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.