VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra Initial Impressions

Published by RunningPoint on Friday, 10 Jun 2011 08:13 EDT

VIVOBAREFOOT was nice enough to send me a pair of their new Ultras "a light-weight barefoot amphibious running shoe" for me to put through the paces. I received them yesterday just before Noon and was off for a run by 12:30, I can't stand to get new running shoes and not run in them within an hour. This gives me a very quick and very early impression of how the shoes will perform without clouding my judgment by standing around in them and going about daily life for a few days before I get to run. My first impression of the Ultras? I'm pleasantly impressed, and I'll tell you why below.


As I opened the box, I was excited to get my hands on the Ultras since I had done a little bit of background reading on the VIVOBAREFOOT website and on other blogs about the unique construction and the extreme light weight. What I found in the box really impressed and surprised me. Along with these unique shoes was a leaflet titled "Proprioception: Making Sense of Barefoot Running" and a disc titled "Learn the Skill of Barefoot Running". I actually pulled the shoes out of the box and set them aside to look over the literature first (usually I just toss whatever comes in the box that isn't shoes to the side and never look at it again). I am an avid reader of many things and barefoot running technique/theory is one of my favorite non-fiction subjects. I was immediately impressed by the complexity of the technical content and the completely user friendly format that it was presented in. I feel like if I had never heard of barefoot running before, I could have understood every bit of information presented by VIVOBAREFOOT.

After taking a good look at the leaflet, I turned my attention back to the shoes and took a quick inventory of what was included. I knew to expect multiple pieces and found that the shoes ship with the removable sock liner installed and the optional tongues separate. I had an idea that the sock liner would not appeal to me so I left it in place to try first thing.

As I picked up one of the shoes, the extreme light weight was the first thing I noticed. Even with the sock liners installed, these shoes feel like they are barely there. They weigh about as much as my huaraches but have far more structure involved. The next thing I noticed was the overall feel of quality. When I read that they were fully molded I immediately had doubts of how that would translate into a feel of quality. There are no issues with the Ultras. You can tell by handling them for just a very short time that VIVOBAREFOOT went above and beyond in the R&D department to make sure that this shoe is both unique in construction (being their first fully molded shoe) and up to their level of quality. At this point the kid in me was just dying to put them on so that's exactly what I did.

Initial Impressions

As I sat down to remove my Merrell Trail Gloves (the shoe I wear daily to work), I couldn't help but start to mentally compare the two shoes. Both are lightweight, the Ultra being a fair bit lighter. Both have wide toe boxes, the Ultra is probably a touch wider. Both are classified as minimal running shoes, but just how minimal is the Ultra? It was evident from the second that I stood up that the Ultra and the Trail gloves are on opposite spectrums of minimal.

With the removable sock installed, the Ultras felt almost like being barefoot. They do provide a bit cushion since they are fully molded from foam but unless you are a person who runs barefoot or in ultra minimal shoes like huaraches, you probably will not be too quick to describe these shoes as cushioned. For me, they feel a bit like standing in a nice thick wool sock. I can still feel a lot of the details of the surface that I am walking on but some things are just a bit more muted when compared to the feel the huaraches have. I did notice however that the foam is tricky, it tends to absorb the tiny differences in texture such as sidewalk cracks but allows the larger objects such as sticks and rocks to feel almost as if you are really barefoot and stepping on these objects. The Merrells don't even come close to providing this level of ground feel, which is to be expected since they have a totally different sole material and an integrated rock plate.

I set off to run a quick errand and decided to take the Ultras for their first real world test. I kept the sock liner in and headed off to the Post Office which is a short drive and a short walk. It has been an unseasonably hot spring so far and I found my feet were almost instantly sweating. For me, this is uncomfortable. I stood in line and tried to convince myself to be objective and not make a snap judgment, but by the time my errand was complete I was itching to take the liner out. After I took the liner out, put the optional tongues in, and slipped the shoes back on I could feel a big smile on my face. The sock liner is form fitted, but not constrictive and would be a big help in the winter or cooler weather but I can't see myself using it in temperatures above 40 Fahrenheit. The Ultras really come alive as a barefoot shoe without the liner installed. They feel even more minimal and my toes have more than ample room to splay and wiggle and grip and do all the fun things toes like to do when they are not in shoes. An added bonus is that the Ultra is so lightweight I truly felt as if I were barefoot. At this point, I simply had to go for a quick run.

First Run

I changed into my running clothes, grabbed my sunglasses and water bottle, cinched the Ultras up tight (which is super easy to do with the elastic lacing and quick clip) and took off. I decided to just take a short route of 3.44 km and my first thought was "Wow, these are like running on a cloud". A few steps later, I crossed a gravel path and was brought back to reality that these shoes truly are minimal. The foam sole is very light and cushioned on a flat surface but allows plenty of ground feel on any sort of terrain. Because of this, I found myself having to think a bit more about my form while running in the Ultras. It was easy to get a bit heavy footed on the smooth sections of asphalt and sidewalk and then find myself on a gravel patch making adjustments to be lighter footed. For me, this is a pretty common reaction to learning how to run in new shoes and I enjoy the challenge of figuring out a how to make the shoe work with the way I want to run.

I picked the route I ran specifically because it has a little bit of everything I encounter on a normal run. There is asphalt, gravel, and a decent climb and descent. The shoes performed extremely well on all surfaces and I was interested to get into the climb and descent portion. Climbing was easy and my foot was very stable in the shoe. I did place my heel snugly in the heel cup as I cinched the laces down fairly tight hoping that there would be no float while I was running the hill, specifically on the descent. I was very pleased to find that this was just the case. My foot stayed stable in the shoe and did not slip in the slightest. I finished the run with a feeling that I wanted to see what these shoes would do with regular use and how they would feel after they get some mileage on them. The only thing that felt a bit odd for me was the foot sweat that had accumulated in the sole. I have gotten accustomed to running in huaraches and the sweat just seems to evaporate as I run. The Ultras held on to a bit of the moisture but it was certainly not at an uncomfortable level.


I am excited to put some serious mileage on these shoes and I'm planning to make these my new daily runners. I'm also going to wear them around town and out in the yard playing with the kids. They really are just that comfortable. I am looking forward to experiencing how the shoes change as they get more distance on them. I feel like the soles will lose a bit of the cushion and they will become considerably firmer with more and more ground feel.

If I have any concern about the Ultras, it would be the sole wearing out way too fast. I saw some visible wear after running only 3.44 km and I am planning to keep a detailed log of all the mileage I run in them with an evaluation of the amount of wear. I am seriously considering running in them until I can see daylight through them, giving them a proper test until complete failure.

I'm super excited to see where these shoes will take me and how they will react to my style of running and I will give a detailed report on running in the Ultras after I get some serious miles on them.    

NOTE: Full Review Now Available


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