Why I travel with weird toe shoes

May 28, 2013 in Philosophy,Travel

OK, so I’m about to damage the little fashion credibility I may have held and make a confession: I am fully obsessed with Vibram Five Fingers. Yup, those weird toe shoes/foot socks/barefoot running shoes that people awkwardly point out whenever they see them.IMG_5856

I thought they were super weird when I first saw them, too. But then I read Born to RunΒ in 2011–on a whim, it was actually on my dad’s bookshelf when I was home and searching for a new read–and was instantly intrigued by the book’s argument that barefoot running can help improve foot strength and minimize injuries. I’ve had three knee surgeries (ACL, MCL and meniscus tears and ruptures as a result of a few bad turns while playing soccer and lacrosse); after my last surgery at 19, I quit contact sports, but still had problems with shin splints and knee pain while running. Author and Men’s Health editor Christopher McDougall draws on the history of an ancient tribe of runners to explain why modern running–with its sneakers and its arch support and its concrete–is making running harder on our bodies than ever.

Vibram Five Fingers for travel

If you’re at all interested in running, I highly recommend the book: he weaves the history of running and the modern-day phenomenon of ultra-marathons into a very compelling narrative.

Two points in particular stood out to me. The first is that modern-day sneakers–with their padding, arch support, gel insoles–are essentially like casts on our feet. If you’ve ever broken a bone, you know that the muscle atrophies and becomes much weaker while it’s in a cast. Western societies promote wearing shoes from a very young age, whereas Asian cultures that have a lot more barefoot time–inside the house, for example–have a much lower rate of foot, knee and hip injuries. Essentially, we’re keeping our feet in casts our whole lives and not letting those muscles develop. The other is that an arch is a structure that doesn’t need support. Just as you would never think of sticking a column up in the middle of a dome–a perfect example of modern architecture–your arches can support themselves. Even for someone like me with fallen arches–flat feet are common on one side of my family–they still don’t need to be pushed up.

Vibram Five Fingers for travel

So I decided to try out Vibram Five Fingers–and I was instantly sold. I run more, hike more, walk more and I don’t have any more shin or knee pain. I’ve traveled around the world with them, and I’ve been struck by how great they are for traveling.

Vibram Five Fingers for travel

They’re perfect for any active situation.

I wear them when I weight-train or take kickboxing classes at the gym, when I go for runs along the beach, when I take long walks. They’re particularly brilliant for hiking or trail running: because I can feel the ground beneath my feet, I’m much more agile and able to move efficiently on rocks or pebbles.

They make you stronger.

It takes some time to get used to Vibrams–I don’t recommend taking them out on an all-day hike the first time you wear them!–but you definitely work your muscles in new and unexpected ways. Your feet get stronger, your calves get stronger, your thighs get stronger. It’s super hard to go back to overly padded sneakers after you get used to your feet working so much!

Vibram Five Fingers for travel

They’re easy to pack–and you don’t need to pack socks.

Because Vibrams are much lighter and flatter than regular sneakers or hiking boots, they’re a cinch to pack. And because you don’t need to wear socks–well, that’s one fewer thing to fit in your bag!

The only downsides…

They start to smell (easy to clean by soaking overnight in a sink with denture cleaners) and people will point at your feet and snicker. But in my opinion, it’s definitely worth the trade!

Note: Vibram Five Fingers did not compensate me or request that I write this post. I just really like their product and wanted to share why I think they’re a great travel shoe.Β 

  • Wonderful, thanks so much. I’ve recently purchased a pair and had lots of people tell me they can be a dodgy if you don’t “pace yourself” when you first start wearing them. Nice to read someone who’s had such a positive result, good stuff!

  • Bruce

    Very interesting. You’ve piqued my interest into pricing them and possibly trying them out. I’m a big-time hiker and appreciate your cautionary note about getting your feet and legs broken in to the new things slowly. Thanks. Great blog.

  • SheHadFun.com

    Definitely thinking about getting a pair now. Thank you for all the great information! I subscribed to your blog a few months ago and have been loving it! Your trip to Jordan sounded incredible.

  • Jessica

    Born to Run is actually on my bookshelf right now, waiting for me when I have time to read it!

    I have never considered toe shoes before, but I run a lot and definitely suffer from knee pain and shin splints, so I will for sure think about them now.

  • Eve

    Hi Christine,
    Oh wow! I was saying only a couple of days ago that I thought those shoes were so weird (and ugly πŸ˜‰ and know I’m thinking about trying them!!
    I think your black pair is nice, avec la bande sur le dessus du pied (I don’t know how to say that in English). I can’t find them on the website. Can you tell me what they are called? Thanks a lot!

