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October 3, 2011

Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS Review

Even though I was looking forward to this product review, I confess that I was a little bit puzzled about what I should expect. Namely, I wasn’t sure if Vibram’s FiveFingers Trek LS would be a running shoe, hiking shoe, casual shoe, or general all-purpose sneaker.


Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS

Part of my confusion has to do with Vibram’s naming conventions, which have become a little hard to distinguish as the product line has expanded. Back when I first started reviewing FiveFingers, there were four models to choose from, each with a very distinct purpose. The KSO was the model of choice for most runners, until the leather KSO Trek was released and quickly became my favorite trail model. Then came the Trek Sport, which wasn't leather, but combined the old-school KSO material construction with the KSO Trek’s grippy outsole. And now comes the leather Trek LS, which trades the “KSO” moniker for the “LS” designation for Vibram’s laced models. See what I mean?

So here’s what you have with the Trek LS: a leather upper that’s styled more for casual use than for athletics – the company website describes it as a casual/comfort shoe - with the grippy outsole found on all Trek models, and a lace system that allows accessibility for a wide range of users. That’s the short version, at least – for the longer version, we’ll get to the review.



When they released the Bikila, I commented that Vibram had probably come as close as they possibly could to making something that looks like a normal running shoe. On a similar note, the Trek LS might be as close as Vibram can get to making a traditional casual shoe. Its appearance is similar to a stylish pair of loafers: they could be dressed up with khakis and a tie, could easily complement a pair of jeans, or stand on their own with a pair of shorts. If you’re one of those who has been curious to try Vibrams but wants to keep the “flashy oddball” aspect to a minimum, the Trek LS might be your best FiveFingers option yet.

My testing has consisted of a little bit of casual wear when the shoes were new – but soon I started taking them outdoors for hiking, and they were a great all-purpose shoe for my week of camping at Lava Beds National Monument. They’re durable enough for pretty much every test I’ve thrown at them, and they’ve now replaced my KSO Treks as my favorite hiking shoes.


Hiking in the lava beds.  On a related note ... yes, I've put on a few pounds since my 100-miler this summer.  Thanks for noticing.

And since the Trek LS is seemingly closest in design and function to the KSO Trek, let’s compare the two models to highlight some of the differences between them.


Trek LS on left, KSO Trek on right

Although they both use kangaroo leather, the look and feel of the uppers of the KSO Trek and Trek LS is dramatically different. The KSO Trek uses an extremely thin, stretchy, breatheable variety of leather, while the Trek LS is thicker, less breatheable, and has what Vibram calls a “distressed” look to it. (Incidentally, if you have issues with the use of kangaroo leather, I addressed this issue in my KSO Trek review, so instead of getting back on that soapbox, I’ll just direct you there.)



Another difference with the Trek LS uppers is seen at the toes, where the leather material covers all sides of the toes, rather than having a mesh material between the toes (you have to really zoom in to see it) on the KSO Trek. The all-leather pockets provide a bit more comfort and improved water resistance compared to the KSO Trek, as the area between the toes is usually the first point of water infiltration on most FiveFingers models.



The biggest difference in the uppers is the lacing feature of the Trek LS in comparison to the distinctive strap on the KSO Trek. As I’ve described in reviews of other LS models, laces allow the upper to be opened very wide, worn loosely, and able to accommodate a wider variety of foot types. All of those are upgrades in my book. The laces themselves are cotton, instead of the elastic speed laces that are on the Bikila LS and KomodoSport LS; considering the overall look of the shoe, this was a good call on Vibram’s part.

The heel collar of the Trek LS also has a bit of padding around it that isn’t present on the KSO Trek, which makes for a comfortable fit around the ankle. I wear socks with these whenever I’m hiking, but for casual use I often go sockless, and both the collar and interior surfaces are quite soft against the skin.



With the padded collar and thicker leather, the heel area of the Trek LS has a bit more structure than the KSO Trek. There’s also an extra Vibram logo there that wasn’t there before. Speaking of logos …



Is it just me, or is Vibram making an extra effort to label their products more extensively lately? Considering that the company is the target of more knockoffs and forgeries than perhaps any other shoe manufacturer, it’s completely understandable … but still, I’m hoping these things don’t start to look like NASCAR racers in a few years.



