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Review: Terra Plana VivoBarefoot Aqua

Review, originally posted 2008-02-01 (Revised 2008-04-06) on tjespter.com

Style: Men’s
Sample Size: EU44 / UK10 / US10.5
Design: Terra Plana (UK)
Country of production: China, UK
Weight per shoe*: 231 gr. (8.1482 oz.)
Thickness of sole*: 4 mm. (0.15748 in.)
Upper material: E-leather (recycled leather) and PET mesh (recycled plastic bottles)
Insole: Recycled materials
Outsole: Duratex
Price: £70 (around €94 or $139)

*Weight and thickness are always measured without insole when possible (since I usually recommend losing the insole, thus making the shoe more minimal). The weight is found using electronic scales from OBH that weigh down to 1 gram. The thickness is measured with a one-handed bar clamp. Thickness and especially weight are of course dependent on shoe size (See above).

The Product

Terra Plana is one of those interesting shoe companies that dare exploring more unconventional ideas. Among these are recycled shoes and minimal shoes. The VivoBarefoot concept is part of both. The Aqua’s upper shoe is made of E-leather, which is 75-80% recycled leather fibre combined with synthetic fibres into a fabric that looks like natural leather, but is only about half the weight. It is made in Nottingham, UK. The rest of the upper shoe is recycled Polyethylene terephthalate, in short PET (one of the most commonly used polyesters), forming a mesh-like fabric. PET is known for its impact-resistance and low weight and is often used for liquid containers like soft drink bottles. And, as mentioned, PET fibres can be recycled – for instance to make polar fleece or to make the fabric you find in the VivoBarefoot Aqua model. The insole is also made of recycled materials, which means that the only large part that is not recycled is the Duratex outsole. Duratex is also used in the world of diving – reinforcing parts of the wetsuit. It should be a pretty tough material and it is definitely quite flexible. All these materials make up a very interesting minimal shoe. As a minimal shoe, the Aqua offers low weight, a thin sole and a wide front – all qualities supporting the natural function of the foot.

Vivo Barefoot Running Shoes

The Aqua is the sportiest looking of the three VivoBarefoot men’s styles and it seems most suitable for running (it seems well secured to the foot and more breathable. The two other styles are more “neat”). The shoes come in a grey box made of recycled paper, and on the back Terra Plana presents ideas that suggest even further reusing of the box. Among these are “Store your undies in it” or “Bury your dead pet hampster in it” (the latter spelled deliberately with a “p” in hamster). They close it this way: “To get more boxes to be re-used, order another pair of Terra Plana shoes at…”

This raillery is well received. It speaks to the intellect instead of some shopping impulses or buying instincts that advertisers often commit to. The consumer obviously does not buy the shoes to get the box, but choosing minimal shoes is already going against the tide, so the approach “we think we made a nice product, but we don’t have to boast about it” works. At least it is a nice detail.

Unboxing Vivo Barefoot Aqua Running Shoes

Inside the box the shoes are resting in bags of a felt-like material. It is part of the whole natural/recycled idea. It looks attractive and Terra Plana definitely deserves kudos overall for making an environmentally friendly product. They are the first company to approach my Tertiary Guidelines for minimal shoes.

Removable Insole in Vivo Barefoot Aqua Running Shoes

The shoes have many interesting features. One is the fact that the upper shoe is divided into many sections. Firstly, the outer part consists of two leather levels with mesh in between. This enhances flexibility in an otherwise quite stiff leather framework, but it invites water to pass through. Secondly, the shoe has an inner part as well, actually imitating a sock or a shoe-within-a-shoe. It means that there are two layers, making it unnecessary to tie the laces firmly – the foot is already held in place. Another feature supporting this is the elastic band in the rear part, which secures the foot even further.

The inner part of the shoe feels very soft and overall it seems like a sturdy product. One shoe weighs 231 gr. (8.1482 oz.), which is more than the three earlier reviewed minimal shoes, but below average compared to regular shoes. Terra Plana estimates the outsole as being 0.3 cm. thick (0.112 in.). My one-handed bar clamp said 0.4 cm. (0.15748 in.) if we count in the fabric attached on top of it (still not counting in the insole that ads 0.2 – 0.3 cm. more). But overall this is a very good result.

Tread thickness of Vivo Barefoot Aqua Barefoot Running Shoes

Terra Plana’s own idea with the Vivo is a healthy shoe that connects you with the ground – stimulating balance and sensory perception. Furthermore it should offer you a natural posture and freedom – giving your feet the opportunity to flex and expand.