  • You make a good argument. I may just have to try a pair out.. πŸ™‚

  • Aryn Hill

    Damn if sneakers are that bad, I can only imagine that my feet will be broken by 30 with how often I wear high heels. I may have to invest in some of these!

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    Right before we left on our RTW trip I bought a pair of Merrell barefoot sandals because my husband has a pair that he loves. Unfortunately I just could not wear them as within a day or two of trotting around Japan, my legs were in agony and my heels were killing me. I am a heel striker and barefoot shoes seem to be a particularly bad fit for someone with my gait. I love their streamlined look, but alas, I have had to go the very fashion unfriendly Teva sports sandal route. They aren’t nearly as pretty (even if mine are hot pink) but I can walk all day in them and never feel any pain.

  • camorose

    Yes, a girl who I traveled with in Jordan hated them after the first day she wore them–because she wore them hiking for a full 8 hours! Definitely important to take it slow at the beginning and use all those dormant muscles again πŸ™‚

  • camorose

    Glad you enjoyed it! I can’t imagine going back to hiking in anything else–I feel like I’m so much more aware and alert because I can actually feel the ground beneath me.

  • camorose

    That’s fantastic–I’m so glad to hear that you’re enjoying it! And yes, I’m obsessed with my Vibrams–highly recommend!

  • camorose

    I loved Born to Run–seriously recommend it to every runner I know! Such a great narrative with some very interesting facts.

  • camorose

    Haha they are weird and ugly–but they work! The black pair is actually from 2011, and it doesn’t look like they stock them anymore πŸ™

  • camorose

    Do it! They’re fantastic!

  • camorose

    Exactly! Even though I wear flats and heels most of the time, my feel breathe a sigh of relief whenever I put Vibrams on now πŸ™‚

  • camorose

    Hey, whatever works best for you πŸ™‚

  • ShannonOD

    Hmm, you have me intrigued Christine, a couple of my friends are really loving these, and I consider you pretty darn fashionable so if you can pull it off I have hopes πŸ˜‰

  • ksommerkamp

    Couldn’t agree more! I feel that I walk and run much better than before, plus my steps are much more confident. It definitely helps with equilibrium.

  • SKORA Running

    Christine, if you would like to try a pair of minimalist shoes that won’t smell or be snickered at – and in fact look really nice casually or out on a run – let us know πŸ™‚

    Kyle@SkoraRunning.com

  • Eve

    Oh, too bad! Thanks a lot. I think I will try them anyway!

  • camorose

    To be fair, I only wear them on hikes or to go work out–times when I’d be wearing sneakers anyway. Can’t quite convince myself that sneakers are fashion-appro in any other scenario! πŸ™‚

  • camorose

    Yes! Definitely has improved my balance.

  • camorose

    Thanks, Kyle! Pretty happy right now, but I’ll let you know.

  • Morgan

    You’re right – these toe shoes sure aren’t cute, but if you say their great for traveling I might just take a gander. Ever thought of wearing toe socks to avoid the smell?

  • Samantha

    This post made me actually consider those shoes! However I’ve always been told by my podiatrist that I need lots of support for my flat feet. Which I heavily believed because after wearing flats for a few hours my feet KILL me. Have you had that problem with flats and is it different with these Vibrams?

  • camorose

    Eh, I like the feeling of the shoes without socks and they’re pretty easy to clean. Plus, I like not having to pack socks! More space in my suitcase!

  • camorose

    It takes a little time to get used to, but I am so much more comfortable in Vibrams than in my custom-made insoles from my podiatrist. Not sure if it will work for you, but I do recommend trying them out.

  • OCDemon

    All anyone has to do is make a version with a toe cap over the toes and it’ll look exactly like a regular shoe and no one will be able to tell the difference and they’ll make a billion dollars. But noooooooo.

  • camorose

    Haha I think it’s almost part of the culture–a little bit against the status quo!

  • Rebecca and the World

    Hmmmm… yes, weird, but so much easier to carry than sneakers or hiking boots!

  • camorose

    Yup! Huge when you’re traveling!

  • Kitschey

    I just picked up a pair since two friends now wear them exclusively and claim they are very comfortable; I definitely agree. I’ve had barefoot running shoes for some time now so I’m hoping my legs won’t protest too much when I do some serious walking and hiking for the first time. The only downside I see so far is the ghastly colour. I could only find the type I wanted in bright orange! Oh well, maybe two months in SE Asia will wash out the fluorescent hue. Looking forward to leaving my socks at home!

  • camorose

    Yes! I’ve found that people are going to stare no matter what color they are–for better or worse!

Previous post:

Next post: