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September 22, 2009

Feelmax Osma Shoe Review

(Admin note: this is the second of a two-part review of Feelmax footwear. If you missed part one, click here to read about the Feelmax company and the Niesa shoe.)


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Barefoot runners eventually get accustomed to turning some heads.

Whether it’s shocked looks of disbelief from neighbors, unsolicited comments from passersby on the road, or amused stares from nearby drivers, going without shoes triggers the freak reaction in a great deal of the general public.

For all their benefit and comfort, Vibram’s FiveFingers only slightly mitigate this knee-jerk response from people; in fact, in many cases it only makes the situation worse. After all, going barefoot is one thing – but spending 80 to 90 bucks to buy shoes that make you feel barefoot is a strange equation for a lot of folks … especially when said shoes are often referred to as gorilla feet by their owners. And while most Vibram users (myself included) adore their beloved footwear and would defend them to the mat, there are certainly some times when we’d rather not make a spectacle of ourselves.

(Yes, I’m aware that many VFF owners totally enjoy the shocked stares and questions they get while wearing them … but I would think that answering the same questions over and over again would eventually get tedious. Maybe that’s just me.)

So wouldn’t it be great if there was minimalist footwear that could actually pass for a standard running shoe? Something you could use for training in your neighborhood without attracting unwanted attention, or wear in races without standing out in the crowd? Feelmax has developed just such a shoe, called the Osma.


Ever since the company’s debut, customers have used Feelmax footwear for running, even though the styling of most of their models is not ideally suited for the activity; for example, the Panka and Niesa models sit up relatively high on the ankle, while lower-profile models like the Kuusa might not reliably stay on the foot in tricky conditions. Last winter, in response to customer demand, Feelmax set out to make a running-specific model while maintaining the overall lightness and superb ground feel that distinguished the brand.

They did a lot of prototype testing with their high-use customers, collecting feedback to see what worked and what didn’t. They brainstormed with their manufacturers to develop materials that could handle the demands of high-mileage runners. And they went back to the drawing board a few times to make sure they got everything right.

The result of all that labor is the Osma, which is a slight departure from their previous models, but with the same Feelmax characteristics that its users love. They launched it at the Outdoor Fair in Germany this past July, and it will be available for the general public in spring or summer 2010. (Updated Feb '10: they're now available at GiftsFromFinland.com.)

One of the primary differences with previous Feelmax models is in the outsole: instead of the 1.3mm thickness of the Niesa, you have 2.1mm on the Osma. (If you can feel the functional difference in 0.8mm, you’re way more tactically aware than I am.) There is also a removable – it’s glued in the forefoot, but easy to detach if desired - 2mm insole that could potentially increase the thickness to 4mm, which is still thinner overall than the Vibram KSO’s 3.5mm outsole and 2mm insole.

This outsole was the result of multiple prototype tests with Continental (the tire company), and it retains the same traction and puncture-resistance of any other Feelmax model. And despite the increased thickness, the outsole is still remarkably flexible, allowing your feet to grip the ground for improved stability.

The Osma’s upper has traditional shoe styling (it’s a very Euro look, in my opinion – not that there’s anything wrong with that) that is extremely comfortable and breathable, with ventilation that is noticeably cooler than the Niesa. The laces on this model are actually functional, which helps dial in the snugness of the shoe to your preference. When I first wore the shoes, I had one mild pressure spot where the back of the upper contacted the bottom of my ankle on the outside, but this issue resolved after a short breaking-in period.

The thicker sole and new upper materials combine to increase the weight of this shoe slightly – 120g (4.23oz) for the Osma compared to 90g (3.17oz) for the Niesa – but again, if you can tell the functional difference in 30g, you’re a far better detective than me. From a weight and performance standpoint, this shoe gave me almost the exact same feel as the Niesa, in a package that looks for all the world like a regular old running shoe.

For those times when you want a true minimalist trainer but would rather blend in with the crowd, the Feelmax Osma will be an outstanding option. Sometimes it’s better to let your feet do all the talking.


See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.


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22 comments:

Puller 9/29/09, 2:26 PM  

how can i get a pair to test? I have the panka already and would love to try this shoe!

David 10/20/09, 4:13 PM  

I'm also interested if there's a way for customers to test these. I've been running in the niesas for some time, and while they are great, they chafe against my ankle and could use a slight bit more cushioning. Also, they need some way to make the fit snugger for those with slender feet. Anyway, I'm definitely going to get the Osmas when they're released.

Jon H 12/3/09, 6:22 AM  

Any comment on the width of the toebox? Can a 2E foot fit comfortably?

Donald 12/3/09, 11:08 AM  

Jon - I think an extra-wide foot might have some difficulty in the toebox.

Andrew 12/13/09, 3:24 PM  

Are these water resistant in the sole?

Donald 12/18/09, 9:42 PM  

Andrew - From my experience, they're resistant to wet road surfaces, but if you're in puddles, water will seep in through the seam between the outsole and the upper.

Anonymous,  1/4/10, 10:05 AM  

Do you know if these have the same soles as the Feelmax boots? Please tell me no, as those definitely did not feel the same as the other shoes.

I am getting the feeling that, in order to have a wider audience, Feelmax may be going with soles that are not as "barefoot" as the products from the first couple of years. I very much hope to be proven wrong.

Donald 1/4/10, 3:57 PM  

Anon: I'm not sure which boots you've used, but I think the outsole is similar for all of the current (fall 2009 or later) Feelmax models. The "old" outsole that was on previous models has been replaced. The new outsole is indeed slightly thicker, but addresses some of the durability concerns that initial users had with early Feelmax outsoles.

