KayakVagabond

the website of Greg Stamer

This Little Piggy… Vibram FiveFingers Gear Review

Posted by Greg on July 26, 2009

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Vibram FiveFingers (KSO Model)
Greg’s Gear Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I am often asked “backchannel” for gear reviews on the equipment that I use on both my expeditions and for everyday paddling trips. Please watch my blog for future reviews and send me email if you wish to see a particular item reviewed. I will indicate any conflicts of interest (sponsorships, etc) and do my best to provide an informative review.

The Good

  • Low volume fit is great for SOF kayaks and other tight boats.
  • Models with an instep strap stay “stuck” to your feet (even in thick muck).
  • Razor-cut soles offer excellent traction, even on wet surfaces.
  • Soles are thick enough for common hazards yet thin enough for dexterity (such as operating butterfly rudder controls)
  • Walking “barefoot” while in public feels sinfully good (you even leave a nice “barefoot” footprint).

The Bad

  • Sand is bad news. When walking in water, fine suspended sand can pack tightly around your toes and badly abrade your skin if not removed.
  • Due to the toe pockets you can’t use the shoes with any kind of drysuit that features integral socks.
  • Tight fit makes it difficult for your feet to dry so these are not the best après-kayak shoes.
  • It takes some practice until you can don them quickly.
  • Expect to hear “Dude, what’s that you got on your feet”, very often…. :)

I have to admit that when I first saw Vibram FiveFingers at Canoecopia in 2007  I uttered “Puleeze” under my breath. My favorite backpacking boots have always featured stout Vibram soles but the FiveFingers looked like a gimmick. I changed my tune, however, after using them and now they are often my “go-to” shoe for warm-weather kayaking. FiveFingers are snug-fitting, stretchy, low-volume, minimalist shoes with individual toe pockets that come in a variety of styles and feature razor-cut soles for traction. If you love going barefoot you will love FiveFingers. Vibram claims that wearing FiveFingers and “stimulating the muscles in your feet and lower legs will not only make you stronger and healthier, it improves your balance, agility and proprioception”.

I have always used stiff-soled water-shoes for comfort and support while kayaking with the square, Yakima-type kayak footpegs that are common on most touring yaks (such as my NDK Greenlander Pro). However when I began training with race-oriented kayaks and surfskis I had difficulty operating the rudder pedals. Kayaks, such as my Epic 18x, have a wide, angled carbon foot bar for heel support and have the rudder pedals hinged above the bar.  I quickly discovered that my stiff shoes were not only unnecessary but also lacked the agility to operate the pedals. I briefly tried paddling barefoot but needed some protection from rocks and glass. FiveFingers to the rescue! These shoes have just enough protection and provide impressive dexterity. FiveFingers have very little bulk so they readily fit into a tight Skin on Frame kayak or other low-volume boats.

I prefer the KSO (Keep Stuff Out) model that features a mesh panel covering the top of the shoe and a strap to keep them securely in place. For cooler climates the “Flow” model features thin neoprene construction. Users of SOF kayaks may find this model more comfortable, especially if you need to slide your feet under tight deckbeams and require padding on the tops of your feet. Be warned that it takes some time to learn how to get all your piggies into their proper pockets.  I found this frustrating at first. These are not  the shoes that you would reach for if your house was on fire! The toe pockets separate and spread your toes slightly, that is purported to be healthy. I found the sensation a bit odd at first but I quickly got used to it.  The sole is very thin but is sufficient to protect from common debris. That said, the soles and construction are not stout enough or protective enough for expedition kayaking and, of course, the toe pockets and tight fit would not work with the integral socks of a typical drysuit.

For kayaking day trips in warm climates FiveFingers are very comfortable with the notable exception that in areas of fine sand, wading can cause suspended grit to enter the shoes. The sand can easily become impacted around your toes and can cause painful abrasions if not promptly removed. At the end of the day my feet have the appearance of a white, shriveled prune, from the tight fit so I prefer to take them off when I climb out of the kayak and slip into something looser to allow my feet to dry.

Unless you are comfortable, say, wearing a kilt in public you might feel a bit silly walking into a restaurant in your FiveFingers. Over time I have grown much less self-conscious wearing my FiveFingers but it’s undeniable that they garner attention and are great conversations starters.

For the right applications I give FiveFingers a “thumb’s up”.

For the record I am not sponsored by Vibram, however I do sell FiveFingers at Travel Country Outdoors, where I work. 

  1. Tommy Said,

    Hi Greg
    Great review, makes me want to try a pair of these. I have always hated the neopren short boots that I use in the summer.

  2. derrick Said,

    oh, they’re just so darn sexy you won’t want to take ‘em off in bed… LOL!!!

  3. Greg Said,

    Maybe Joe Cocker will do a remake entiteld “You can leave your FF’s on” :)

    I originally hoped the midnight-black FF’s would make the women swoon but instead they just make me look like I stumbled into a bucket of paint (or worse)….

  4. gnarlydog Said,

    Greg, I had an eye on those Fivefingers and after reading your review I was keen on trying on a pair.
    Finally I located a shop in my area to try them on (didn’t want to take a punt and order on line and guess the size).
    Unfortunately the Fivefingers don’t fit my long tapered foot where the big toe is way longer than the pinkie.
    The Fivefingers left me with a shoe that had a lot of “empty area” around the other toes resulting in empty “pockets” for the other toes.
    Simply put: don’t fit my feet and since the sole it’s rather soft using a pair of shoes that was half floppy just would not work; something not as critical with sturdy boots with stiffer soles.
    Dang, I really wanted the Fivefingers to fit me since finding footwear that fits in low volume kayak is tricky for my size 12 feet.

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