There’s also a logo on the outsole, which is identical to all of the Trek models in the FiveFingers lineup. It’s interesting to note how far the traction and durability of minimalist shoe outsoles has come recently; at one time, this Vibram pattern was one of the best on the market for minimalist off-road use. Then the New Balance Minimus came along, and Merrell’s Barefoot series trumped it (in my opinion), and Terra Plana introduced the Neo Trail … and now this Vibram outsole isn’t quite the cream of the crop anymore.

No problem with lava rock climbing

Outsole traction still quite good, with protection that is more than adequate for all sorts of trail conditions – but as long as the company is innovating so frequently, I’d love to see them raise their game a little bit with a super-grippy outsole pattern. It shouldn't be too much to ask - after all, Vibram makes the outsoles for both the New Balance and Merrell models mentioned above - but until then, this one will do just fine.



Standing height of the Trek LS is a total of 8mm: 4mm for the knobby outsole, with another 4mm coming from the EVA midsole. These are the exact same specs as the KSO Trek, so ground feel is pretty much identical.


KSO Trek on left, Trek LS on right

The outsole/midsole combination should theoretically have the same degree of flexibility - however, thanks to the thicker and more substantial upper, it’s harder to compress the Trek LS than the KSO Trek. Granted, none of us ever roll our feet up into balls like this, but the Trek LS does feel a bit more rigid overall than the KSO Trek. This is one of the few drawbacks of the Trek LS from a functional standpoint.

Somehow, the weight of the Trek LS actually comes out slightly less than the KSO Trek according to the Vibram website – 6.5oz for the Trek LS compared to 6.7 for the KSO Trek. With thicker leather throughout the uppers on the Trek LS, I would have guessed the opposite, but perhaps the strap on the KSO Trek accounts for the difference.


Completely tangential observation ... but does the look remind you of a baseball mitt?

Despite my initial confusion about this model, during my testing, two functional purposes of the Trek LS became clear. It would be a great multi-purpose casual shoe that could even pass in an office setting if you’re willing to push the fashion envelope a bit. My primary recommendation, however, would be to use it as a sturdy all-around minimalist shoe for hiking, camping, trekking, and assorted outdoor exploration. The price point for this model is higher than average for Vibram, but I anticipate that durability, either as a casual shoe or a hiking shoe, is strong enough to merit the investment.

The Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS retails for $140 from TravelCountry.com.



*Product provided by TravelCountry.com. Affiliate sales support Running and Rambling.
**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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3 comments:

Anonymous,  10/26/11, 10:35 AM  

How do you think this will be for winter running? I live in northern Minnesota and my regular Treks seem to be good to about -5F(with wool toe socks). I ran a winter 50k, and a few other longer run in them last year, but had issues with my toes getting wet.
Marcus

Anonymous,  11/1/11, 6:45 AM  

I too have owned both the KSO Trek and the Trek LS. The Trek LS is THE BEST 5 fingers model to date if your plan is to run on trails, grass, or any other activity where you are putting big stresses on the shoe...like running downhill around a corner....with a soaking wet shoe. Two reasons this shoe is better than all previous models. #1 - the shoe lace is not for style of the trek LS...the shoelace is to cinch that shoe snug against your foot for high stress activities. This shoe barely moves on your foot even when soaking wet and running downhill around a corner on a trail. Reason #2- I have blown through the big toe sidewall of the 4 pairs of five F's I have owned. The fabric between the toes cant handle the stress and the abraision from the sole of the 2nd toe wears a hole right through. The all-leather between the toes should fix this problem once and for all.

Anonymous,  6/26/12, 6:23 AM  

Does anyone have problems with the sole letting go from the leather? Mine are a month old and on many places the glue is not holding. Well nothing to it then to glue everything back together periodically :-(

All considered the shoes walk absolutely fine, perfect fit and really an all purpose shoe.

Jelger

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