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January 4, 2012

VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail First Impressions Review

Earlier this week I expressed some indecision as to what shape my ultra calendar will take over the upcoming year. I’m happy to report that some pieces are slowly falling into place … but not really enough to mention yet. More to come soon, I hope.

In the meantime, I can confirm with 100% confidence that I have a handful of sweet shoe reviews coming up over the next several weeks, from some of the biggest players in the minimalist market: Vibram, New Balance, Merrell … and today’s offering from VIVOBAREFOOT.


With many of these models, I’m prohibited from saying (or showing) too much in advance of the official product release; other times I’m allowed to offer a few perfunctory thoughts before a full-fledged review is published closer to the release date. Such is the case with the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail, which will be released in February. I agreed to post some first impressions here just as I did with the company’s Neo Trail shoe last fall, and then follow-up later on as I’ve logged more miles in them.

After 2 runs and 27 miles

I’ve had my Breathos for all of a week, and I’ve done two trail runs in them totaling 27 miles. Like pretty much every VIVOBAREFOOT shoe I’ve tested, there’s never any issue of a breaking in period; I can pretty much lace these up and go for as far as my legs will carry me without worrying about discomfort or hot spots at my feet.

The premise of Breatho Trail is essentially to combine the off-road innovations of the Neo Trail with more lightweight construction that would appeal to runners in warmer climates (in other words, runners like me). Accordingly, the outsole is identical on both shoes, featuring 4.5mm directional lugs on a 2.5mm-thick base layer, for a total standing height of 7mm …

… unless you include the removable insole, in which case you have an additional 3mm of thickness. Both of my initial runs included the insole, but I’ll definitely experiment with removing it soon.

Ventilation on the Breatho is much improved, with mesh uppers that are thinner and more open than the Neo Trail. How open, you ask?

So open that you can practically see through them. (And how about my artsy photo skills here, huh?)

One question mark I have is with the top of the midfoot, where a conventional tongue has been replaced with a moderately thick neoprene-like sleeve. VIVOBAREFOOT uses a similar style of upper construction on its dress shoes, and I like the convenience of being able to slip the shoes on without lacing. On the Breatho, I’m not so certain; even though you can tighten the laces down to secure the fit, on both of my runs I’ve felt that the midfoot area loosens up in later miles. I checked to see if the laces were untied, but they were still securely fastened – which leads me to think their “grip” on the neoprene upper is somewhat tenuous. This will obviously be an area of closer attention with increased mileage.

My biggest issue with the Neo Trail was its relatively heavyweight 10.5 oz spec; in my book, anything over 10 oz stretches the boundary of minimalism. The Breatho marks a modest improvement, weighing in at 9.3oz, minus another half-ounce or so if you remove the insole. However, this is honestly still a source of mild frustration for me with VIVOBAREFOOT.

Here’s what I mean: VIVOBAREFOOT’s first-ever running shoe, the Evo, weighs in at 8oz. It’s a high-performance shoe that I used extensively for road running as well as trail ultramarathons. Over the next two years, the company has released no fewer than three different running models (the Neo, Neo Trail, and Breatho*) which all weigh more than the original Evo. While most other minimalist companies are striving for lighter weight – for example, all of the brands I mentioned at the top of the page are releasing lighter versions of their previous models this spring – VIVOBAREFOOT can’t seem to dip under their very first offering, at least from a weight standpoint.

(*UPDATED : I forgot about the Ultra, which is super-lightweight but billed as more of an amphibious / cross training shoe than a running shoe. With the same outsole as the Evo, it could probably be used for running, although I haven't tested it.)

I get that the trail outsole on the Breatho and Neo Trail is bigger and therefore heavier than the Evo outsole. However, I wish the company could experiment with ways to carve more weight away from the upper, or with a lighter outsole material that offers the same performance features – especially because weight is one of my most important criteria when choosing shoes for long training days. Yes, this is asking a lot … but I’m a shoe critic, after all. It’s in my job description to nitpick.

