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"Barefoot" Footwear

Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Ra – Perhaps the Perfect Minimalist / Barefoot Dress Shoe







By Al Gauthier

Review of the VIVOBAREFOOT Ra – A Comfortable Oxford for Every Man (and the BEST Minimalist Dress Shoe We’ve Seen!!)
The minimalist shoe category has historically been one that has made many compromises.  With an emphasis on function over from, style has often been completely overridden by barefoot-like form.  Vibram Fivefingers are the perfect example of a shoe born out of this new priority.  While I happen to like the aesthetics of Fivefingers, they are not to everyone’s taste, and certainly they are not appropriate for many formal environments, despite the significant efforts of many to buck the trend and wear a pair of black FiveFingers to corporate functions.

VIVOBAREFOOT has been attempting to balance function and style for a couple of years now and, considering the difficulty of the task, we have always been happy with the outcome.  With the recent Spring/Summer 2011 Collection that is now being released, however, I am more excited than ever about any minimalist product that has come before.  VIVOBAREFOOT has finally achieved a level of quality, style, and minimalist function that is up to the standards of not just the minimalist market, but the more style-conscious general public.  VIVOBAREFOOT has also managed to fill a couple of very important gaps: we finally have some top quality business appropriate minimalist footwear and some excellent minimalist sandals.  We are very excited to bring you a series of reviews of VIVOBAREFOOT’s latest models, but for the moment let me focus on the Ra.

The Ra is not just an attempt at a business appropriate oxford, it IS a proper oxford.  These are shoes that look absolutely appropriate and stylish in the business world with all the right minimalist features. Shockingly, these are the first truly minimalist business style shoes on the market.  Happily, they fill this niche very well.


The Ra is wonderfully comfortable.  The standard VIVOBAREFOOT last is foot-shaped unlike almost all men’s dress shoes of today.  The leather is comfortable and flexible, and the included removable insole provides a small degree of shock absorption that is the right balance between ground feedback and the added comfort for those who might be on their feet all day.  These are the most comfortable dress shoes that I have ever had on my feet.

Like most VIVOBAREFOOT shoes, the Ra is wider than average.  There is ample room for the toes to move naturally and the foot does not feel constrained.  The lacing system is well designed and should accommodate most foot widths.  These are appropriate for average and wide feet, and I expect would also suit those with more narrow feet provided you are not bothered by a little extra toe room.

The outsole is made with the original VIVOBAREFOOT sole made of latex rubber and TPU abrasion resistant material with a 3 mm thickness.  The sole is exceptionally flexible and durable.  It is an excellent balance between significant ground feel and protection.  This is a true zero-drop shoe with no thickness difference between the heel and toe.

The sole material allows for significant flexibility.  The shoe is limited only by the structure of the leather upper.  I did not find any limitations in the flexibility of the shoe.

These are very light, especially when compared to a typical business appropriate footwear.  You will wonder how you ever dragged around your feet at work after wearing these shoes.



Support / Insole
There is no arch support designed into the shoe.  As with all VIVOBAREFOOT products, the Ra provides an anatomically accurate last without any arch support.  This is, of course, as it should be.  The removable insole provides a small amount of shock absorption, but not so much that your natural gait is hindered—you still can’t heel strike in these shoes with any level of comfort.  If you are on your feet all day, you will appreciate the extra cushion. The antibacterial material will also fight odour. If you are after the pure minimalist experience, they are easily removed.  The footbed is designed to be used with or without the insole and is comfortable for bare foot in both configurations.

Barefoot Feel
Ground textures are easily felt through the thin sole material.  The flexibility is excellent, especially considering the business alternative.  To even the most die hard minimalist shoe fan, these will satisfy.  The use of the insole slightly reduces the ability to feel textures under foot but they are easily removed.

Grip is reasonable in these shoes.  The sole is the same design used to make most of VIVOBAREFOOT’s shoes.  Grip in wet and slick surfaces is more than adequate for the average user.   So long as you aren’t commuting to work on snow or ice, you shouldn’t find a need for better grip.

I wish we lived in a world where a more casual sandal would be considered business attire.  Sadly most work environments require a closed shoe for style and safety.  The Ra is no more breathable than any oxford that you might wear.  There isn’t any unnecessary materials used that would hinder ventilation, but there is no provision for added ventilation. This is sadly how it needs to be if you are after this style of shoe.  Breathability is poor, but certainly no more restrictive than any alternative.

Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
VIVOBAREFOOT products are well-made.  The pull up leather used is of excellent quality.   The workmanship in our sample pair was without fault.  I expect these will last for many years.

Water Resistance
These are not a water-proof shoe but do provide significant water resistance.  The leather construction doesn’t readily accept water into the shoe.  In all but the wettest of conditions, your feet should remain dry.

