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Vibram FiveFingers and the Military

by Rob Francis » on Apr 28, 2011 6

When I first saw VFFs about 3 years ago, they were not as popular as they are now in neither the civilian nor the military world; seeing anyone in them at my local gym and base just didn’t happen.  This post is about how I have seen an increase in acceptance and use  of VFFs by soldiers at my base which mirrors the increased popularity in the civilian world.  Please note that these are my own observations and should not be taken as criticism of official policy and does not represent the official position of the Canadian Forces.

Not Alone Anymore

After I bought my first pair of VFFs, I started noticing one or two other people wearing them, but those few others and I constantly got weird looks and loads of comments; usually like “What are those?”.  Now VFFs are extremely popular at my base gym and they rarely draw any looks and I am more likely to answer questions based on “how are they” or “are they worth it” as opposed to “what they are”.  It is not very often I run into anyone who has not seen or heard of FiveFingers.

Friend modelling his new TrekSport.

The places I see VFFs being used most often are the CrossFit area of my base gym and outside running.  This may be due to the fact that I am in the CrossFit Area as opposed to the traditional weight and cardio rooms at the gym and that the military does like to run for PT in the morning.  I consistently see at least 2-3 people wearing VFFs whenever I am working out.  During a recent CrossFit competition, about 15 or so people out of the 80 competitors were wearing them during the competition, and one other person on my team was wearing VFFs.  There is another soldier who is training for the Cabot Trail Relay Race wearing VFFs and plans on wearing them during the race.  So based on my personal, non-scientific observations, VFFs have caught on and are being used by an increasing amount of soldiers at my base.

 

I am sure that many of you, like myself, answer questions about VFFs on a fairly frequent basis.  I answer questions on how comfortable are they, how much they cost, where to get them, do they work, sizing, etc.  I have a pretty good answer routine and I think I cover all the questions well and hopefully give people who are sitting on the fence about buying VFFs enough information to help make their decision.  Despite all the people I have answered questions for, I have only had one person who bought VFFs based on my recommendation that I know of.  He sent me the picture below of him modelling his new TrekSport after receiving them.  Incidentally he is now a VFF “convert” after buying and trying them and he wears them for morning PT.

Policies

No military in the world would be complete without rules and regulations that cover almost every topic;  the breadth of area they touch on would surprise most civilians.  So there is no surprise that with the increase in popularity and use of VFFs, there would eventually be some form of official policy.  Surprisingly, all I could find about policy was from the US military and nothing from the Canadian Military.

From a Canadian perspective, I have yet to find or encounter an official policy on the use of FiveFingers specifically.   They seem to fall under the shoe category and are already covered by existing rules and regulations.  If anyone knows otherwise, I would love to hear about it.  Initially there were some problems I had at the base gym wearing them with a person who worked the front reception desk, but it was cleared up with the gym the next day and I was able to continue wearing mine.  No one else at the gym has run into problems wearing them that I know of.  I have worn my VFFs at three other base gyms in Canada and have never had a problem.

From the US military there is much more detail regarding the use of VFFs by soldiers.  This US Army Times article which ran in Oct 2010 basically details that the Marine Corp has no problem with marines wearing them, the Navy doesn’t want it’s sailors wearing them, the Air Force is good to go and the Army is leaving it up to the discretion of local commanders.  Having said that, if you are serving soldier/sailor/air force/marine personnel then you should check and make sure that you are allowed to wear them so you avoid trouble with your chain-of-command. I doubt that the excuse “ Some guy on the internet said it was OK for me to wear these” would satisfy your superior.  As I said, it is best to check with your unit first if you want to avoid trouble.

If anyone has any experience or stories about wearing their VFFs while conducting unit PT, I would love to hear about it; both positive and the not-so-positive experiences.  I will be looking forward to the comments here and I can also be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/robchfr

 


6 Comments

  1. Nick

    May 05th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Came across this article on NPR (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/05/05/136023115/one-commando-had-four-legs-a-dog-reportedly-was-part-of-bin-laden-raid) and it sure looks to me like a Special Forces soldier is wearing them…

    Reply

  2. Attila

    May 29th, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    im in the US navy and serve on a submarine. they won’t allow these in the work environment as expected from any closed minded institution, but when it comes to PT, i haven’t had any issues. i’ve converted nearly 10 coworkers to these shoes and they all love them! we recently did our semiannual PRT and several ran it in their VFFs and one even ran it barefoot. we submariners are a strange breed of sailor and seldom see issues with VFFs. in the end it all works out because its a close knit community and that lends well to understanding of one anothers’ situation. just don’t wear them at work is the “policy” as far as the command is concerned.

    Reply

  3. Jeff, PR2

    August 18th, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Recently a NAVADMIN was released that updated the Uniform Regulations allowing “Minimilastic Shoes” including Vibrams to be worn during Group PT! Just figured people would like to know!

    Reply

  4. HM3 (FMF) Rush

    September 25th, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Having served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marine Corps Infantry as a Line Corpsman for 3 1/2 years, i developed lower back pain, knee pain, and multiple sprains in-country. During deployment, we dealt with terrible fitting boots, night patrols, and heavy loads which obviously destroy our bodies.

    Coming back from my last deployment I heard about VFF’s, and researched the benefits and disadvantages. I now own 2 pairs of KSO’s and have no knee, ankle, or back pain. I can run with a medbag for 3 miles and feel perfectly fine (albeit a little tired…) which is amazing, since running that far with boots would have blown my knees out.
    I’ve run 3 PFT/PFA’s with these VFF’s, and they’ve changed the way my wife and I work out and run.
    The Army will eventually get on board when they realize how good they are for their soldiers. And, the Army could really get in better shape :-p

    Reply

  5. Derek

    August 24th, 2012 at 11:53 am

    As of December or November 2010, the Sergeant Major of the Army has placed an official ban on toed shoes. I believe the statement was that they are not in keeping with the professional look required of the US Army soldier in PTs.

    Reply

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