Product Review: NEO By Vivo Barefoot

Having worn a pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes for the last 5 years, not continuously of course, I decided it was high time I dipped into my pocket and got another pair. It was not only the fact that I had had my old pair for such a long period of time but also a deep instinct that the persistent issues I had been having with sore feet, tight Achilles tendons and calf tightness and strains were a result of modern day shoes. Those both worn in and outside of the working environment. The more these issues persisted the more I found myself searching, getting frustrated and not seeing the wood for the trees.

On a number of occasions when the weather permitted I had had the chance to wear my old Vivo shoes for a number of hours both inside and outside of the home. On these occasions I was becoming increasingly aware of my calve muscles starting to relax more and the knots that were in them releasing and no longer troubling me only for these issues to reappear a couple of days later after spending a number of hours walking in my work shoes which are heavily built up to cushion and protect the foot and supposedly designed to make walking easier. I think not. Having had my feet for a few decades you eventually get to know instinctively what is good and what is bad for them.

I did some research on which Barefoot shoes I should next purchase and after initially thinking about using the EVO shoes I changed my mind and went with the NEO shoes. The  EVO shoe is more of a pure running shoe whilst the NEO comes across more as a cross training shoe which would give me opportunities to use the shoes in a number of different environments without the need to buy multiple pairs of shoes.

The shoes were ordered and arrived the following day.

As you can see from the above photograph the shoes come wrapped in individual bags to protect them with a booklet explaining the concepts of barefoot walking, how it is beneficial for the wearers health and posture. And how best to use the shoes if you are a new comer to barefoot walking. Following the new wearer`s instructions is a must because if you don`t you will feel a lot of discomfort the following days. You will have worked muscles in your ankles, feet and calves that the resulting soreness will be quite profound if you jump straight into wearing them and going out for a 3-6+ mile run as if it were a normal training session.

As I have already mentioned I am not new to wearing barefoot shoes but even I suffer with soreness if I up the duration or intensity when wearing them to a new level. Please follow the suggestions. It will save you a lot of time and discomfort.

You will also notice when your shoes arrive that Vivo Barefoot do all they can be to as environmentally friendly and ethical as possible. Not only with the packaging but the sourcing and construction of their products.

I rethreaded the shoes to suit my own needs (more on this in future blog) and went for a small walk to test them out and see if I needed to keep the insole in. Initially they felt very different from my old shoes which time had taken its toll on them.

Below are my 5 year old Vivo shoes which I have lost count of the amount of miles we have done together yet are still holding together all be it looking somewhat tired and scruffy. There are no puncture holes in the soles just signs of lots of wear with a couple of areas that have nearly lost all their tread. The only issue is that the insoles no longer stay in the shoe whilst I am walking and do slip, so they are no longer used. But after 5 years of faithful use I have no complaints there.

The NEO felt a lot more cushioned. So much more cushioned I likened it to a regular lightweight walking shoe. But there is no cushioning in the shoe other than the insole or as Vivo term it “Removable rapid dry moisture control bamboo-charcoal foam foot bed”. The shoes fit quite snug with plenty of space in the front of the shoe to allow the foot and toes to spread as nature intended. The grip was another feature that I immediately noticed a difference with. It is much more pronounce than that on my original shoes which I always felt a little apprehensive wearing when it was wet or on slippery surfaces. The grip is there and you can feel it. A big plus for when you attempt to do some off road running or in grassy areas.

I decided to leave the foam foot bed in for a few days so I could break the shoes and my feet in gradually. On the whole I noticed only slight soreness the day after I had worn them for a full day continuously with no noticeable effects on my feet other than them remaining fresh feeling all day long. After two days I removed the foam foot beds and there was an instant noticeable feeling of “roominess”. Your feet spread even further. So much more that if Vivo barefoot did half sizes in their shoes I would go down half a size because of this. Without the foam foot beds in they felt just a touch too roomy.

Initial short gentle runs in them showed potential. The ever increasing amount of time I spent walking in them showed very positive improvements in lower leg and ankle strength. Some days I was easily covering 15 miles per day and even wore for work which would have pushed this to the 20 mile mark because of the nature of my job. This was all the more important as I was again training for this years annual World Coal Carrying Championships. Previous years had shown my calves to be the area which received the most stress but also the weak link in the chain. This, as previously noted, was made progressively worse with the wearing of modern everyday shoes and the footwear I am forced to wear at work. Truth be told if Vivo Barefoot could construct a shoe aimed specifically at working environments then I would be sold. Unfortunately this whole area is a minefield of health and safety regarding the need for two separate points of contact of the foot whilst walking, supposedly to reduce slipping. I find this highly dubious because with a minimalist sole like those in Vivo Barefoot shoes you find your foot grips the ground instinctively giving you greater purchase as you walk.

