these two shoes. My two pairs are different sizes. In my experience, I also ended up with a size larger than I thought I would, (as compared to other shoes that use the same sizing system). A lot has to do with how it feels, so it's best to try on multiple pairs.

    2. Their sizing is determined not by what size you normally wear, but by measuring your foot. You can't skip this step if ordering online.

    3. Although I am female, the men's shoe fit better for me. If you are female with a wider foot, consider the men's style. If you are male with a narrower foot, consider the women's.

    4. The kangaroo upper of the Treks wears better than the KSO upper material. It's also better if your feet sweat, (in my opinion) and is more comfortable.

    5. I use the KSOs for running on pavement only (and only so I don't wear out the Treks so quickly). If you'll be hiking or running where there are even small rocks, or uneven terrain, the Treks are much better. I think the Treks are the perfect all-around, multi-purpose option.

    6. A thin pair of toe socks help in cold weather.

    7. Wear them around the house instead of going barefoot for a week, while you get used to the feel. Then, slowly break them in keeping the amount of time you run in them short in the beginning. Your muscles need to develop in order to properly support you. I actually wore mine to the grocery store and while running errands as well.

    8. When first hiking or running in them, pay special attention to the way your foot is hitting the ground. You can't use the traditional "heel strike" gait, and in fact, it defeats the purpose and will cause considerable pain. Pay a little attention in the beginning until you get used to them. You're going to notice that your calves need time to adjust too, and they get a bigger workout when using these.

    9. Give them a brushing with a suede brush to remove any loose dirt. You'll want to wash them if they start getting stinky, and you can, in a washing machine in cold water with a mild detergent, but don't put them in a dryer. Just air dry them.

    10. Beware of the websites that sell these "really cheap". They are cheap foreign knockoffs and a friend found out the hard way that they are nothing like the real thing, (and then he couldn't return them).

    Erin McKittrick
    BPL Member


    Locale: Seldovia, Alaska

    I'm very intrigued by the minimalist concept, but very skeptical how the shoes would hold up to my real world conditions. Can't quite bring myself to spend the money without knowing more. Here, we have lots of off-trail, including lots of salmonberry and devils club brush. And the other half the year, there's snow. Would any minimalist shoes stand up to bushwhacking without shredding in a month, or shredding my feet in the process?

    Zane Darner
    BPL Member


    Locale: S.W. Idaho

    I utilized my REI rebate and 20% off coupon to try these out. I was amazed; at first.

    Wearing these truly was a joy whether barefoot or with light or medium weight merino wool socks. The only problem I had with them was that there was one hot spot high in the arch on the right foot. I did take my time moving into these–Merrel's site has some very good advice on this!

    Had it not been for that one spot I'd be wearing them now. The toe-box felt open, relaxed, and really gave my foot the ability to relax and stretch as it moved. It was my foot, not the shoe that was the problem.

    REI took them back and I'm waiting for my next option to try.

    Thomas Burns
    BPL Member


    Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."

    >Here, we have lots of off-trail, including lots of salmonberry and devils club brush. And the other half the year, there's snow.

    And here we have the dreaded greenbriar year round. The kargaroo skin used for the KSO Trek uppers hold up just fine.


    Kathy Hoffman


    Locale: Foothills of San Gabriel Mtns.

    Erin, I agree with Thomas that the Kangaroo uppers on the Treks should hold up fine to bushwacking, and that has been my experience.

    Like any footwear, the stiffer they are, the longer they seem to last, so these are not going to hold up like backpacking or mountaineering boots, but compared to some of the other materials, the Kangaroo uppers are really nice.

    I don't think you could wear them in any real snow. The Kangaroo leather uppers are like suede and your feet would get wet and thus, very cold. I do wear them in cooler weather with light toe socks, but not in snow.

    Just my opinion, but I think they are best for moderate temperatures. Also, on some nasty long backpacking trips with horrible terrain and where I needed to cross water, carried them in addition to boots as my water crossing / camp shoe option. They're not the lightest (9 oz. on my scale) but the comfort and flexibility makes it worth it to me.

