By Tina Dubois
There are very few truly minimalist trail running shoes on the market so it’s exciting to me (because I love trail running) when the company who brought us the original barefoot shoes, dips its feet into the trail shoe waters. I’ve been waiting for these for a long time, since I first heard rumours about them last year. I had high hopes and even higher expectations of the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail and they most definitely did not disappoint! VIVOBAREFOOT has created a truly minimalist, off road running shoe that is extremely comfortable and has grip to spare.
The Neo Trail is one of the most comfortable minimalist shoes I’ve tested. The liner on the inside of the upper is luxuriously soft against the skin. There is no need to wear socks and there are no worries about blisters or hot spots either. There are no uncomfortable seams to be felt. The inside of the shoe feels more like a slipper than it does a trail runner.
The shoe is wide in all the right places, allowing your feet and bones to spread and move naturally. The toe box is particularly wide with plenty of toe wiggle room. For a running shoe, it’s awesome. For a trail running shoe, you have to cinch the laces pretty tight to keep your foot from slipping forward during technical downhill trail sections. While participating in a trail race I couldn’t tie them quite tight enough My toes felt sore by the end of the race. If you can tie them tight enough around the midfoot they’re perfect. If you’re feet are a little too narrow and you can’t, they are fabulous for flat, uphill, and short downhill sections but I wouldn’t recommend them for prolonged downhill running.
The sole is 2.5 mm thick with 4.0 mm lugs for traction. It has an added piece of material under the arch to, I assume, protect from stone bruising as it’s a little more dense than the rest of the soling material. The angle of the lugs is such that it delivers added traction going uphill on the forefoot and on the downhill on the heel, which is a great idea for a trail shoe.
Despite being 6.5 mm thick in total, the sole is still incredibly flexible. This shoe easily conforms around rocks and contours in the ground. The added material to protect from stone bruising on the arch is less flexible than the rest of the outsole, but if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be doing that good of a job protecting your arch from rocks.
At 8 ¼ ounces or 234 grams for each women’s size 39 shoe, this is not the lightest minimalist shoe we’ve reviewed. However, the weight is well balanced and does not feel heavy when running. The only time they did feel heavy was after they picked up a lot of mud in the rear lugs. I easily washed it off in the next stream and they were back to their usual lightness.
Support / Insole
There is no support built into the shoe, like all VIVOBAREFOOT products. The insole feels significantly thinner than that in the Performance line, including the Evo and Evo II. The new insole is a 3.0 Press EVA insole with less cushioning than previous models I’ve tested. It is removable for easy washing or for added volume and greater ground feel. Although, it feels so thin, it barely impedes ground feel at all.
You wouldn’t think that with 4.0 mm lugs there would be much ground feel. I was incredibly surprised at the rock perception I had while running on gravel trails. I could feel very small rocks and contour changes in the ground. This is probably due to the amazing flexibility of the sole. I was definitely impressed with the sensitivity of the outsole despite its thickness.
The Neo Trail delivers excellent traction. This shoe has phenomenal grip on the slickest mud; the lugs just bite into soft ground. Even on hard, rocky ground these shoes perform! I have had no grip issues on any of the surfaces I’ve tried them on, even in dry or wet conditions and on all sorts of trails. I’m really looking forward to trying them out in the impending snow!
The material directly against the skin in the upper and the material of the tongue breathes fairly well but I found that the material on the outside upper of the shoe does not. Air can get trapped inside the shoe along the sides and toe box if the shoe is tied tightly. My feet haven’t been uncomfortably hot but if your feet are normally hot, you might want to keep these for running in cooler temperatures.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
The quality of materials appears excellent. I expect great durability and I’m confident the materials will last a long time in rough trail conditions. The quality of the stitching is fabulous but there were some extra glue errors along the edge of the upper where it is attached to the soling material. Esthetically, it’s not a significant issue. After I went running the first time I was unable to pick out the error. Given a history of quality manufacturing I would expect this issue to be rare.
This shoe is made of a hydrophobic material that literally repels water. I ran in the rain and the water drops beaded right off. I dipped my toes in a river and the water rolled away from the material and my feet didn’t get wet. I suspect that unless you’re standing in water over the edge of the upper where the tongue is, your feet will not get wet. Again, I’m looking forward to trying these out in snowy conditions and seeing if I can get my feet wet.
These shoes run small; the VIVOBAREFOOT website says “Runs one full size short.” I usually fit a size 38 and the size 39 Neo Trail fits perfectly. For comparison sizing, I falso fit a size 39 in the Evo and Evo II and a size 38 in the Kali and Jazz models. Always check sizing notes on the website before ordering.
At $130 USD on the VIVOBAREFOOT website, these are comparably priced trail running shoes. For a durably made, high quality, comfortable shoe, this is a great value.
Trail shoes aren’t designed to be stylish but for this purpose I like the style of these shoes better than most. There is great attention to detail. The choice of materials and over-all design details all seem well thought-out. The thoughtful design even includes added protection for the toes along the top edge of the upper.
They are currently available for men in light grey/red, olive, royal blue/yellow, navy and black, and for women in light grey/crimson, olive, navy, black/purple, and black.
There is no break-in period needed for these shoes. If they are not comfortable right out of the box, they are probably not the right size for you.
These shoes should be washed by hand in cold water and air dried. This should be sufficient to remove most trail debris and mud. You can always use a nearby stream, lake or river, too.
I found these shoes to be quite warm. I generally have cold feet so this is a great feature for me. They are going to be great for winter running here in Canada. For added warmth on extra cold days, there is plenty of volume for socks, as well.
If your feet are usually hot, you might find these a little too warm for running in warm weather.
These are designed to be trail running shoes. They are not casual, lifestyle, or on-road running shoes. Although they can be used for road, and are comfortable for that use, you’ll probably wear the lugs out before their time if you use them much on asphalt or concrete.
The Neo Trail is another phenomenal product by VIVOBAREFOOT. They are extremely comfortable (with or without socks), have fantastic ground feel, and incredible traction on all wet or dry trail conditions including mud, roots, dirt, and gravel. It’s obvious to me that extra thought went into the design of these shoes in the angles of the lugs, the choice of materials, and the added protection for the arch and toes. The hydrophobic properties of the upper are really going to be handy in wet, snowy winter conditions. They are durably made and comparably priced. If you’ve been craving a truly minimalist trail shoe with excellent grip, the Neo Trail delivers.
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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