Perhaps the coolest feature of the Breatho isn’t pictured here: the proposed price tag, which is currently set at $90. VIVOBAREFOOT has a reputation for high-end pricing, but the Breatho price point is right there with Vibram, New Balance, and Soft Star in terms of affordability, and a little bit lower than Merrell. I have a feeling the Breatho will be in the same category as the best offerings from those other brands as far as top trail running options in 2012, but that’s still to be determined throughout this winter and spring.

The VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail is scheduled for release in February, and you can get first dibs on them by signing up here on the company’s wait list. Those who register on the wait list will be the first ones notified when the shoes are in stock, and there’s even a chance that you’ll get your Breathos for free. That’s right … free.

Here’s how it works: everyone on the wait list who eventually orders a pair of Breatho Trails will receive a coupon code for free shipping. On top of that, once the global release is announced to the wait list group, the first 10 approved transactions will be reimbursed for the entire cost of their order. All of the details haven’t been worked out yet, but the company will likely have some sort of announcement of who the 10 lucky winners are so that people who purchased immediately aren’t kept in too much suspense. Keep an eye on their website for contest details, and on this one for a follow-up review of the Breathos in the next couple of months.

*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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Rob Smith 1/5/12, 6:04 AM  

thanks for the review! small comment - vivobarefoot have also released the ultra since the evo and, although i know you are not a huge fan, it certainly is much lighter. my issue with the evo's is the lack of durability of the uppers. it looks rather like these breathos will suffer from the same problem. i'll be interested to see your follow up review but, to be honest, since you recommended me the soft star runamocs, something pretty incredible is going to have to come to market to get me to change.

Scott Lynch 1/5/12, 6:38 AM  

Does it have a rock plate?

Donald 1/5/12, 7:34 AM  

@Rob Smith: Great point, and sorry for the oversight. I updated the post to include the Ultra. I don't think I'd like it on trails, but it might be a good road option.

Like you, I blew through the uppers on my first pair of Evos, but the others I've had since then have been fine. Hopefully the Breatho will be similar.

@Scott: no rock plate, and no midsole. Just the puncture-resistant outsole.

Aaron H,  1/5/12, 1:52 PM  

I'm pleased so far with the Neo Trails. They're the best shoes I've ever owned for cold winter running. The weight was part of the reason that I decided to buy them. I've added heavier shoes to my workouts to make sure that I can run with a thicker sole and rock plate without feeling the weight.

So I might pick these up for spring mud running if my X-talons finish disintegrating by then.

james,  1/6/12, 4:02 PM  

Interesting. I like the EVOs for walking around but they're too heavy for running. You've noted the Vivo shoes' weight in this and earlier reviews--is Vivobarefoot hearing that? Are they planning lighter shoes? Right now these are comparable or heavier than traditional racing flats or even trail racers. What's minimalist about 9oz shoes?

Bradley James 1/9/12, 4:20 AM  

Great review. I think I'm going to buy this trail. It looks great and comfortable to wear. My Vibram Five Fingers has already worn out. I had it for 2 years and it's worth it. It's new year and it's time to get a new pair of Vivo barefoot shoes.

Happy New year!

Erlend 1/28/12, 1:25 PM  

I have the 2011 Neo Trail, which I think is similar in most ways. It's heavy but it offers a lot of protection in the upper, and under the arch (rock protection), and the sole is quite thick, at least the way it feels. So I'd say it's for rougher trails with debris. The grip is amazing, though. I have never slipped in them, even on icy and wet wood logs.

I think they could make that lugs 2mm instead of whopping 4mm, and make a lighter upper, and reach a better "match weight". But I still like the shoe very much. I repeat I'm talking about it's sister shoe, the Neo Trail.

Cory 2/16/12, 5:05 AM  

I don't do any trail running, but the Ultra is my favorite shoe out of many different models, precisely because is it so incredibly light (I've never used the sock liner that comes with it). The really issue is that what makes them so light is also their downfall, not durable at all so that I wore a hole in my sole in about three months of running what most would consider average mileage. To their credit, VB replaced them free of charge, but it still doesn't resolve the issue.
I agree that their other shoes are too damn heavy. I like the Neos just fine, but when they get wet the tongue absorbs water and makes them even heavier. C'mon VB, get it right soon!

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