There is not much to comment on this. They definitely refer some philosophy behind barefooting, which is always a good start.

Finally, it should be repeated that the model reviewed here is a men’s model. However, it is quite similar to the women’s Liu model. The other models are Root (men’s), Panther (women’s), Dundan (women’s), Compton (women’s), Odette (women’s) and Dharma (men’s). At least the two latter should be vegetarian – the Dharma made of canvas and the Odette made of recycled truck tarpaulins.

Use

The first thing to pay attention to is the wide front (this should apply to all of the models). There is no doubt that the Vivo outclasses the three earlier reviewed minimal shoes in this aspect. Here we finally have a shoe that is much wider in the front than around the heel. Just like the way our feet are shaped. The benefits of this can be felt in many ways. For one, there is enough room for your toes – they are not forced together, which would result in distortion of the foot and cause an unnecessarily sweaty environment between the toes. Secondly, your feet indeed have the opportunity to expand on impact with the ground, which is nice – both regarding walking and running (once more I wonder why other manufacturers feel it obligatory to constrain the natural function of the foot. I will return to this question in a moment). Consequently, they offer great balance and a secure take-off. The overall benefit of this is freedom. To be able to wriggle your little toes even while running is a rare, but very addicting thing. The feeling that your shoes make you able to “do what you want” is an experience only surpassed by being completely barefooted. Other manufacturers claim to make shoes that offer you freedom and power or something similar, which is usually a marketing strategy. Well, not in this case.

Wearing Vivo Barefoot Aqua Running Shoes - Front View

If we consider breathability the wide front actually contributes to a more sweat-less environment. Offering room around your toes makes it possible for moist to vaporise and leave the shoe gradually. The mesh fabric also helps a lot. However, these bare areas surrounded by leather make the shoes far from water repellent. In the end it is a matter of what to sacrifice. For running, water repellence is not that essential – it is more important that your feet can breath. Using the shoes for walking, breathability is a very nice thing, but for a long rainy walk water repellence is a bonus. But at least water does not penetrate the sole as in the Feelmax shoe.

Wearing Vivo Barefoot Aqua Running Shoes - Side View

I tried wearing a lot of different shoes for work during the last couple of weeks. The Aquas actually offer as much breathability as in regular running shoes or as in the Feelmaxes. Compared to normal leather or suede shoes they are advantageous. Use a couple of toe socks in them to prevent sweat between the toes and you have an excellent day to day shoe.

Now, for the more poignant part…

I would guess that what prevents companies from making wide shoes is the looks. It is simply not fashionable to have wide feet. Your feet should be pointy and elegant. We are civilised people, not apes. Consequently wide feet mean low intelligence. Just think of clowns. In a culture of straight lines the sharper your shoe is, the sharper you are. But part of being keen is also to consider your health and how it is affected by casing your feet like tuna in a tin can. Still, no matter how you see it: wearing wide shoes is unconventional, and the wider your shoes are, the more people will stare. Personally, I hate this, which is why I was surprised how well the wideness of the Aquas is “disguised”. The mesh fabric is brilliant in this aspect. Where the sole expands towards the front of the shoe, the mesh keeps a straight line – offering a decent illusion that the part around the little toe is not that wide. Consequently the “healthiness” of the shoes is somewhat disguised and you can pretend to be as rectified and civilised as the rest of your community. Off course, if you are braver than me, you could not care less about what other people think.

Since I am reviewing the white Aqua model (there is a black and a brown one as well), I should make some notions about the colour. It does make them look more sporty, but it makes them less suitable as day to day shoes. They do not stay white that long – especially the mesh parts absorb dirt. And you should not throw the shoes in a washing machine, since they are made of leather. Hence they will also get a bit smelly when used for running, but the fact that they look used does not matter here. Running shoes should be dirty.

Vivo Barefoot Aqua Running Shoes - Top View

The Duratex sole works well. It is very flexible and skid resistant. It is also far more durable than the Keprotec in the Feelmaxes. However, since it is quite hard, it prevents you from feeling the ground as much as in the Water Shoes that actually have soles that are a bit thicker.

Flexibility of Vivo Barefoot Aqua Running Shoes

The secure fit of the shoes is nice. Your toes can wriggle, but your heel is still kept in place. Also, your achilles tendon has enough free space to work with. Hence, Terra Plana definitely got the shape right. However, if we consider the weight, they are a bit on the heavy side. I felt them way more than my other minimal shoes while running. But if it is your first minimal shoe it will be a perfect choice, since they are still lighter than most running shoes. And they are excellent for front- or mid foot landing.

