By Tina Dubois
We recently reviewed a Jambu Bare Feet Design shoe for summer, the Barefoot Vegan, with very positive attributes. This season, Jambu has added to their Bare Feet Designs with some fall/winter options. The Birmingham Barefoot is their ankle-high, leather shoe version for colder temperatures in mind. Does it succeed as well as the first of their shoes we reviewed? Read on…
These boots are, sadly, not comfortable in any way. Once you remove the non-minimalistically designed insole, the inside of the boot isn’t that rough but it’s the fit that seems to cause all the problems. Although I’m fairly certain I have the best size for length, the forefoot is too narrow, the toe box is too short, and the heel cup doesn’t cup my heel at all causing my foot to slide to the very top of the shoe with even the slightest of uneven terrain or descent in addition to moving up and down. My toes felt squished against the top edge of the shoe with almost every step. Although the genuine fur lining is soft against the skin, the shoe moves around so much at the ankle that it’s the hard zipper at the back of the heel, which opens the throat of the shoe to get it on quite easily, that I felt the most against the back of my leg.
I think the fit would be much improved if a) there was some kind of customizable attachment around the ankle so the foot stayed in place and b) the forefoot was much wider. My friend with a narrower foot than me tried on the Birmingham and her first observation was that her heel slipped up and down in the shoe. But she also found that the forefoot was not uncomfortably narrow for her. Therefore, I think most consumers will find that either the forefoot is too narrow or the heel cup is too big–or both for that matter. Some sort of strap or laces to lock your foot in place might help with the heel slipping issue.
Although I found that the Jambu Barefoot Vegan was not uncomfortably narrow, mostly due to the stretchiness of the upper, the Birmingham is too narrow in the forefoot. The leather upper does not stretch and therefore does not allow the narrow outsole to widen. Conversely, the heel seat is plenty wide, which causes the heel to slip up and down within the shoe with every step.
Sole / Flex
The outsole is made of double rice rubber. It wraps around the toes and heel a bit to provide added protection from collisions. It is somewhat flexible under the toes and midfoot but not at all flexible under the heel. The sole pattern is the same as with the Barefoot Vegan, but because the upper doesn’t stretch in the Birmingham, it feels far less flexible. In addition, although I have no way of measuring it, it feels like there is a bit of a heel rise; I’d guess it’s between 1.5 to 3 mm, which is not enough to cause a problem for me but nevertheless, worth mentioning.
Each size women’s 8 shoe weighs 9 ½ ounces or 269 grams. This is one of the heavier minimalist shoes we’ve tested but it is a fall/winter boot. Most of the weight is in the outsole and I did find that I could feel the weight of the shoes while walking.
Support / Insole
The outsole doesn’t provide any support to the arch but does hug the arch, providing extra structure to the shoe.
The insole is thankfully removable as it is in no way a minimalist design. There is a big padded area in the heel area, which is extremely noticeable and raises the heel even further off the ground. It is attached to the footbed with Velcro, which attaches to an extra piece of fabric sewn into the footbed, and was easily discarded. The Birmingham Barefoot is far more suitable as a minimalist shoe without the insole and the footbed is comfortable enough to not need any additional material. As a test, I tried to add a thin insole to the shoe (scavenged from another pair of footwear) but there was not enough volume left in the shoe for my foot to be comfortable—not that it was overly comfortable to start with.
The ground feel in the Birmingham is not great. The outsole material itself is flexible in the forefoot area but the design of the upper prevents a lot of flexibility while wearing the shoe. The heel area of the outsole is not flexible at all. Practically nothing, but the most obtrusive rocks, can be felt while walking outdoors.
The Jambu “All Terra Traction” pattern is a neat and feminine design feature and provides very good grip on man-made and natural surfaces without feeling noticeable underfoot. I find this is a fine line for shoes with grip and the Jambu succeeded well at this challenging aspect of minimalist footwear design. There is more than enough grip on snow- and ice-covered sidewalks and paths.
The upper is made of tumble leather and brushed suede, and is completely enclosed. This shoe does not breathe well. However, it is a fall/winter shoe designed for cooler temperatures so most people wouldn’t want warm air surrounding their feet to escape.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
This shoe is extremely well-made. There are no flaws in any of the stitching or glueing of this product. The materials appear to be of high quality, also with no defects. This shoe will probably be extremely durable.
The packaging is advertised as being 100% recycled. The shoes are wrapped inside the box in biodegradable corn bags, which can apparently be compostable in addition to be reused for other purposes.
The Jambu shoes fit true to size in length. They should fit only the narrowest of feet well in the forefoot but may be too snug on average to wide feet in the midfoot area. The heel seat is made large so unless you have a narrow forefoot and a wide/large heel, this shoe will be difficult to fit properly.
Online pricing for the Jambu Birmingham Barefoot is around $130 USD. This is comparable in price to many fall/winter boot options but due to the lack of comfort and problematic fit issues, I would not buy this product unless you knew it was going to fit your feet well. Therefore, online purchasing may be a risky venture.
Despite the fit and lack of comfort issues, I do like the style of the Birmingham. I find it unique and full of detailed extras to improve their stylishness, including contrast stitching in the upper and its unique and feminine outsole pattern.
I don’t think any amount of wear will make these fit comfortably. The leather is not likely to stretch much in the forefoot area to accommodate a wider foot.
As this is a leather and suede product, before heading out into snow and wet weather, a good leather protecting product application should be in order.
If you find these fit you comfortably, they would make a great-looking fall/winter boot with almost any pair of casual pants.
Jambu is one of those shoe companies with great ideas, and even the occasional great execution, but the Birmingham Barefoot is not one of them. This shoe is not comfortable, not wide enough in the forefoot and too wide in the heel seat to accommodate most feet, doesn’t hold your foot in place, doesn’t have good ground feel, and has a slight heel rise in the outsole. They look great but, sadly, don’t feel as great as one would hope compared to their looks. I would recommend trying them on in a store before buying them and determining if the fit is one that you can live with. Jambu has several types of shoes in the Bare Feet Designs line, and although I liked the Barefoot Vegan, I do not like the Birmingham Barefoot. I still think that if you’re interested in Jambu products, they’re worth trying on and seeing if they work for you.
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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