Monday, August 31, 2009

Lizard Feet

Gear post!

The topic of the day: Vibram Five Fingers.

There was an excellent article about these babies in the New York Times on Saturday. I've had a pair for a couple of months now, and I adore them.

I wore them as my camp shoes when I was a field guide and found them to be perfect, not as unwieldy or heavy as Chacos or Tevas, but tough enough to protect against sharp rocks and thorns. I wore them rafting, for which they proved ideal - they stick and provide traction even when wet. I have friends who've worn them climbing, and though they're not quite as effective as climbing shoes, I'm told they work well enough as long as you're not trying anything too crazy. I even hiked in them; interestingly, I came to prefer them to hiking boots because I tend to roll my ankles a lot and I'm convinced they helped me avoid that. With hiking boots, if you step on something wrong, there's only one fulcrum point: your ankle. Wearing the Five Fingers, I was far more aware of what I was stepping on to begin with, and then my whole foot was capable or curving and wrapping around whatever wobbly rock or loose log I was stepping on. Very prehensile.

Finally, I've been wearing them running. The New York Times piece I linked to gives a pretty clear picture of the barefoot running vs. cushioned running debate. As the article allowed, most people have different needs when it comes to running, so what works for me may not work for everyone. That said, I'm surprised and delighted by how well they've worked for me. The first couple of times I ran in them, they made my calf muscles extremely sore because of the way they force you to run on the balls of your feet. That wore off after a few outings, leaving only a beautiful sensation of extreme lightness and the sense that this is how I was meant to run: unencumbered and agile. They've actually made me more excited to run.

A side benefit is the reactions you get when you wear them - reactions from New Yorkers, no less. These are the people who are supposed to have seen it all, the people who are fazed by nothing. A lot of incredulous stares, sure. A few disgusted comments: "Dude, they make you look like a lizard!" I mean, they are undeniably freaky-looking things.

But mostly, I've found that they are a fantastic conversation starter, the ice breaker of all ice breakers. I've made more random five-minute friends in the short time that I've been a Five Finger owner than the previous 23 years combined. Everyone who catches sight of them is gobsmacked. They feel compelled to say something and find out why the hell you're wearing rubbery toe socks on the subway. When I wore them to Trader Joe's on 14th St. (a crunchy Manhattan hotbed if there ever was one), I thought they were going to make me their queen.

A bonus: if you walk through a field, flowers get stuck between your toes.

It looks like Five Fingers can be found in at least eight locations throughout New York. You can check the store locator here.


  1. I'm a little leery of the whole "flowers stuck in toes" thing, but I'm looking forward to getting my first pair. The more I hear of them from other people, the more I'm convinced they'll be a good thing for me. I'm usually not too big a fan of anecdotal evidence, but I know I've read of a few people that had the same problems I'm experience with running shoes. I hope they help! :)

    Thank you for the write up.

  2. I tried them on once. Pretty crazy. I am leery on buying a pair, but maybe one day I will add them to my shoe collection. Trader Joes is the best btw. I spend about $30 there the other day when it would have been about $50 in another store. Plus, the one I went to gave me a raffle ticket for a TJ's gift card JUST for bringing my own shopping bag.