As self-proclaimed barefoot enthusiasts, our family embraced toe shoes as soon as we became aware of them. Invented several years ago by Vibram, toe shoes provide each toe with its own pocket. Additionally, there’s no cushion at all – just a bit of tread attached to a stretchy foot-conforming material and a hook and loop mechanism to adjust fit. These new shoes look odd and many think of them as just a fad, but proponents claim that toe shoes allow our feet to function naturally as they do when we walk and run barefoot. We decided to find out if these shoes are all hype or if they’re the best minimalist shoe design ever invented.
According to the podiatry channel, the human foot and ankle contain 26 bones (one fourth of the bones in the human body), 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. According to an interesting article in New York Magazine, the human foot contains over 200,00 nerve endings, one of the highest concentrations anywhere in the body. So, with all of this intricate natural engineering mostly canceled out by bulky, boxy, cushiony shoes, we were intrigued by shoes that let our feet to do their jobs.
Fashion aside, these shoes are intriguing. Toe shoes won’t go well with an evening dress or business suit, but they’ll feel right at home at the beach, kayaking, walking the dog, running, or even yoga. I know some folks who want to try them for rock climbing!
The Fila Skele-toes are great for kids. Marketed for gravel, water, mountains, grass, mud, trees, rock, pavement, and dirt, you can understand how they might appeal to boys. Our youngster loves the thick stretchy nylon tops and thin but substantial tread that allows him to feel as if he is walking barefoot. He loves to wear them for running, bike riding, and practicing martial arts in the back yard. Because they fit like a glove, he runs more naturally than with he does with traditional sneakers. In fact, in normal sneakers he’s a clumsy runner and falls a lot, so the Skele-toes make him seem like a gazelle when he runs.
My toe shoe of choice is the Vibram fivefingers Bikila, designed specifically for walking and running. My Bikila’s are amazing on grass or soft ground. Normally, I struggle to find traditional running shoes that fit properly. Usually, I’m constantly adjusting the laces to keep my feet from becoming numb while still tight enough to keep my feet from slopping around in the shoes. Then there’s the sock shift that occurs when socks bunch up in the shoe during a run. Worst of all, thick cushioned treads on traditional running shoes make turning an ankle more likely, especially on uneven terrain. When I’m through running in normal running shoes, my big toes often throb.
So, shod in my new Bikilas, I set out for a run on Mother’s Day evening as the last rays of the sun gave way to dusk’s cool breeze and twinkling stars. I chose to run through my neighborhood in the grassy sections between the sidewalk and the street. Feeling the soft earth beneath my feet allowed my toes to grip, balance, and adjust my posture as I hit my stride. No lace pressure to adjust, no thick padded tread to stress my ankles, no socks to bunch up, and no excessive pounding sensations in the knees made running a joy.
As I neared the last steps of my run, I sensed a smooth, writhing movement underfoot. I instantly lifted my foot as I realized I’d stepped on an unsuspecting snake, but not before the creature managed to strike. Alarmingly, the snake wasn’t the garden-variety garter snake but a venomous cottonmouth (water moccasin). It slithered onto the road where I was able to make a positive identification. Unfortunately, the snake had pierced my thin shoe with one of its fangs and the bite was now bleeding. With no time to lose, we drove to the emergency room. After spending several hours under observation, no symptoms appeared.
Amazingly, the snake either withheld its venom, or because of my quick reaction, did not have time to release it into my toe. Either way, I credit these wonderfully tactile shoes with saving me from a horrible experience. I truly believe that if I had been wearing traditional running shoes, I would have landed on the snake with much more force and would not have known it until the snake had latched on firmly and more vehemently.
We’re convinced that the active family will find these shoes superior to bulky, cushiony traditional athletic shoes. People who enjoying walking around barefoot will find that these shoes are made for them. Others will need time to adjust to these shoes before running long distances.
To learn more about the science of toe shoes, check out the New York Magazine article.
To find stores that sell Vibram fivefingers toe shoes, use the handy store locater on the Vibram fivefingers website (http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/productsupport/store_locator.cfm)
Fila’s Skele-toes are available at JC Penney’s, Rack Room Shoes, and Dick’s Sporting Goods stores.