By Al Gauthier
Review of the VIVOBAREFOOT Achilles Sandal – A split toe minimalist running sandal that will blow your socks off!
We have always respected VIVOBAREFOOT not only for the high quality shoes they produce, but for the innovative, fashionable, and truly minimalist approach. This year, however, is a year of amazing product from VIVOBAREFOOT like we have never seen before. VIVOBAREFOOT has really taken minimalist shoe-making to a whole new level. They have filled some very important holes in the minimalist category and they have done so with cutting edge design. Dressier options are now available in the Hind and the Ra and the performance category is now well rounded with the Evo, Evo II, Neo, and now the Ultra and Achilles.
Minimalist sandals are a category that has been crying out to be properly filled for years. Not only has VIVOBAREFOOT filled this category, but they have done so with some of the most innovative footwear we have ever seen. The Ultra is the ultimate in versatility. The Achilles then is the ultimate minimalist sandal. These unusual looking sandals are not only the most minimalist feeling shoes that we have tested, they are also some of the most comfortable. Read on, but we warn you, you may be tempted to buy a pair after reading the review.
When I first heard of this model, I had my doubts. The design is reminiscent of one of the strangest shoes we’ve seen from VIVOBAREFOOT—the Dopie sandal. This unusual sandal was based on the design that your toes would hold it on, rather than the rest of your foot. The idea had merit, but in practice the shoe wasn’t all that comfortable, the sole wasn’t minimalist, and it was all together rather heavy. To be fair, it wasn’t meant to be a minimalist sandal in the first place. Despite that it wasn’t the perfect design, one has to hand it to a company that is willing to take risks—and risks don’t always pay off.
It was with this mindset that I first approached the Achilles. While it’s true that the design seems to be loosely based on the Dopie, the actual outcome couldn’t be more different. The materials are significantly different. They are thinner, lighter, more flexible, and feel more comfortable against the skin. The strapping system is simple but elegant and the overall feeling is one of a shoe that is incredibly secure, incredibly light, and incredibly flexible. This sole is as thin as you could imagine. The ground perception is amazing and the space between the big toe is actually very comfortable. In fact, it’s significantly more comfortable and natural-feeling than a flip-flop. If you can make it past the unconventional space-age look of the shoe, you can’t get more minimalist than the Achilles. It’s virtually perfect!
The outsole and insole are all essentially one piece, two if you want to be technical, but they are fused together. VIVOBAREFOOT describes the sole as a VB integrated 3D upper-outsole. Essentially it is a one-piece moulded shoe with a footbed designed to give some extra rigidity and puncture resistance glued or fused into it. It’s elegantly simple.
Technically, the stuff is called Thermoplastic Urethane (or TPU). The strapping is Eco Nylon and Neoprene. It’s 100% Vegan.
The total sole depth is only 3 mm, but it’s 3 mm of responsive-feeling TPU and it feels even thinner than that.
I asked VIVOBAREFOOT what the life expectancy of the outsole was and while it was difficult to give figures, they indicated that the life of the TPU sole should be significant, and from wearing them I would be inclined to agree. I have no concerns about the life of this shoe, especially in light of the simple design. There is virtually nothing that can go wrong with the shoe until you wear through the sole completely—and then you’ve really had your money’s worth.
They are as flexible as I’ve ever seen a shoe. The trick here, and really this is part of the technical achievement that is so important, is that despite the 3 mm of ultra-flexible sole material, they are rigid enough to maintain their shape and to never be truly floppy.
These are ultra light. With an advertised weight of 6.5 oz (not sure what size this would be) they feel as though there is nothing on your feet.
Support / Insole
There is, of course, no support—but that’s why we like them. The insole is not removable, but is washable. It is comfortable under-foot and adds that additional puncture resistance that VIVOBAREFOOT is so famous for. I find the texture of the insole area very pleasant against the foot. Unlike other products made of similar materials, the TPU isn’t sticky against the skin, so blisters seem far less likely.
The Achilles has the best ground feel of any shoe that I have tested with the exception of the thinner-soled Fivefingers. If I was to consider how “free” my feet feel inside the Achilles as part of the barefoot feel of a product, than these would be the easy winners. The strapping system feels very secure but is also very minimal. These are as close to feeling barefoot I have experienced in any shoe—and that’s a lot of shoes!
