FiveFinger shoes made by Vibram, the poster children of the barefoot-running movement, are as close as you can get to running in your bare feet without having to worry about hookworms and broken glass.
One of the company’s newest offerings, the Bikila LS, is designed specifically for the barefoot runner. Named after Abebe Bikila, who ran barefoot and took the gold medal in the marathon in the 1960 Olympics, the Bikila LS sports a few features added specifically for distance runners.
The outsole is beefed up with extra padding on high-impact areas like the heel and forefoot to soften the impact of running on concrete, and Vibram has added cushioning in the cuff and the shoe’s topline to reduce irritation and pressure on longer runs.
A drawstring closure secures the shoe, which is a distinct departure from the Velcro closures on every other FiveFinger shoe. It makes a big difference — the shoe’s cuff opens up wider for easier entry, and the lacing draws the middle of the shoe up around the midfoot. It makes the shoe fit even more snugly than previous FiveFinger shoes I’ve worn. It’s easily the most glovelike iteration of the Five Fingers family. They’re also the most comfortable — the soft interior lining and padding make them feel great for just walking around town, as long as you don’t mind the occasional pointing and staring.
Purists may balk at the phrase “more padding,” but believe me, it’s incremental. While the padding does a bit to absorb the shock from running in what amounts to your bare feet, the modular pod design of the outsole ensures a full range of motion in the sole, and you still feel every bit of each step. During test runs on pavement, I could feel the contours of the road as my toes splayed out and I felt every single rock that I stepped on.
There’s little margin for error. The occasional heel strike was a jarring event, and after about half a mile, I had settled into a proper forefoot strike. Running up hills actually felt much better than doing so in regular running shoes, as the neutral heel made it easier to stay up on my toes and charge uphill.
The padding takes some of the sting out of pounding pavement in your bare feet, but don’t go all out if you’re not used to running in barefoot-style shoes. It’s best to start with short distances and work your way up into longer distances. Be prepared for some sore calves and arches.
Usually, if you’re wearing toe shoes, subtlety isn’t high on your list of priorities, but the Bikila LS’s styling is about as subtle as toe shoes get. My pair’s black body with gray details drew much less attention than, say the blue camouflage styling of the last pair of Vibrams we tested. That said, you’re still going to draw some stares during your run. I mean, come on — they’re toe shoes.
Photo by Jon Snyder/
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