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February 29, 2012

Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS Review

Although it might seem strange thing to say about a line of footwear that’s just a handful of years old, one of my initial judgments about Vibram’s latest trail model is that it has quite an impressive heritage. Both its name and design symbolize achievement – and fortunately for the FiveFingers Spyridon LS, the finished product doesn’t disappoint on either count.

Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS

First, the name: the FiveFingers Spyridon is named after Spyridon Louis, victor of the first Olympic marathon in 1896. Vibram has gone this route before, naming its Bikila road shoe after the man who won the Olympic marathon barefoot, and the Spyridon is an equally fitting moniker for its new trail running model. In case you’re wondering, that first Olympic marathon wasn’t contested on pavement, but on dirt trading paths and dusty farm roads winding from Marathon to Athens - so the Spyridon implies that it’s made for running on dirt, and built for high performance.

And that’s the second element of heritage that the Spyridon embraces: it takes a lot of the design aspects of Vibram’s previous running models, and combines them with new innovations that are quite impressive considering the minimalist framework under which they’re constructed. You’ll see echoes of previous FiveFingers models here, but the Spyridon truly stands alone in the FiveFingers lineup – and with that, we’ll get to the review.

Bikila on left, Spyridon on right

It’s tempting to think of the Spyridon LS as the KSO Trek 2.0; after all, that model debuted in 2010 as Vibram’s dedicated trail runner, and it featured innovations such as a thin leather upper and a slightly knobby outsole for increased durability off-road. While the Spyridon boasts more upgrades to bolster its toughness, it’s actually a closer descendant of the Bikila’s design elements in terms of overall fit and comfort. Sounds like a great combination, doesn’t it?

The most noticeable upgrade is the outsole, which features the most aggressive tread that Vibram has ever offered on FiveFingers. As you would expect, the lugs are directional to improve push-off in the forefoot and braking in the heel, and they help maintain stability quite well even in thick, sloppy mud. Traction is also very stable on gravel and loose dirt, even on steep slopes.

Layered just behind the outsole – and visible through a small window on the instep portion - is a heavy duty molded polyester mesh layer that functions as a flexible rock plate, providing additional puncture resistance and dispersing sharp impact across a broader surface area. At 3.5mm thick, the outsole is one-half mm thinner than the outsoles of both the Bikila and KSO Trek.

What’s remarkable about these two innovations is that they provide a significant improvement in traction and impact protection without compromising any of the minimalist specs that Vibram is famous for. At 3.5mm thick, the Spyridon LS outsole is a half-mm thinner than the outsoles of both the Bikila and KSO Trek, and the overall weight of 6.8 oz is almost equal to the 6.7-oz Trek (but one ounce heavier than the Bikila). Best of all, the rock barrier doesn’t limit the shoe’s flexibility, and only marginally compromises its ground feel.

Above the outsole, the Spyridon has a non-removable 3mm EVA footbed, making a total standing height of less than 7mm. Fit of the shoe is comfortable all around the foot, with seamless interior construction, a soft interior lining, and just enough padding around the ankle collar – all taken straight from the Bikila blueprint. I frequently wear these sockless, but my preference is to use socks if the weather is cold or if I plan to be running for more than 90 minutes or so.

Fit is further dialed in with an elastic lacing system (first introduced on the Bikila LS) for customized tension across the midfoot. In my opinion, this is one of the best innovations Vibram has made in the past year, and I’m happy to see the “LS” tagged onto the name “Spyridon” with this shoe – one of those heritage points I mentioned at the top.

Like the Bikila, the Spyridon LS upper utilizes Coconut Active Carbon for breathability and odor control, but the fabric is slightly thicker than either the Bikila or the thin leather KSO Trek – making it a little better for warmth, but not as good for ventilation. Vibram’s fabric uppers have historically been more prone to punctures than the super-durable kangaroo leather, but in my testing I haven’t had any problems – although I should add a disclaimer that I haven’t done a whole lot of rugged bushwhacking in to give the uppers an extreme test.

What I have done is log about 150 miles on fire roads and single track, on groomed and technical trails, in dry or sloppy conditions, and I’ve had a hard time finding trails that the Spyridon LS can’t handle. It combines the best of Vibram's design and construction elements to date, and is a worthy successor to the ever-increasing Vibram heritage of minimalist running shoes.

The Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS retails for $120 from TravelCounty.com.

*Product provided by Vibram
**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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Glen,  2/29/12, 9:26 PM  

I have been extremely lucky to get my hands on a pair of these about 2 weeks (in NZ no less!)...

