Earlier this year I began my first foray into running in Vibram Fivefingers shoes. After giving them a solid three months of running they’ve found a home in my rotation of footwear. Vibram have a really niche product in the minimal footwear market. They have a large range of fivefinger models which suit every terrain and minimal runner.
After some research on the fivefinger models I settled on the V-Alpha. They seemed the best all-round performer for road and trail. The V-Alpha is quite a minimal shoe, underfoot is just 3.7mm of Vibram rubber sole and a 2mm EVA insole. At less than 6 mm underfoot this is very minimal, we will discuss this in more detail later. The upper is a 50/50 blend of wool/poly which assist in comfort through different temperature ranges and controls odour.
As a new fivefingers runner my first question was whether to use socks or not with the V-Alpha. Again, after some research I went for a light toesock initially. First thoughts on the wearing the V-Alpha is they wear smaller than normal shoes, it is important to measure your foot and choose the size off Vibram’s sizing chart. They are designed to wear tighter, particularly in the big toe. This does feel a little restrictive on initial wearing, however I quickly got used to the feeling and have no discomfort wearing the V-Alpha in a very short time. The lacing system is simple, easy and very effective making it easy to tension the shoe quickly.
My first thought when running in the V-Alpha was of how responsive thy are for a shoe with just 5.7mm between my foot and ground. Almost immediately running the V-Alpha puts you on the ball of your feet and comfortably push off the big toe. Even with the initial restrictive feeling pushing off the big toe felt comfortable. Vibram have done a great job with V-Alpha giving the runner a nice barefoot feeling.
Ground feel is very noticeable, the runner can feel everything they want to feel underfoot. When running on a relatively smooth surface there is great benefit from this, coupled with a highly responsive shoe the running experience is very enjoyable.
The advantage of increased ground feel is the perception and awareness of the terrain below you. For barefoot traditionalists the more ground feel the better, for runners looking to produce their best performance there is a trade-off. Too much ground feel and you will reduce performance as feet get sore or injured from harsh terrain. Just the right amount and you can gain all the performance benefits of running naturally with a mid foot landing. On a road surface the V-Alpha has perfect ground feel. The detail can be felt which gives the runner the sensitivity and awareness to engage with ground just as nature intended us to.
When we hit the trails, it gets slightly more interesting. The ground feel is even more noticeable and makes the runner have a heightened awareness of foot placement. While this is still adequate protection over most terrain, sharp rocky terrain become problematic. You easily feel the rocks underneath and can feel pain when running through this type of terrain. This will affect performance on the trails if the terrain features sharp exposed rocks.
The V-alpha are a very flexible shoe which allows a full range of motion for the runner. This gives the runner a natural barefoot feel, while the five-finger design almost lets each toe move naturally. It certainly does with the big toe as it can move independently in the shoe. This makes the push off phase of the runners gait very natural and makes running very smooth and comfortable.
The upper material is highly breathable and makes for a comfortable result in all conditions. Over a long run in warm weather the feet didn’t feel hot or humid. Alternatively in cooler conditions the feet are still comfortable and coupled with a light toe sock warm. Additionally, the upper material is durable and easy to wash off in cold water. They also dry quickly.
Longevity is commonly spoken about when you research the Vibram Fivefinger products. I’ve been running in the V-Alpha now for three months and put over 300km into them over a variety of terrains, however more recently running has been completed on road surfaces. My V-Alpha’s are still in very good condition with minimal wear on the soles. I have to say in my experience the V-Alpha offers very good longevity, I think they would be less than halfway through their life at this point.
I find the V-Alpha to be a suitable shoe as an all-round barefoot shoe. They are best suited over smoother terrains and very well suited on the road. I have used them over most types of training I’ve used them for. I regular use the on my interval workouts and they perform well due to their responsiveness. I’ve also completed long runs in them and been happy with the result.
Overall I have been super impressed with the V-Alpha. I’ve definitely become a converted Vibram Fivefingers runner into the future. These have found there way into my rotation as a perfect shoe for road and lighter trails. I’m equally comfortable wearing these over a short faster workout or a long run and will divide their time with the other footwear I utilise over these specific runs.
The keys features are the responsive running feeling. The ground feel is a major highlight which over most surfaces give the runner the perfect mix of awareness and protection.
Light, flat, flexible, comfortable and responsive. Not much more you need in a running shoe. These are a winner and should be in every minimal runners footwear rotation.