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October 31, 2011

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail Follow-Up Review

“The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”
- from Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Longtime readers will note that it’s been a while since I fawned over my favorite author, which honestly is probably good news for all of us. However, it’s worth noting that most of the crazy little principles of social dynamics he dreams up tend to hold fairly solid with real-world application.

Case in point is my review of VIVOBAREFOOT’s Neo Trail shoe this summer, which I composed after taking all of one run in them. If I had to give you a one-sentence synopsis of the shoe at that time, I would have said something like this: rugged minimalist trail shoe, a little too heavy and hot for my liking, but probably great for hardcore conditions.


Well, guess what? After logging about 150 miles on them – as well as some unorthodox use that I’ll explain in a second - here’s my synopsis of the shoe: rugged minimalist trail shoe, a little too heavy and hot for my liking, but certainly great for hardcore conditions. That is to say, I changed all of one word. But since I’m too compulsive to post a review of just one sentence, I’ll throw in some additional insights to make this post worth your price of admission.

And in case you needed reminding (and were too lazy to click the link to my review above), here are the vital specs for the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail:

*  Weight: 10.5 oz with the removable insole, 10.0 oz without
*  Outsole: 4mm directional lugs on top of 2.5mm base
*  Standing height: 9.5mm with removable insole, 6.5mm without
*  Upper: hydrophobic closed mesh

With that in mind, let’s breakdown my little synopsis one part at a time, starting with …


The upper material on the Neo Trail is super-durable, to the point of seeming virtually puncture-and tear-resistant. I had a unique opportunity to test their ruggedness while exploring caves at Lava Beds National Monument, which requires a lot of commando crawling to worm your way through narrow passages of irregular, jagged, occasionally sharp lava rock.

Crawling through lava tunnels

We went caving each day of our trip, and on the first day I wore my Vibram Trek LS, which performed just fine, but the leather became very scuffed and scratched. My son wore a pair of New Balance Minimus, and by the end of the trip the uppers were torn to shreds. On the second day we ventured into the caves, I switched my Vibrams for the Neo Trail, and it was the best decision I could have made. The uppers took a substantial beating over several days and held up remarkably well, emerging completely intact without any evidence of ripping. I can’t think of a more challenging test than that.

Of course, that ruggedness comes with a tradeoff, as I’ll describe in a minute. Meanwhile, continuing the synopsis …


I’ll make this part quick: every awesome feature of VIVOBAREFOOT shoes is present in the Neo Trail. Flat, low-profile, outstanding ground feel, flexible in all directions … the company knows what they’re doing here. Enough said.

Thick, angled outsole lugs 

Trail Shoe

Aside from the rugged upper, the outsole truly defines the Neo Trail as a trail-ready shoe, built to handle a wide variety of harsh off-road conditions. In my first impression review I described how the angulation of the lugs is different in the heel and forefoot to help with traction on steep hills, and the depth of the lugs allows you to shed mud or slush easily. Sure, you could use this shoe on the road, but that would be as much out of place as driving an ATV down Main Street.

Too heavy

This is the biggest drawback for me about the Neo Trail: it’s just too heavy for me to use for ultrarunning. When I’m running 50 miles or more, I want to carry as little excess weight as possible. The Neo Trail is 10 oz – by comparison, my Soft Star RunAmocs are 6oz, and most Vibrams are in the 6 to 7oz range. After enough miles, those few ounces make a big difference. When it comes to VIVOBAREFOOT models, I’d rather take on an ultra in my 8-oz Evos (as I did last year) than in the Neo Trail, and sacrifice improved traction for lighter weight.

Too hot

This is the tradeoff for having a practically bulletproof upper; you lose the ventilation that a more open mesh construction provides. Whether this is a good feature or not is a matter of personal preference and intended use; if you need a water-resistant upper for cold-weather use, the Neo Trail is awesome. If you like your trail shoes breatheable and water permeable to drain efficiently, look elsewhere. I happen to be in the breatheable/drainable camp, but that shouldn’t impact your own decision-making. Remember, I’m a warm-weather California boy.

Great for hardcore conditions

Many of my running miles were logged at Lava Beds National Monument, where the trails are strewn with lava rocks of all shapes and sizes, some visible and others hidden. It’s an area where accidentally whacking your foot against a sneaky rock or inadvertently taking a sharp impact on footstrike is a common occurrence. If I had run here in my FiveFingers, I would have been a lot less comfortable, and very likely would have stubbed or broken some toes along the way.

Because of that, I was thankful to have the Neo Trails with me; the thickly-lugged outsole helped absorb unexpected impacts, and the protection of the toe bumper and closed uppers prevented unnecessary bumps and bruises. If you frequent a lot of rocky trails, the Neo Trail is built for the task. Likewise, they would probably be a great option for extremely muddy or sloppy conditions as winter approaches.

Protective uppers and rubberized toe bumper

My final verdict on the Neo Trail is that if they were more lightweight and ventilatory, they’d be one of my top choices for next year’s ultra exploits. As it is, I’ll keep them in my lineup as a specialized model for harsh conditions, but switch to one of my other standbys for high-mileage training and racing days.

The VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail retails for $130 from the company 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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Anonymous,  11/1/11, 5:00 PM  

Great post - we ran in them last week in the footpoint Trail Series - have to concur with everything you write!

Oh and we got some very cool tee's for our efforts :-)


Anonymous,  12/3/11, 7:21 PM  

Thanks for the follow up- very thorough! I'm thinking of buying them as a winter shoe. I think they will be just about perfect for a Danish winter, with a bit of snow and rain and temperature around the freezing point most of the time...

For some reason many "barefoot" bloggers seem to live in California.

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