The sample pair fit true to size in length and width.  These are excellent shoes for those with standard to wide feet.  Those with narrow feet may find there is more toe room than would otherwise be needed.  Due to the lacing system, I would suspect that even narrow feet would find a good fit through the heel and midfoot.

At $150 USD on the VIVOBAREFOOT website, these are well-priced and good value for a high quality pair of dress shoes.  Cheaper shoes can always be found but when quality and comfort are considered the price is always worth it.

While these are very much an oxford that is suitable in all but the most trendy business environments (pointy-toed alligator hide anyone?) the style of these shoes is modern and very flexible.  While no one would find them inappropriate for work, these shoes would just as easily enjoy a night out on the town or a casual afternoon with a pair of jeans.  The black upper and black sole combination is without a doubt the most business appropriate.  For those looking for a slightly more casual look, a brown upper and natural rubber sole or the light coloured suede are both nicely styled alternatives.

Break-in Period
For the first time we have seen a warning on the VIVOBAREFOOT website about a break-in period.  The following is written on the website: Note: Back part of shoe has a high cut, needs breaking in first to prevent any blister issues that might occur. Please wear socks first to prevent any issues.  This Message has now been removed from the VIVOBAREFOOT website.

At no point did I have any discomfort wearing the Ra.  I did, however, predominantly wear these shoes with socks.  Your own experience may vary but these have been some of the most comfortable shoes I’ve had the pleasure of wearing – and that’s a significant statement. I feel strongly that shoes should not require a break-in period, however, at times the materials used and the style of even the most comfortable shoe may require a little time for the skin to adjust to the new contact. I don’t expect anyone will find the Ra uncomfortable.  If you do, please leave your comments.

Shoe care
The pull up leather used on the black and brown models of the Ra require very little maintenance.  One of the unique benefits of this type of leather is that small scratches and marks on the leather surface can be “erased” with only a finger and a little pressure.  This should make these shoes very easy to care for.

While the upper is all leather, the leather is not significantly thick.  With socks these shoes would be more than warm enough in most weather conditions.  For those who live in colder climates during the winter, these may not provide a significant amount of warmth.

These versatile shoes are at home in an office, at the café, or going for a long walk.  The outsole is suitable for any city-dwelling activity.  These are a lifestyle shoe and lack some of the qualities found  in more active models like the Neo, Evo, and Ultra.  These are, however, an excellent every day shoe.

VIVOBAREFOOT has grown over the past two years from an innovative company producing great footwear to an innovative company producing some of the best minimalist footwear available.  The quality, style, and comfort of these shoes is top-notch and indicative of the exciting things to come from VIVOBAREFOOT. These stylish business appropriate shoes not only tick all the boxes but do so with the refined quality of a company who really knows what they are doing and where they are going.  If you suffer at work, don’t waste any time and get your feet into a pair of these great shoes!  They are, after all, the only truly minimalist business appropriate men’s oxford.  Finally someone has filled this niche, and filled it well.

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.


Other Great Living Barefoot Articles:

Buy Vibram FiveFingers at these quality online retailers:

Rock Creek
Half Moon Outfitters
The Flip Flopper


About Living Barefoot Reviews:

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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20 comments for “Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Ra – Perhaps the Perfect Minimalist / Barefoot Dress Shoe”

  1. I just received my pair of Ra’s yesterday. So far I agree with everything in this review. Comfortable, light, good looking. I’m lucky that my employer allows me to wear Vibram Five Fingers but sometimes I just want to look a little more dressy. These are going to fit the bill nicely!

    Posted by Bob (Downtown Runner) | October 7, 2011, 10:37
  2. Have owned a pair of these for six months. They are an excellent shoe for the work environment and very comfortable. Highly recommend them.

    Posted by Jason Hughston | October 7, 2011, 21:27
  3. Great review! I’ve been holding off on the Ra and Off Road Hi until coupons are sent out. With the holiday season coming up I hope that’s not too far off.

    Posted by Robert | October 20, 2011, 01:34
  4. Make sure you subscribe to the VIVOBAREFOOT newsletter. That’s the best place to find out about sales. Although its important to note that sales don’t always cover all designs, and many styles sell out before they ever have the opportunity to go on sale – you can end up saving anywhere from 20 to 40% but it’s a risky thing to do if you really like a particular shoe. Good luck!!

    Posted by Al Gauthier | October 20, 2011, 05:50
  5. Thanks for the great review Al, glad you like the VIVOBAREFOOT Ra!

    Posted by Jamie at VIVOBAREFOOT | October 25, 2011, 19:00
  6. Thanks Jamie! It’s such a pleasure to review great product!

