VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes – A Long Term Review

So before we start I have to admit, I might be a little biased in this review. As this is a long term review, I am giving you an opinion on a shoe that has been my go-to trail friend for the last year. It is a bit like giving you an opinion on one of my children, I think they are beautiful, warts and all (not that they have warts but you get the point). Now that you know that, here goes.

Quick Overview

Mad gripTakes a while to get used to
Helps you make the most of the sensory feedbackNot great on tar (if you run to the trail head)
Stylish looksCould do with a bit more underfoot protection
Good moisture management
Did I say lightweight?
Arch protection

A little background understanding – Proprioception

Proprioception is basically a fancy word to explain how your body is good at adjusting how you perform actions based on sensory feedback. It uses nerves to provide feedback to the brain of the environment that surround you. The brain uses this feedback in turn to adjusts your actions. Go on, try it out, take your shoes off and run on different surfaces and see how your body automatically adjusts your stride.

Why is this important to know? Well, Minimal / ‘Barefoot Running’ shoes allow maximum Proprioception in order to allow you to develop an efficient and effective barefoot running style. The team at VIVOBAREFOOT have set out to create shoes that help the body make the absolute most of all this data and turn it into speed, running efficiency and most importantly… fun!

First Impressions of the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes

Good looking shoes, very easy on the eye indeed!

Key Features of the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes

The Look

It is safe to say the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes are very, very easy on the eye. The design and colour scheme give it a very relevant appeal in today’s world of brightly coloured and designed shoes.

The Sole

These soles grips like you cannot believe!

The lugs at the bottom of the shoe are what caught my eye first, all 4.5mm of them and with the bantam 2.5mm outsole they ensure maximum grip and sensory feedback.

The lugs on the heel face the opposite direction as the lugs on the front. This helps to keep you on your feet on those steep and slippery descents. During testing in wet wintery conditions this shoe very seldom lost grip. To say that I was impressed with the grip of the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes would be an understatement.

There is something to be said about having peace of mind in the ability of your shoes to grip. Knowing you can take a few more risks or be a little more adventurous all adds to faster times and less time spent on the ground.

The Upper

Apart from the brilliant grip of the shoe I noticed on the first run how the breathable mesh really allows for great ventilation around the foot. Running through rivers and in heavy rain the mesh upper also allowed the shoe to drain quickly.

The Inside

The 3mm insole sports a hex-flexmoisture management system which helps to keep the feet warm in colder conditions, you can run in socks in these shoes but I never do.

One of my absolute favourite features of this shoe is the added arch protection on the side of the shoe. A sharp rock into the side of your foot is never fun and I appreciated no rock punctures into my foot arches in these shoes.

A wide toe box allows your toes to spread. This in turn gives better balance and running efficiency, nothing worse than cramped toes! If you have ever been on a 4×4 trip you would know that on soft sand sections you let air out of your tyres to increase grip by giving the tyre a larger contact area. The same concept works here, wider toe box gives a wider surface area which gives more grip.

The Weight

One of my other favourite feature, and for the weight weanies amongst us, the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes weigh in at an incredible 272g, I had to look down at times to check I still had shoes on my feet while blitzing along the trail.

Proper running technique is important to avoid injuries with these puppies.

General Impressions of the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes

Back to Proprioception. Since the outsole is a mere 2.5mm you need to be very conscious of not ‘heel striking’. At first my heels were a bit sensitive and my calves and achilles quite sore, but as I ran more and more in the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes, I started to get the hang of the ‘Barefoot Running’ technique.

This isn’t a shoe you can get ‘lazy’ in. I seldom ran with the removable in-sole as I preferred the heightened sensory feedback you get without it. This however also meant less cushioning. Don’t be fooled, there are no gimmicks here! To run in these shoes properly you will need to adjust your technique. This takes time. The shoe is a tool but you need to learn proper technique and allow your body time to adapt to a new ‘Barefoot Running’ style. Dial back your miles if you are new to minimal / barefoot running shoes. Get the technique right and then you will enjoy many injury free miles in the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes.

Good Moisture Management

Things I Did Not Like About the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes

This wouldn’t be a proper independent review if I didn’t touch on the things I didn’t enjoy about the shoe.

I would change the laces on the shoes. A silly and small thing I know, but they are far too long. If I didn’t tie them in a triple knot they would kept coming undone as I ran. The last thing you want is to suddenly find yourself face down on a jagged rocky section because you tripped over your own laces. The elastic loc-lace type laces would be my first choice for a shoe like this (which is what VIVOBAREFOOT did for their Trail Freak model).

My other comment, not so much an issue was that the sole only partially protected your feet from sharp objects. This is because it is a ‘Barefoot Running’ shoe and the whole point of Proprioception (sensory feedback) is to provide feedback, I know. None the less, you need to make peace early on with the fact that these are not cushioned shoes and you’re feet will have to adapt to the lack of underfoot protection.

In Conclusion

These shoes are radically fast (maybe because of the increased confidence and traction) and light. They feel solid on any terrain you run on and conditions you are running in.

The toe box is nice and wide which improves the grip and ensures that you do not end up with black toenails. I did runs of up to 35km (21.7mi) in them and they felt great. Even during multi-day events I did not feel that I needed more cushioning in the shoe.

The shoe handles getting wet fairly well and drains water rapidly. I did find they took long to dry out completely though. The shoe has good ventilation and is cool in hot conditions.

On the durability front VIVOBAREFOOT need to do some work. Although the shoes are a year old and have seen many miles on some very unforgiving rocky terrain they did start to deteriorate fairly early on. No show stoppers but at the price point the shoes comes in on I expected more in the durability department.

So my advice to you if you decide to buy these shoes is this, give it some time. You will need time to adapt your running style, get your body strong (feet and calves in particular) and get used to the increased sensory feedback. If this is your first pair of minimalist / barefoot shoes this can take some time, don’t rush it. Start pre-season when mileage is minimal and build up gradually as you feel your body adapting.

I personally would recommend the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes. I have used them for a year now and still love them. I tried a pair of cushioned shoes a couple of days ago and turned back after a couple of hundred metres to change to my VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes.