Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Minimalist Shoes

I'm all for minimalism. (I adore minimalist fashion, interior design and architecture.) So when kigo footwear approached me about testing one of their minimalist shoes, I jumped at the opportunity. The idea behind their product line is that the shoes are very much in keeping with the barefoot lifestyle. In other words, these shoes don't have any of the cushioning or support you typically expect from a workout shoe, for example. But shoes like these that mimic barefoot walking -- and there are many products on the market, from the Vibram Five Fingers to the Nike Free -- claim that getting back to barefoot walking strengthens your legs and feet, improves your performance and reduces injuries.


Since I'm also an exercise physiologist, I'm quite familiar with this subject and, over the years, have kept up with the research on shoes that mimic barefoot walking. The trend towards minimalist shoes started years ago when people observed that the Masai in East Africa walk barefoot over great distances while carrying heavy loads. And the Taramuhara people in Mexico have long practiced barefoot running. Yet, I don't think the evidence is clear that everyone can benefit from this category of shoes. In fact, it could lead to injuries in people who have various biomechanical problems or who have a history of injuries to the foot, ankle, knee, hip or back.

But, this aside, I chose to test the kigo flit model. It's a very light (under 5 oz) mary jane-style shoe, which is billed, in their marketing materials, as a shoe "...that works well for everyday, yoga or Pilates, gym wear, hiking, paddle and more." The company's eco credentials are great: the flit arrived minimally packaged (just a recycled box and minimal recycled paper wrap) and the shoes, which are constructed from non-toxic materials, can be recycled. (You can just send them back to the Santa Barbara-based company.)

Since I have a very wide foot, I was happy that I chose this model which was plenty wide. Though I found that after just wearing them just three times, they seemed to get wider and wider. I noticed on kigo's website that they recommend just washing the shoe and letting it sun dry to deal with this. (I wasn't into doing that after using them for such a short time.)

I wore them all over the city and found that the sole had great traction on slippery surfaces. But, I am one of those people with a multitude of biomechanical issues (and plenty of previous lower extremity overuse injuries from all my sports activities). So I didn't find the shoes comfortable. In fact, my feet and back felt tired after walking just a few hours. Without any cushioning, I found the impact pretty hard. (I definitely wasn't going to try them for light hiking.)

In addition, as the savvy traveler, I find the idea of toting along a shoe that packs totally flat (like this one) to be an appealing one. But, I just didn't find the style with the obvious light-colored stitching all that attractive. And, as you may know, I've blogged about my favorite mary jane-style shoe made by Keen that I carry on all my trips. (I find it comfortable for an entire day of walking, attractive and it packs plenty small and has good traction, too.)

What I did like about the kigo flit is that it was a good shoe to take along to the gym. It's so slim that it easily fit into my slim bag along with all my other gear. Pilates, spinning and Zuma classes and it was fine. I didn't like it for any impact activities because I found it jarring on my feet, ankles and knees.

Overall, I'll definitely use the flit at the health club. But, the flit just isn't my thing for all the other suggested activities. You can try 'em out. You may like them, especially if you don't have any foot, ankle, knee or back issues that might prohibit their use. Plus, it's always good to find a green company.

22 comments:

Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi said...

Good to hear a take on barefoot shoes from someone who isn't a "true believer". I've been interested for a while, but haven't bought any yet.

JTravel said...

Hi Melanie, Yes, definitely not a true believer. My friends love these kind of shoes. They just don't work for me.

Jane Boursaw said...

They're adorable, but not sure they'd be a good "fit" for me. I seem to need good heavy-duty walking shoes for, well, walking and hiking.

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

So glad you did not sugar coat the review. Like you, I need cushioning under my foot, and slipper-type shoes won't cut it.

JTravel said...

Hi Jane, I'm with you on that. But, some people love feeling like they're barefoot and they don't seem to have any issues when wearing them for hiking.

JTravel said...

Hi Vera Marie, Glad you liked my post. I always try to lay out my reviews with nothing but honest appraisals.

merr said...

These are so cute! I think I saw someone wearing a pair the other day. They look perfect for travel, but also for everyday life at home! I want to check them out.

JTravel said...

Hi merr, the company sells a variety of different styles. I just love mary janes, though. Let me know what you think of 'em if you buy a pair.

Alisa Bowman said...

The more minimal I go with shoes, the more issues I have with pain. Maybe shoes have ruined my feet over the past 40 years to make barefoot style shoes bad for my feet.

Alexandra said...

Thanks for trying out these shoes and reporting on them. I have mary janes from Bourne and they are wonderfully comfortable.

JTravel said...

Hi Alisa, I'm with you. I'm fine walking barefoot in the house, garden or on the beach. But that's it.

JTravel said...

Hi Alexandra, I'm not familiar with Bourne but I'll check 'em out. I love mary janes.

Living Large said...

Thanks for this review. I have very small feet, which makes finding "big people" shoes difficult. I also need something with good support.

Brette Sember said...

I wear Keds a lot but find I have trouble with them too because there isn't a lot of cushioning under the ball of my foot. I don't think these shoes would work for me either.

JTravel said...

Hi Living Large, I'm all about support, too. But, when my friend read my review, she emailed me saying that these sound like her kind of shoes. She hates support/cushioning.

JTravel said...

Hi Brette, I used to wear Keds also, more because they came in cute colors. But my feet didn't do well with them, either.

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

These sound like they're worth a test run for me - I love my Toms shoes because they pack well and are comfy, but I'd like something a little less sporty.

JTravel said...

Hi Casey, It's always great to have a comfy and packable pair of shoes.

MyKidsEatSquid said...

These are cute. When I travel I tend to pack my Lands End shoes that have more ankle support but are still light. I'll have to look for these, tho and try 'em out.

JTravel said...

Hi MyKidsEatSquid, Lands End makes some nice shoes. Check these out, though, bearing in mind that there's definitely no ankle support or cushioning on the sole.

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

I often joke that the hallmark of my own "middle age" is needing shoes with good arch support. While I'm tempted by shoes like this, I fear my experience would be the same as yours.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking for a (normal looking) pair of minimalist shoes after I have fallen in love with my Vibram five finger shoes for walking and jogging.
I'm going to check these out!!
I'm curious, don't you think that taking these shoes on a long trek to break them in isn't giving them a fair chance, because you are supposed to work into them gradually?
I started wearing my toe shoes about half an hour at a time until I got used to the new mechanics of walking and running... Now I wear them all day long, and my feet and legs (and especially my knee, which I used to injure frequently) have never felt better.
But make no mistake, the first few days in them were pain!