    Posted by Al Gauthier | October 25, 2011, 19:21
  7. [...] Al Gauthier  from Living Barefoot recently reviewed our VIVOBAREFOOT [...]

    Posted by VIVOBAREFOOT | Community | October 26, 2011, 00:32
  8. I’ve been wearing the Ra as my day to day shoe for about 5 months now. It’s a wonderful shoe and my ankles are now pain-free.

    That being said, it is not a stylish shoe. The width makes it very noticeable compared to other shoes and the lack of a heel seems to convince people that I’m shorter than I am. Love them, but by being different, people will notice.

    Posted by Cameron W. | October 27, 2011, 07:07
  9. It’s true, it’s not the pointed-toe dress shoe with a heel that is so popular at the moment, but there is no such shoe that would come even close to minimalist. Personally I have never had anyone comment or seen anyone notice my shoes. Unless you work in a very trendy environment, I suspect they will easily fly under the radar.

    Posted by Al Gauthier | October 27, 2011, 08:20
  10. [...] vergleich zu so manch anderem versuch in dieser richtung, scheint sich hier tatsächlich eine interessante alternative [...]

    Posted by uniformprobleme… « laufenminimal | November 4, 2011, 18:51
  11. I think it is not about “pointy-toed alligator hide”, but simply about classical aesthetics. And the Vivo Barefoot, with their wide toe-box, simply do not comply to the classical concept of an elegant shoe. Certainly the embossed logo on the outside and the choice of oxford instead of derby design do not help make it more suitable for really elegant attire (I would never wear the Ras with a suit!).

    That said, for a business casual environment, and under consideration of the significant health benefits of minimalist shoes, I do occasionally wear them in the office (e.g. together with dark blue chinos). They are certainly a welcome addition to the collection.

    Posted by RB | January 11, 2012, 03:12
  12. I just received the red/brown Ra’s. I have their Oak’s, which I love, and wanted a pair of minimalist shoes that would go with khakis and a buttoned-up shirt.

    My initial impression is that this are spectacular. They fit more like a traditional shoe than the Oak’s (which are softer and more moccasin-like). I disagree with the Oct 26 post about this being noticeably wide or different compared to other shoes. To me, these look like cool, old-school casual dress shoes. They look great with jeans or khakis, and to me look much better than the more common heeled-pointy-hard leather dress shoe.

    My only concern with both of my Vivobarefoots is this: will they hold up over time? They are expensive (as you know), and I’m hoping to get a lot of wear out of shoes that cost more than $100 per pair. I’m wondering if the thinner sole will be durable.

    Posted by Antiquity | January 19, 2012, 07:10
  13. Thanks for your comments.

    I understand your concern about how long the outsole will last. I had the same question when I started to wear them. For work, these have become my shoe of choice. Based on my use, which includes a moderate amount of walking at work, I would say they would easily last 2 or 3 years of full time use before i would ever become concerned about wear. This is of course just a guess, but I feel they are holding up just as well, if not better, than other formal shoes I have owned. Considering the comfort of these shoes, the price is very affordable.

    Posted by Al Gauthier | January 19, 2012, 08:20
  14. [...] : Toe Shoes & Minimalist Shoes They have more dressy styles that would work for weddings, Living Barefoot | Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Ra – Perhaps the Perfect Minimalist / Barefoot Dress Sh… They take some time to get used to, you have to give the muscles and ligaments in your feet a [...]

    Posted by My feet hurt after weddings....What kind of shoes do you wear? - Page 3 | April 11, 2012, 02:36
  15. I work in a formal environment which means suit and tie every day. After 8 weeks off over Christmas/New Year barefoot, and having just got back into minimalist/barefoot running I was dreading going back to work! Furthermore, due to changes in my feet during that 8 weeks, I found that 2 of my 3 dress shoes no longer fit me properly!!

    Finding the Ra and having it delivered just before work returned was a God-send! These shoes have been wonderful. It has required me needing to adjust some of my pant lengths, but these have never looked out of place in our meetings, conferences, dinners or workplace with a full suit. They have even served me for other formal occasions outside of work.

    In over 4 months that I have been wearing them 5 days a week, they have been comfortable, are wearing exceedingly well (and yes, I spend a considerable amount of time walking around our campus and on my feet, not just behind my desk) and show no signs of deterioration yet in the sole or the upper.

    I highly recommend these (even with a suit) for any minimalist/barefoot proponent who due to workplace considerations needs dress shoe.

    Posted by Mark G | April 25, 2012, 11:13
  16. Hi Mark, thanks for your thoughtful comments. It’s great to hear our experienced mirrored by the public.

