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December 6, 2012

Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon Review

At the rate Vibram is going, it’s almost hard to remember a time when runners complained about the company’s lack of options.  Like, you know … all the way back to three years ago.

Back then trail runners had to make do with Vibram’s flagship KSO model, which effectively became a “one style does all” model that was adopted by a wide variety of users for pretty much any purpose you can think of.  But as the minimalist running movement exploded, Vibram remained at the forefront of innovation by cranking out one new model after another, and focusing more intently on the unique needs of various user groups.

Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon

As the product line increased, the differences between models from either a design or performance standpoint become more refined – and a perfect example of this is the FiveFingers Spyridon, which debuted this fall.  It’s essentially an unlaced version of the company’s Spyridon LS, which was one of my favorite minimalist shoes last fall and winter. 

Spyridon LS on left, new Spyridon on right

Instead of the quick laces that are employed on the LS version, the Spyridon uses what can rightfully be called a throwback by Vibram standards: a strap that warps behind the heel and attaches with a Velcro closure on top of the midfoot.

It’s interesting that Vibram even created an unlaced version of the Spyridon, considering that for most of its other running shoes – the Bikila, Trek, and SeeYa – the progression happened in the opposite direction: the unlaced version debuted first, and the laced version came later. (*Note: I'll be reviewing the SeeYa LS soon as well.)  The Spyridons went in the opposite direction, which seems unusual in that the majority of Vibram users typically prefer laced FiveFingers models to unlaced.

Laced systems have become my preference as well, and in that regard the Spyridon doesn’t really compel me to ditch my LS version.  In my testing, security of the upper through the midfoot isn’t quite as locked in with the Spyridon as it is with the LS.  However, there are a couple other design elements that might position the Spyridon ahead of the Spyridon LS for some users.

Uppers of the new Spyridon are composed of a thin, lightweight stretch mesh that is noticeably cooler than the LS version.  It also feels softer against bare skin than the laced version.  Despite the lighter material, weight of the Spyridon is identical to the LS version at 6.8 oz; my guess is that the weight that is lost with the lighter upper material is gained with the addition of the strap.

Construction around the ankle collar is different as well, with the Spyridon echoing the low profile and thin material of the KSO, while the Spyridon LS has the more “traditional” (as much as you can say that about anything Vibram makes) thinly padded collar and higher Achilles contact that it first used with the Bikila running models.  This is another area of individual preference; in my case, I happen to like the LS ankle collar better against bare skin.

Below the upper, the Spyridon is virtually a carbon copy of the LS – which is great news, because the lower half of the Spyridon LS is simply awesome. There’s a 3mm polyurethane insole to provide added comfort and a tiny amount of cushioning underfoot …

... and a super aggressive XS Trek rubber outsole that contacts the ground.  This aggressive, multi-directional outsole was the second biggest innovation on last year’s Spyridon LS, and from a performance standpoint it’s hard to imagine how Vibram can improve upon it.  Aside, perhaps, from the very eye-catching color on this pair, which makes it look like you just stepped on Kermit the Frog.

As for the biggest innovation on last year’s model, that would be this:

A heavy duty polyester mesh layer between the outsole and insole which functions as a flexible rock plate, providing additional puncture resistance and dispersing sharp impacts across a broader surface area.  Having logged hundreds of combined miles on this plate (inclusive of Spyridon LS and the new model), I’m highly impressed with the level of protection it offers despite being so thin …

… and still allowing the complete freedom of movement you expect from Vibram running shoes.  Of all the shoes I’ve tested, it’s the Spyridon (LS or normal) that offers the most ideal balance of ground feel and protection of the entire bunch.

So I guess my main takeaway from testing the Spyridon is that these models are both near the very top of the class in minimalist trail runners – but there may not be a strongly compelling reason to choose the new version over last year’s laced model.   If you’re one who prefers the fit or feel of Vibram’s traditional upper and strap fastener over the laced versions, this is definitely the model for you.  For everyone else, it’s kind of a coin flip.

Another determining factor may be cost, as the unlaced version retails for $110 compared to $120 for the LS – not a huge difference, but every dollar counts, right?  And for a limited time, you can get Vibram’s Spyridon models at an even better price from TravelCountry.com, where the unlaced version is on sale for $88, and the LS version is on sale for $96.

*Product provided by Vibram

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Jeff Gallup 12/7/12, 1:16 PM  

Great review.. I never tried the LS version, but just reviewed the latest. I do like the Gumby green! And I was impressed with the protection I got on, based on the amount of ground feel still available. Good stuff!

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