As each day and training session went on my lower legs gained in strength and I gained in confidence in that they would not “blow out” during the final preparations or the race itself. The previous year the shoes I am forced to wear for work had worn down excessively on the outer edge of each shoe. Because of this and issues with obtaining a replacement pair this caused an Achilles heel injury that required time off work and the area to be heavily taped on race day.

All this new found strength and mobility I am putting down to the use of the NEO by Vivo Barefoot . My instincts and own training records are showing that. My feet and ankles became stronger. I had a complete reduction in the tightness I get in my lower back and sciatic regions. All happening simultaneously with the introduction of longer and longer walking sessions in the NEO shoes. Some of these sessions would mean up to 12 hours of continuous wearing with and without the foam foot beds.

The rest is history. I competed in and finished the World Coal Carrying Championships 9 places higher than the previous year with no re-occurrence of the calf injury I suffered mid way through last years race.

But that is not all. Nope as Jimmy Cricket would say “there`s more”.

I noticed a single thread start to come loose on the right shoe. At first I thought noting about it until it became longer. Then on the left shoe in the very same are a thread appeared. I spent a few days just keeping an eye on both shoes to see if it was just a one off because I could not see that any of the stitching had come loose. Upon closer inspection, after I had noticed it become worse, I could see that it was not the stitching it self but what looked like the fraying of the “suede” where you would have expected it to have been sealed during production.

I contacted Vivo Barefoot who requested a photograph of the offending issue so they could decide whether a replacement was necessary.

You can see the offending threads in the above two photographs. Vivo Barefoot confirmed it was a fault and that they would send out a replacement pair that very same day. Three days later, thanks to bank holidays, I received a new pair. These I gave a very thorough going over to see if I could identify what could be a potential issue with the NEO construction. At the widest part of the shoe on the right foot I can again see what I can only describe as “feathering” of the material. There is this faint lighter tint to the material which looks as if the material when cut has either been cut with a blunter edge or when it is being sealed the sealant has not quite got right in there.

With that all said and done I have decided to just wear the shoes to destruction come what may. If this is an ongoing manufacturing issue I am quite sure that Vivo Barefoot will have it rectified in the near future.  For me I need to wear the shoes, to fully test them out in a number of training environments to see not only how far the shoes can be pushed but how far the shoes can push my own boundaries as I seek to regain that movement and agility I once had as a child running freely on grassy surfaces, scaling tall trees and generally scuffing and battering the life out of any pair of footwear I was given within a matter of weeks with endless ball kicking and wall climbing.

For all those considering purchasing a pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes but are put of by the initial cost which is quite high for a single purchase. Please take note of what I have written about my original pair. After 5 years of use they are still wearable. They are not in such a poor state that wearing them will cause postural issues as you would find with regular shoes. Looking at them I bet I could easily get another 1-2 years of wear out of them before the puncture resistant sole finally gives out. If the sole on the NEO can give me nearly as many miles then it is a tiny price to pay for happy healthy feet. All ready the sole on the NEO has come into its own by stopping a 6mm thorn from puncturing my foot after a day out walking. So even though your feet have very little between you and the ground the soles are still strong enough to give plenty of protection. I have lost count of the amount of money I have spent on sports massage and podiatrists in the past to help fix the issues I have had. For me the use of the Barefoot shoes have done a lot to correct these issues at a fraction of the overall cost.

You may also want to consider looking out for a pair of “clip trips” by Terra Plana which help to stop the hem of your jeans or trousers catching on the floor as you walk. I have had a pair ever since I got my first shoes. They are still going strong.

Who knows maybe next year I could very well be running the 2012 World Coal Carrying Championships in Vivo Barefoot footwear. That really would be a test of not only my own strength and stamina but also of the shoes I am wearing.

Or is that shoes I am not wearing because I`ll be Barefoot?

The only issue then will be whether to use the NEO, EVO or ULTRA?

Steven. A. Barlow© 2011

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