Grip is reasonable in these shoes. The TPU feels secure on wet and dry surfaces. Grip depth is minimal and very slick surfaces or those with a lot of debris would not be suitable for these sandals.
Breathability is outstanding. There is plenty of air circulation around the toes despite the toe guard, and the rest of the shoe is so open that air easily circulates, even under-foot while walking or running. These are as breathable as a shoe could possibly be.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
The quality of the workmanship and the materials is excellent. It is admittedly difficult to get the workmanship wrong in such a simply constructed product. Despite this, we always look for any sign of problems and none could be found in the Achilles.
These are not a water-proof shoe in any way. The low profile of the shoe would lend itself well to water-based activity. Any water that would enter would immediately flow back out again. Even sand would be handled very well by these shoes. Sand would freely enter but also freely exit.
The Achilles fit true to size in width and length. These are wide shoes that easily accommodate a wider foot. Average feet should find these just as comfortable. The design would probably fit a narrow-footed individual well but would leave additional room on either side of the foot. Because of the strapping system, I would expect that the fit would remain snug and comfortable.
At $60 USD on the VIVOBAREFOOT website, these are a bargain. The materials should last for a long time and while the construction is simple, you couldn’t find a better sandal for twice the price.
The Achilles has a futuristic style that is in no way conventional. I expect these shoes will gain a following much like Fivefingers have in the past. There will be those that love the style, and those that hate it, and those who don’t care as long as the shoe does the job.
I find the style appealing. I should note that you may need to be prepared to get some additional attention while wearing these shoes. I live in an area close to the beach where sandals, flip-flops, bare feet, and even more unusual looking shoes like Fivefingers are all very common. Despite this, I have never received so much attention as when wearing these shoes (and remember, I walk around with unusual shoes all the time!). In one day, I had 6 store clerks asking me about the shoes and no less than 15 people openly stop to look at them while I sat at a café. There was even one group of women who came back for a second look after having passed me! Until these become more popular (and I have no doubt they will) be prepared for some extra attention.
They are available in a rainbow of colors to suite your taste. You may even want more than one pair! The strap is removable when unwanted, however it is so comfortable that you may have no reason to take it off.
Note: For those of you who have been following the Achilles release for some time, you may have noticed that previous photographs have included two pads (attached to the strapping) into the design. One pad for the heel, and the other on top of the foot. While this was the original design, the pad on top of the foot is no longer part of the shoe. There are still some photographs and some advertisements that have not yet been updated with the new design, however, no Achilles will ship with the upper pad. I suspect that while the pad was probably not uncomfortable, it was unnecessary. The strapping itself is quite comfortable. It would also have been much more difficult to remove the strapping if the additional pad were included in the design. For these reasons, I suspect (this is unconfirmed) that VIVOBAREFOOT decided not to include it in the final design.
There is no break-in period for these shoes. They should feel comfortable from the moment you put them on. The materials used are mostly synthetic and thus will not change shape with wear.
For those of you who do not normally have any material between your toes, you may find that your skin will need some time to adjust. Having said this, I had no trouble even after many hours of wear.
The materials used require very little maintenance. A good shower under the tap will make the Achilles fresh again.
While the Achilles may not be well suited for rocky terrain, they are excellent sandals for both casual use around town or more aggressive running. The strapping system is very secure and the Achilles feels very comfortable while running or jogging. They are equally well suited for wet conditions where shoes may be required. The virtually non-existent upper and low profile allow water to easily run through. This same attribute will also allow debris, sand, dirt, and rocks to enter the shoe. Because of this, you may find these are best suited to areas where you are not in constant contact with potential debris.
I have a very healthy respect for the VIVOBAREFOOT team. They are producing ground-breaking minimalist footwear. The Achilles is the definition of a minimalist shoe. It feels like a second skin. It is comfortable, has great ground feedback, is ultra light and ultra minimal, is secure, and is versatile. For hot weather, it provides great ventilation. This unusual shoe comes out on top! Well done VIVOBAREFOOT!
Stay tuned for more reviews of some of the great product VIVOBAREFOOT is producing including the Ra and more from the Ultra.
For more information, take a look at the VIVOBAREFOOT website. Make sure you sign up to receive the latest email updates from VIVOBAREFOOT to take advantage of end of season promotions and new product announcements.
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.
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