Be sure to see my updated comments at the bottom of this post!
In preparation for my trip to India, I ordered a new pair of Chacos from Zappos. They are the Chaco ZX/2 in black:
My first pair of Chacos were bought back in 2003 in preparation for a trip to Italy. They have served me well over the years, and there is still plenty of Vibram sole left in them (particularly in the front, less in the back). However, I’ve been convinced almost since the second week I bought them that they were one size too big. Chacos don’t come in half sizes and I am typically a 10 and a half. I had gone for 11s back in 2003.
This time around, I ordered 10s in the new ZX / dual-thin strap style, still electing to have the toe-strap.
So far, I like them. The 10 is definitely a better fit for my foot. And the dual-thin strap of the ZX makes them much easier to adjust. They are also a smidge lighter than my five year old, one-size bigger Chacos. Here’s a comparative shot (apologies for my ugly, long toes):
See how well my old Chacos have held up? Over that same time period, my Milano Birks (God bless them) have been worn through to the leather upper!
I like Chacos for their smart design: the one-strap cuts out any need for velcro and makes for a very clean look. The Chaco footbed is heavy-ish, but quite durable — definitely much more durable than, say, Birkenstocks (I’m a big fan of Milano and Boston, being on my second pair of both in the past 10 years). I’m a big fan of Vibram soles, too (See my review of Five Fingers). Interestingly, I’ve thrown my old Chacos in the dishwasher to clean them. Works like a charm!
As for Zappos.com, all I can say is, “wow”. I ordered my Chacos on Monday mid-day and they were delivered by UPS Tuesday afternoon. That was with the $7.00 rush processing (Note: no other shipping or handling fees at all, meaning had I not gone for rush, it would have been free shipping — oh and no sales tax!), but even so, that is impressively fast. If you know what you want (I.e. size and style of shoe), how can you go wrong? Oh wait, even if you don’t like it, they offer free return shipping! Impressive.
So we’ll see how these new Chacos hold up. My plan (presently) is only to take my FiveFingers and Chacos to India. Now all I need is some injinji socks!
Afterthought: Some of you might be thinking I’m a bit crazy for blogging reviews on my footwear. You just have to understand that I’m a huge fan of being able to wear as little shoe as possible (I have to wonder if this is some primal instinct — a throwback to the countless human generations who never knew shoes. Furthermore, I hate packing multiple pairs of shoes on vacations. To me, the flexibility of Chacos, particularly these ZX/2s in black which combine utility with a bit more “dress”, win out over the comfort-factor of my Birkenstocks, which don’t hold up well to lots of walking, inclimate weather, lots of standing or hiking. And the FiveFingers, well they are incredibly packable and great for long plane rides.
Update, 11-12-2008: The ZX/2s performed beyond expectations on my trip to India where I wore them almost exclusively for three weeks. Of note, whereas the ZX Chacos had a nasty habit of “scissoring” right above my big toe where the two straps crossed over, which caused irritation and a blistering-effect when I wore the Chacos for extended periods (i.e. when I wore my ZXs almost exclusively back on my Italy 2003 trip). Thanks to the interlocking-at-the-crossover double strap of the the ZX/2s, this effect was entirely eliminated. I had no irritation there whatsoever.
My wife thinks the ZX/2s are a bit “strappy”, which is to say, “feminine.” However, I think they’re more stylish, less granola and beyond all, much more functional than the single strap ZXs. Assuming the style is acceptable to you, I highly recommend the ZX/2s over the ZXs.
Now, one drawback of note. I found the soles of these new Chaco’s to be slippery in wet conditions. I expected a bit more “grippiness” from Vibram soles, so this was a slight disappointment — a minor gripe though.
That’s a common reaction I get to my Vibram Five Fingers. Others include, “Hey can you run in those?” (Yes). Or, “Do they feel weird? Is it hard to adjust to them?” (Not really and No — its like being barefoot!). And of course, “What are those? And where can I get them?”
