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Thursday, December 8, 2011

How Many Pairs of Freaking Minimal Shoes Do You Really Need?!

I feel a rant coming on...everybody get ready!

You know that you're guilty of this. When you still wore traditional trainers you probably only had one or two pairs of running shoes. One pair for everyday use. Then maybe one pair for that occasional trail run or race. You thought those shoes were just fine and dandy for pretty much everything. You didn't go out looking for new shoes until those old ones wore out.

Now you're a barefoot/minimalist runner, and even though you profess your hatred of shoes, your closet is crammed with no less than four pairs. You have a full-blown case of shoe whoredom. And if I know most of you, you're still out shopping for the latest and greatest minimal shoe well before you wear out the ones you already have. Maybe you're even growing your collection, and inventing ever-more elaborate niches to explain away your purchase (i.e. "Well I have trail shoes, but I don't have trail shoes that match this outfit.").

What is it about the act of swearing off shoes that make us into such shoe whores? Jason Robillard recently opined that we purchase minimal shoes as we realize our own limitations. We continue to purchase shoes as we find limitations in the last pair of shoes we purchased. So on goes the insanity until your shoes occupy a large tub in the garage.

I agree with Jason. I think as your skill as a barefooter grows, you inevitably run into conditions that could be seen as "unrunnable" barefoot. Thus some turn to shoes to further their training goals; myself included. But most of us acquire this shoe whoring problem long before we push our bare feet to their limits. That's because shoe whoring comes also from a deeper longing. A longing for a shoe that doesn't suck. Or at least doesn't suck quite so much.

We barefooters demand a lot from our shoes. We are what I like to call "shoe snobs". We want the perfect blend of features that best achieves that "barefoot feeling" while at the same time doing what the shoe was meant to do. We keep buying shoes because, in part, everything we've tried so far isn't quite right for us. And since we have a perfectly good set of feet to run with anyways, we don't feel like we have to settle for "good enough".

Not only do we demand something that fits just right, it has to perform just right as well. So when confronted with a particular situation we automatically assume that we need the best, most specialized shoe for the job. In either case, if we don't have that "just right" shoe, we seek to acquire it. Thus...a shoe whore is born.

I get the feeling of wanting to have the right tool for the job. And getting a new pair of shoes is kind of cool. I know...it happens to me just about every week.

My issue comes when people acquire more shoes with little reflection as to whether they actually need to make that purchase. For example, every winter there is at least one thread on the Runner's World forum where a poster asks whether they need to buy a pair of Vibram Flows for the cold. Dude...you don't need a $100 new pair of shoes for this new situation. You need a $10 pair of socks. You also don't need a pair of trail shoes. You've only run one trail in your life and you hated it.

It's not always just a lack of common sense or reflection though. I think we also assume that various minimal shoes can do more than they actually can. For example, a trail shoe should naturally be able to perform better on a trail than a road shoe because it's a trail shoe, right? The thing is, a minimal trail shoe isn't a whole lot different than a minimal road shoe. That's because in order for that trail shoe to be considered "minimal" it has to sacrifice a ton of features like cleat and protection in favor ones that us weirdos prefer, such as our ever-beloved "groundfeel". When conditions on a trail are favorable, there is virtually no difference between a Trail Glove and a road shoe. When it's a little sloppy, there is a marginal difference. When it's really sloppy, both shoes suck because they are minimal shoes.

The same could be said when comparing any other two categories of minimal shoes. Road shoes to huaraches. Huaraches to trail shoes. And so on. So here's my reflection on how many minimal shoes one actually needs. In my opinion, I don't see any reason why the vast majority of barefoot/minimal runners need more than one pair of all-around minimal shoes.

So where I depart with Jason is on the thinking that shoes should be precisely matched to the conditions you plan to run in. Jason and I have the luxury of being able to be very particular about the shoes we use in certain circumstances. We have the ability to acquire pretty much any shoe we want. Maybe we've unintentionally fostered some kind of image that you must have the perfect shoe for every possible situation. If I've done that, I apologize. I certainly don't feel that way. In fact, of all the shoes I own, I probably only use one pair.