Back of Vivo Barefoot Aqua Running Shoes

Conclusion

[Rated: 6/10 Toes]

Experienced barefooters will probably find the VivoBarefoot Aqua model a bit “too much”, needing a reduction in weight and thinner upper material. They will most likely use the Vivo for walking, which will be an excellent experience But for everyone else the Aqua is great. It is the perfect portal to the world of unconstrained running. Beginners will be able to use it as a tool for experimenting with walking and running “the natural way”. The good protection and the enclosing upper part will offer an enjoyable transition from regular running shoes and heel striking – to minimal shoes and front- or mid foot landing.

The Vivos offer the widest front I have experienced so far. It is perhaps the best feature of the shoes. It is a brave step away from “the usual” and is well received. And it simply has so many benefits.

Finally, Terra Plana is worthy of a medal for ingenuity what regards the fabrics. To use recycled materials that weigh less and are tougher than many “clean” fabrics fulfills several goals at once: sustainability, durability and functionality in one single blow.

Overall the VivoBarefoot is an exceptional product that everyone should try out.

Support Barefoot Runner and use our link to find your VIVOBAREFOOT Aqua shoes at Amazon.com.

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Author:Tue

a shoe reviewer interested in minimalistic footwear that allows the body to move naturally and injury-free.

32 Responses to “Review: Terra Plana VivoBarefoot Aqua”

  1. Greg
    April 10, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    Great and thorough review! I would warn prospective buyers to buy 1 full size bigger than they normally wear (I got the Dharma model, though). Maybe you can comment on the sizing. One more downside (at lest relative to bare feet) is there is an upward angle of the toe so you can’t stand with your heels and toes on the ground. I purchased the black leather Dharma version specifically so i won’t get freak stares- it doesn’t stand out like a white shoe, and black is a slimming color.

  2. Joyce
    April 15, 2009 at 7:20 pm #

    are all feet wide in the front? I remember trying on shoes and just really thinking any shoe with a wide front was annoying because my feet slip in them.

  3. VerMeer
    April 28, 2009 at 6:40 am #

    You should also check out Sketchers Flexxers. If you remove the thick insole and replace it with a thin one (costs about 3 bucks) , they are excellent “barefoot-simulators”, on par with the Vivos but for half the price!

  4. Brook
    May 12, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    Tue, did you try these with the insoles taken out? I wasn’t totally clear on that. I assume that you did…

  5. May 13, 2009 at 5:40 am #

    @Brook. Yes, I did, and it works perfectly fine (The weight of the VivobBarefoot is measured without the insole). The inner shoe – even without the insole – is quite comfortable. Still, I actually wound up keeping the insole for that extra snug fit.

  6. Arjan Steehouder
    May 30, 2009 at 3:01 am #

    I am interested in de terra plana vivobarefoot aqua. Especially for running.
    Living in Utrecht, Netherlands, where can I find them ? Can you give me adresses in Holland, where I can try them and buy them ?

  7. Poster
    July 1, 2009 at 2:53 am #

    uhh when they’re made of all recylce material and all so minimal n stuff they should be quite affordable, no? (or just __another__ good product in the hands of greedy people?)

  8. Patrick
    August 12, 2009 at 5:13 am #

    I normally take size 8 or 9, depending on make of shoe (i guess i’m 8 1/2 but don’t see many shoes being produced in half sizes these days). I bought these in size 10 as i had trouble getting the 9′s on. Trying them on again at home, I now notice that there is a lot of space in front of the toe, about 1 inch, which bothers me as the pics they show have the toes almost touch the front of the shoe and wonder if this will affect the comfort and “barefoot” experience. Any thoughts? Should take them back and exchange for a 9 and hope they wear in?

  9. Phil
    September 8, 2009 at 7:37 pm #

    Back from my first run with a pair of Vivo aquas; certainly a different experience than with a regular running shoe. In a way, I felt like I was doing something for the first time. A few things to note: First, I felt like these shoes were much louder than my regular running shoes. I’m assuming that this was because I’m now landing on the side/center of my feet rather than the heel (it’s impossible to land on your heel in these shoes). The noise was no big deal, but I run at night in the inner city and I like to be a little stealthier! Second, I noticed that, as Tue mentioned, your achilles tendon and toes get a much more rigorous workout than in a regular shoe. Most of my runs are on cobblestone streets and this evening I could occasionally feel individual toes pushing off the cobblestones rather than my entire foot. Third regarding sizing and in response to Patrick: I normally wear a 9 1/2 US and was almost certain that I would have to send back the 10′s that I had ordered. However, I still have a solid 1/2″ between my toes and the front of the shoe with a snug fit. I read somewhere suggesting going 2 sizes up… this seems a little overboard. Excellent review Tue, thanks.