    George Matthews
    BPL Member


    Measured my feet. Left is right at 10 3/4 and right is 10 5/8. I usually buy size 11 trailrunners.

    I was looking at the TrekSports just now ($100)

    Building on the success and versatility of the KSO and KSO Trek, FiveFingers presents the TrekSport for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s designed with rugged, high-performance materials to help maximize your outdoor experience. We’ve used abrasion-resistant Coconut Active Carbon in the upper for natural breathability, 4mm EVA in the midsole for plating protection, and we’ve added a lightly cleated 4mm Vibram® performance rubber outsole for extra traction on a variety of terrain.


    Treks ($125)

    Our KSO Trek delivers the agile performance and protection you need outdoors and on the trail. A more rugged version of our popular KSO, it features a kangaroo leather upper and sockliner that are soft against the foot, yet strong and tear resistant with outstanding breathability. The 4mm EVA midsole offers plating protection from stone bruising, and a lightly cleated 4mm Vibram® performance rubber outsole delivers enhanced traction on trails and rugged terrain.


    I will get either the Treks or TrekSports soon. Thinking of going with the size 43 (for the 11) and wear toesocks.

    George Matthews
    BPL Member



    Glad you mentioned REI. Merrell are available. The 20% discount does minimize the risk. Also, fortunately there is a local REI near me. Might see if they are in stock and try on. Also have a small dividend.

    The Merrell Trail Glove cross-training shoes are tough enough to handle light hiking in wet or dry conditions. Their light weight and innovative design let feet work as if they're not in shoes at all.

    DWR-treated synthetic leather and mesh uppers create tough, flexible and breathable barriers around your feet
    Lacing system is anchored by welded thermoplastic urethane; ensures a snug customized fit every time
    Rubber toe bumpers and forefoot shock absorption plates guard against unwanted impacts on uneven surfaces
    Synthetic leather slings around the back of feet add stability
    4mm thick EVA midsoles provide cushioning that makes outdoor adventures easy on your feet; please note, there is a 0mm heel to midfoot drop
    Merrell Trail Glove cross-training shoes have Vibram Trail Glove soles for excellent grip and durability


    I will be trying either the trek, treksport or trailglove.

    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Right there

    One suggestion. It would have been nice to include sizes available in the manufacturers specs. Would save time looking at shoes that don't come in large sizes. Enjoyed the article otherwise. I never go barefoot, anywhere. Mom wouldn't let us. Told us we'd get worms. lol

    Damien Tougas
    BPL Member



    I have heard that the uppers on the TrekSports have had some durability issues. I haven't had the opportunity to try them as of yet, so I can't confirm that. I would search around for some reviews on that particular model before purchasing.

    John S.
    BPL Member


    Thomas Trebisky


    Locale: Southern Arizona

    I have had a pair of KSO's for about a year and like them a lot, BUT I am skeptical about using them for a long trip of any kind. First of all they have a blister producing seam (not present on other Vibram five finger models like the Trek – which it was a mistake to exclude from this study by the way). Any jaunt over a few hours (or run of 4 miles or more) will produce a hot spot or blister from this shoe.

    I use my KSO's for foot strengthening and training on courses with controlled conditions. I have tried them on rocky trails and find it entertaining when I go slow enough, but a bit of carelessness or too much speed leads to trouble. I find a light pair of running shoes a better choice for rough trails, with only a modicum of extra weight. You have to ask if you are trying to prove something (and to who?) or if you are really achieving something by saving weight. Maybe I am clumsy (nah, couldn't be), but one trivial stumble with my KSO's led to a sprained little toe (maybe I even broke it, I dunno) that took a long time to heal. On the other hand, my problems with plantar fasciitis have gone away now that my training includes a modest amount of running with the five fingers.

    Everyone using minimalist footwear experiences injuries as part of the game, and the honest folks admit it.

