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August 8, 2011

VIVOBAREFOOT Achilles Sandal Review

Considering that VIVOBAREFOOT’s new sandal is called the Achilles, there are two popular points worth mentioning about the greatest warrior in Greek history:

1) He was unanimously acknowledged as the most handsome of all the heroes in the Trojan Wars, and …

2) The heel thing.


In light of that, some folks might consider the name bestowed upon this sandal to be only 50% accurate; while there’s no doubt that the Achilles is open in the same region where the mighty warrior’s armor was vulnerable, the question of whether or not this sandal is handsome is certainly open to debate.

Do these shoes make me look Greek?

As a mater of fact, this exact debate took place within my own house as soon as I opened the package. My wife immediately thought they were one of the strangest things she’d ever seen – and not in a good way. I was a little more receptive, although I fully admit that they are unusual, and will attract some stares in the same way that wearing FiveFingers used to a couple of years ago. Overall I’ve grown pretty comfortable with the design, mainly because it’s intended for bare-bones functionality without any unnecessary flourishes, but still allows some higher level performance than you can experience from traditional huarache styling.

I should also make one disclaimer before moving forward: when it comes to running, I’m not much of a sandal fan. I spend 95% of my time off-road, and I don’t like stopping to remove debris that invariably slips between my feet and the insole surface. If I want to go super-minimalist, I’d rather go with a sock-like product that covers the whole foot rather than something that only covers the bottom half. After all, if I were willing to deal with pebbles and twigs and thorns against my skin, I may as well just go completely barefoot.

So when VIVOBAREFOOT labels the Achilles a multi-terrain running sandal, I’d take that description with a grain of salt. Over the past couple of months that I’ve tested it, I don’t find it ideal for multi-terrain, and I don’t really prefer it for running. However, I do consider it a highly functional, very durable walking sandal that would probably be perfect for hot summer days when the dirt or asphalt gets too hot to comfortably go barefoot.

Uppers of the Achilles are constructed from TPU material formed around a polyurethane footbed with the same wide anatomic last used on all VIVOBAREFOOT models. The perimeter of the last is flared slightly upward to cradle the foot, to limit the amount of debris that infiltrates the footbed, and to provide a margin of protection, especially at the front toes. There’s also a TPU bridge on the medial side intended to enhance balance reception at the ball of the foot.

The most noteworthy feature of the uppers is the molded split toe design that separates the big toe from the rest of the foot. I found this design to be quite comfortable for walking around, but somewhat problematic while running. Basically, when my foot flexed forward, the TPU at the base of my big toe and second toe created a pressure point that caused some chronic discomfort. My hope was that there might be a breaking-in period after which the material would soften or my foot would get accustomed to the feeling, but unfortunately neither of these things happened.

A fully adjustable and removable nylon strap helps secure the foot inside the upper. The strap has neoprene padding which sits very comfortably against the muscle tendon – and of course, the back of the heel remains open, just as it did on Achilles’s suit of armor. As far as ease of use goes, the straps prevent you from sliding your feet into these like you do with a pair of flip-flops, but it’s a far simpler process than tying a pair of laces on huarache-style sandals.

In general, the styling of the Achilles results in an outstanding fit, as the front of the sandal doesn’t catch on the ground, the footbed stays relatively close to the bottom of the foot, and the ankle strap prevents excess lateral movement on top of the footbed. However, proper sizing might be an issue for some users, as the Achilles is made in S-M-L-XL instead of the customary numeric sizing. Each letter size encompasses two number sizes (for example, medium equates to size 43 and 44), which means that some folks might find them slightly roomy or slightly snug. If they’re too big, you’ll probably drag part of the heel footbed behind you when stepping forward, and if they’re a little tight you risk rubbing your toes against the front of the TPU. Having said that, I’m a pretty true size 44 and the medium sandal fits quite well.

Another clear strength of the Achilles is the outsole, which is a mere 3mm thick, and is completely flat with no support mechanisms. The sole is puncture resistant and uses VIVOBAREFOOT’s trademark hexagonal tread pattern for traction. It’s an ideal combination of lightweight flexibility with enough protection and durability to take on virtually any activity. Even though I’m not running in my Achilles very often, I have no doubt that the outsole would be the equal of the VIVOBAREFOOT running models – primarily the Evo and Neo – that I use for all conditions on every kind of terrain.

Perfect flexibility and durability

Overall weight of the Achilles is 6.5 oz, which is more than many “slab of rubber and piece of string” styled sandals, but significantly less than VIVOBAREFOOT’s standard running models. (It’s also almost identical to the weight of a pair of Vibrams.) Just like the outsole, the weight represents a nice compromise as well, maintaining the lightweight feel of being barefoot with the minimal structure necessary to ensure long-term functional use.

Finally, the price of the Achilles is also a nice middle ground between the cheaper, less durable minimalist styles on the market, and the high-end performance models that some companies (VIVOBAREFOOT included) stick on their “better than barefoot” creations. The sandal retails for $60 from the VIVOBAREFOOT 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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Nate 8/8/11, 8:11 PM  

Have you tried InvisibleShoe.com's new Connect sole? It's great, as far as huaraches go, and they're easy to tie so you can slip in and out of them. They're what I've been wearing here on the Front Range of the Rockies.

Brandon Mulnix 8/9/11, 2:21 AM  

Ugly... I am not usually one for the look of shoes, but these remind me of 6-Pack Plastic. Meaning they are shaped and are plastic enough to hold together a 6 pack of beer. Just my first impressions.

MattDubs,  8/9/11, 6:56 AM  

While I like the VIVOBAREFOOT line overall, and style isn't exactly what they where aiming for here, did they have to make the front toe gap SO closely resemble a camel's 'toe' ?!

Kudos for innovative design, but I'm not sure they are there yet... Great review as always.

Kate 8/9/11, 7:20 AM  

Wow, when I saw the title of the post I was very excited.... until I saw the first picture. I'm a believer of having it all... function and style. Thanks for the all of the great info!

Neil Benson,  8/9/11, 8:39 AM  

I bought the Vivobarefoot Achilles sandals a couple of months ago and ran 8km in my first run in them. The moulded plastic bit between my toes rubbed off all the skin and it took a week to heal. I haven't wore them again and couldn't really recommend them to anyone else.

Juha Myllylä,  8/9/11, 10:31 AM  

I have size 45-46 and being size 45 they are bit large, 3cm of sole behind heel, but because I have long toes or the toe section of achilles is so short, my toes touch the front end. Just ordinary thong design of flip flops with that sole and that strap would have been better. :P

Andrew Brautigam 8/15/11, 5:28 PM  

A Camel Toe for your foot! How exciting... and gross.

Mervin,  3/5/12, 7:48 PM  

I did a total of 60km in these, over 4 runs, every time suffering from skin rubbed off on the top part of my foot where it touches the TPU material after 6km. That's the only complain.

Other than that, the sole is outstanding (much better than my Vibram) and these are fast.

I hope Vivo Barefoot will look into somehow improving the upper. Everything else is great.

Will Waterstrat 9/6/12, 6:29 AM  

I agree, these are totally goofy looking. They felt great walking around in them for a couple days. Went running in them for the first time yesterday, and wore a blister on the inside of my "index" toe. One foot was fine, the other rubbed raw, so I took them off and ran entirely barefoot. Think they might make OK flip-flops if they weren't so goofy. Oh well...

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