Selling a product that’s in high demand is usually a good situation for a company to find itself in - but having something that’s in too much demand can be somewhat problematic as well. Just ask VivoBarefoot.
Since debuting its Evo running shoes in February, the company has scrambled to keep up with demand for them on both sides of the pond. Given that VivoBarefoot is based in the UK, customers in America were often at the end of the line when it came to availability. (And sometimes, as we’re accustomed to the dizzying speed of technology, information transfer, and virtually everything else in the digital age, we forget that mass transport of physical objects still takes a while. Most of VivoBarefoot’s US supply comes overseas by boat – and until someone invents the Bullet Ship, that process will continue to be a rate-limiting step.) It caused more than a bit of frustration both from customers who really wanted to try the Evo, as well as the company who was doing everything in their power to appease them.
Fortunately, VivoBarefoot is starting to catch up, and currently has a full supply of two colors – black and yellow – ready for purchase on its website, with a full restocking of colors in July. So now that they're actually available - for a while, at least - the timing seemed right for a standard review of my experience with the Evos thus far. (You can also click here if you missed my first loot at the Evo from March.)
The executive summary is this: I really, really like these shoes. I’ve put a lot of miles on them – at least 150 so far – in all sorts of conditions, and they may be the most dependable all-purpose minimalist shoes I’ve tested. There are a couple of minor fit issues that are noticeable but don’t impact performance or comfort (for me, anyway). They come with an expensive price tag, but if you’re looking for a single option to cover every possible scenario for minimalist running, the Evo is probably worth the investment. For a more detailed discussion, read on.
From a distance, the Evo looks like a standard running shoe; it features a mesh/synthetic upper with standard tongue and lacing mechanisms on top of a durable rubber outsole, just like a traditional trainer. If you were to show up at a race wearing these, chances are that 95% of the people wouldn’t notice anything different about your footwear.
This has always been VivoBarefoot’s trademark: making true “barefoot shoes” that allow natural motion and sensory feedback in styles that are fashionable in modern society. I use my Oaks as standard office wear, and the Lesothos can be worn in the most formal settings I’ll ever have to worry about. Likewise, the Evo blends in with the rest of the running shoe crowd; it’s only when you look at the details that the differences become prominent.
What looks like a honeycomb pattern on the top half of the Evo is actually a very thin micro-fiber mesh with a TPU plastic overlay, a material combination that maintains the upper’s shape while providing outstanding breathability. Water passes through easily, but drying time for the upper – with the exception of the heel - is typically only a matter of minutes after being submerged in stream crossings.
The rear of the Evo takes a little longer to dry due to a thin layer of padding at the heel collar, and a sockliner that maintains moisture a bit longer than the microfiber mesh. However, even in wet conditions, these two features make the Evo extremely comfortable right out of the box, and continuing for the life of the shoe. You may recall (from my first look post) that my 2nd run in these shoes was a hard-charging 13-miler; that run gave me a small friction spot below my ankle, but that was the only hotspot I’ve experienced in all my running since then, even on the days I’ve gone sockless. Like other VivoBarefoot models, the heel of the Evo is very low-profile, which minimizes weight while allowing full range of motion without restriction.
Another “looks normal but isn’t” aspect of the Evo is the standard lacing system on the upper. Like other shoes, the lacing allows you to fine tune the tightness of the upper to your preference. However, pulling the laces tight doesn’t compromise forefoot space or mobility, thanks to the Evo’s wide toe box. The resulting fit is something that’s snug through the bridge and arch of the foot, but roomy enough in front to let the toes spread out naturally upon foot strike. The secure fit of the upper also makes it easy to run track intervals or other speed work, and prevents your foot from sliding forward to the front of the toe box on steep downhills (an especially nice consideration for ultrarunners).
I mentioned a couple of quirks about the fit, and they both pertain to the upper. The main quibble I have is that a flexion crease near the front of the upper creates a slight pressure point across the top of my big toe on one side. I’ve also found that the base of the tongue area can place a bit of pressure on the top of the foot if the lacing is too tight. Both of these conditions have been minor annoyances for me when going sockless, but when I have socks on they’re not especially bothersome.
Below the foot, the Evo has VivoBarefoot’s standard thin insole that can be removed or retained depending on your preferred ground feel (I leave mine in). Without the insole, the thickness of material between your foot and the ground is 4mm, similar to the Oak or Lesotho models. Some barefoot purists consider this too thick, but I find the 4-5mm range (in Vivos as well as other brands) to be a nice balance between good ground feel and reliable protection and durability. The puncture-resistant outsole enables you to feel the all the pebbles and bumps in the road or trail, but there’s little to no discomfort even with sharp or pointy objects you encounter.
To current VivoBarefoot owners, the Evo’s outsole looks familiar, yet very different; it combines the outward-protruding honeycomb pattern of “old-school” models like the Aqua and Dharma, with the thickness of more aggressive treads on the Oak and Lesotho, and some very fine grooves to further improve grip. For road running, it’s more than enough traction than you’ll ever need – and on the trails, they hold up very admirably. After 150 miles, my treads are slightly worn down in the heels, but I don’t think it's unreasonable to expect that the outsole will hold up for several hundred miles or more. This is something I’ll continue to monitor and update.
While the Evo isn’t officially designed as a trail running shoe, since I’ve been ramping up my trail mileage like crazy this spring, I figured that I’d try to make it one anyway. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with its traction on loose gravel and rocky single tracks, as well as steep hills and sloppy stretches of mud. One noticeable drawback is that the outsole becomes slick when completely wet, such as feeling my way across large rocks on the bottom of a river crossing. In those conditions, they seem to slip more easily than standard trail running shoes – but for something that wasn’t really designed as a water shoe, it holds up fairly well.
The outsole is also a primary contributor to the overall weight of the Evo, which is 8.2oz - or 7.2oz if you take out the insole. While that’s fairly light for a running shoe, it’s at the higher end of true minimalist shoes. Based purely on weight, the Evo is “more shoe” than its competitors, but its design and construction provide a bit more protection on the top of the shoe (compared to Vibram and Soft Star) and underfoot (compared to Feelmax); whether that’s a point in its favor or not is up to you.
For most folks, the big decision about the Evo will inevitably be the price point of $160. Obviously, it's expensive. VivoBarefoot (and its parent line, Terra Plana) is known for high quality materials, dependable construction, outstanding durability, and socially responsible business practices – all of which influence the retail price of the products they sell. It’s a company I feel good about supporting - yes, I’ve paid out of pocket for their shoes in the past – and I’ve been extremely happy with the longevity of all their previous models.
What you get in exchange for your money is a very comfortable, extremely well-built multi-purpose shoe that can be used on roads and trails, for track workouts or ultra training, in wet conditions or temperature extremes, which you can confidently expect to last you for at least several hundred miles. Simply put, there's a reason these things are in high demand. And if you want to try them soon, you might want to hurry; interest in the Evo hasn’t really slowed since the initial launch, and I would anticipate the current re-stock is bound to be short lived.
The VivoBarefoot Evo is now available for $140 from the Terra Plana website.
*Product provided by VivoBarefoot.
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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