Friday, 2 March 2012

Vivobarefoot Neo Trail Review

Neo Trails in the snow...perfect!
Upon opening the box it was clear these were a gorgeous looking trail shoe. The aggressive tread in the form of 'V' shaped lugs was unlike any other I had ever seen on a bareform shoe. And that is exactly the reason I had purchased a pair. Couple the grip with the fact that these have a water resistant upper and you can see why I immediately had high hopes for these shoes.

Trying them on I was slightly disappointed. Firstly, the original pair i was sent had a faulty heel section inside the shoe. The stitching was not finished properly and had become undone, leaving a rather untidy mess in the left heel. This is not a good first impression, but i was reassured by Vivobarefoot that this was a one-off. First impressions are lasting though! Thankfully the second pair were absolutely fine. Also, once again as with many shoes I was slightly in between sizes. I knew a size larger would leave me with clown feet so I had to stick with slightly-too-small-but-just-about-OK!. This is not really a moan at the shoe companies, as I suppose it's my feet that are the problem. But on the other hand, shoe companies could easily solve this problem if they were to provide us with half size options like Merrell and New Balance already do??!! This being said, the shoes are still very comfortable.

I decided to walk in them for a couple of days to see how they felt before heading out on the trails. I took out the inner sole to increase proprioception and decrease weight and wore them sockless as I do with all my minimalist footwear. Everything about this shoe screamed "run and get me muddy". I knew that even if it came to pass that I didn't like running in these shoes, I had certainly found the perfect bareform shoe to walk, trek and explore the wet and muddy English countryside with. Since converting to a barefoot and bareform lifestyle over 2 years ago I had yet failed to come across a shoe that was grippy, water resistant and warm to wear without socks. This shoe ticked all those boxes. I have now been using the Neo Trails over a very cold and wet English winter and they have been amazing, and that thankfully includes running! It's not the perfect bareform shoe as I will discuss later in this review, but it certainly fills a niche and WOW does it grip well!!!

The lining is smooth and soft, the tongue fits snug over the top of the foot and the lacing system holds the foot in place reasonably well. I would admit that the actual laces themselves could be improved slightly as they do slip more than other trail shoes I own. As far as minimalist shoes go, these have a very wide toe box which allows the toes to splay well. I must say it is not the ideal shape though. Unlike the Merrell Trail Glove, NB Minimus or Vibram FiveFingers which continue with an almost straight line from the ball of the foot through to the end of the big toe, the Vivobarefoot Neo Trails curve inward slightly (see the photo below). It doesn't seem to cause any major problems to date (and I have worn them quite a few times over the last couple of months) but I must say it makes the shoe slightly less comfortable than other rivals and does raise the question if it is as good for people with wider feet such as myself? So, personally I would like to see Vivobarefoot straighten up that inner edge of the big toe, but it may not be a problem for others. I suppose it depends on the shape of your feet.
Showing the shape of the water resistant upper
Upper and tread weight compromise:
The upper is much thicker than is usual in a bareform shoe as it is comprised of a water resistant material. Coupled with the aggressive tread this means a compromise with weight and proprioception. This is not the lightest or most proprioceptive shoe I have tried and tested, and certainly not on par with vibram five fingers, but you must remember what this shoe represents in the barefoot market...

It is a true and pure off road trail shoe, designed to tackle the harshest and toughest trail conditions whilst still being a true bareform shoe.

Therefore with added protection, water resistance and a super hardcore tread you are going to miss out on being a super lightweight 'almost not there' minimalist shoe. But with no arch support, zero heel-toe drop, no cushioning and relatively thin sole and minimal weight this is a bareform shoe that is definitely ready to tackle some muddy, sloppy and slippy runs. To give you a rough idea I weighed them on my basic kitchen scales along with some other minimalist trail shoes. Here are the rough results of the weigh-in from lightest to heaviest: NB Minimus MT00 (140g), Merrell Trail Glove (200g), NB Minimus MT10 (230g) and Vivobarefoot Neo Trails (280g).

Simply put, I have never worn any shoe that grips as well as the Neo Trail, and that includes both traditional and bareform footwear. The aggressive V-shaped lugs dig in deep and hard into mud, snow, ice, packed trail, everything! I would not recommend doing many miles on road or pavement, but if slippy off road conditions lie ahead then this shoe will not let you down. Even when running over icy trail conditions in which I have never found a minimalist shoe that grips well enough to run safely, the Neo Trails just took it in their stride (pun intended, sorry!). It was so similar to running over mud that I forgot it was actually icy underfoot and simply ran! This was a great selling point for this shoe, allowing me to relax and keep my form strict, avoiding tensing up and slipping over! Enough said about the tread, just have a good look at the picture below to see what I mean...
The award for 'most grippy bareform shoe' definitely goes to these guys!
Interesting extras:
An interesting point that I feel I need to make is the warmth of this shoe, even if you manage to get wet feet. One particular run in deep melting slush and snow inevitably resulted in water entering the top of the shoe and soaking the insides. Normally this could result in your feet getting rather cold, but this did not happen. I am not sure if the material is designed to do this or if it is simply a useful extra resulting by accident from the design of the shoe. The water that remained unable to drain due to the water resistant outer, warmed up inside the shoe rather like a wet suit. This then kept my feet very warm throughout the remaining part of my run. Nice!

Final thoughts:
If you regularly run in cold, wet, muddy and slippy conditions then this is the shoe for you. If you want a bareform shoe for other muddy outdoor adventures such as hiking, hunting, photography or camping this is also ideal. But if conditions are not super sloppy or it is summer and warmer weather then I would not recommend this shoe. It is a wet winter runner, and although it performs with excellence in these conditions it is not ideal for other climates and drier trails.

I look forward to heading out in my Neo Trails when the temperatures drop and the rain falls, soaking the fields and tracks where I run and explore, but for the rest of the year, these guys will remain tucked away inside my house while the likes of the far lighter Trail Glove, NB Minimus MT00's or Vibram FiveFingers regularly see service.

Happy running, and any thoughts, questions or comments then drop me a reply at the bottom of this post.


  1. Don't forget the Breatho's for not so extreme conditions, lighter than the Neo's but same aggressive sole.
    I had to chose between the Vivobarfoot breatho, the Merrell trail glove and the NB MT00 to use on a varied run ( tarmac, fields, mud etc..) the MT00 are too warm/mild weather for winter, but the breatho's coped fine in the winter wet and rain, and even tho' I ran thu wet grass and constant rain, my feet stayed surprisingly dry, great grip, very tactile and I felt totally surefooted, their shape suits my wide feet perfectly.

    1. Yes I agree. A friend of mine runs in the Breatho Trail and gets on really well with them. The only issue that I have found occurring on both the Breatho and the Neo Trails is that the sole breaks down on rocky trails.

      I walked the Pennine Way in my pair of Neo's and the tread has completely disintegrated on the heel and forefoot. Similarly, my friend walked Snowdon in his Breatho's and found one lug completely torn off after just 10 miles.

      I think Vivobarefoot have two fantastic shoes and sole designs but could do with scrapping the 'vegan and environmentally friendly' tread pattern and put on a decent quality rubber like Vibram rubber soles.

  2. Yes! The Neo Trail runners are my favourite shoe in the world!