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.
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.
VIVOBAREFOOT Evo running shoe
VIVOBAREFOOT Evo II running shoe
*Product provided by VIVOBAREFOOT
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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