For me, walking barefoot is the ultimate in comfort and pleasure. There is nothing quite the same as the enjoyment I feel when I can sense the world under my feet. From the texture and temperature sensations, to the comfort of feeling free, bare feet are best. Together with the sensory aspect, there is the health aspect of a more natural walk. Most shoes change the way we walk, the way we stand, and the way our body mechanics work.
Most of us live in parts of the world where going barefoot is, at best, tolerated. Outside of culturally sanctioned situations, like the beach and at the swimming pool, bare feet are not often seen.
While you may realize the health benefits of going barefoot, and may even love the sensation, you may find that your feet are too tender to be barefoot all the time, and you likely have social reasons for not being able to bare your feet as often as you wish. You may live in a part of the world that is too cold during the winter to walk barefoot.
Finally, shoe companies have started responding to a growing market that craves a more minimalistic shoe – one that is more healthy, simple, and more like being barefoot.
These are the shoes that we are going to review in our series on barefoot alternatives. The first of these is a remarkable line of shoes made by Terra Plana. Many companies claim to have a natural fitting shoe, but few deliver. Terra Plana’s Vivo Barefoot line of shoes is different. Their shoes are often made with recycled material and use an eco-friendly manufacturing process. Vivo Barefoot is one of several brand names falling under the Terra Plana umbrella. Their shoes all have character, and all are all stylish and modern.
The Aqua, as this shoe style is known, has a great casual look. Made with Vivo Barefoot Technology, these shoes have a thin and flexible puncture-resistant sole, designed to be protective, yet give you the feeling of being barefoot. It looks as though this color may have been discontinued, however some other great colors are available on the Terra Plana website.
When I first put this shoe on, it was immediately apparent that this was a shoe unlike any other shoe I have worn. I have wide feet, as many barefooters do, and most often find myself working far too hard to squeeze my foot into a narrow shoe. Even with my wide feet, I had no trouble fitting into these shoes. The toe room is impressive, leaving enough room for my toes to flex naturally, and even a little for them to spread. The shoes have been designed to be worn with or without socks. The inside is soft, both with and without the insole. The top of the foot slides into and under a unique stretchy membrane that is stitched into the sides of the shoe, creating a soft flexible barrier between the top of your foot and the lacing system. This feels very comfortable. The rear of the shoe is well padded, and made of particularly soft suede-like material for extra comfort. Absolutely no break-in period was required. These shoes fit perfectly from the moment I put them on!
They are very light. Probably due, in great part, to the lack of heavy rubber often found in the soles of shoes. You could carry around a pair of these in your bag without even knowing they were there. For that matter, you could carry around several of these! (And you should!)
Flex / Sole
The sole is very thin, probably no more than 2-3mm thick, and very flexible. The entire shoe can easily be folded in half. The bottom of the rubber sole is lightly nubbed for traction, and carries the Vivo Barefoot logo. There is no heel on the shoe. Well done Terra Plana!
Support / Insole
The shoe comes with a light-weight, memory foam insole. With active carbon, the insole is designed to absorb some of the shock of walking, wicks moisture, and has natural odor absorbing properties. This insole, like the shoe, is a unique and well-designed creature. Although I ultimately removed the insole for a better bare foot feeling, it was an amazingly comfortable insole. So comfortable in fact, that I’m going to try to fit it into other shoes that require one The insole provides just enough shock absorption to soften the landing, without the rubbery bounce that so many insoles have. The shoe has no arch support at all, naturally!
Of course, nothing compares to walking barefoot, but these shoes were great. So great in fact, that I immediately had to walk the way I do when I walk barefoot. Heel striking is just not comfortable with these shoes, and that’s a good sign. The shoe is designed to be worn with or without the insole, and when removed, what remains is a perfectly smooth and comfortable sole. Walking feels very barefoot-like without the sensations and subtleties of the ground, but with a natural barefoot foot movement, posture, and walking style. The shoe fits very well, alowing for full natural movement, without a feeling of looseness. Indeed, for an enclosed shoe that looks like a normal shoe, this is the best barefoot sensation I have felt.
There are numerous vents throughout the shoe, hidden beneath a layer of webbing, but large enough that air circulation can be felt immediately. The ventilation is well done and better than the average shoe.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
The shoes are made with an emphasis on stitching rather than using glue. This prolongs the life of the shoe while helping to save the environment. The quality of construction is impressive. As I photographed the shoe, I was impressed with the attention to detail. My only concern lies in the inside of the shoe, where two small strings, one on either side of the flexible foot covering, have loose ends. There is no obvious reason why they should not be stiched down properly. They didn’t cause any problems and didn’t seem to compromise any of the stiching, however they seem out of place for an otherwise very carefully constructed shoe.
Because of all the ventilation, this shoe could not possibly be waterproof. For that matter, I wouldn’t want my foot to be in a waterproof shoe anyway. The principle usually works both ways – keeping the wet out, and keeping it in – Yuck! I did wear them in the rain several times, however, – and my feet remained dry and comfortable.
I normally wear a 43. These shoes came as a 44, but easily could have been another size up. They are perfectly comfortable despite the small size – which speaks volumes to the incredible comfort of these shoes. However, when ordering, I would recommend that you order at least 2 sizes larger than you normally wear. This is also explained on their web-site.
Priced at $150 US on the Terra Plana website, these are not inexpensive shoes, but they are worth it. The quality of construction combined with the comfort and barefoot feeling make these shoes a must-have.
I have never worn such a comfortable enclosed pair of shoes. They feel as close to being barefoot as I could imagine, and they are well made. There is a perfect amount of toe room, and the soft materials make the shoes a pleasure to wear. While these particular shoes are not suitable for a formal business environment, the Vivo Barefoot line has many men’s and women’s styles, many of which would be acceptable to all but the most stuffy offices. They successfully pull off the barefoot feeling, with many of the associated health benefits, where so many others have tried and failed. Finally, they are made by a forward thinking, eco friendly company – and that too is important.
New designs have just been released, including a very comfortable – looking sandal. Perhaps we can convince Vivo Barefoot to send us a review pair of sandals next!
As you read our reviews, please keep in mind that our reviewers review shoes in terms of their suitability for those looking to find the highest quality minimalist shoe products. All reviews are as factual as possible. In an effort to be transparent and ethical, we will point out any defects found, even if these do not affect the usability of the product. Not all defects will be present in final production shoes as we are sometimes offered “seconds” or pre-release products in an effort to provide you with reviews in a timely manor. In the event that serious issues are found with a review sample we will give every opportunity for the manufacturer to replace to explain the review samples before the final review is released. We never accept payments for reviews. We do not guarantee a good review for any products sent to us. We do not review products that do not claim to be minimalist or “barefoot like” unless we receive a significant number of requests from readers or listeners.
Should you have any questions about our review process or would like your product reviewed on our site, please do not hesitate to contact us using our contact page.
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