Sunday, 13 March 2016

Hiking in Vibram 5 fingers

You may have seen from my hiking posts that I do all my hiking in Vibram five fingers (some shorter hikes, 2 hours or so I’ll do in bare feet). I even wrote a whole post about what I wear on my feet, you can find that here. This post however, is specifically about hiking in Vibrams.

I had been wearing Vibram 5 fingers and into bare footing for years before I got into doing any longer hiking and multi days so it was natural for me to just start hiking in 5 fingers as opposed to shoes or big hiking boots. One of the questions/suggestions/fears from others came in the form of needing ankle protection/stability. The typical conversation went on about uneven ground, heavy load on my back and the increased risk of rolling an ankle. Since I had been in 5 fingers for years before hand as my daily shoes, runners (up to 10km) and for parkour I had built up my very own ankle stability, I didn’t need to get it form a pair of boots.

As an aside I have once rolled an ankle, if you can call it that. I was walking backwards, carrying one side of a 150kg window when I slipped on a raised garden bed rolling my ankle. It took 75kg of additional weight to roll my ankle and the next day there was only very minor stiffness. So I feel more than confident in my ankle stability.

So the first main point:

Before you start hiking in 5 fingers your feet need to be conditioned to it.

I wore mind daily and could run 10km easily in them without feeling any pain in my feet or calves the next day so my feet were more than ready for the test.

And the second main point:

Your feet will be sore the next day

After all of my big hikes my feet have been somewhat sore the next day, a kind of worked muscle soreness from training. The hikes that I have done have been pretty long often 20km on the first day, so 20km on uneven ground with a 16-20kg pack is a huge task even if you are used to 5 fingers daily. This isn’t a major problem so long as you’re not planning to go for 2-3 days of 20km per day on your first hike in 5 fingers.

This next point applies to obstacle course racing also

You will spend a lot of the time with wet/muddy shoes

There will be mud
There will inevitably be a stream, or puddle or big mud pit that you have to cross, often there is a way around but if you’re in the bush you will come to one you cannot easily get around. You have to give in to the fact that your feet will be wet and muddy. I don’t often make much effort to get around big mud puddles now, since I know my feet will eventually get wet.

On this point it’s often easier to just keep walking in there is a little something in your shoe that bugging you as long as it’s not too big. Vibrams are difficult to get on and off when wet so it’s easier to just keep going. But then again I never get blisters so I can get away with something rubbing on my foot for hours.

Now for something quite timely

The risk of injury is greater

If you follow my posts you will know that I broke a toe on my last hike, and re injured my big toe joint on the hike before that. You really have to remain in the moment while hiking to stay safe, and you need to stay on top of your pre-hab and rehab to look after your feet. I hope to make a post in the future on my foot care/training.

Now lastly a look at the KSO vs the KSO trek

 I did my first hikes in KSO’s since they were my every day shoes and are the thinnest fully covered 5 fingers. They were pretty good however they have zero grip in wet and as they were thinner I found walking over large rocks quite difficult. This didn’t bother me so much, I was just a little slower but I couldn’t keep up with friends wearing boots. So by changing to slightly thicker KSO treks, with some grip I’m faster over rocks, will more grip in the mud. These are now my go to hiking shoe.

Lastly a quick point on gait

I find that minimalist shoes force the wearer to land with the ball of the foot directly under the centre of gravity. Doing so, I found that when I did slip in some mud my whole body with slip directly forward and I would remain standing. When others in boots slipped they were in a heel first gait so as the heel slipped out with their centre of gravity further back they would land on their ass, with a 16-20kg pack pulling them down.

For all the points above and more I really enjoy hiking in 5 fingers but I do urge caution and patients to build up to it.


  1. Good stuff. I concur with everything you've said here.

    I've been wearing strictly minimalist shoes for a few years now - Vibram Fivefingers for play and VivoBarefoot shoes for work and VFF-inappropriate occasions (and cold days).

    Catching that little toe with the VFFs is a pain, for sure. Did that myself a couple of years ago and broke the darned thing. Taping it to the foot was the answer for recovery. Now I'm more careful and mindful about where my feet are going.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  2. This is huge! Especially that point about the gait. Couple of hikes I was with you on, wearing boots, and I know exactly what you mean about slipping over with the centre of gravity above the heel.
    Walking ball-of-foot-centrically is a very different way to learn to walk, but in terms of slipping over vibrams have that distinct advantage over boots because they protect you from the dreaded mud-butt.