There’s a philosophy of art and architecture called eclecticism, whose origins trace back to the ancient Greeks. The theory is that instead of holding rigidly to a specific format or set of rules, you combine the best elements of multiple styles to create a finished product that is both more functional and more aesthetically pleasing than any of the previous styles were individually.
I’m thinking that the design team at Vibram must be fans of eclecticism, because that’s essentially what they’ve demonstrated with the FiveFingers Trek Sport: it takes the best elements from a few previous FiveFingers styles, and combines them into a model that’s perhaps the company’s most attractive trail running option yet.
The Trek Sport is primarily a hybrid of the original KSO and the KSO Trek – which I use exclusively for hiking and trail running - but also incorporates elements of the wildly successful Bikila, which is my favorite minimalist road shoe. In light of that, the Trek Sport is probably best described in comparison to those other models. (My reviews of those previous models are linked in this paragraph, but I’ll list them at the end of the post as well.)
At first glance, the Trek Sport looks remarkably like the original KSO. It has roughly the same mesh upper, but this version contains abrasion-resistant Coconut Active Carbon, which is a common ingredient in performance fabrics due to its moisture transfer and natural odor resistance properties. It’s probably not enough to completely overcome the eventual “FiveFingers stench” that loyal users complain about, but it’s nice to see that Vibram is at least making the effort. The mesh has a very thin layer of padding at the top of the foot underneath the fastening strap. Like the KSO, the Trek Sport is extremely comfortable against bare skin, although I’ve usually been wearing them with socks this winter for a bit of extra warmth.
The strap system of the KSO and Trek is retained on the Trek Sport, and wraps completely around the heel. Vibram introduced a “heelless” strap on their Bikila model, and while I find the fit of my Bikilas perfectly comfortable, many Vibram users prefer the strap around the heel for a feeling of greater overall stability. For the irregular terrain of trail running, it’s probably a good call to retain the heel strap on the Trek Sport.
A closer look at the upper reveals some details that are pulled from the Bikila. On the Trek Sport, Vibram has done away with the dual toe seams that were found on the KSO, which proved to be a problem area, particularly with splitting of the big toe seam (you can faintly see the tear in my pair three photos above), and replaced them with the single panel toe construction of the road model. The protective TPU reinforcements that debuted on the Bikila are also on the Trek Sport, covering more surface area on each toe than they do on the Bikila.
Behind the heel, the Trek Sport uses a high Achilles pad like the one introduced on the Bikila. The heel pad is slightly lower, slightly thicker, and a bit more rectangular on the Sport than on the Bikila, and it represents a significant distinction from the KSO Trek, which doesn’t have any Achilles padding. I found the pad to be very comfortable while still allowing full range of motion, so this is a nice improvement from the Trek to the Trek Sport. There’s also a tiny reflector on the outside heel of the Trek Sport, but it’s primarily a stylistic flourish, and you certainly shouldn’t expect to stop traffic with it.
Another important note about the Sport Trek upper is that it’s not made of kangaroo leather. When the Trek was first released, it triggered some engaging discussion among Vibram customers about the material choice of the upper. I discussed this at length in my Trek review, and my opinion is that using kangaroo leather isn’t a big deal. Nevertheless, when the Trek Sport was first described, some folks heralded it as the “Vegetarian Trek”. Obviously, there are enough design differences in the two models to distinguish them for more pertinent reasons, but if you have an issue with wearing leather … then yeah, go ahead and consider this your Vegetarian Trek.
Below the upper, the Trek Sport is nearly identical to the Trek platform: there’s a 4mm EVA midsole with an antimicrobial microfiber lining through the insole area, and a 4mm cleated outsole underneath.
In all the miles I've logged in my KSO Trek and Trek Sports, I've found this outsole more than capable of taking on the most challenging terrain. These models sacrifice a bit of flexibility compared to the podded outsole of the Bikila, but on rocky and technical trails, that’s a compromise I’m happy to make.
Like all of my FiveFingers models, the overall fit of the Trek Sport is virtually perfect – it truly feels like a glove that wraps around my foot, and stays in place remarkably well on the steepest hills and roughest trails. The natural motion and barefoot feel of these shoes across all conditions is exceptional; in my opinion this remains one of Vibram’s main strengths in the increasingly crowded minimalist footwear market. The only potential limiter in this equation is the Trek Sport’s weight, which at 6.5oz is heavier than the Bikila (6.0oz) or KSO and Trek (5.7 each) – it’s not a huge difference, but when the goal is true barefoot feel, it’s a difference in the wrong direction.
(I should probably point out that the Trek Sport is still lighter than my two other favorite minimalist trail runners, the 8-oz Terra Plana Evo and the 6.9-oz Soft Star RunAmoc. So yes, I’m nitpicking this point … but I feel like I need something to complain about. It’s my nature.)
Remember how I said you might think of the Trek Sport as the Vegetarian Trek? Well, you can also think of it as the Affordable Trek, because at a retail price of $100, it’s precisely in line with what you’d pay for a good pair of trail runners. And as I’ve mentioned in other FiveFingers reviews, you aren’t bound by the same 500-mile rule invented by the shoe cartels, so there’s every reason to expect this footwear to last for as long as the outsole provides traction and the upper stays in one piece.
That last point begs the question of whether I’d recommend the Trek Sport over the Trek for dedicated trail runners – and predictably, the answer depends on what your intended use is. My initial reaction is to say that the super-durable kangaroo leather of the KSO Trek is better suited for hardcore trail conditions: places where you might be bushwhacking, rock scrambling, tromping through thick ground cover, and so on. The mesh upper of the Sport is abrasion-resistant, but my gut feeling is that it won’t hold up to the same conditions for as long or as well as the leather version. Having said that, I’ve logged over 100 miles on my Sports, and I haven’t seen any signs of deterioration – so this is something I can report back on if it becomes an issue.
I’d also give a slight advantage to the leather Trek in terms of comfort against bare feet, as the kangaroo upper feels amazingly soft against the skin. However, if you typically wear socks with your Vibrams, this is something of a moot point. From a thermoregulation standpoint, the leather Trek has decent breatheability, and insulates your foot much better from the cold. I’ve found the Sport to be extremely breatheable but not as good at insulation – so for warm weather, the Sport would be a better choice, but in cool conditions, I’d stick with the Trek.
And then there’s the matter of cost: the Trek Sport retails for $25 less than the leather Trek. That’s not a small point for people nowadays – and aside from the conditions I’ve mentioned above, you’ll probably have a tough time finding a performance difference.
In the final analysis, it’s very easy to recommend the Trek Sport, which represents eclecticism at its finest: it takes the best features of previous models, and combines them with everything that already works about this innovative line of footwear to make something truly outstanding. If you’re a dedicated trail runner or hiker who doesn’t chronically submit your footwear to unusually harsh conditions, the Trek Sport is a very compelling choice for everyday use.
The Vibram FiveFingers Trek Sport retails for $100 from TravelCountry.com, as well as other online vendors.
See related reviews here:
Vibram FiveFingers KSO review
Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek review
Vibram FiveFingers Bikila review
*product provided by Vibram USA
**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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