I feel that for the vast majority of you all, the only shoe most of you need in your collection is a classic, all-around great minimal shoe like the Vibram KSO or the VIVOBAREFOOT Evo. These shoes do great on the road. They hold their own on about 90% of all trail applications. Inclimate weather is usually not a factor for these puppies. And when you really think about it, those situations probably make up about 99% of your running.

Now of course there are exceptions. If you run an even mix of road and trails. If you are an ultra-marathoner and your shoes could literally be the difference between finishing and DNF-ing. I'm sure there are many more.

So the next time you're about to open your pocketbook and get ready to purchase yet another pair of shoes, I hope you think critically about whether or not you actually need them. I think you'll find that you don't. I've said it before and I'll say it again, "The shoes you have are fine bro."

I'm signing off for the week. Cheers citizens!


  1. Lol, right there with ya, but I have to add that there are other reasons for looking for the perfect shoe. In March 2011 I developed severe, run ending anterior knee pain the week before a triathlon I had been preparing for many months.

    I had to overhaul my form, and find a pair of shoes that helped me hit that overhauled form. So I got through that race in April slowly, but then spent several months trying to find the right adjustments that would work best in the long run. So I guess one reason(in addition to what you have covered) I start to obsess over shoes is that I have a fear in the back of my head of developing knee pain again and having to stop running.

    That said, I haven't bought a new pair of shoes in several months. Time to form Shoe Adicts(SA) Anonymous?

  2. I also think there's a lot of "holy crap, these big companies are actually listening to us weirdos and are trying to make shoes that we like! I feel so important!" going on.

    I was (and still am) fine with my $5 aqua socks from Walmart. Thanks to the irony of life, however, I now have better fitting, more durable, lighter, and more attractive options.

    For most non-extreme runners, a "need" for specialized shoes for specific conditions could otherwise be met by improving their running skills instead of relying on a product.

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  4. I totally agree with your sentiments, including the caveat for ultramarathoners. That said, you should feel no guilt if you are unintentionally helping to foster hyper-consumerism in the minimalist shoe market. After all, without this, none of the shoe companies would make the business decision to produce such a line of shoes. I.e. In the short-term, blogs like your own actually change the behaviors of shoe companies. And that means a runner like myself is more likely to find that ONE SHOE that works for me.

  5. I'm already there with ya, dude. Out of sheer luck, I found Soft Star to be my ultimate perfect shoe company right out of the gate. All of their shoes are the same - big and floppy and agreeable. I will upgrade this year for style's sake but (besides my 3 pairs of $10 crappy water shoes - only good for roads) they are my all-weather, all-terrain shoes. It feels nice to have just a few pairs of running shoes in my closet. And then 3 pairs of shoes for life as well!

  6. Somebody needs a hug.

    I do understand your rant though. I'm not a "barefooting changed my life" evangelist, but it kind of did. That being said, I've got a pair of trail gloves and a pair of invisible shoes too. Pointy rocks under leaves on trails hurt my feet so I need some protection, but I originally got the trail gloves because I was afraid (unreasonably) to go barefoot. I get excited when I read a shoe review or see a new minimalist shoe or whatever and the first thought is "oh, maybe I need that". My second thought is quickly "No, I don't" but we are live in a culture of advertisement and technology. We are conditioned to want any new thing we see. It's just funny that first we wanted shoes due to added technology, now we want them as the technology is stripped away (even though the shoes cost the same or more). I'm sticking with my barefeets, and my couple pairs of minimalists for now. Those two pairs should probably last me for years for the use they get.

