Toe Shoes: Rethinking the Family’s Footwear

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Vibram fivefingers Bikila toe shoes

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.

Fila Skele-toes
Fila Skele-toes tread design












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.

Vibram fivefingers Bikila toe shoes

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 (

Fila’s Skele-toes are available at JC Penney’s, Rack Room Shoes, and Dick’s Sporting Goods stores.

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12 thoughts on “Toe Shoes: Rethinking the Family’s Footwear

  1. I also have an 8-year-old blossoming runner son and I wonder if he’d like these. If the Fila versions are less expensive than the Vibrams (about $60 retail), maybe I’ll give them a go.

    My husband and I have been considering these shoes for quite some time. We tried to get some for my husband in 2009 and we couldn’t even find a retailer with any in stock for Dave to try on — they were selling so fast! We’d have been willing to order them from the Internet.

    Thanks for the review, and I’m glad you’re okay from the snake!

    1. Patricia,
      I’m sure your 8-year old will love the Fila Skele-toes. They’re cool-looking and offer more all around foot protection than the Vibrams.

  2. You know how I know I’m a certifiable geek? I own Vibrams too! My hubs bought a pair six months ago and I mocked him thoroughly. Then I tried on a pair last month…and came home with them. My five year old wants a pair too, but I could not for the life of me get his fat little boy toes squished into the proper compartments.

    1. My husband mocked me thoroughly, too. However, after he read the New York magazine article, he is seriously considering a pair for himself.

      For your 5-year old, Fila Skele-toes shoes have four toe holes instead of five, combining the two smallest toes into one slot for an easier fit. They’ve even named the design Ezslide.

  3. My husband bought me Vibrams for mother’s day. 🙂 I started out with Sprint, but they dug into my Achilles tendon too much (a common problem with the style I discovered after some research). I am currently waiting for my replacement pair of Classics to arrive to see if those are a better fit for me.

    I first learned about how important it is to be as close to barefoot as possible from the awesome blog/site She’s a geek girl if I’ve every seen one–she’s just totally geeky about the physics of body movement and alignment. I love how the internet can help us all be more informed and healthy!

    1. Regina,

      Good luck with your new Classics. Interestingly, I tried on several pair of the same model of Vibrams before finding the right fit. I think there is a bit of variability in the shoes, even within the same model.

  4. I despise wearing shoes and I LOVE my Vibrams, but I have a problem with the right shoe wearing through in about 6 months walking several miles a day several times a week on sidewalk and street. This seems much too soon given the cost. I was told “you’re walking wrong,” the kind of answer I have spent my life finding extremely unhelpful. I went through Classics and Sprints and now I have Bikilas which have a little more sole, so I hope will last longer (they also cost more). I liked the Sprints best. Given that I am not going to change how I walk, does anyone know, (a) should they last longer? (b) can they be repaired? I read a suggestion online to repair them with inner tubing. Has anyone tried this? (c) any other ideas? Thanks!!

  5. I have the Sprints. They dug into my Achilles tendon at first too, but here’s a hint: flip the heel cup inside out when you’re not wearing them. This will stretch them just enough to not be too tight. And give them time to break in and conform to your foot, a couple hours each day, tops. Also, I found a pair of toeless socks, meant to be worn with open toe dress shoes. They have a little gel pad on the Achilles that helps with the break in period. I don’t need them anymore, but they made a huuuuge difference. I suspect a blister bandaid would also work well.

  6. have you tried the skele toes as a water shoe? for walking in streams or slippery rocks?

    1. Although we’ve never tried the Skele Toes out on slippery rocks, we have tried them on wet, slippery wood and even wore them in the ocean. They did pretty well!

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