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