  10. Marie S
    September 9, 2009 at 10:14 am #

    Tried on the shoes and walked out of the store wearing them on August 24, 2009. Ran 7 miles two days later. Then, I celebrated my 66th birthday!

    I am training for my first marathon on Nov. 1, 2009 (NYC). I live in the country so I try to run on the grass instead of the pavement. That also helps. Just finished 12 miles today. I KNOW that I couldn’t have done this with my previous running shoes. So far, I haven’t had to use vasoline, padding, etc.

    I think that it helps to also read BORN TO RUN … some good tips about running barefoot… why it is useful to “feel” the terrain…

    I won’t run barefoot, since I cannot even stand to feel dust on my floors, much less rocks on the road. However, I really don’t like to wear any of my other shoes now.

  11. Christopher W
    October 6, 2009 at 6:51 am #

    Great review thank you. One thing I’d like to see talked about more is that just because something is “recycled” A: doesn’t necessarily make it better for the environment (the recycling process itself releases emissions into the atmosphere) & B: It’s not healthy for humans to be in contact with synthetics, especially with ones foot (the main release point for toxins in the body).
    The suede material is great but the P.E.T. is not & nor is the Memory Foam material used in the insole. I’d love to see this shoe using more natural material in the design areas that come in closest contact with the foots skin. All this being said, the unhealthy aspects of the synthetic materials used in this shoe may be outweighed by the health benefits of a more natural walking condition that this shoe seems to provide. Peace & thanks again.

  12. Adam O.
    October 30, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    Been running with these for about three weeks now. It is definitely a hard adjustment to make from heel-striking cushion-shoe running–my calves and ankles were dying my first day out. The adjustment hasn’t happened as quickly as I thought it would either; I’m still running through planterboxes and front lawns to avoid the concrete, just because it feels better. I noticed last night that where the tongue hits the top on my ankle I am getting a bruise on both feet, so I will probably have to either trim the tongue, figure out a way to relace them, or give them up completely.

  13. October 30, 2009 at 3:17 pm #

    @Adam O. : Be patient and reduce your mileage. It will take take to strengthen your feet, ligaments and joints. Enjoy the process and journey — don’t worry about the mileage for now. Happy trails!

  14. December 17, 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    I’ve been walking in Vivo Dharma for four months, and today, inspired by you, and “Born To Run”, I just ran my standard 3.5 mile loop on concrete. I am pumped!

    I am posting this while still on runner’s high. I could feel my calf a bit on one side, and arch on the other, and it forced me to readjust my posture. I’ve rarely felt this strong when wearing regular shoes, only after a long run, like a 10 miler. I am a casual runner, doing 10 miles a week on a good week.

  15. December 18, 2009 at 6:07 am #

    @Aleks : Congrats! Just remember to take it slow and listen to your body. Proper form is key. Relax. Bend your knees, keep your body upright, shorten your stride and land with your entire foot. Happy barefoot running!

  16. Barry
    January 2, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

    Any idea how this Vivo AQUA would compare in feel to the Inov8 FLITE-220? I think they are very similar weight, but from the write-ups I have seen it would seem that the Flite-220 would have a much less minimalistic sole/flexibility (i.e. a more traditional sole), and the AQUA would be more flexible (although still quite a bit stiffer than really minimalistic shoes like the Feelmax Niesa). Any comments ?

    It will be interesting to see how the AQUA compares to this years coming Vivo EVO, since the previews indicate the EVO will have a similar weight and sole thickness, but I am guessing a much more minimalistic sole feel (which is just an assumption by me).

  17. AdamF
    March 22, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    Terrible customer service from Terra Plana NY from email after purchasing online and wanting to return a pair of shoes. I would never deal with them again. Product is okay.

  18. Linda
    April 21, 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    I had been running in the Lucys by vivo barefoot, one size bigger than usually get, with good results for several months. Then excitedly got the Evos by same company, as soon as I could get my hands on them.This time I ended up getting them a size even bigger, with fantastic results, so I recommend getting the EVOS wholeheartedly, but get them 2 sizes above your normal size, at least ! I measure a womans size 9, just barely, and I got the evos in a size 41, which translates to a womans size 11. I do think they run small, but even so, you need that space, and they lace on beautifully, stay on, have great traction, and I think they are beautiful to look at !Also, I immediately threw out the silly insert inside the shoe, you don’t need it, and it will ruin the barefoot result.I really love the shoe, it felt like heaven instantly, and needed almost no breaking in, tough, light,waterproof, bravo vivo !!!