Five Fingers are shoes. Or slippers. Or socks with flexible Vibram rubber soles on the bottom. Or go simpler: they’re “Toe Shoes.” They have five toe cutouts (or pockets) and absolutely no arch support or traditional foam padding in the soles. They come in a few varieties (some providing more foot coverage, one intended for aquatic uses, a couple with straps, or the simplest, the “classic”, which has a bungie type operation that keeps them from falling off when used in more engaging activities (Update: Now there are 8 Five Fingers models available with a ninth VFF Trek variety on the way any day now).
I’ve been using my Five Fingers for about three months now. So far, I’ve used them for:
Five Fingers have helped me be a kid again: as a kid, I never wore shoes, preferring always to be barefoot everywhere. Even today, I rarely wear shoes, preferring Birkenstock sandals in the summer or clogs in the winter (or just wearing flip-flops). Five Fingers are great in that they allow me to do all sorts of active things outside, no matter what the surface while still protecting my feet against wayward sharp objects on the ground.
Five Fingers take my feet back to basics. I wasn’t born with shoes on my feet. From an evolutionary perspective, human beings existed for countless millenia hunting and gathering, running from prey, lifting and carrying loads — all without the latest brand of Nike’s. It stands to reason that our feet evolved over time to withstand the freedoms (both good and bad) that result from going barefoot everywhere.
Our ancient ancestors likely had tough, calloused feet, ready to withstand sprints (or walking) across all sorts of terrain. Furthermore, they likely ran lightly on their feet (and almost certainly had little reason to ever “go for a jog”). Shoeless running would necessarily minimize contact between the foot and the ground. Just imagine a cat or dog sprinting and you get the idea. Contrast running on the balls of your feet with the pervasive long-stride, heel-striking (inherently inefficient), sneaker-clad foot-roll. This style is clumsy, and the by-product of the thick-soles of modern sneakers, which mute important feedback between foot and ground (See You Walk Wrong, referenced below).
Vibram Five Fingers minimize feedback-interference by having an almost insignifnicant rubber sole. When I wear my Five Fingers outside, I feel the curvature of the grass-covered ground. I feel rocks under my heels and get a real sense of the varying textures beneath me.
When I do olympic-lifts, I feel all the stabilizers in my feet activate (Like you might encounter in CrossFit). I feel reconnected to the ground, an empowering feeling when you’re trying to squat 275 pounds or stabilize whilst doing 1.5 pood kettlebell swings. For more on weight lifting, read this fans account of powerlifting in Vibram FiveFingers.
When I do hill sprints in my Five Fingers, I am considerably less likely to roll my ankle upon hitting a dip in the ground — meanwhile, it feels fantastic to be so light on your feet as you fly (sprint) up a hill or across a field!
Going about “virtually barefoot” may seem odd to our sneaker-crazed modern world, but why not take a break from restrictive, clunky shoes and sneakers and traverse the earth as evolution intended (Well, as close as you can get while still maintaining some protection!)? Plus, being active and “barefoot” will build stronger ankles and leg muscles and improve your agility.
Mind, the day after running “barefoot” for the first time (virtually so with Five Fingers), you’re bound to be sore in all sorts of previously forgotten ankle, foot and calve muscles. So be prepared. However, this general foot/ankle weakness should tell you something about how much your regular footwear has been subsidizing your strength.
The bottom line: if you like being active and barefoot, you’re almost certainly going to like Five Fingers.
Finally, there are a few other benefits of Five Fingers I thought I’d share:
Five Fingers are incredibly light and compact. This makes them supremely packable for traveling (Often you can even get through airport security without taking them off though its a bit of a gamble!).
They are machine washable! Yeah, you can just throw them in the washing machine, then hang them out to dry (I have freakishly non-stinky feet, but they can get stinky, so you might check out these Vibram Five Fingers cleaning tips.
Wet sports. This goes hand in hand with their machine wash-ability. Doing something in wet grass? Regular sneakers will get soaking wet and could end up smelling of mold. With my Five Fingers, if they get wet, its okay! They’ll dry fast. If they get muddy? Just wash them off and throw them in the washing machine. Easy.
Okay, you’ve sold me. So what now?