I have logged about 140km in them, and some of that was over the 'Tongariro Crossing' - a very rocky/alpine mountain crossing in NZ. These shoes are incredible. Just enough protection to make gravel roads and larger rocks no problem - and yet still have the feel of a vibram.

Ill be "running" a 100km trail race (Tarawera Ultra) in them in 3 weeks time - I cant wait to see how they go.

Dan 2/29/12, 11:17 PM  

Hi Donald,

Not related to today's blog entry, but given your new hobby I bet you'll enjoy this video. It's even got some local flavor from your neck of the woods; I believe that's Bixby Bridge at the 0:57 and 4:05 marks.

A word of warning: Probably not a good idea to let The Wife see this!

Morgan Hill

Donald 3/1/12, 7:15 AM  

@Dan: Brilliant! Thanks very much. That's going in an upcoming post for sure. I think you're correct about Bixby - unfortunately, that's not me doing it there.

Jeff Gallup 3/1/12, 8:26 AM  

Awesome review Donald.. thanks! I really want to get my hands on some of these now! My only experience with VFF's is with a pair of Flow's that I picked up last month.. love the fit.. wasn't sure I would like the individual toe sleeves, but I do. Just need some traction and protection for the trail... Looks like these have it.

Eric 3/1/12, 9:41 AM  

Oh, that is very interesting. I just torn the big toe off of my Komodo LS (a very disappointing development)and will be needing a new (and hopefully better made) pair. The Spyrido LS sounds like it may be a winner.

Brant,  3/10/12, 1:04 PM  

i'm wanting some VFF's but im unsure about what kind to buy, i'm torn on these and the Bikila LS, I trail run occasionally but, but mostly on asphalt, though I plan on doing more trail running in the future, what do you think?!

Donald 3/12/12, 9:26 PM  

@Brant: if you're doing more road than trail, probably the Bikila LS.

mp0363 5/17/12, 11:57 AM  

I'm a long time Bikila fan and find them my go to shoe for the asphalt. But for trail running it's nice to have the rock plate for pokey things that can bite, so I got a pair of these. Ran a wet (and at times, very muddy!) 15K a couple months ago.

I've never tried socks with my Vibrams, but I agree with you that it might be a good idea with the Spydies for longer, (and especially wet) runs, as I ended up with a rub-raw area on my left foot. Mine fit like a glove, nearly second skin, so I curious how you manage the sock. Even the thinnest ones wouldn't fit for me.

The only other quibble would be that during my wet and muddy race, I ended up with thick mud-bricks stuck to the bottom of these. I could shake it off with some effort but it wasn't a lot of fun as this happened during the last few Km of the event. And as soon as I'd shake one brick off, a few steps later and a half inch of mud would be weighing me down again.

Well, got a nice (hopefully dry) 12K trail coming this sunday, so going to have to go with this awesome shoe again. It shouldn't matter since guys like Scott Jurik run "forever" in heavy shoes, but I love the light feeling of the Spydies and they are nearly as comfy as my Bikilas; and like you said, perfect tread! with ideal protection!

Tiffany 7/29/12, 5:03 AM  

Hi! I love all your reviews - thanks for putting in the time and effort!

I am a beginner trail runner and Im looking for a pair of vibrams because I absolutely LOVE my bikilas on paved paths for running. Would you recommend these over the komodsport? I live on the east coast so think more packed dirt/tree roots, etc. type of trails and not the crazy rocky trails from the western states.

I'm leaning towards the komodosport because they are so comfy on - but between your 2 reviews I really cant decide. I dont want to wear socks with them, so I'm thinking the komodosport sounds better?

Donald 7/29/12, 7:47 PM  

@Tiffany: I'd definitely recommend these if you're sticking to trails. If you're doing hybrid road/trails, then the KomodoSports are better.

Tim Jahraus 9/11/12, 2:11 PM  

Donald, how are the Spyridons holding up? I used to wear the KSO Treks, but around 250 miles the fabric between the toes wore out to the point where my big toe would occassionally hang out a bit and risk exposure to rocks and debris. I think this was caused by friction against the toe edge of the sole, but it could have also been from debris over time as well. Just curious if this is a problem with the Spyridons. Thanks!

Donald 9/24/12, 9:38 PM  

@Tim: durability hasn't been a problem with mine, and the uppers are holding up nicely. I probably have 300 to 350 miles total on my pair.

Ida Johnsen 10/14/12, 10:00 AM  

I have wanted these shoes for so long now, but I wonder how they would do it if I used them for mountainclimbing, not only running on roads and trails? How solide are they?
I have a serious back problem, and contact with my feet in the right way is important to me, that's why I would like to know if this is a good option for me..

M@tt 2/17/13, 9:57 PM  

How have they held up a year after you posted this review?

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