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January 19, 2011

Vibram FiveFingers Trek Sport Review

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.

Vibram FiveFingers Trek Sport

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.)

Trek Sport on L, KSO on R

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.

From above: a dead-ringer for the KSO

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.

Bikila on L, Trek Sport on R

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.

L to R: KSO, KSO Trek, Bikila, Trek Sport

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.

Front view of the heel pads (or lack thereof): Trek, Trek Sport, Bikila (L to R)

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.

Animal lovers rejoice!

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.

Trek on L, Trek Sport on R

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.

No trail too rough or rocky

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.)

Have fun - feel barefoot!

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.

Let them take you anywhere

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.

Sockless on a warm sunny day ... in January. I love California.

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 info@runningandrambling.com.

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JenniferLeah 1/20/11, 4:28 AM  

Another wonderful review--they are always so detailed and really give the readers true insight to a product. THank you!

I am once again so jealous of your beautiful Cali January :D

Happy Running

Rob 1/20/11, 4:29 AM  

Vegetarian Trek? hah, thats hilarius :-)
Rob, Fivefingers blog, Denmark.

wayne 1/20/11, 5:29 AM  

Ditto what's said above, excellent review. I have Trek Sports and love them, however your concern over durability of the upper is indeed warranted. Last week on a run, I stepped on a stick with my right foot, causing it to raise up and when I contacted it with the left as it was swinging through, the stick pierced through the upper, fortunately sliding between my foot and the shoe rather than into me. It was a fairly large diameter stick, not especially sharp, and sufficiently decayed that it broke off. Pretty sure this wouldn't have happened with the Treks or my RunAmocs.

wayne 1/20/11, 5:32 AM  

PS - My wife did a beautiful patch job, stitching the top back with yellow thread to match the Vibram logo. Durability a minus, but repairability a plus?

Chris 1/20/11, 7:22 AM  

Great review. I like my TrekSports. I'm one of those vegetarians that doesn't want to purchase leather (kangaroo or other animal hide) for my own pleasure. I'm glad Vibram has created a ton of models for different people and different needs. I can't compare the TrekSport to the KSO Trek, but they aren't as comfortable as the Bikila or KSO. They do provide better traction and protection. Good for trail ultras.

Anonymous,  1/20/11, 8:37 AM  

Naturally, my take-away from your excellent review is Eclecticism. You could have just started a new political movement to take the best ideas, stripped of idealogical, make-it-fit-my-world-view bias, and fashioned a new approach that works for communities and societies.
Thanks for the inspiration and trail-blazing.
Richard CV

Matt K @ GearGuide 1/20/11, 8:39 AM  

Fantastic review. Love the photos. I still can't bring myself to go the minimalist route, but you're definitely got me thinking I should give these a try. Thanks.

RD Jim 1/20/11, 4:15 PM  

Nice review Don. One of these days you need to post a photo of all the shoes you've been hording. With so many options it must be hard to get out of the house for a run. Me, on the otherhand, have 4 pair of vasque trail shoes that I rotate depending on how dirty I might get.

Andy 1/21/11, 12:55 PM  

Don, for reference, have you run in any of the Fivefingers that lack EVA padding - on trails or otherwise?

I have a pair of KSOs but tend to do most of my trail running in Sprints.

Eric H.,  1/22/11, 6:08 PM  

Hey Don, Did you find the Trek Sport to run a little short or feel small compared to the KSO, I have the KSO and purchaced the Trek Sport for a better trail running option and they just feel small compared to my KSO's they even look shorter.

Donald 1/23/11, 7:32 PM  

Andy: What I have is what you see above - so the thinnest pair I've used is the KSO. They were my best pair of trail runners before the Trek came along.

Eric H: I found the sizing comparable to the KSO, but perhaps slightly small in comparison to the Trek. I'm not sure how much variation there might be in any given size.

chulho 2/27/11, 8:08 PM  

so i'm between sizes for both trek and trek sport- 41 and 42. so my question is, did you observe any stretching with the leather on trek?

Donald 2/27/11, 10:20 PM  

Chulho: No, I haven't noticed any stretching with the leather Treks. I'm in between sizes as well, and I prefer to size up to accommodate when I want to wear socks.

david 3/5/11, 5:32 PM  

Sweet review. I just bought my first pair of VFF anything. I was going to go for the Trek, but in the end went with the Trek Sport, for the breathability, price, and deference to our marsupial trail running brethren down under. Admittedly, though, the Treks were a bit comfier than the Trek Sports (and the 'roo population is a bit out of control). Will report back any durability issues. Thanks again!

thegooch 3/20/11, 6:44 AM  

How do the Treks perform when running on pavement?

Donald 3/20/11, 11:08 PM  

Gooch: They perform just fine on pavement, but the nubs of the outsole wear down much more quickly on asphalt than on dirt. I typically try to keep my runs to a 2 miles or less on asphalt before hitting the trailhead.

Tom Thumb 3/22/11, 10:53 AM  

Nice review! I also own a pair and am more than happy with them... I'll ALWAYS own a pair of these...

David,  4/5/11, 10:11 PM  

I am looking to buy my first pair of VFF's and am debating on weather to get the KSO's or the Treksports. I am sixteen and spend a lot of time on both trails and pavement. My concern is that by getting the treksports I won't be able to feel the ground as well as I would in a pair of KSO's. If anyone can clear this up for me it would be greatly appreciated.

Iceman,  4/6/11, 1:50 PM  

I'm a teenager from Wisconsin who spends a lot of time outdoors taking advantage of the limited warm months and was debating whether to get the kso's or the sport treks. My question is about how much traction you really get with the kso bottom. Or if you lose a lot of ground feel with the trek sport. Thanks.

Donald 4/6/11, 6:56 PM  

David: For hybrid trail/road use, KSOs are probably the best. The traction knobs on the Treks or TrekSports will gradually wear down with repeated asphalt use.

Iceman: Traction with the KSOs isn't as good as the Treks, but it's still pretty good for all but extreme conditions. Ground feel with the Treks is only marginally reduced compared to KSOs.

Anonymous,  8/1/11, 1:23 PM  

my semi-daily running route goes from street/sidewalks to dirt trails and hills(both dirt and street/road) and i would like to know which VFFs would be best for this route.

Donald 8/1/11, 9:22 PM  

Anon: Check out the new Komodo Sport (and my review on the right sidebar) - that would be my recommendation.

Anonymous,  8/10/11, 4:23 PM  

Just took my Treksports on a 3 day backpacking trip through Desolation Wilderness. I used them to scramble the first 2 days then decided to do the descent from Mt. Tallac (3000 feet down scree and talus to Lake Tahoe) with a 40 lb pack with them on. Then traction down was phenomenal, and the extra padding and tread made a huge difference. They were actually more comfortable and supportive than my boots. I do suggest the socks though as well....more options and less sweat to penetrate the footbed.

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