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Tuesday, June 14, 2011
VIVOBAREFOOT Evo II Review
Back in the good old days of barefoot running (also known as 2008), there weren't that many options for minimal running footwear. In fact, there were really only three options. You whittle up a pair of huaraches like Robinson Crusoe. You could purchase a $80 pair of guerrilla feet. Or you could buy a pair of VIVOBAREFOOT Evos.
Today I need both hands, a couple of toes, and an accountant to count all of the minimalist running footwear options. However, greater choice doesn't necessarily mean better quality. Alas, none of these new options that I've tested so far are perfect. My hunt for the best minimal shoe is still a lot like the Karate Kid movie franchise....expensive, dissapointing, and seemingly never-ending. Although can I say...Ralph Macchio got ROBBED on Dancing With the Stars!
Like I've said before in my Neo review, despite all indications that the Evo was a fantastic shoe...maybe the best around, I avoided them like a tray of doughnuts at a Weight Watchers meeting. They were, and remain, the most expensive minimalist shoe on the market. And it's really hard for a cheap-ass like myself to take an $160 leap of faith on a pair of shoes.
Well I don't have that problem anymore, because I'm a D-list internet celebrity who happens to be buddies with a C-list internet celebrity: Jason Robillard. And as he prepares to become a Merrell-sponsored barefoot nomad, he was kind enough to part with his gently-used Evo IIs. So I washed them thoroughly to prevent the prestine soils of Minnesota from being infected from that of the dirty state known as Michigan (also known as The Cesspool of the East) and took them for a test drive.
I'm glad I did...because dare I say these are the best all-around minimal shoes on the market?
Now I'm well aware that the Evo II came out back in March 2011. So this review is kind of the equivalent of seeing Avatar on DVD instead of in theaters (get the Blu Ray folks...amazeballs!). But I'm kind of glad that I reviewed the Evo II after first reviewing the Neo and the Ultra. It makes me appreciate the differences in these shoes all the more.
The Evo is the flagship running shoe for the VIVOBAREFOOT line. But the differences between this shoe and the Neo or the Ultra isn't as simple as "this is the most expensive one". That's true, it is the most expensive. That doesn't make it the best, or the worst for that matter. Each shoe has a different combination of features that make appeal to a different segment of the minimalist running market. VIVOBAREFOOT really is trying to create a whole line of shoes here, and I think they do a great job. I'll do my best to explain the differences as I go along.
In my opinion, the Evo II has a selection of features that make the shoes the most versitle shoe that VIVOBAREFOOT makes. Proof of that starts in the upper. The upper is made from a thin-skinned nylon mesh with a TPU overlay in that signature honeycomb pattern that makes the my kid call these "bumblebee shoes". This mesh extends the entire length of the shoe, making it more breathable than the Neo, which has some areas of thicker suede-like material over the toe. But certainly not as breathable as its Swiss Cheese-style cousin; the Ultra. Also, like the Neo, the Evo II has a traditional lacing system.
The heel collar on the Evo is nearly identical to the Neo as well, with a band of material that is thicker than on other parts of the shoe. Or rather the Neo has the same collar as the Evo. Either way, this helps hold your foot snuggly in the rear of the shoe, which is what helps keep your foot from flopping around in the shoe's wide toe box.
All VIVOBAREFOOT running shoes come with a removable memory foam insole. In the case of the Ultra, the insole is attached to a nyoprene sock liner that inserts into the shoe. The memory foam insole is very thin, and doesn't do much to change the comfort or feel of the shoe in my opinion.
The bottom of the shoe features the world-famous, epic VIVOBAREFOOT Latex and TPU abrasion resistant sole. The sole of the Evo is the thinnest available, at a slim 4mm. Comparitively, the Ultra sports a 6mm sole. All VIVOBAREFOOT shoes continue the honeycomb pattern onto the soles of the shoe.
VIVOBAREFOOT shoes are also very flexible. As I've found with other models, the sole of the Evo is a tad stiffer than something like a Vibram KSO. The result is a shoe that is somewhat less flexible than the KSO, but still more flexible than a minimal trail shoe like a KSO Trek or a Merrell Trail Glove.
Comfort and Feel
Now that I've tried three different models of VIVOBAREFOOT shoe, I've gotten a bit spoiled. Ever since trying on the Neo, I've come to expect impressive interior comfort as soon as I put a shoe on. If there are any strange bumps, pinches, or pokes, the shoes are literally coming off.
Not surprisingly, I didn't have any immediate issues with the fit of the Evo. The Evo features the same completely flat profile I fell in love with while testing the Neo. The shoe was wide enough to accomodate my foot without pinching it, but yet my foot was held snuggly by the heel and laces so that it didn't slid around. And the toebox was more than ample.