Andrew 1/5/10, 7:35 AM  

Donald:

Any thoughts on barefoot friendly winter shoes? I can manage cold and dry with my Vibrams. I need something for cold and wet. Thoughts?

Andrew

Alex,  1/5/10, 1:29 PM  

How fast do they wear out? Fast wear is the reason I did not buy the Pankas.

Donald 1/5/10, 9:18 PM  

Andrew: not sure what your local temps are, but I've worn the Osmas with socks in mid-20s temps (the lowest it's been around here thus far) very comfortably. I don't think their water resistance is great for sleet or snow, so they're probably not cut out for hardcore conditions. Perhaps a pair of aqua shoes like Teva Protons with some water-wicking (Drymax) socks for wet conditions?

Alex: I have about 200 miles on mine thus far without any significant wear. Feelmax made a very focused upgrade in the outsoles from the Panka to the Niesa and Osma, and durability hasn't been a problem for me yet.

Shanna 1/6/10, 9:11 AM  

Do you have a preference between the VFFs and these shoes? I've been running in the Sprints for 3 months now (training for a 1/2 marathon in them) and while I love everything about them, my toes seem to be protesting. I haven't narrowed down why exactly but I know I don't want to go back to thick soled shoes. I found these available on Extreme Outfitters (thx for the link) but hesitate to buy without trying them on first...just curious how you feel about them comparatively.

Barry,  1/16/10, 11:18 AM  

How would you compare the Feelmax NIESA (with fast velcro closure and thinner sole) to the Feelmax OSMA (with full laces and lower side profile) as far as running comfort and barefoot feel? I am oscillating between the two, and any comparison comments would be appreciated.

Donald 1/16/10, 4:13 PM  

Barry - The Osmas are my clear choice for running. I use the Niesas for walking/hiking, and they're very durable, but too high on the ankle for me to run in comfortably. Ground feel is marginally better in the Niesa, because the Osma has a thin removable insole. If you remove it, ground feel is the same.

Anonymous,  1/21/10, 8:24 AM  

How about sizing? I am thinking of getting the Niesa's and/or the Osma's. Do you wear the same size in each? I wear a US 12-13, depending on model. My VFF KSOs are 46 and fit great.

Donald 1/21/10, 1:08 PM  

I wear the same size for both Niesa and Osma. I'd say the Osmas are cut slightly bigger, but not enough to warrant a size change in my opinion.

CRUSH 1/27/10, 10:02 AM  

Donald, I was looking at a pair of the Osma's and I have a sizing question. Do you size these shoes similar to a regular running shoe. For example, my mizunos are size 11.5, but that allows me a good 1/2 - 3/4" of wiggle room, should I allow for the same in the Osmas?

Donald 1/27/10, 6:13 PM  

Crush - I wear the same size (metric equivalent) Osma as I do with other shoes. You'll find the toe box roomier than standard road shoes, so I don't think there's a need to intentionally size up.

Anonymous,  4/5/10, 4:57 PM  

Do you where socks with these shoes?

Donald 4/7/10, 10:10 PM  

Anon: I've done both - depends on how cold it is!

James 11/10/10, 8:38 AM  

Great Blog, Donald!

I've been running almost exclusively in Osmas for about a year now, and am immensely happy with them. I have experienced the same 20 mile break in period to stretch out the toe box, but after that its nice and roomy. I have never experienced a blister wearing them. I do wear very thin running socks with them to cut down on funk and friction.

I have put well over 1000 trail miles on my current pair and they have held up very well. To look at them now, you would almost think they were new (if the original color was pennsylvania clay). The weak point seems to be the cement holding the sole on. Every 200-300 miles I scrub the whole shoe down with a brush to get out all the dirt/rocks/bugs and fix any points where the sole is separating from the shoe with a bit of Barge Cement and it is good as new. The rubber itself has held up well to the rocky trail conditions here with no punctures and only a small smooth patch under the ball of the foot. The upper shows almost no wear at all.

The grip is generally pretty good since your foot is allowed to spread out. The rubber itself is quite grippy even when wet, but things get pretty hairy in flat slick mud. Like all thin soled shoes you can hydroplane a bit if you have poor form, and going downhill in thick mud is challenging. 99% of the time though traction is as good or better than a typical road shoe. I have run a good deal of long distances in them (up to a trail marathon) and have never had problems with my feet besides a few stubbed toes. At the worst a bit of tenderness of the pad of my feet since you can feel small rocks through the sole, but always my feet are comfortable long after other parts of me are not.

I would definitely recommend them, although I have been trying to get my hands on another pair for the past 4 months now and they have been on back order. I am starting to wonder if they will ever make a new batch.

Jay 12/7/10, 7:39 AM  

I purchased my first pair of Osmas about six months ago and have really liked them. I started running again a little less than a year ago after taking a break for several years. As my mileage increased (wearing regular running shoes) I had an old injury recurr. That's when I started paying more attention to my form and getting into a barefoot style. I tried some barefoot running at a local track and liked it. I bought a light track shoe for my street running, but it didn't last long. I started looking for other options and decided to try the Osma. I was able to run more than I've ever run in my life and am still enjoying it. It took some adjustment for my feet to adjust to less shoe, but by being patient with it and resting when needed I'm continuing to run stronger and stronger. Some weeks I've run 30-40 miles and had runs as long as 16 miles. I just run for fun right now, and these shoes help make it fun for me. Without setting any goals or resolutions, I've also enjoyed the health benefits of running and have dropped pounds that I had been accumulating in the past 10 years of my adult life. I hope Feelmax keeps making the Osma or other running shoes like it (and making them available in the United States).

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