Before transitioning to minimalist (or “barefoot”) footwear, make sure you understand what the whole concept entails. Here’s an intro text if you need it.
- Type : Barefoot / Minimal
- Use : Trail Running
- Price : About $140 (unverified)
There have been so many new products in the minimal / barefoot market recently, I find it hard to even keep track. It’s a blessing, on one side; because a wider choice is often a good thing (provided the offered products are well-conceived). On the other hand, there seems to be many crappy, confusing, nonsensical products which have hit the shelves, and they are not bringing anything of interest to the table (The Fila Skeletoe is just one example of the latter).
So when I opened the box to check out the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail, I did it with a healthy dose of scepticism. I had been searching for a viable shoe fit for serious trail running for some time now, and aside from the Merrell Trail glove (reviewed here), which is a sound choice but doesn’t offer enough grip for single-trail conditions and harsh terrain, I had found nothing.
I usually don’t analyze packaging or marketing, for obvious reasons, but I have to make an exception here. First of all, VIVOBAREFOOT uses recycled materials for some of the shoe’s parts, like the inner lining. Second, the shoes are guaranteed not to be produced in sweatshops, something commendable, which every apparel maker out there should be doing. Finally, your shoes come wrapped not in throw-away plastic or paper, but in individual, washable, reusable bags that work wonders when you have to carry your mud-stained shoes in a backpack.
At 8,25 oz, the Neo trail is light but not a featherweight. This didn’t bug me, as the shoe feels tough and ready for action. It is built with a very wide toe box and a fairly flat end, something I think is now the proven way to go for any minimalist shoe. With that said, however, the sizing is a little tricky, as it relies on the European charts and the shoes run about one size short. (For example, I’m typically a size 7.5 and was advised to get a size 42, which was too big and had to be replaced with a size 41).
The lacing on the pair I got was done from the outside in, which I changed for a more straightforward, pull-to-tighten approach. The shoe doesn’t slim down at the arch section like other barefoot shoes do and leaves ample room for up to 7 diagonal rubber lugs on the outsole and a rock plate under the arch. This is where the Neo Trail really expresses itself: it screams trail.
I wore the Neo Trails for a full day at the office before trying them out for a run (I’ve learned that trick from blistering experience). Turns out they didn’t need a break-in. Then I wore the shoes for an outside walk, then a light trail run, then a single-trail cross-fit run, and finally a full-fledge mountain trail run.
The Neo Trail delivered beyond my expectations. At first, I thought the aggressive sole pattern would take away some ground feel for sure, but somehow it doesn’t. You will feel as much terrain as you do in a pair of VFF Komodos, but with the proper protection against protruding rocks and other trail hazards. I was amazed to step in deep mud and feel every inch of the experience, while in the meantime being able to run hard in very rocky downhills relying on the excellent protection of the rockplate and rubber studs.
The grip of this shoe is amazing. I was lucky to run one of my tests with a Training Mobs group wearing regular running shoes and trail shoes and my Neo Trails outperformed the former and were definitely on par with the latter, if not better. The low-to-the-ground, zero-drop 6.5mm sole clearly puts you at an advantage while it not only lets your foot twist and turn like it should, but offers aggressive traction even on wet surfaces.
The upper fabric seems to be truly 100% waterproof, as I stepped in puddles of water, mud patches and ran on trails thickly covered in damp leaves and never got my feet wet. This is fantastic for Canadian runners, as we have to face harsh snowy winters and slushy paths. The combined water resistance and traction of the Neo Trail makes it a serious choice for multiple running conditions throughout the seasons, something not a lot of minimal shoes can pretend to offer.
This is one solid trail running shoe, and thus far my choice when it comes to serious single-trail running. With the excellent proprioception of a true minimal shoe and the traction / protection of a standard trail runner, The Neo Trail offers the best of both worlds. I am very impressed with it and will keep using it for many more happy trail miles in the future.
- One of very few serious minimal trail runners
- Sturdy, yet flexible outsole with excellent traction
- Offers plenty of protection on harsh single trails
- Roomy toe box for free movement
- Zero-drop construction with removable insole
- Sizing's a little tricky
The equipment for this personal review was supplied by VIVOBAREFOOT, free of charge, without any conditions.