Because a lawyer can't help but be critical, I have to mention my only issue with the fit. And it's not even a big deal to me. I only mention it because I've heard reports of this problem from past Evo owners. As I walked around I noticed that the TPU portion of the upper would fold and come in contact with my feet. It didn't bother me, but I've heard that it can cause blisters on the tops of your feet after a while. I've also heard that wearing socks virtually eliminates the issue. I say that if you wear shoes without socks, you're bound to have weird things like this happen. That's why we invented socks. But I digress...
As with its other features, for me the Evo falls right in the middle of the VIVOBAREFOOT line in terms of overall comfort. With its mesh and suede upper, I must say that I find the Neo to feel better overall than the Evos. The TPU on the upper just gives the shoe a bit rougher feel. But that's okay. I like the middle the same way Goldylocks does. It's just right.
Besides the price, my biggest hesitation with the Evo has always been the weight. Although it is lighter than its cousin the Neo, it is still a hefty 8oz (my Neos weigh 9.5oz). But as I experienced with the Neo, because these shoes are so well-balanced, the weight isn't a significant issue. You can feel that these shoes weigh more than other minimal models, but that weight doesn't affect your performance. Since these shoes are 1.5oz more slender, the weight is even less of an issue here. I haven't been using the Neos on runs much over 10 miles, because the weight starts to get to me. At 8oz, the weight will eventually get to you in these shoes as well, but it will likely take longer. I think this makes the Evo a fine choice for most any application.
I've also come to expect superior groundfeel out of VIVOBAREFOOT shoes, and again I wasn't disappointed. The hexagonal pattern on the bottom of the shoe takes away a little bit in the groundfeel department from something like a Vibram KSO, but not enough to be very noticable. And what the tread takes away in groundfeel, it makes up for with better traction. Now you really don't need much tread on a minimal shoe for most applications. But that little extra is what I think makes the Evo more versitle than other shoe brands. The Neo has been my go-to shoe for both the trail and the road, and now the Evo will take that place. The only instance that I found the sole lacking is the same as where I have issues with smooth-soled shoes: in wet and icy conditions. I've fallen on my ass quite a few times on the ice in my Neos this last winter. I probably will in my Evos next winter.
Evo I or Evo II?
Just to make this review more complicated, I'll point out that VIVOBAREFOOT still sells the original version of the Evo along with the Evo II. So what's the difference? Not much. The overall design is essentially the same, with a few cosmetic differences. The Evo II has a smoother inside due to a liner that extends through the length of the shoe. The liner in the original Evo only goes halfway down the shoe. So the Evo II is a bit more comfortable, especially toward the toes where the shoe tends to make contact with the top of your foot. The liner makes the shoe less breathable than the original Evo in the summer, but warmer in the winter. The shoe also has a denser TPU mesh on the upper.
Essentially, the Evo II should do better to keep inclimate weather out. Otherwise, the shoe's profile is the same. I will turn to the Evo II in the winter as my all-purpose shoe, but I will likely prefer the original as the temps get warmer.
It's $160 for a pair of Evo IIs. That's about twice as much as the average minimalist running shoe. After trying the shoe, I think it's worth the price. That doesn't mean I'd be thrilled to pony up that much dough. But I recognize that with Cadillac features comes Cadillac prices.
Here's the best way to sum up this shoe. If I could only have one minimal shoe and I had to wear it regardless of location or conditions, as cruel and sick of a world as that would be, I would chose the Evo EVERY SINGLE TIME. There are certainly shoes that I've tried have aspects that I like better. My Runamocs are more comfortable and provide better groundfeel. They also look like leather foot-bags and aren't worth a damn on technical trails. My Merrell Trail Gloves will kick these shoe's ass on the trail every single time, but feel like clown shoes on the road. My Ultras are far lighter than these shoes. They also feel a bit like stepping on a Bosu ball.
This is the only shoe that I've tried that combines the best of all worlds. They are durable, versitle, they look and feel great, and have great minimalist features. Are they the best in any particular category? Not really. Are they solid in every category? Absolutely.
For that reason, I give these shoes a 9 out of 10. They don't wow me like other shoes have in certain circumstances . Instead, their wow factor comes from the fact that they don't have massive shortcomings like all other shoes I've tried.
I tinkered with reducing their score because of the price. But after trying the shoes, I'm over the issue. And here's why.
Despite all of us minimal shoe fanatics claiming we are cheap, once we go minimal we spend more money on shoes than we ever did shod. Instead of one pair of $100 shoes we use for practically everything, we buy a shoe for roads, a shoe for trails, some huaraches for the summer, and maybe another pair for when we get bored. I don't know about you, but I've spent well over the $160 price point of these Evos on other shoes. In retrospect, it was pretty penny smart and pound foolish of me. What I could have done instead was to fork over the $160 for a superior quality product that works in pretty much every situation.
Then again...if you only buy this one shoe, you might stop reading my reviews. Uh oh....
Anyway, you can purchase the VIVOBAREFOOT Evo II at any of the links or banners on this review. Happy times!