Almost every time I review a shoe, someone will pop up in the comments and cry ‘more shoes that aren’t foot shaped!’. These are very foot shaped, but they’re not very bike shaped. Nevertheless, as a group of outdoorsy active fitness types (even Binners goes hillwalking, though possibly only as a means to accessing more remote pubs with fine pies) I figure you might be interested in these Vivobarefoot Primus Trail shoes.
Vivobarefoot makes foot shaped shoes for a range of activities, allowing you to emulate a ‘barefoot’ feel without actually covering your feet in broken glass or cow shit. They’re lightweight, flexible, and relatively thin in the sole, so you can feel the ground under your feet and your foot can mould around lumps and bumps underfoot. As a result, if you’re a normal shoe wearer, Vivobarefoot recommends that you gradually accustom your feet and ankles to this style of shoe. Go all in too soon and they warn that you’ll likely find yourself in pain. Luckily, if you buy your shoes from Vivobarefoot themselves and live in the UK, you’ll have 100 days of wearing them out and about to decide if they’re suitable for you. If you really can’t get on with them after all that practice, you can send them back for a refund. Quite the buy and try offer.
Brought up on a diet of very sensible shoes, and carrying a permanent hip injury, I find it very difficult to find anything comfortable for my feet. I need them to be light, and I need them to be very neutral – anything with a thick sole has me spraining my ankles, and anything with internal arch support has my feet being shredded and blistered. As a result, I get my feet into sandals as soon as the weather allows, and spend most of the rest of the year in some form of fell or trail shoe. I’d been in sandals for a few months by the time I put my feet into the Primus Trail shoes, and had no problems going about my normal daily business in them from the off.
This particular model has a fairly lugged sole to provide grip off road – though it’s designed for ‘firm ground’ rather than full on soft oozy mud. There are a few ‘SG’ soft ground models in the Vivobarefoot range if you want something more aggressive. This particular shoes is made with recycled post-consumer plastic waste, and the external fabric has the appearance of being knitted, but doesn’t seem to have the stretch that you’d associate with an actual knit. This means that once you’ve snugged them up with the laces, your feet do stay in place pretty well, without slipping around. There’s a Primus Trail Knit too, which is less plasticky and more of a stretchy fabric, which Vivobarefoot advises me is less well suited to running than the ones I have.
The laces are ridiculously long and lack a means to shorten them, or a lace keep. You’d have to have truly enormous feet to need to loosen the shoes enough to use the full length of these laces. I hope that future editions might come with something a little shorter, or at least choppable, plus a stretchy lace keep band to stop the tail flapping. All that said, the laces do work and I didn’t find them slipping annoyingly, even when running.
I’d definitely recommend wearing socks with the shoes as they’re rather sweaty feeling, despite the apparent ventilation you’d think you’d get through the knit fabric – I’ve found you just don’t get much if any relief through them, and on hot days I preferred to stick with hiking sandals rather than sweat in these.
However, the laces and the sweatiness are really their only downfall in my book. They are just super comfortable, and have been from the moment I put my feet in them. I have worn them for runs, long walks, and they’ve become my main street footwear since the weather made sandals a no-go. I like how you can feel the ground under your feet, yet not so much that you’re getting poked and hurt like you would in bare feet. As I’ve said, I always prefer a ‘less is more’ approach to shoes, so if you’re used to chunky soles, air cushioned whatsits, and moulded support thingies, your feet may find these more of a shock than mine. For me, it’s been like slipping my feet into a second skin – one that’s just tough enough to keep the stones at bay. While they may be as much as twice the price of other trainers I might have considered, they’re instantly comfortable and light weight enough to allow me to walk longer distances. On balance, that seems like a price worth paying.
On the bike
This is really not what they’re for. They’re neither sticky nor stiff. Don’t expect to do anything more than a casual commute home in them. Anything where you’re really pushing on the pedals is going to have your feet bending quite uncomfortably and fatiguing quickly thanks to all the flex in the sole. There’s a reason cycling shoes are stiffened.
Running in the Primus Trail
In the name of preserving my joints and what remains of my hip, I only run off road and only run short distances. For that I found these are great – I imagine though that upping the mileage would take some practice and getting used to, as it definitely feels like more of an adjustment than daily walking around or hiking in these shoes. Even though I say I only run off road, there’s almost always a bit of tarmac to cover to get to the trails, and on the short section of road between the fields and my house I’ve found the lack of cushioning is just a touch too much for me on the descents. Here I have taken to doing a walked warm down, or adding in extra off road paths to get as close to home as possible. Though fell shoes don’t offer much by way of cushioning and support, these are significantly more pared down, so you expect to feel the difference. They’re also nowhere near as aggressively soled as a true fell shoe, so don’t expect quite the same level of grip as you go bog trotting.
I’d say that these are ideal for summer moorland and field based runs. Occasional stony tracks aren’t a problem, but if you do a lot of fireroad type running I think you’ll have to get used to the extra impact.
Choosing a Vivobarefoot
You need to get the sizing right on these, and there’s a whole world of measuring advice on the website. Some models suggest they come up small or large. In these, I ended up in a size 40, which I would say is about bang on where I’d usually be in a street shoe, though for some reason, I always need a 41 in a bike shoe. I was lucky enough to have the chance to try a couple of pairs on when selecting my test pair, but I liked these shoes so much and found them so comfortable that I decided to buy a pair of their boots for winter walking. So you can have a taste of ‘actual customer’ experience…
…If I hadn’t had confidence that these were likely to be comfortable, I might have given up, especially given the price. The Vivobarefoot website is pretty frustrating. First, I wanted to buy waterproof boots – filtering by ‘waterproof’ isn’t an option. Then, I knew I wanted size 40s again, but the site only gave me UK 6/7/8 etc options. A search for the sizing chart and conversions gave me a page full of shoes, but no size chart. Argh. Luckily, there’s a chat option on the website which proved to be both helpful and responsive (although the chat box did vanish mid chat when I tried to navigate to one of the page links the chat yielded. Argh again). I highly recommend you make use of the chat facility to make sure you get the product and size that suits you – and by buying directly you’ll also get access to that 100 day trial option.
Website annoyances aside, my new boots have proven to be just as comfortable as the Primus Trail shoes, though I’m a little disappointed that they’re not completely waterproof after a proper Yorkshire wet weather test. Not bad, but not quite what I’d hoped for the money. I’ve got another 90 days or so to decide if they’re too disappointing to keep…
I’ve heard that lots of people got out of the habit of wearing shoes or constrictive footwear, during lockdown. If you’re struggling to get your feet comfortable after that long period of slippers and flip-flops, I’d highly recommend trying these out. The Vivobarefoot Primus Trail makes for a great all purpose shoe for someone with an active lifestyle, letting you tackle the daily shop, a hike in the hills, and a run through the woods.
|Product:||Primus Trail FG|
|Tested:||by Hannah for 4 months|
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