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February 22, 2012

VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Follow-Up Review

Back in January I offered a first look at the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail, running down the specs and offering my impressions of the shoe after all of 2 runs (long-ish runs, but still). At that time, the shoes weren’t available for purchase, but they are now – which seems like a good time to circle back for an updated review after giving them a much more thorough test of nearly 200 total miles.


However, I’m not going to be super thorough in rehashing all the information I provided the first time around – for that, I’ll refer you to my original review from January. Rather, I’ll do a rundown of the specs and put together some observations of things that really stood out in my testing.

Here are your vital specs for the Breatho Trail:

* Weight: 9.6oz, or 9.1oz without insole
* Upper: thin breathable mesh
* Outsole construction: off-road, directional lugs
* Outsole thickness: 2.5mm base layer, with additional 4.5mm lugs
* Insole: removable, 3mm thick
* Eco: 100% vegan
* MSRP: $90

Of course, with VIVOBAREFOOT it goes without saying that the Breatho meets virtually every minimalist construction aspect that purists demand: it’s completely flat and flexible in all directions, allowing your foot to move in any way it wants to. Ground feel is surprisingly good considering the size of the lugs, especially if you take out the removable insole.

My preference is to keep the insoles in my pair, because with it removed the Breatho Trail feels a little loose and sloppy through the heel and toe box. I had this same issue with last fall’s Neo Trail as well several other minimalist shoes I’ve tested; functionally, removing the insole is like stepping up a half size in overall fit. I may consider requesting shoes a half-size smaller for reviews at some point, but for the time being I’m a pretty consistent “insole IN” kind of guy.

As the name implies, the uppers of the Breatho Trail are highly breathable and dry quite easily after immersion in water. They also appear to be quite durable as well, and very resistant to pokes and punctures while bushwhacking off trail. (Although I don’t do this terribly often; I’m also a “trail ON” kind of guy.)

Traction of the lugged outsole is really outstanding in most trail conditions including loose dirt and sloppy mud. The only issue I’ve noticed is that the rubber compound is somewhat slippery on wet rocks, so I find myself being extra careful when hopping across streams.

The outsole material has also worn down rather quickly in areas, as you can see here on my right heel – but to be fair, I destroy most shoes in this same area, so I don’t consider the breakdown to be a major concern in recommending them to others. (And before you ask: Yes, minimalist runners have heel impact – only it’s at the end of the footstrike instead of the beginning, and is more pronounced when running down steep hills.)

One quirk I can’t quite figure out is something I identified in my preview: that the laces don’t hold their tension during the course of a run, leading the upper to feel looser after a few miles. It’s weird, because the laces don’t actually come loose or untied – they just lose their grip on the neoprene liner on top of the midfoot. The laces also happen to be about twice as long as they need to be. If I had a magic wand - or if VIVOBAREFOOT listens to my feedback – I’d make the laces significantly shorter and use a different kind of material, perhaps something like New Balance’s “sausage link” laces to help them keep their grip.

The other point of feedback I mentioned in my earlier review is that the Breatho Trail weight is far higher than I like in a minimalist shoe. It’s nearly 50% heavier than equally rugged trail shoes from Vibram and Merrell – and when companies like New Balance are lowering the weight bar to amazing degrees (hint: Minimus Zero review coming soon!), it’s disappointing that VIVOBAREFOOT can’t get low, low, low, low like everybody else.

In the case of the Breatho Trail, it’s especially frustrating because in practically all other aspects, this is a fantastic shoe. Even with the weight as is, I would have no worries whatsoever about wearing these in any ultra I encounter, including distances of 100K or even 100 miles. If the shoe were a bit lighter, it would be at the head of the class in the increasingly crowded category of high-performance minimalist trail runners. As it is, the Breatho has become one of my favorite training shoes this winter.

The VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail is now available for $90 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,  2/23/12, 7:32 AM  

Hi, do these have a stiffer heel counter like the Evo or is the heel counter softer and more flexible, like a Bikila or Merrell Road Glove? -Thanks!

Donald 2/23/12, 10:20 AM  

@Anon: the heel counter is similar to the Evo.

Run-Dream-Achieve 2/24/12, 7:23 PM  

Thanks for your detailed review as I am also reading other reviews about barefoot running shoes. I have the chance to compare and decide what to buy.

Jan 2/27/12, 7:27 AM  

Hi, how fast do these dry after some river crossing? As fast as Softstar runamoc lights?

Donald 2/27/12, 7:49 AM  

@Jan: faster than RunAmocs for sure - the Soft Star leather takes longer to dry.

Anonymous,  3/2/12, 4:21 AM  

Do you think you would be able to wear these for road running as well (max 10K)?

Donald 3/3/12, 7:41 PM  

@Anon: sure, road running would be fine, but you'll wear down the lugs a lot more quickly that way.

Anonymous,  3/6/12, 8:51 AM  

How wide are these? For reference, I wear a size 9 shoe, but my metatarsals are nearly 130mm across. I would really like a burlier trail shoe as I am happy with custom Unshoes for lighter trails, but need something for Colorado climbing approaches and ultras. I have not been happy with so-called 4E promises by minimal shoe companies, but I was able to work with a pair of Vivo Oaks for work before. What's your insight into their width?

Unknown 3/6/12, 12:17 PM  

I would like to add that the Vivobarefoot Neo Trail (winter version of this shoe) is my favorite minimalist trail running shoe.

What you give up in weight, Vivobarefoot makes up for quality. The build quality on Terra Plana's shoes is incredible. In comparison , I find New Balance's Minimus offerings to be laughable in comparison, they're visibly much lower quality.

I don't want to Vivobarefoot to get a bad wrap because of their shoe weight. If you want a bombproof trail shoe, you'll have to sacrifice a bit of weight.

I'm very excited to get a pair of these Breatho models, my local Dardano's store says they'll have them in soon.

Donald 3/6/12, 8:25 PM  

@Anon: Not much insight, I'm afraid, as I have normal width feet. I think if other VB lasts work for you, these probably would as well.

Anonymous,  5/16/12, 1:06 PM  

I'll place a bet that the shoelace problem is actually caused your foot changing shape while you're running. I had a problem with Vibram where, after a few miles, my toes would start to swell and become too tight for the fingers.

Anonymous,  7/22/12, 5:33 AM  

I agree with the comment above that the weight is justified by the quality and robustness. I'm planning a 45 day alpine trek in these, and wouldn't settle for anything lighter. On very rough ground with sharp stones, twigs etc the kevlar sole provides excellent protection while maintaining decent feel. My only reservation is that grip on wet rock could be better. I've clocked up 100 miles of training walks on tough mixed ground with no significant wear on the upper or sole.

But if you're buying online, be aware that you should buy 1 size down from your norm - they got the sizing wrong as they admit on their website.

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