  7. I generally agree. The only minimalist shoes I have are VFF KSOs (my first) and VivoBarefoot Evos (because I got an AWESOME deal). BUT, now that it's winter, the KSOs do not work for me because of traction (like you, I live in the Twin Cities, and although my community tries, they aren't very good at clearing the paths of snow and ice). I have run with the Evos in the snow, and they worked pretty well, but I don't know how well they will do in icy.

    But, in general, I agree that my KSOs are essentially perfect (I may try the Komodo sports when my KSOs wear out, but not before)

  8. What a timely post! I was considering sending you an email just today with my latest conundrum. I only started running EVER one year ago. And I just started running this summer pretty much exclusively in my Bikila LSs. They're fine, but I also don't know any better.

    Now that it's winter here in MN they won't work since the bottoms are not solid and I suspect my feet would get wet. I was going back and forth on whether to go back to my old Asics for the winter or to buck up and find a minimalist shoe for outdoor winter MN runs. I couldn't find a good alternative to the VFFs that I was willing to buy.

    Thanks to this post and your review for EVO IIs I found through a google search I made my decision. The EVO IIs will be arriving tomorrow. Now I just have to get over my wussy fear of running in the cold.

  9. Depends on the conditions and what you use them for. I have a pair of Neos that are great all purpose shoes, including just casual walking around. In the summer I prefer to go barefoot. I'm in Canada and so we have pretty cold winters. My Vibrams or even Neos aren't suitable for -20°C (or colder) winter running with snow and ice. Water shoes are good in the cold but not great with ice. I have heard the Neo Trails are good in the winter and I wonder if the tread would be better with ice. But winter is a big reason why I need more than one pair of minimalist shoes. What works for summer doesn't work for winter and vice versa. That said, I certainly don't need an abundance of shoes. There should be a need for them other than 'Ooooo, shinies!!'.

  10. You are a terrible shoe whore. And the KSO and EVO being great all-around shoes?!? What is this, 2009? You could have at least recommended the KomodoSport and Neo.

    Best all-around shoe for 2012:

    Merrell Road Glove or New Balance Minimus Zero Road, which ever one fits better. ;-)

  11. Right on! I've found myself grabbing my Neo's for almost all my runs lately since the cold has set in. Atlanta typically doesn't drop below the mid-twenties at the coldest so other than maybe needing a warmer pair of wool socks the Neo's should handle all my outdoor running needs. In warmer times I try to go barefoot unless I'm unsure of the terrain. The skin on my feet isn't thick enough for running on pine cones or gum balls. Even then during the fall I worked a pair of Invisible shoes into the mix that are almost perfect for mild temps. There's no magic shoe out there, but I do think some folks need to try out multiple ones to find what fits their feet best. I found out the other day that although my Feelmax Osmas are just fine running around Stone Mountain they don't fit as well as the Neo's for running down the mountain as my big toe was getting jammed into the front of the shoe on the decent.

  12. I prefer the Lucy Lites but hey, chick here.
    I have only purchased the Teva Protons two winters ago.....the rest were for blog whoring.....eehheemm, opportunist not whore ;)

    I have to force myself to test shoes. I looooove to go bare and always will. I love to run barefoot on the treadmill though too so winter is covered really.

  13. I own some KSO for running and those black kangaroo leather Vibrams for casual. I want to get a pair of Vivo for work...a dressy pair. Then I want a pair of old school mukluks with flexible/leather soles. After that...I'm good.

  14. I just want to find a shoe that fits well and is comfortable to run in. Is that too much to ask for? It seems there are so many differences in fit with minimalist shoes that it's pretty difficult to find that right one. I've tried almost all of the models of vff's and my toes don't fit, the Merrell shoes are too tight in the midfoot, the Neos fit fine but really seem to lack ground feel, my Adams are ok but missing something. The closest running shoe I have to being perfect is my homemade huaraches and I'm starting to think they are going to be as good as it gets for me...

  15. I know exactly what you mean. The realization hit me too late, too. I wear Taos shoes to work, but I have more than 4 pairs of other shoes I don't exactly use every day.



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