My Minimalist Journey – Vibram FiveFinger V-Trail Review

by Jason Nelson

In 2009, I was introduced to the barefoot movement by a Kansas City based barefoot runner—Barefoot Ted or Barefoot Ned, I can’t remember. It was the same year that Born to Run by Christopher McDougall was published. After my first barefoot running session and feeling those sensations of grass and squishing mud—sensations that I don’t think I felt since I was a child—I ran out and picked up the book, devouring it over the course of a week.

Between runs in modern running shoes, I would try to run barefoot, a little bit at a time. After a particularly scorching summer day on sidewalks, I realized that urban Kansas City wasn’t the best place to embrace the movement. But the core idea of the movement was in the back of my head: how can I get back to a place where my feet were behaving naturally and how can I get more connected with the surfaces I was running on.

Almost a year later, in 2010, I had a running injury that caused me severe pain in my achilles tendon. It didn’t matter what pair of shoes I tried, the modern rigid structure of various brands caused me to almost stop running.

That was when I was first introduced to Vibram FiveFingers. They were preparing for their launch of their Bikilas line, and it was love at first sight.

Prior to their launch, I decided to make my own pair of huarache sandals, so that I could continue running. Imagine the shock of the local cobbler when I came in with instructions to cut 4mm Vibram rubber into the shape of my feet.

After another month, the Bikilas were launched, and I made my first purchase of Vibram FiveFingers. Over the years, I owned two different releases of Bikilas, Spyridon for trail-running, TrekSport, and the V-Run. I would wear them running, on dates with the wife, and to work. There was something magical about those shoes that kept me going back to them.

This past year, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, and was introduced to winter and mountain running. The Spyridon became my go-to for snowy runs up Bear Mountain or on some of the more technical trails in Boulder.

But then the Vibram FiveFinger V-Trail came along.

The update to their trail-running line up was immediately evident. One of the main differences was in the shape of the heel cup. There was more padding, which made pulling the shoe on and off a lot easier, but also provided more protection which is key in more technical terrain.

The fit is really comfortable too. I felt secure in them, but as I ran over rocks and tree roots, it was the right sense of protection but still having the sense of connection and ground feel. Going up Mount Sanitas in Boulder felt amazing. On the uphill climb, I felt more stable and secure, and was able to push myself harder. Because of the way FiveFingers fit—essentially like a glove for your feet—I was able to grip, dig in with my toes, and push myself up boulders a lot quicker. On the downhill of that particular run I felt more in control, finding myself in an almost meditative pattern over familiar terrain.

I also took the opportunity to take them on a 15-mile trail loop called Dirty Bismark. There isn’t a lot of elevation gain and the trail wasn’t too technical, so it became a speed game—seeing how fast I could go in the shoes before I felt worn out.

But that’s the magical thing about minimalist running: when you do it long enough, you start training your body to use all the bones and muscles in your foot; you’re not just more connected to the ground, your connecting deeper with yourself.

For the fit, if you’re new to Vibram FiveFingers, it definitely something to try out in store, if you have the opportunity. With the various pairs I own—bought over the course of eight years—sizes range from 41-44. If you’re ordering from their site, Vibram’s sizing guide for their FiveFinger line is very handy. You also need to consider whether you’ll be active in them with socks or without, since that will impact sizing. For myself, I go both ways. Usually if I am heading out on short runs, I’ll wear them without socks, but for longer runs, I’ll toss on a pair of Injinji trail socks.

When I headed up Mt Bierstadt and Mt Evans this summer, I ran/hiked in the V-Trail and Injinji combination. It was the perfect shoe for the more technical aspects of Sawtooth Ridge, providing a sense of stability where some of my other minimalist footwear choices wouldn’t. Even though the route was around 12 miles with 4,500 foot in elevation gain, my feet didn’t feel tired—everything else did, but my feet felt great.

All in all, since picking up the Vibram FiveFinger V-Trail, I have put around 200 miles on them and couldn’t be happier. For the mileage, you can’t see any wear and tear. This is another great thing about FiveFingers and minimalist shoes in general—you don’t tear through them as quickly as other shoes. Typical, modern running shoes have a shelf life, depending on the brand, of around 250-500 miles. There’s still FiveFinger shoes in my collection that are 5 years old, with over 500 miles on them that I still wear. With my FiveFingers, the only ones I’ve retired are the ones wear I’ve completely worn through the outsole.

If you’re part of the minimalist movement, you should definitely pick up a pair of the V-Trail and hit some trails with them. If you’re new to minimalism, please keep in mind that transitioning from modern running shoes to minimalist takes time. It took me four months of running in my Bikilas to run a 10K comfortably; you build a little bit at a time, strengthening muscles and bones that haven’t been used in a long time. In this article, you’re only seeing a small slice of my minimalist journey. I started eight years ago, but didn’t start running in minimalist shoes full time until four years ago. I’ll share some additional details in future posts.

Please let us know if you have any additional questions about the V-Trail or any other minimalist shoes. You can reach me at jnelson@huckadventures.com or if you’re in Boulder, feel free to look up one of my upcoming trail running adventures as part of Huck Adventures.