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August 31, 2011

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail First Impressions Review

Shortly after running last fall’s Firetrails 50-miler, I had an extended e-mail conversation with the US Operations Director for VIVOBAREFOOT about the Evo shoes I wore in that race. In particular, she was gathering feedback about how the shoes performed, and how future models could be modified to specifically address the needs of long-distance trail runners.

What follows is an excerpt from our exchange – heavily edited, of course, because you know I can get carried away when talking about this stuff sometimes …

**
VB rep: When you were discussing the section of the race with downhill, large rocks and loose footing you mentioned it was the trickiest part for you in your Evos. What features would you like to see us incorporate into our footwear to assist with this terrain?

Me: I'd love to see an outsole with a more aggressive tread pattern, perhaps with some shallow knobs like other minimalist trail shoes on the market. Another outsole feature that's really effective is angled lugs in the heel region, directed forward to help braking upon impact, which occurs when trying to control your speed on those steep downhills.

VB rep: Hmm … this is very interesting, and the requests you have made fit with our new styles launching Fall/Winter 2011. We have several exciting prototypes in the works.


**
Flash forward 10 months, to when a box from VIVOBAREFOOT arrived on my doorstep a couple of days ago. I knew what was inside, and I was excited to try it right away.

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail

It was the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail, the company’s new model specifically geared towards trail runners. They had told me it was on the way, and honestly, I couldn’t wait to get my feet on them.

I also couldn’t wait to report on them, so I’m going to review the shoes here in two parts: a first impressions post now, and a more in-depth review after I’ve logged some serious mileage on them. For the purposes of this post, everything I’m reporting is based on my initial “unboxing” observations and a single 12-mile trail run the day after they arrived.



The first thing I thought when looking over the Neo Trail was that it just looks like a trail running shoe. From 10 feet away, I imagine most people will have a hard time distinguishing it from something Vasque or Montrail would make. From an aesthetic standpoint, this is kind of cool – and I suspect it will dramatically reduce the number of “Hey, what are you wearing on your feet?” comments that I got at ultras last year in my Evos. Instead, these shoes will just blend right in with the crowd.

Whether that’s a good development or not is up to you, I suppose. I think this is generally a positive thing; my ideal “end point” of this whole minimalist revolution would be for minimalist shoes to be accepted as just another style preference, rather than being marginalized as the domain of freaks and idealists.  In that regard, the Neo Trail represents huge step in the right direction.


Aggressive outsole lugs

Obviously, I was eager to see the outsole, and I have to say that VIVOBAREFOOT went all-in as far as making it trail-ready. The entire surface is covered with 4mm lugs … and they’re angled! Forward in the heel, backward in the forefoot, just like I would have done if I were designing it myself. I’m curious to see how durable they are … but by appearances, the Neo Trail jumps right to the head of the pack when it comes to outsoles that can handle gravel, mud, snow, or any kind of technical terrain. Needless to say, I’m going to have fun testing these.


Insole in top shoe, removed on bottom

The lugs sit on top of a 2.5mm base outsole, which makes the total standing height of the outsole 6.5mm. There’s also 3mm of insole height which is removable – so your total standing height is either 6.5mm or 9.5mm. This is higher than either the Evo or Neo, which each have a 4mm outsole plus a removable insole, but that’s the tradeoff of having super knobby lugs.


Natural flexibility

The entire shoe is still super flexible, allowing your foot to move naturally in any direction it needs to. However, a more substantial outsole also leads to more substantial weight: the Neo Trail weighs in at nearly 13oz with the insole, or 12.5oz without. (Note: these specs are according to the website, but I’m almost certain that they’re wrong, because the shoe doesn’t feel nearly that heavy. I’ll get this spec confirmed and report back.) (**UPDATED:  the weight is 10.5oz with the insole, 10oz without.)  By comparison, the Evo is 8 oz, and the regular Neo is 9.5 oz. Unfortunately, this is an aspect where being comparable to Vasque and Montrail definitely isn’t a good thing, and if the weight spec is accurate, it would be my biggest disappointment with the Neo Trail.


