KT’s Corner: Trail Review Edition
By Katie Rhodes aka “Lady Logic”
Disclaimer: It should be noted that terms like ‘barefoot’ and ‘minimalist’ in the shoe industry are used interchangeably and have become potentially confusing/misleading buzz words. When referring to minimalist shoes in this post, I am referring to shoes featuring low to no drop (difference in height between the heel and the ball of the foot), minimal stack height (total amount of shoe material between your foot and the ground) and a wide toe box.
The Struggle (It’s real)
Ever since discovering the magic that is minimalist trail runners a few years ago I have struggled every winter with transitioning back into high heel, clunky, stiff hiking boots. In my trail runners I can bust out 40 mile days pain free but as soon as I switch to my traditional winter boots I’m limping 5 miles in. I even managed to give myself neuropathy and a bone bruise on my right metatarsal during my single season winter round of the Adirondack 46 High Peaks this year in my Oboz. Frustrated and in pain, I decided I would not stop searching until I found a viable zero drop, minimalist winter hiking boot. Enter, Vivo Barefoot Tracker Hi FG Boots.
Why Go Minimalist?
Before I dive into the nitty gritty on these boots, I want to address one of the most common questions I get when discussing minimalist trail shoes: Why? Why would I opt for flat, thin hiking shoes when there are fancy, uber cushioned shoes on the market made with the ‘latest technology’? Anytime a new fad emerges from the sports industry, I’m justifiably skeptical but I don’t believe this is a fad – because it’s in fact how our feet evolved to interact with the ground. I’m no professional on this topic though so I reached out to Certified & NYS Licensed Athletic Trainer Kiera Kenyon for her thoughts;
“ My favorite feature about minimalist shoes are that they let feet be feet. Your toes are supposed to splay, grip, and extend. Your foot should be able to pronate and supinate as it needs. Primarily, your feet need to FEEL. They need to feel not only movements (which normal shoes typically prevent), but also different textures. Typical shoes are quite literally, ‘foot coffins’ because they suffocate our feet into one position – high arches, pointed toes, and comfy heel lifts that stop your feet from being able to twist and feel.
People with pain often don’t have a good brain ‘mapping’ of that area which often leads to increased pain. If you can’t specify one specific pain point, or you’re bad at guessing an image that was outlined on your back – you probably have poor brain mapping of that body part. Body mapping (or more simply put as brain body connection) is VITAL to living a strong and pain free life. If we don’t know the who, what, where, why, and what of pain and performance… how do we move forward to treat it?
By stifling the foot’s ability to feel, we are primarily breaking up and destroying that body brain connection. Minimalist shoes not only significantly improve strength of the hundreds of intrinsic foot muscles, but it creates a strong base for the rest of the body to operate on top of. If your house was built on a poor foundation, it’s going to collapse pretty easily. The same thing applies to your body. Whether you are dealing with plantar fasciitis, achilles issues, hip issues, back pain, or thoracic mobility limitation we can always find some traces back down the kinetic chain to the feet. Want to perform better and live pain free? As a movement therapist who works with active individuals everyday, minimalist shoes are one giant step forward toward your goals.”
The Good, The Bad & The Minimal
Yeah, yeah but what about the boots? I have to admit, when I first stumbled upon these boots (after many long hours of Google searches) they seemed too good to be true. They are advertised as zero drop, minimalist, lightweight but winterproof with multi terrain traction – everything I was looking for. The question was, could they hold up in the rugged Adirondack terrain and harsh summit temperatures where I spend my winter days?
Immediately upon receiving them in the mail, I set out for an 18 mile jaunt into the High Peaks Wilderness with 6,100 feet of elevation gain and three High Peaks along the way. I ordered up a half size and paired the boots with my usual winter sock combination: liners with Showers Pass wool blend waterproof socks. My first concern was how these flexible, lightweight boots that lacked a heel lip would fare in snowshoes. However, that concern was whisked away in the first few miles. In fact, my Tubbs Flex snowshoes stayed so comfortable and in place so well they did not need to be adjusted once the entire day. With temperatures in the mid teens, I was also pleasantly surprised that my toes were comfortably warm during the first summit approach.
The Vivo Barefoot Tracker features a removable thermal insole that seemed to be doing its job. The real test was yet to come though, a peek at the forecast before we set out left me wondering if I’d regret my footwear option on the summit of Mt Haystack where a -24°F (-31°C) windchill was expected. As we made our way out and back over nearly 2 miles of heavily exposed rock face, there’s no denying that my feet did start to get chilly. I had my toe warmers at the ready but even with the arctic windchill my feet only got a bit chilled, not concerningly cold or numb, so I never bothered to put them in and the problem permanently resolved as soon as we were back below the treeline. Just a few weeks prior to this, I had been out in similar conditions on the summit of Mt Marcy in my Oboz Bridger Boots which feature 400g insulation with the same results so I didn’t consider this a point against the Tracker Boots.
So far, so good. I like to really put gear through the wringer before I review it though so next up was something a little more vigorous. I headed out to grab 4 more High Peaks along a 27 mile loop. This journey consisted of a 3 mile road walk where I got to test out the traction claims. With a firm ground sole and 3mm lugs, I was pleased with the traction the Trackers provided on the snow covered, plowed dirt road and was able to bareboot the entire way to the trailhead. Once to the trailhead I attached my snowshoes and again, the boots remained comfortable and secure in my for the entirety of the trek. I was pleasantly surprised that, even after 12 hours and 27 miles of hiking, my feet were perfectly happy in the roomy toe box. This was a pleasant surprise as I’d grown accustomed to screaming, suffocated feet by the end of long treks in my traditional winter boots. My only critique would be the fact that my feet did end up quite damp towards the end of this outing.
However, it should be considered that we were trudging through a particularly heavy, wet snow after a rainy previous day. My feet stayed plenty warm so it was not an issue but the Trackers did seem slightly less waterproof then some of my previous winter hiking boots leading me to apply a waterproof spray the next day. The deciding factor for me was the fact that I walked out of the woods both days with blister-free, comfortable feet and absolutely no foot pain. I plan to continue testing these bad boys in the mountains for the rest of the winter but as of now, I don’t see myself wearing anything else for winter day hikes.
*Note: I am not affiliated with nor do I receive compensation in any form from Vivo Barefoot or their affiliates. I review gear honestly and only promote products I personally use and trust.
Big thanks to Kiera Kenyon, founder and owner of Movementality, LLC based in Saratoga Springs, NY. She is a certified and licensed athletic trainer. Movementality offers personalized care that provides you with the tools to relieve pain, explore movement and create experiences. Find out more about Kiera and Movementality at her website (https://www.movementality.me/) or follow her on Instagram @kiera_atc