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November 16, 2009

kigo Shoe Review (and Coupon Code)

It’s often mentioned in barefoot running circles how nice it would be if someone could make a “one finger” shoe – in other words, something that offers all the minimalist benefits of Vibram’s industry-standard FiveFingers, but in a package that keeps the toes together for increased warmth or improved comfort. (Or, you know ... perhaps to avoid looking like a freak.)

Kigo is one company that has taken that challenge upon themselves, and they’ve come pretty close to creating a shoe that meets this demand.
Like many other companies discussed here previously, kigo (it’s usually written in all lowercase, which annoys the grammar nerd in me … but I really need to stop worrying about this stuff) wasn’t necessarily created with the barefoot market in mind. The Colorado-based company was born - predictably for a Colorado activewear company – at the base of a mountain, with the desire to have stylish footwear for apr├Ęs ski after enduring clunky ski boots all day long.

Their vision was to create portable footwear that you can conveniently stash in a pack, and easily change into after a day on the slopes or at the office to stay “on the go” and well-equipped to face whatever fun situations life spontaneously throws your way. (The kigo gals - the three owners are all women - apparently love to have fun; it’s even spelled out right there in the logo.)

The company is still in its infancy, and the Shel is a debut product this year. There are a couple of small design elements I’m not crazy about - more on those as we go along - but kigo has created a fairly compelling and very affordable product that is certainly deserving of a closer look. And before mentioning any shortcomings of the shoe, it’s worth noting that the company is already looking at making revisions to the line for next year. But the current model still has a lot going for it – and with that, let’s look at some specifics:

kigo Shel

Kigo offers two styles of footwear: the Star, which is a female-specific sandal design, and the Shel, which is made for both men and women. The Shel’s minimalist outsole is on par with Vibrams: the toe and heel areas are 4.5mm thick, and the center region is only 1mm thick. There’s a removable insole, which I discarded for an improved ground feel and better fit. Overall weight of the shoe is 11oz, which is somewhat high for the minimalist footwear category; that number honestly surprised me, because the shoes feel very light on my feet in everyday use.

Shels are unisex shoes, with proper sizing identified on the website and on the inside of the upper. It highlights one issue I had with them, which is more apparent from the top view …

The uppers of the Shel are fairly narrow, impinging my feet slightly on either side. As a general rule, women tend to have narrower feet than men, so the width might not be a problem for females. I have pretty standard-width feet, and the slim design was noticeable to me, so if you’re a guy with wide feet, this probably isn’t an ideal shape for you. The uppers also seemed a bit shallow for my comfort – in fact, it was a bit of a struggle to get the shoes on initially – but this improved significantly after I removed the insole. Getting rid of the insole also helped a problem I noticed in the heel area, where the low profile upper would slip off my foot occasionally while running.

The upper is supposed to stretch with continued use, and I’ve found this to be true, but not to the point where I don’t notice the narrowness. The material feels very comfortable against my skin (I’ve always gone sockless in these), and is much more breathable that it appears.

A few other aspects of the upper are worth mentioning: it’s made primarily of a material called CYCLEPET, which is composed entirely of post-consumer plastic products like old milk jugs or Gatorade bottles. It has a water and stain resistant coating that somehow remains fairly well ventilated. I was quite impressed with the airiness of the shoe, even while hiking or running.

The CYCLEPET material is also the most visible display of kigo’s strong environmental consciousness throughout the entire manufacturing process. Other components of the Shel reflect this as well: the lining of the upper is post-consumer textile fabric, all adhesives are water-based, and even the stain resistant coating (Unidyne TG-521, for you lab geeks) is designated as eco-friendly and EPA approved. There’s a lot of technology packed into a seemingly simple design.

The strength of kigo footwear may be its outsole, made of molded carbon and shaped into two fingerprint-style whirls at the forefoot and heel. It’s a high-grip puncture-resistant material that worked remarkably well on all kinds of terrain. In addition to some road running, I’ve worn the Shels on trail runs and short hikes – and from a traction standpoint, they perform better than either Vibrams or Feelmax on loose dirt or other sketchy terrain.

The outsole is thin in the middle, allowing the shoe to fold upon itself. There’s a small hook on the front tip of the shoe, and a small Velcro loop on the heel, which attach to each other in the closed position and compress the shoes for easier portability. This is a patent-pending closure system, and it seems to be a main focus of kigo’s marketing … but I have to confess that it seems like a bit of a gimmick to me.

The thing is, these shoes are already sleek and lightweight; if I squeeze the left and right shoes together with the uppers in the middle and the outsoles like sandwich bread on either side, I can compress the shoes pretty darn small. I do exactly this with my Vibrams whenever I pack them along with me, and it works just as well with kigos. Considering that, the space savings that you get by folding each shoe in half seems questionable; so while the folding trick is certainly a unique feature, I don’t know exactly how functional it is.

As you might be able to tell, during the course of field testing the Shel I went back and forth several times between mild disappointment and extreme excitement over them. The design quirks I’ve described prevent this from being my every day, all the time footwear, but I really enjoy them as a general purpose, all-terrain minimalist shoe. One of kigo’s directors has told me that next year’s manufacturing run will feature wider lasts, which would be a wonderful improvement. In the meantime, the current model is still an attractive option for a large variety of users.

Considering that it wasn’t originally intended as an athletic shoe, the Shel has come remarkably close to the perfect combination of design, comfort, and durability for minimalist runners. I think it has tremendous potential to become the “one finger” alternative that many barefooters are looking for, at a price point that is extremely attractive.

The Kigo Shel typically retails for $50 from the company website, and between now and Thanksgiving (11/26), you can get them for 20% off. Enter coupon code gokigo20, and the discount is credited on the final checkout page. In the realm of eco-friendly, durable, comfortable footwear, it’s a very low cost of entry.

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


shel 11/17/09, 1:43 AM  

donald, stunned that there is yet MORE minimalist shoes to review... these look great, but from the top i can tell they'd be too narrow for me. i hope that they get you an updated pair and that the changes are all good. they look like my teva protons... which you might do well to test. if you can't get your hands on a proton, you could try the teva "sling king" (the updated version) and see what you think. they are my favorite new trail shoes and should be great for winter.

No Reason Michael 11/17/09, 10:09 AM  

I have yet to try barefoot or minimalist running, but I'm attracted to the idea. I'm yet another runner with flat feet and ankles that roll in. I've typically used motion control shoes with arch supports, but I'm beginning to question the their effectiveness.

Dave 11/17/09, 12:25 PM  

Ok...flashback to previous post on shoe reviews...you know the one with the hot chick on the surfboard...wasn't that a review for Sanuk's...I think....I do remember there was a hot chick on a surfboard....did I mention that....anyway. I tried some of those on at REI...and they went straight to my Christmas list. It is easier than putting that chick who was on a surfboard on the list and the wife doesn't have a problem buying the shoes...as opposed to the other thing....;-)

Hilary,  10/25/10, 8:00 AM  

Thanks for all your reviews. I do about half my miles in the open-top fivefingers, and am looking for something that will allow me to wear wool socks for cold weather. This is the first place I've found to get really good advice about a range of options. Keep it up!

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