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May 12, 2010

VivoBarefoot Evo Running Shoe Review

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.)

VivoBarefoot Evo

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.

Micro-fiber mesh with TPU overlay

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.

Padded heel collar

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.

Standard lacing and tongue on uppers

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.

Raised honeycomb outsole

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 info@runningandrambling.com.


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Bob 5/13/10, 6:27 AM  

Thanks, Donald...been looking forward to your review of the Evo's. I got mine in the initial release and loved them. I was a VFF KSO user, but now I've switched over exclusively to the Evo's. And, yes, the only issue I've had with these has been the rubbing on one big toe (even with socks). Some moleskin solved that problem. On another topic, will you be reviewing the VFF Bikila's at some point? Always enjoy your reviews!

Donald 5/13/10, 3:51 PM  

Bob - Glad you like the Evos. I'm on the list for a pair of Bikilas as well, but I'm not sure what the timing will be. They're in pretty high demand right now as well.

Rick Gaston 5/13/10, 5:52 PM  

Wow I really like the way these shoes look, the treads too. You're right though, at $160 they are on the expensive side and a game stopper for many, myself included. Quite a lot of money for less shoe.

Kevin 5/13/10, 6:08 PM  

How would you say these compare to the Run-a-mocs? Is it really worth the extra money for the Evos? I could get 2 pairs of Run-a-mocs for about the same price as 1 of the Evos.

Donald 5/13/10, 9:38 PM  

Kevin: the big differences I see are these ...

Evos feel like a shoe on your foot (more snug, conventional upper), while the RunAmocs feel like a moccasin (looser fit, unconventional styling).

Evos have very similar ground feel to mocs with trail soles, but not as much as mocs with street soles.

Evos seem more durably built, and I anticipate they'll hold up longer than the mocs, but this remains to be seen.

Evos are better ventilated and dry more rapidly.

Evos feel better for fast running, but mocs are more comfortable for cruising.

Feel free to ask other specific questions; this might become a whole separate post. Thanks for the idea!

Kevin 5/14/10, 4:03 AM  

Donald which shoe would you suggest for a new minimal runner specifically which would help achieving proper running mechanics?

Also would you suggest the street or trail sole in the Run-a-mocs relating to the above question.


Donald 5/14/10, 8:56 AM  

Kevin: between the two options we've discussed, if your primary option is to learn proper barefoot/minimal mechanics, I'd recommend the RunAmoc with a 2mm street sole. The Evos (and RunAmocs with trail soles) are a bit thicker, so you lose a percentage of the ground feel and sensory feedback you get with the thinner sole.

Eric H,  5/16/10, 8:08 PM  

Great review as always, I've even bought a few pair of running shoes due to them, but $160 is hard to chew when one of the reasons I went to barefoot and minimalist shoe running is to get away from the the $$$ running shoes. Terra Plana makes a very nice shoe I have a pair of Oaks and Dharmas I wear to work and when a little nicer shoe is required by the wife, both shoes are great. If Terra Plana happen to give out another discount code to be used on the EVOs maybe, but at $160 I'll pass.

abby,  6/3/10, 5:34 AM  

hi donald. i just bought my evos and immediately ran in them for 7k. i experienced the ff pains: pain on my left foot arch, top of left big toe bled, and my calves are killing me. tell me are all these normal? i used to run in nike frees 5.0. thanks!

Donald 6/3/10, 10:12 PM  

Abby - the calf pain is certainly normal for starting with minimalist shoes, and the big toe pressure point is similar to what I had in the Evos, which has resolved a bit over time. Your arch pain might be an adjustment that takes time as well.

Despite their advertising, the Nike Frees really aren't anything like a true minimalist shoe, so there will definitely be an adjustment period when switching to Evos. Be patient and stick with it!

Rachael 6/6/10, 10:46 PM  

Hi!I have been looking forward to your reviews on Evo's.I Really Liked the way these shoes look.Thanks for the post

BRIAN 6/9/10, 7:22 AM  

Good review Donald. I have been trail and road running in VFF KSO Trek's for about two months now, and love, love, love them! Just wondering how these Evos compared to the KSO Treks for you. Thanks.

Donald 6/14/10, 9:04 AM  

Brian: they're very comparable, aside from the obvious fingers vs toe box difference. Ground feel is similar, ventilation and breathability are similar. The Treks have better traction on trails for sure, but the Evos are a better general all-purpose shoe.

will Kimbrough 6/16/10, 6:33 AM  

The price is a big bummer for me. I am very happy running barefoot. Occasionally I need something minimalist to wear when I travel to a city with extra nasty streets or when I run on trails. But $160? Bummer for the salt of the earth runner---won't be buying. My Softstar moccasins have been very nice. Cheers, if you're going minimal, at least TRY barefoot, even if it's just for a walk.

Greg 6/17/10, 10:37 AM  

Thanks for the review. I am not a runner but a walker and traveler. Which Vivo shoe would you recommend for active walking? Thanks.

Donald 6/17/10, 9:57 PM  

Greg: the Evo might still be a good choice for walking, since it's a lot more ventilated and has more of an athletic shoe fit than other VB models. Otherwise, the Aqua seems to be the most popular model, but I don't have a pair, so I can't give you too much detail on them. Of the three "casual" shoes I have (Oak, Dharma, Lesotho), I'd say the Oaks are the most comfortable for being on your feet all day. But I think I'd still recommend the Evo.

Max Mosesman 9/22/10, 11:11 AM  

Great Review. Have you thought about trying CROSS COUNTRY ROAD FLATS/SPIKES???

Hannah 3/1/11, 1:53 PM  

I just got the Evos a week ago and started out doing 3 miles in them the first 2 days and I LOVE them. I was instantly sore in my calves to the point where it hurt to walk and took a day off, i started up again the following day and the pain was still there. I have taken 3 days off and the soreness is gone but I still have a lingering sharp pain in both calves (more noticeable in my left) is this normal? I'm worried I may have strained something. The pain is high up in my calf. I used to run in the Nike Frees like Abby and thought itd be an easy transition. I don't have patience and I hate taking time off, I'm ready to run again.. what should I do?

Donald 3/1/11, 8:59 PM  

Hannah: yes, that soreness is normal, and you have to transition extremely slowly with any minimalist footwear. Work it into your regular routine very gradually, and look online for training advice (RW barefoot forum is great) if you want detailed instructions.

Omar BERGES 2/19/12, 4:25 PM  

Any idea on a modification to soften the upper crease in the toebox so that it doesn;s disturb the toes?

Patrick,  4/20/12, 1:20 AM  

I got these two months ago. Love 'em but I hate 'em...First of they totally got me back into running. Pretty much pain free than from traditional running. Second, I've gone through two pairs. The microfiber cloth has been tearing. The first time at the crease, the second along the base of the outside of the shoe. Both of them happened within a month of wearing them. The first time I wore them every day. Second, I only wore them during runs and working out. Luckily the store was willing to replace them, but the store shouldn't have to replace them again, if this appears to be a manufacturing problem.

Was wondering if anyone else had this problem.

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