Hittin’ the trail in the Vasque Mindbenders… they feel pretty good.
I’m not gonna lie: When I learn of a product that a company has named “Mindbender,” I expect something pretty over the top. “Hey, man, bend my mind!” I expect magicians popping out of hats… er, wait… Of course there’s a lot of hyperbole in names and marketing, so I’m automatically a bit suspicious… and curious. Vasque says they developed the 23-ounce (650 g) Mindbender for running ultras, and the shoes seem to give good torsional support, soooo… how are the Mindbenders for ultralight backpacking?
Before we ever hit the trail, we’ve gotta try on some shoes, so we might as well start by talking about fit. My foot is just about as average as possible, a 9D/42 Euro, with no funky toes or bunions, and a moderately high arch being the only non-boring part of my foot. I found that the stiffer fabric on the toebox impinged upon the top of some toes, particularly the big toe, so I had to go up to a 9.5/42.5 shoe to get the toes out of harm’s way.
The last (form that the shoe is shaped on) is noticeably straighter than many, but I found it largely comfortable. It is a relatively low-volume toebox compared to many, and I wouldn’t want to wear this shoe with a much wider forefoot. Vasque literature describing the last depicts it as good for people with flat feet. I don’t know if flat-feet (fleet-foot?) people tend to have feet that run straight and true on the outside, with wide and bulbous toes wrapping to the inside, but that’s the fit that strikes me as best for this shoe. Although my pinkie toes are a little bit crunched, the big toes could have a little more room to slide over toward the medial plane.
As a bootfitter, one thing we commonly do is analyze how a shoe or boot laces up on a customer. This can give you an idea of how the volume of the shoe correlates to a specific foot. The Mindbenders lace up with barely any gap left on either side of the tongue, despite the slightly larger volume of my foot due to the higher arch. This suggests that perhaps there’s a bit more volume over the crest of the foot than necessary, or perhaps that gap just needs to be opened up a bit wider for more lacing control.
Looking down upon the Mindbenders, note the tight lace pattern in particular. You can sort of see the straightness of the last here, too.
The heel confuses me. On one hand (ahem: foot) it seems to fit relatively close. I think what I perceive is that the upper perimeter of the heel fits looser and feels a bit boxy. The depth of the heel cup/low point of the ankle is noticeably lower than that of other trail shoes. At first I thought I was just imagining that difference, so I measured the Mindbender and three other trail shoes I own. The Mindbender was the lowest-cut of the four I own, at 1 7⁄8 inches. Average of the other three was 2 3⁄8 inches, with one of my best-fitting shoes being at 2 5⁄8-inch depth. On-trail use showed me that this depth can be a significant factor in fit and performance.
Walking around and getting accustomed to the Mindbenders, I was struck by their comfort. There’s a good amount of cushion underfoot, but I still have some feel of the surface I’m walking on, and in a good way. It’s plush, with feel. The shoe gives me a relatively neutral stride, with a slight bit of supination (making the arch-side of the foot raise a little), which would be good for more flat-footed pronators. But the shoe strikes me as totally wearable for those with an average arch. With a normal gait on relatively flat surfaces, the heel feels noticeably secure. I can feel the upper region pulling away from my foot a little, but it doesn’t really feel like my heel will slide around at all. One fault I find with some trail shoes is an unstable heel platform, but the Mindbenders seem to keep me level and secure.
Splooshing along on a rainy afternoon.
With about 50 trail miles on the shoes, I had some stitching come out on the upper and some strange puckering on the rand. The stitching appears (and feels) to be purely cosmetic, and the puckering doesn’t seem to affect anything, so I’m not too concerned about either issue. Vasque has been very easy to work with, and I have no doubt they would have repaired or replaced the shoes if I had asked, but it struck me as completely unnecessary.
You can see the two lines of blue stitching on the upper; a few remnant threads from the other line remain in the photo center. This happened on each shoe, although on the right shoe it was on the outside.
Speaking of trail miles: I had some mixed experiences with the Mindbenders. I’ve been carrying some extra weight while gear testing, and probably carry 20-25 pounds for a weekend. With that kind of pack weight on flat terrain and trails with a few roots and rocks, the Mindbenders performed nicely. They were just… there. Supportive, but not in the way. However, in more rolling terrain and/or with rougher trails, the Mindbenders turned out not to be my shoe.
Bottom line, I couldn’t keep my foot in the shoe. As a buyer in outdoor retail for nearly a decade, I’ve worn a LOT of trail shoes, but I’m not sure if I could even count on one hand the number of shoes that came off so easily. It was so shocking that I stopped a number of times just to make sure the shoe was even on right, let alone laced and tied properly. Situations that applied some torsion to the upper, such as turning while coming down a hill, seemed to exacerbate the problem the worst. Awkward angles on rocks or foot placements were also bad news. On one short ten-mile hike, my foot must’ve slipped out of the heel at least half a dozen times. Wowzas!
Why keep product testing limited to just one product? Comparing the performance of shoe/sock combo with one waterproof/breathable sock.
Despite Vasque’s commentary, “The tailored instep and lower volume heel keeps your foot securely in place,” I found that the lower volume heel PREVENTS the shoe from keeping your foot securely in place. Indeed, as I alluded to earlier regarding heel cup depth measurements, those shoes that best control my heel have the deepest heel cups. Again, the Mindbenders had the least depth of any of my shoes. Also of note, whereas many trail shoes have a stiffened upper, rising from the lowest point of the upper to wrap around the Achilles, that section of the Mindbenders is completely unsupportive, flexy, inconsequential open-celled foam sheathed in fabric. It would be generous to say there’s 1.5 inches of depth to the top of the slightly more supportive rand on the heel. Having nearly sprained my ankle several times because of the shoe’s inability to retain my foot, I no longer wear the Mindbender as a UL backpacking trail shoe. I don’t know who would best fit the heel. I’m tempted to say people with “fat” heels, but I firmly believe the problem is primarily in the depth of the cup.
What I like most about the Mindbender is the balance of cushion and feel underfoot. The support is good, it’s just ineffective when my foot is slipping out of the shoe. I’ve also tried a surprising number of uncomfortable shoes with mesh uppers, but the Mindbender upper feels pretty good.
Striding along in comfort.
There’s definitely some room for improvement on the Mindbenders. To get a comfortable fit for most people, the forefoot should rotate toward the big toe several degrees; as it is, I can feel my pinkie toe hitting the outside while my big toe is on the verge of swimming with room. I’d recommend changing the lacing in some way… probably by shifting the opening for the tongue down each side a bit, because the volume over the crest of the foot feels like it should be sufficient. Lastly, and most markedly, the heel cup really needs more depth. Another possibility would be to add slightly less depth, and stiffen the upper reaches of the heel cup.
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/BPL has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.