If you’re interested in picking up a pair, I’ve got some good news and some bad news and they’re both the same: there are a ton of models to choose from — 20+! That makes for a lot of options, which is great, but also means you could get a little overwhelmed trying to pick a style. Go with your instinct and just have fun (don’t get overwhelmed).
Otherwise, you could end up like me: in the 3+ years since I first wrote this review, I’ve dived feet-first into the whole barefoot-style footwear thing by founding a blog dedicated to this emerging way to reconnect with our humanity — it’s called BirthdayShoes.com and has received over 2 million unique visitors. I’ve now tried and reviewed virtually every Vibram model out there as well as all the other new minimalist/barefoot shoes. That’s over 50 other shoe models (I’ve lost count, honestly). Go check out just how many options in the world of barefoot/birthday shoes there really are!
If you’re planning on buying online, you need to read this. I’m afraid to say that a rash of fake Five Fingers have shown up on the internet (and in Google search results). By “rash,” I mean there are over 600 fake fivefingers online retailers masquerading as the real deal. You can learn more about this unfortunate phenomenon here. The gist is that if you’re on a site with “vibram” or “fivefingers” or some variant thereof that claims crazy discounts (60% off!) and isn’t vibramfivefingers.com — or if you’re looking on ebay (not a good sign) — you very well could be looking at a fakes retailer.
I’ve done my best to take some of the pain out of finding legit online retailers by creating listing many (but not all) of the fake sites (here) as well as creating a “store” that has authentic online retailers. The store also has info regarding free shipping policies, customer reviews, etc., and one store offers 7% off via a BirthdayShoes-exclusive discount code (it’s listed at http://birthdayshoes.com/store/).
On style and sizing — Back in 2008 when I got my first pair of Vibrams, I figured I’d start simply so I just got the simplest model available, the Classic; I bought two sizes that were the closest to my measurements and just returned the wrong size. Simple enough. The thing is that sizing Vibrams is confusing because the FiveFingers sizing doesn’t (necessarily) correlate to any standard sizes (American or European). By pure chance, my FiveFingers size happens to be the same as my Birkenstocks size (European 43 — I’m a 10.5 US size). To really get a handle on sizing, you should see this wiki on Vibram Five Fingers sizing.
Update February 2012: One last note on the above-mentioned likelihood of getting Overwhelmed by just how many options there are. These days, I now have probably 40 or more pairs of FiveFingers including all the newest/hottest models with the fancier soles and uppers; however, I still go back to my Classic FiveFingers as a “go to” pair assuming the weather permits. That’s because they’re just that comfortable. However, if you’re just going to get one pair for all occasions, I might recommend the KSO if you want to kick it “old school” in one of the original, most popular Vibrams; or if you want something more recent, go with the KomodoSport LS or Bikila LS as both are exceptionally comfort and fit the widest range of feet due to the laced uppers. Ahh there are pros and cons to all of them and it’s not easy to decide on “just one pair!” I don’t envy your position. Truth be told, you should know that there’s a high likelihood your first pair of toe shoes won’t be your last; I can’t tell you how many folks I know who now have multiple pairs (like 5+) of FiveFingers. Seriously.
Buyer beware: friends and family might chide your weird-looking footwear, but don’t be surprised when they order their own pair shortly thereafter (To date: I know two CrossFitters who are looking to buy them after seeing me use them, and one CrossFitter who has already taken the plunge).
If you have any questions about anything I didn’t cover, let me know!
An intro to the Pose Method of Running Pose is a method of running that uses gravity to propel you forward, running on the balls of your feet, so it stands to reason that Five Fingers would be a natural complement.
Look, it?s not your fault. It’s your shoes. Shoes are bad. I don?t just mean stiletto heels, or cowboy boots, or tottering espadrilles, or any of the other fairly obvious foot-torture devices into which we wincingly jam our feet. I mean all shoes. Shoes hurt your feet. They change how you walk. In fact, your feet?your poor, tender, abused, ignored, maligned, misunderstood feet?are getting trounced in a war that?s been raging for roughly a thousand years: the battle of shoes versus feet.