    Posted by Al Gauthier | April 25, 2012, 14:42
  17. I am a consultant who is on my feet a lot. I started wearing the Vivobarefoot Ra in black, and wore them for about 5 weeks straight to client sites and work. I worked with client organizations where the staff often wore uniforms, but not always.

    The shoe is extremely comfortable – in fact, it is amongst the most comfortable pairs of shoes I’ve ever worn. They are great for standing or walking for extended periods, as I was required to do for weeks at a time.

    However, I vehemently disagree with the notion that these shoes are “dress shoes” in any way, shape, or form. You can get away with them in a more casual, laid-back business setting. However, wearing them with a suit looks silly. They are so wide that they look like clown shoes. Worse, the leather and outsole look cheap and feel cheap. If you do plan on wearing them for 10 to 12-hour days Like I did, the leather wears very poorly. Within a couple of weeks, the shoes looked even cheaper than they did when I bought them.

    And people *did* notice. I got some compliments on how ‘comfortable’ my shoes looked. My goal was to not have them be noticed at all. I certainly did not get any compliments on the appearance of the shoes. Eventually, I stopped wearing them to events where I had to be conscious of appearances.

    Bottom line: the Ra is a very comfortable shoe, and you can probably get away with wearing them in a casual office. But if you are in a client-facing job, or you are wearing a suit, find something else. Given the stellar reviews and the $150 price tag, I expected a lot more from them.

    Posted by Jay M | May 23, 2012, 22:32
  18. Hi Folks,

    Can someone help with sizing? I own the Aquas both is size 41 and 42. The 42 is too large and the 41 is a tiny bit too small. I wear my vivobarefoot’s without the insole. When purchasing the Ra’s should I buy the 42′s or 41′s. Really torn on the sizing. I live in Canada, so return shipping will be expensive if needed. Thank you for any suggestions.


    Posted by Martin | June 8, 2012, 11:36
  19. Hi Martin,

    Thanks for contacting us. It’s difficult to answer your question as every foot is different and you are clearly often in between sizes. What I would recommend is that you contact VIVOBAREFOOT directly. Give them your measurements (foot length, width, etc) and tell them about your previous experience. Sometimes sizing change from one production run to another, thus even if we were able to tell you what we would do based on our experience, the shoes may have changed slightly since we tested them.

    Best of luck!


    Posted by Al Gauthier | June 8, 2012, 21:20
  20. I bought these because I recently changed work locations into a huge facility in which I found myself walking a few miles a day and I wanted a pair of minimalist shoes to go with my suits. My work environment is suit/tie professional but I have been wearing VFF’s and other minimalist shoes for training and running for about 2 years now.


    I’ve read some comments that say they don’t go with suits. Well I have been wearing suits for about 10 years every day and they do go with them. Even the dark brown pair goes with them. Some people might not like their style, but they are still suit and tie appropriate. There are other minimalist offerings claiming to be professionally appropriate just because they’re leather that are just not and these are not them.

    I’ve also read some comments saying they need to get their pants retailored. I disagree, I think if that is the case, your pants were too long or short to begin with. None of mine need to be retailored.

    I was initially worried about losing an inch of height because while I’m naturally tall, who doesn’t like an extra inch? I think in the end the lost inch from the heel got balanced out by the naturally improved posture so I’m ok with it.

    I finally feel comfortable walking a few miles at work with plenty of room for my toes and I feel more encouraged to get up from my desk and walk around. They definitely required a break in period, but this is expected from any leather shoe. There was some initial pressure on the tops of my feet and some cutting around the heels but it went away so good.

    Durability – They seem durable enough for work shoes, I’m not running trails in them.


    I’m used to wearing 4-500 dollar Cole Haan or Allen Edmond type designers and compared to them, the leather is very low quality. That being said, it is higher quality than what you would see from sketchers or a base shoe from walmart. More on par with a standard non designer shoe from Men’s Warehouse. It really is the quality of what you would expect from a $130 dress shoe. I just think of it as a negative because I wish there was an option to pay more to upgrade the leather.

    There really is too much room in the toe box. Looking straight down on them, they really do look like clown shoes. That being said, I’m the only one who looks straight down on them so looking at them in a mirror, from someone else’s perspective, they look like standard oxfords with no heel.

    The laces are low quality and need to be replaced. They didn’t break or anything, again, just not high quality dress shoe laces.


    I’m happy with these, I’m going to continue wearing them over my other designer options and I would buy them again. Vivo, if you’re reading this, I would pay triple the cost for a superior leather upgrade option similar to what Skora is offering, especially if the wide toe box is streamlined just a bit. I don’t know if the market is there yet, just my opinion.

    Posted by Roark | October 2, 2012, 23:54

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