By Al Gauthier
We have very fond memories of the original VIVOBAREFOOT Aqua. Back in 2009, when we began our journey into review writing, the VIVOBAREFOOT Aqua was the first shoe we wrote a review for. We were very impressed with the shoe. Given the limited momentum of barefoot running and minimalist shoes at the time, the shoe was a very considerable achievement. Since then, VIVOBAREFOOT has developed their product line into one of the most versatile collections of any minimalist shoe manufacturer. When VIVOBAREFOOT started they were a small addition onto the much larger Terra Plana. Last year, they stepped away from under that umbrella to feature more prominently in the minimalist market. Included in their newer collection is the new Aqua Lite, the original Aqua reinvented.
The Aqua Lite is—as you might have guessed—is a lighter version of the original Aqua. With more breathable fabrics on the upper and the same 3 mm TPU outsole. With new styling and new fabrics, the improved Aqua is even better than the original, without losing it’s roots.
The Aqua Lite is super-comfy. The breathable upper makes for a much cooler shoe, and that’s a great thing in my books. I would rather control temperature through the use of socks. Thin and breathable materials make these very comfortable. Combine this with the wide VIVOBAREFOOT last and a thin 3 mm outsole, these were born winners. Despite the considerable improvements, I still found these hotter than I would prefer for a performance product. One must keep in mind, however, that I have hot feet and live in a very warm climate. If I were to rate these on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being a sandal, and 10 being a warm winter boot, I would rate them a 5.
Like most VIVOBAREFOOT shoes, the Aqua has a wide last. There seems to be some difference in the width of VIVOBAREFOOT models and it appears that the construction of the upper, rather than last design, is the difference between the variety of widths. Thankfully, these shoes are as wide as VIVOBAREFOOT models get and my toes are happy that way.
The outsole is made with the original VIVOBAREFOOT soling material. This is made of latex rubber and TPU abrasion-resistant material. These combine to form a 3 mm thick sole. 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 upper. I did not find limitations in the flexibility of the shoe aside from a slight resistance from the fabric itself.
These are very light, especially when compared to a typical runner/trainer. You will wonder how you ever dragged around your feet in traditional shoes.
Support / Insole
There is no arch support designed into the shoe. As with all VIVOBAREFOOT products, the Aqua Lite 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. 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 feet in both configurations.
Ground textures are easily felt through the thin sole material. The flexibility is excellent, especially considering the more typical rigid 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 on wet and slick surfaces is more than adequate for the average user. Your feet won’t find significant grip on icy surfaces or loose materials, but for urban adventures, these are great.
You won’t feel the wind between your toes, but for a fully enclosed upper, these allow a decent amount of air circulation and cooling. I would like to have seen even less material in the upper, but for the average person, these are just as airy as the average training shoe.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
VIVOBAREFOOT products are well-made. The material 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 waterproof shoe but do provide significant water resistance. Your feet should remain dry during light rain or slightly wet conditions.
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 $115 USD on the VIVOBAREFOOT website, these are well-priced and a good value for a high quality pair of running/training shoes. Cheaper shoes can always be found, but when quality and comfort are considered, the price is always worth it.
Despite the intended use of the Aqua Lite, the style is reminiscent of a cross between a skate shoe and a sneaker. They are undeniably casual and youthful. There are three color options: all black, two shades of grey, or two shades of blue. All three flavors are served on a white VIVOBAREFOOT outsole. The white of the outsole creates a pleasant contrast between the upper and the sole, but where function is concerned, white outsoles are never the most practical choice. The fabric of the black pair I tested picked up dust and dirt easily, but was also easily cleaned off.
The Aqua Lites are easily cared for; the fabric can be wiped with a lint-free cloth for cleaning.
While not airy, they are relatively cool when compared to regular running shoes or trainers. For those with warm feet, these might be just a little bit too stuffy, but for most they will be just right.
The Aqua Lites are aimed at runners but are really a perfect casual shoe for just about any activity. The wonderful thing about true minimalist shoes is that, while they might be aimed at a particular use, they are often exceptionally versatile. These make great shoes for everyday life. Whether you are walking to the pub for a pint, or off for a long run, these are flexible shoes in every way.
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 Aqua has evolved into a refined, stylish, versatile, and comfortable shoe. Another winner from VIVOBAREFOOT!
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.
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