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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Find “Living Barefoot” in iTunes and download it onto your iPod / iPhone or listen online
Stay updated by being notified when we release a new reviews. Subscribe Here.
As Living Barefoot continues to grow our costs keep increasing. In order to cover the many costs necessary to provide our readers and listeners with the great quality reviews and content on Living Barefoot we would like to request your help.
If you like what we are doing, we are asking for a tiny contribution to show your support. We guarantee you won’t notice the missing contribution, but if enough people participate, it can be a significant contribution to help continue to innovate and bring you great reviews, news, and personalities through the Living Barefoot Show.
What will we do in return? We’ll continue to offer you great free news, reviews, and guest interviews on our show. We will also decrease the amount of advertising on our site as subscriptions increase.
Donate as little as $1 monthly. The subscription will simply deduct $1 from your bank or credit card monthly. You can cancel the automatic withdrawal at any time. You won’t notice $1, but we will!