komodo barefoot shoes
KOMODOSPORT (vibramfivefingers.com, $110)

I can't stand having anything between my toes, and one of my feet overpronates (rolls inward) outrageously. That made me the logical choice for testing how well "barefoot shoes" -- minimalist footwear with a separate pocket for each toe -- work for everyday activities.

Review the ups & downs of barefoot shoes

Are barefoot shoes, also called toe shoes, really all they're cracked up to be?

Going "barefoot" is a process

They look so simple -- just slip them on, right? Not right. Putting the toe shoes on was frustrating until I figured out a system: Instead of bringing the shoe up to you and trying to wrangle your toes into it, leave the shoe flat on the floor and slide your foot straight in, spreading your toes to guide them into their respective pockets. Once I had the shoes on, though, they were so comfortable that I often forgot to take mine off when I got home.

Consider multi-sport barefoot shoes

The multi-sport version I purchased has the very best tread and traction I've ever experienced. The lack of a real edge for balancing on rules them out for hard-core rock climbing, but they're perfect for scrambling. Ironically enough, that tread is also the reason for these shoes' biggest fail: They are not the go-to footwear for bike riding. They stick to the pedals so much that positioning my feet just right is like playing a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey -- while balancing on two wheels at high speed.

The downside of barefoot shoes

Other problems I experienced with my barefoot shoes run the gamut from functionality to comfort. The downside aspects of this popular sports shoe include:

  • Fine pieces of grit can sneak in around the edges of the shoe and chafe the heck out of your ankles, so I wouldn't wear them on the beach.
  • Hiking over pointy rocks isn't comfortable, but it's also nowhere near as bad as I expected (the soles are surprisingly tough). Going uphill in toe shoes adds a whole new meaning to the phrase "calf workout" -- which is actually a good thing, unless you overdo it like I did.
  • The pair of barefoot shoes I have isn't waterproof at all.
  • Finally, I heard a rumor that these shoes tend to stink. Mine are already getting there after a month of regular use, but I haven't yet met a shoe I can't stink up in short order, so that's not necessarily a fair test.

The upside to this fitness footwear

That might look like a long list of minuses, but there is no font large enough, bold enough, italic enough, to express how comfortable these shoes are -- and they're actually good at a lot. Spinning on a dime to dash for a Frisbee? Win. Weightlifting? Win (as long as you don't drop the weights on your foot). All types of walking and strolling that don't require traversing pointy rocks? Win. And that seasick foot of mine, the one that rolls inward with every step? I'm becoming more aware of it, more comfortable with it, and I think it's actually rolling a little less.

Bottom line on barefoot shoes: Try them out and see if they work for you.

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