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Minimalist Running: Barefoot Vs. Vibram FiveFingers

by Kat » on Jan 03, 2013 12

Vibram FiveFingers offer runners the chance to experience the feel of barefoot running on a variety of surfaces. While most running experts advise transitioning slowly to barefoot running from the traditional supportive running shoe, Vibrams, when used correctly, can be an intermediary shoe. Or, they can be a healthy end result!

Vibrams might be the closest thing to barefoot running that currently exists on the market, but nothing beats the feeling of cool grass between your toes. Read on for an overview of various running surfaces, and the recommended minimalist running style: Vibram vs. Barefoot. Bring it on!


Surprisingly, many FiveFinger athletes say treadmill running in Vibrams is great! While a treadmill might not accurately replicate a true running experience, it offers uber-athletes the chance to exercise when the weather is just too awful to handle. No matter how intense you are about your workouts, sometimes the gym can be a nice change of pace. One Vibram lover sheepishly admitted that she had the best run of her life on a treadmill wearing her Vibrams. “I just kept going,” she gushed. “It was like I could run forever. I got into a groove or something”. Additionally, most gyms would probably prefer if runners avoided going barefoot on their machines. In this case, FiveFingers are definitely the better option of the two.


If it’s not icy or snowing, there’s no reason why you can’t run barefoot down a city street. You might get some strange looks, and if you live in a particularly urban area, you should keep an eye out for broken glass and other perils, but for the most part, sidewalk or asphalt running is perfectly safe to do completely barefoot. Asphalt can heat up to high temps on hot days so be smart – check the forecast and slip on your Vibrams if barefoot just doesn’t make sense.


Beaches make for an ideal barefoot running terrain. The sand is soft, caressing, and can help strengthen the small muscles in the foot and heel. Additionally, the constantly shifting dips and divots in the ground practically force the runner into a forefoot strike. Beach running is hard, to be sure, but it also makes the athlete stronger. If you see particularly sharp shells and your feet haven’t had time to build up callouses yet, slip on a pair of socks (try the Injinji toe socks!) to provide a paper thin layer of protection without sacrificing the bare feet feel.


Like the beach, a grassy field is a great option for barefoot running. Grass has some give to it and stays cooler than concrete and asphalt. Nothing quite beats the feeling of grass between your toes. Professional runners and amateurs alike agree that running barefoot through grass can infuse you with an overwhelming joy of running. If you live in an area without a lot of green space, try to find a park or field where the grass is well kept and work on speed drills in what little space you have.


A track is another good barefoot running zone. A well made track typically has enough give to protect the joints but is firm enough for the feet to respond to. Many barefoot runners dislike the monotony of track workouts but if you’re looking to build up the musculature in your feet or want to work on speed, find a track nearby and mix it up once every week or so. Vibrams perform well on the track surface (they tend to grip the rubber efficiently) so they are definitely a viable option, tracks just happen to be one of the safer locations for completely barefoot running. Runners looking to build up their callouses can start by running barefoot on a local track and gradually increase the unevenness of the terrain from there.


Trail running provides the ultimate FiveFinger running situation. The uneven surface and unpredictable twigs, rocks, and wildlife can make going full-on barefoot uncomfortable or even dangerous. Vibrams however, provide the protection feet need from poisonous plants and other natural threats while still allowing the foot to adjust to the terrain and grip the earth properly. So, slip on those Vibrams and hit the ground running!

Every runner is different, and depending on the model of Vibrams you own, this list might not reflect your running capabilities. If you love your current minimalist shoes and see no reason to change up your routine, that’s fine too. Just know that running completely barefoot can be a unique experience in itself. Of course, in the end, you should always listen to your body and do what works for you.

What kind of running makes you happiest?

Submitted Comments

  1. Stuart says:

    I love running in the city, but that’s not usually the safest option for me. Running near my neighborhood can get dicey with cars/pedestrians/buses/bikes/squirrels/dogs always getting in the way. The track is good, but it’s a bit far away. Actually, the track reminds me of high school, so I try to avoid that whole thing altogether. (Just kidding, I loved HS track!) And my knees don’t do so well on surfaces that have a lot of give–like grass, sand, etc.