    David Chenault
    BPL Member


    Locale: Queen City, MT

    Nice article Damien. My hope is that "barefoot" technology will continue to pervade hiking shoes, and shoes with tough uppers, no drop, a bit of rock protection, and good tread will proliferate. I can't see any room for shoes in my quiver that don't allow me to layer various sock combos.

    Praveen M
    BPL Member


    Locale: By the foothills of the Colorado Rockies

    Been following am enjoying this discussion.

    Couple of point to add or reiterate what others have said:

    1. Sorry docs or other medical specialists who are skeptical. Barefoot running or hiking is not a dangerous fad only suitable in "third world" countries or for folk who jave had "structural adaptations" since young. That shows a profound ignorance for the basic biological history of our feet which have had 2 million years as upright humans in the African savannahs to evolve. It would be helpful if foot specialists skeptical studied a little about human history or talked to some evolutionary anthropology rather than make assumptions through very narrow modern perspectives.
    Fact is our feet work remarkably well and are infinitely more sophisticated than anything Nike cooked up and marketed in the last 50 years.
    What they don't handle very well is very rocky terrain or snow, etc which is not the gentle savannahs of our adaptations and why we need some help from barefoot shoes that let our feet work as they are designed to with some extra protection and padding to help. Not regular shoes which almost always work against the intricate proper form of our individual feet and cause the long term foot problems that we are all familiar with as runners and hikers.
    Yes we need time to readapt back to how our feet were designed to move but isn't that obvious? Take a desk job city slicker who has never left the city and throw him on the trail to walk long hours and camp and you're looking at at difficult readjustment and relearning period… A silly reason to discourage them, you should be guiding them in the transition

    Myself I magically lost my chronic knee pain problems and ankle injuries after giving up on all shoes and slowly adapting back to barefoot running.. or perhaps not magical when you consider how our feet evolved to move.

    2. Tried most of the models in the surey and for me the merrell trail gloves are the best overall compromise for now. Don't be put off by the narrow forefoot or slighty weird cushioning feeling when trying them. A couple hours on the trail and they work as well as the vibram five fingers with none of their disadvantages (funny looks, questional upper durability, funk build up, can only use toe socks, etc). I can happily live in these shoes forever and just climbed Mt Meru in Tanzania with them across snow and scree. Zero foot problems and I don't have especially strong feet. BUT the return to barefoot is just starting so I imagine in a few years things might get even more interesting.

    Thank god for our current re-evolution of modern times when the combination of ultra lightweight backpacking and barefoot shoes means we can explore and walk across wild open land as free and closest to natural form as humans have been doing for millenia.

    There will always be alarmists or guardians of outmoded thinking or "expert" skeptics. All I can say is try it and see if your feet want to go back to lumbering shoes.

    Praveen M
    BPL Member


    Locale: By the foothills of the Colorado Rockies

    Almost forgot… The Merrell Trail glove need to be sized to be a snug fit and are a size smaller than my regular shoes. At first it feels like it might be too tight for long backpacking but within a short time they feel perfect and your whole foot moves as one entitiy. The toe box also expands well when needed as your feet get bigger with long miles.. and I have very wide toes that complain even in wide new balances.

    Compared to the VFF treks they lose only a little ground feel and have much better protection from rocky bottoms… I would not take the VFF for a long through hike where I expect to be in pain on rocks after a whole day of walking and having to tip-toe when I am tired ad don't want to keep looking down where I step but would happily take the merrells. For those who need even more protection the NB minimus is the ticket but for many of us the Merrell may be all we need in general terrain.

    Like others have noted the 3 best barefoot shoes on the market currently for long distance backpacking are the VFF treks, merrell trail gloves and NB minimus and unfortunately none of these are part of this survey. Perhaps we can look forward to them and more in a future comparative article. Kudos to backpacking light and the testers for the comprehensive starting coverage…

    Mike Hinsley


    Locale: England, UK

    I've been playing with a pair of Merrel Trail Gloves for a month or so.

    I've tried both Vibram KSO (1st Gen) and the Vibram Bilka and don't think they are any good for wet muddy terrain although I like them for lots of other things – especially gym work where shoes would otherwise be required and of course general walking around; just not not trails.