Closed mesh uppers

One other drawback is that the closed mesh of the upper isn’t as breatheable as I’d like. It’s a hydrophobic material intended to repel water, but from my experience, it’s impossible to avoid water while trail running, and I much prefer something that gets wet easily but dries easily as well. I suspect the Neo Trail will be great for cold winter trails, but not as comfortable for drainage and drying after stream crossings on hot summer runs. Obviously, this is something else I’m anxious to test.

From a comfort standpoint, the Neo Trail felt great on my initial run. A bit of ground feel is sacrificed with the rugged outsole, but because the overall flexibility is maintained, I still felt like it was easy to keep proper form and run gently. The fit of the last seems slightly wider in the heel region than the Evo or Neo, and my VB rep confirmed that this is indeed a different last. Otherwise, the feel of the upper against your foot is the same as other VIVOBAREFOOT models, and would be equally comfortable with socks or bare skin.

Needless to say, I have to put a lot more miles on the Neo Trail before coming to any definitive conclusions about their overall merit compared to the ever-expanding category of minimalist trail runners. I have high expectations for this shoe, which clearly appear to be met in some ways – primarily the design of the outsole – and lacking in others such as weight and ventilation. I’ll report back here later in the fall once I’ve given them a proper, thorough testing.

In the meantime, the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail is now available for $130 from the company website. If you decide to get a pair or if you’ve already tried them out yourself, feel free to share your opinion in the comments below.

*
Related reviews:

VIVOBAREFOOT Evo running shoe

VIVOBAREFOOT Evo II running shoe

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo

*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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18 comments:

Anonymous,  9/1/11, 6:10 AM  

Nice review on this shoe. Everything you wrote makes me want to try it but the $130 price. I'm not a minimalist but enjoy my Kinvaras.

Perhaps there is a lot of R&D that goes into these? I'm hoping that once they are more popular economies of scale will help bring prices down.

Theo 9/1/11, 6:46 AM  

Looks like the Vivobarefoot Breath O Trail will solve all of your concerns about this shoe.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150253775691987&set=a.10150253013251987.319706.9815486986&type=1&theater

.:Ash:. 9/1/11, 7:07 AM  

As Theo pointed out, the Breath version of the shoe will be more appealing to those of us who prefer a shoe that allows water to flow in and out completely.

Thanks for relaying this first impression review. I'm fond of this multi-part review format, myself, since it's so easy for us to become enamored with a new shoe right away before really putting it to the test. So, the first impression post followed later by a such-and-such miles review is definitely a helpful way to describe the pros and cons of a particular shoe.

I'll look forward to your follow-up review on this one in the future. It looks like it'd be a fun shoe.

Donald 9/1/11, 8:04 AM  

Theo: Right on - thanks for the link. I've definitely got my eye on the Breatho (apparently all VB running models have to end in O, huh?). It's probably lighter as well.

Justin_P 9/1/11, 10:07 AM  

Thanks for the review, Donald!

They look pretty cool, but like most other Vivo models, they're too heavy for me to even consider them.

David 9/1/11, 10:13 AM  

Weight aside, how do these compare to the Merrell Trail Gloves? I wore the Trail Gloves for a muddy/hilly/rocky 40miler, and my feet got beat up pretty good from slipping and sliding into rocks. I don't imagine the Neo Trail has more 'protection' (kinda goes against the Vivobarefoot philosophy), but I'm hoping it has superior grip for slick terrain.

Anonymous,  9/1/11, 10:17 AM  

No rock plate = no way I'm going to buy these. My UT trails are too rocky.

I pick my line carefully, but excruciating pain is still very probable with no rock plate. No thanks.