    Thus I’ve recently (and begrudgingly) become a fan of the treadmill. It’s safe, I can listen to music, the surface is consistent, and–most important this time of year–it’s warm.

    Has anyone else made the transition to the treadmill?

  2. David says:

    Very informative. When I first used Vibrams on a treadmill, I got a sort of heeby-jeeby feeling, and I was concerned I might get a calf injury because the strike seemed less natural. However, after a few runs everything seemed to settle into place and now I find it’s a good alternative when the weather is awful.

  3. Sarah says:

    I love my vibrams!! This pretty much sums up how I feel about them too :)

  4. Tomas says:

    I’m using v5f everywhere until it is too cold, therefore only outside temperature makes difference I think. Besides your list I have used them also for trekking in France in Alps to approx. 2600 meters above sea level with no problems and it felt perfectly on rocks. I have just bought my second pair since it dries longer so I can use them all the time :) addictive shoes

  5. Stuart says:

    I never thought of using them for difficult hiking/boulder scrambles. That’s a good idea.

    It does seem like the cold weather can be a problem though.

  6. Greenville_Gent says:

    There’s no place that I won’t wear my VFFs. Of course, I’ve got a dozen or so pairs to perfectly suit the occasion. My favorites are my KSOs, though my KomodoSports are so versatile, they’re the ones I simply could not do without. Pre-dawn road/track/trail it’s the KomodoSport for me. Bright sunny day or treadmill, I’ll take the KSOs.

  7. Solar says:

    Stuart cold is not a problem, but rain in cold is :)) For cold I’m using 5 fingers socks, found very cheap one for $2 … and if it is too cold, I’m using in addition home made socks with fingers cut and it warms very well ;)

  8. Miguel says:

    When I lived in rural Paraguay I would routinely go on barefoot runs on the dirt roads…It definitely improved my running form (short little strides instead of long gaping ones). Very comfortable and I felt like it kept me more aligned.

    @Stuart I’ve always hated treadmill running, never been a fan. Here’s to the bike trail!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Whether I am barefoot, in Vibrams or my minimalist running shoe I am a total “fair weather” runner! The running that makes me happiest is the running when the temperature is perfect, the sun is shining, the road is flat, the surface is forgiving and my play mix is just right! I guess we know why my shoes last so long….very little wear!

  10. bill says:

    I absolutely love barefoot running. There is no substitute for a totally barefoot experience. There are those times a little added protection may be in order. I think Vibrams are a fine product but would have to disagree with the statement, “Vibrams might be the closest thing to barefoot running that currently exists on the market.”
    I think Xero Shoes come the closest to duplicating the barefoot experience. I run 80-100 miles a week on all types of terrain. About 60% totally barefoot and 40% in my Xero Shoes. They are fantastic.

  11. James says:

    I live in a beautiful coastal town on the Great Ocean Road – OZ. I live a few kms from my work. I thoroughly enjoy running to work and back and even down to beach on my lunch breaks. I discovered VFFs about a year ago. plagued by aching knees, hips and lower back from running, I had almost given up one my favourite past times.

    My brother in law bought me a pair of VFFs for Christmas. For two months I stuck to short 2-3km runs around a lake on grass focussing on my foot falls and posture (no knee pain – stoked). The pain in my calves the next day was intense. I could only manage two runs a week. I managed to get a small tear in my Achilles and took five weeks off. After a couple of months I upped it to 4km into work and then home again in the afternoon (8km a day). Wow – calves were sore… I worked my way up to running 40km a week.

    Two weeks ago I did my first 10km fun run in my VFFs. completely pain free (except or a blister).

    I love running my VFFs, I love the freedom and feel. I now have settled down to just two or three 7-10km runs a week.

    The only downside is I have almost worn through the sole after just a year of use… :(

    Anyway looking for a new pair. Any recommendations?


  12. T says:

    I love my VFF lots! Once you switch to VFF, there’s no holding back. It’s about barefoot running now. Tried using KMD on city, beach, trail, treadmill, grass.

    Personally like the grass and beach feeling.

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