    I've used the Merrels now for several 10-12 mile day walks that I've worked up to. I really like them and they feel natural. There is some feedback from the ground but not too much. There is some protection from jagged stuff.

    Adaptation is required but less so than Vibrams.

    My current feeling is that the Merrels will be just fine for hiking with my normal U/L pack on multi-day walks and will not suffer from the footbed collapse issues that seems to plague trail shoes on multi-week hikes.

    mark sullivan


    I had to laugh when I saw these make it to this thread.

    I bought two pair of Walmart's Aqua Socks a few years ago and glued Vibram material on the bottoms of them. I've clocked alot of miles on them –> almost all runnning.

    They stretch quite a bit and get very loose on your feet. Too loose for hiking I think. You can't beat the price though ($7). the original soles wear out after 100 miles or so.


    Mitchell Keil


    Locale: Deep in the OC

    I have been looking for a great camp shoe. Although I am content to keep my trail running New Balance or TrekSta shoes on all the time, there are many momments when I would be nice to have a nice light pair of comfy and non restricting camp shoes to slip into. Wallah! We have these extremely lightweight, foot conforming and relatively inexpensive Sockwa's. So, although I am not a devotee of barefoot style hiking, the industry has delivered my dream camp shoe. Thank you very much!

    Thomas Trebisky


    Locale: Southern Arizona

    I remember back in 1970 or so when I got introduced to backpacking. The "party line" then was that you needed boots, for "support", and big heavy boots that required "breaking in" and produced blisters. We wore 2 layers of socks (an inner smooth layer, and a bulky padding layer).

    At some point years later, I realized that I had been sold a bill of goods (or a bill of boots), and I began doing cross country approaches to backcountry rock climbs in really worn out running shoes and wondered what all that BS about boots was all about.

    More recently I have been doing week long backpacks just wearing what any serious runner would call a completely worn out set of running shoes. And I am doing my "urban" running in my vibram five finger KSO's (and some hiking and trail running with them too). Less is more, no question about it.

    But running (and hiking) with the KSO's does require some adapting. There have been a lot of changes in my ankles and leg musculature over the last 1.5 years! My running (and walking) stride has changed (no more heel striking). A new stride uses the calf muscle as a shock absorber, as designed. My problems with Plantar Fasciitis have gone away (which raised its ugly head when I began doing more and more trail running with mainstream high end running shoes). These kind of shoes will teach you better ways to walk and run (heel striking = pain = education!)

    I am content to use well worn running shoes for hiking and backpacking. The KSO's don't provide enough protection on rocky trails or off trail. I may try the Treks or some more minimalist running shoes, especially now that my muscles and walking muscles have had over a year to adapt.

    Glad to see this kind of footwear getting some attention here.

    George Matthews
    BPL Member


    Damien et al.,

    Bought the Treks today. Will give them a good test on Saturday.

    Thanks for you advice.

    Diane Pinkers
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Washington

    I've really enjoyed these shoes, after years of having heavy rigid shoes. For someone who commented that the Inov-8 are too narrow, I wanted to point out that they have 3 lasts, and 2 insole options. I have wide fore feet, and my right is thicker through the instep than the left. I find that their Endurance last or their Comfort last (as opposed to the Performance last, which is rather narrow) is wider in the forefoot and comfortable, at least for me. Also, having the ability to put a 6mm insole in my left foot and a 3 mm insole in my right foot has solved a lot of shoe fit problems for me. I find in these I don't worry about toe bang as much, even though they are narrow in the front, because the fit is over-all more glove-like than what I had before, and the ability of my front foot to roll and flex means I can grip with my toes. They don't seem to get banged as much.

    Damien Tougas
    BPL Member



    I wish Inov-8 would make their more minimalist shoes with one of their wider lasts. All of the light-weight, low-profile trail shoes they make are with the performance last. The models that feature the wider lasts are too much shoe for my liking.

    BPL Member


    Locale: SW

    What is with the nail polish in the intro picture to this article ? Is it some further protection for the feet ?

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