  19. Linda
    April 21, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    also, if your feet are sore afterwards (after running), gel ice packs for awhile on the couch and then slip into a pair of soft star mocassins with fur inside, again, dont get them tight, give your footsies wiggle room, and these mocs feel great for therapy, I think its the fur, it feels sooooo good while you are developing the skelatal muscular framework you need to do this kind of running. be patient, it takes 1-2 years to get your ballet feet.

  20. jason
    May 4, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    Hi Guys,
    I wanted to give a head’s up to anyone who is considering ordering a set of EVO’s…I am in the middle of a bad experience and I wish someone would have given me the ‘head’s up’, so I wanted to do so for you.

    I ordered a pair of EVO’s. It turns out they are sized big, so I needed a smaller size than my normal shoe. I returned the shoe for the correct size and they are so popular that they are out of stock in most sizes. The new ones are not to be delivered to them until the middle of July at the earliest.

    The biggest bummer, however, is that the store will not refund the order and does not have any in stock. They only offer a store credit. Here’s the deal, the ‘web’ store lists their return policy as eligible for refunds if the shoes are not worn. (Check. I didn’t wear them.)

    I knew these shoes were popular, so when I ordered, I called the phone number provided on the Terra Plana webstore to make sure they were in stock when I ordered. Phil was happy to take the order.

    Here’s where it gets tricky, the phone number on the website calls the New York Store directly (without making any kind of distinction between the “web” store and the “New York” store). When Terra Plana shipped the shoes to me they were marked as from the “New York” store, and not the “Web” store, and they stamped on the receipt that they were not eligible for a return, only credit.

    Then it got really complicated. They cannot exchange my shoes for the correct size because they don’t have any. They will not refund the purchase because it is against store policy. End result…I have to wait another 10 weeks minimum to get a pair of these (and I’ve already waits 3 weeks trying to get this worked out)

    So I am out of my new running shoes and shipping both to me and back to Terra Plana (an extra $22), and then I have to pay shipping a third time for the Correct shoes (another $12) after they arrive sometime in July.

    If you are like me and don’t have $175 (and another $30 or so in shipping) sitting around to be held up most of the running season, try to order a smaller size/or at lease ask if they have they next smaller size available. If not, you may get into a bind where you will have to wait a few months just like me.

    This sucks because I have heard so many good things about the company. I just cannot believe they are being zoo stubborn. I’ve even emailed (and received responses from) Sabra, the US Director, and they just don’t seem to care.

    Like I said at the beginning, I wish someone would have tipped me off about this so that I would not be in this position. Order carefully!

  21. Nathan
    May 17, 2010 at 1:30 am #

    what would you suggest for someone who gets heel lift and wide feet which limits how small a shoe they can get

  22. December 7, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    Great article. My relatives went throught the exact same when they looked for Wicked Tickets. I said to them to Buy Wicked Tickets from BuyWickedTickets . net

  23. Marc
    January 31, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    Not happy. I have the Evo’s. I called in to tell them that I must have a faulty right shoe because it presses against my Achilles tendon and irritates it. I was told to email them. I did so 3x and got zero replies. I called in and was told to resend. I did that again. Again nothing. I called again, and was told the same thing again. And they were not willing to do it any other way. So this time I sent two emails from two different email names. One requesting to buy a shoe and the other with my issue. For the email to buy I received in less then 24h a reply, and for my other email …. :) nothing again. The shoes are now in the trash and I will never buy from Terra Plana again. A company that does not value it customers deserves to fail, even though I really like the concept.

  24. April 8, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    hi… i did not agree with some of the things, nevertheless i do liked the article in general… this post was actually recommended to me by a friend at facebook and he ended up being right. really good read! Take care, Resan

  25. Russell
    September 2, 2011 at 1:40 am #

    I was super excited to order these.
    But I found the fit awful.
    There is too much “support” laterally, and my knees ache after 1 min in these :(
    It also looks like most of the range is built on this same sole.
    I am really sad, I need a black barefoot shoe to stand in all day.

  26. Mike
    December 14, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    I don’t care if the company has less than poor customer service these shoes are amazing, I really love the in depth review and found to be spot on. I have wide feet and love simple low shoes. I run in them walk and wear them casually, in the summer without socks (my favorite!) it is dissapointing to hear of the negative stories but I buy the shoes for my feet not because of a companies policy as stupid as it may be.

    So If the shoe fits…. My feet smile every step I take in these bad boys!

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