Is this a deal breaker for anyone else?

jared

Julie 9/1/11, 1:37 PM  

If these shoes have mud traction even sort of close to the La Sportiva Crosslites, I'm psyched. All the really good mud shoes I know of are super heavy (unacceptably so for me) and this looks like the first "lightweight" one that has a chance of comparing traction-wise. Let us know! Please vivobarefoot I hope you designed real mud traction!

Aaron,  9/1/11, 6:42 PM  

Looking at the Neo Trail, I'm have a hard time figuring out what could make it so heavy. If I had to guess its weight, I'd go for somewhere between 9.5 and 10oz.

Julie, the Inov8 X-talon 190 is a good light-weight mud shoe. My pair at size 10.5 US actually weighed less than 9oz on our digital mail scale at work.

Donald 9/1/11, 9:44 PM  

David: Not sure yet how they compare to Merrell in rough conditions - that's one of the things I'll start testing soon.

Julie: the outsole reminds me quite a bit of the Crosslite outsole, and I'm hoping the perofmrnce is the same.

Aaron: weight was confirmed at 10.5 oz with the insole. (Post is updated.) The weight comes from a thicker outsole and thicker upper material between closed mesh and suede overlays.

Pete Larson 9/2/11, 6:12 AM  

Great initial review Donald. Got a pair as well, but haven't had a chance to run in them yet. Like you, I'm glad Vivo has made a shoe that will blend a bit more into the crowd - the Neo is solid runner, but looks more like a casual work shoe to me.

As for weight, I can confirm that my Neo Trails in size 10 weight in at 9.7 oz with the insole, 9.3 oz without.

Aaron,  9/2/11, 9:07 AM  

10-10.5 sounds much better. I had trouble staying out for very long last winter, so I might get these for the heavier upper material.

mr.dykes 9/2/11, 10:23 AM  

great review, thanks for that. I am wondering if anyone could help me with a question on fit. So, I have several pair of Aqua's size 43. I love the fit, length is just right and width in the toe box is perfect. A few months ago I ordered a pair of the Neo also size 43 and they were easily a size too long and the toe box was too narrow for my taste even being 1 size too big. So my question is, how does the sizing of the Neo Trail compare to the regular Neo? Toe box width about the same? Can I expect the same size length discrepancy between them and the Aqua? From the pics it looks like the toe box may be a bit wider. Thanks much.

Julie 9/2/11, 11:34 AM  

Aaron, I like Inov8, that shoe in particular, but as far as i can tell its not on par with the crosslite for clay mud situations (the inov8 seems to work good on new england mud, or dirt mud, but not clay mud...is that a california evil?). The wedge shaped lugs seem to be extra special for some reason.

Jon 9/3/11, 1:16 PM  

I have been looking Into buying a pair of barefoot runners as I have been wearing either really low profile simple shoes or bare feet over the past few years but I want something I can beat up a bit. I want them mainly for trail running/hiking but will for sure also be using them for more in the city runs when I don't have time to leave (usually consisting of a mix of sidewalk,road, small bits of trail and grass) I have been looking at either the merrell trail or true gloves or the vivobarefoot neo trails. I have tried on and like the fit of the merrell's and can buy them at a store where as the neos I will have to order online but if they are better it might be worth it. Any advice or feedback is greatly appreciated as I will be purchasing this week.

Jamie at VIVOBAREFOOT 10/14/11, 8:07 AM  

Thanks for the review.

Three of us from VIVOBAREFOOT HQ in London ran the Eden Project Half Marathon (which is half trails half road) in the Neo Trail last weekend. Loved it - http://ow.ly/6XsIQ

Anonymous,  11/9/11, 7:43 AM  

do these (or any of vivobarefoot's running shoes) have a heel counter, foot bridge, or any sort of posting/arch support? I'm hoping not, but can't tell for sure.

Donald 11/10/11, 9:42 PM  

Anon: there's a bit of structure to the heel, but none of the other things you mention.

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