As Vibram Fivefingers look a little out of the ordinary and are generally quite high in price, this can often lead people to wonder why they would want to buy them over a more conventional minimalist shoe. As I’ve run extensively in fivefingers and owned several pairs, I thought it would be interesting to write a review to compare the Spyridon to the popular New Balance MT00. My aim is to discuss these particular shoes in detail and also to weigh up the general pro’s and con’s of ‘conventional’ minimalist shoes along side their toe-pocketed competitors.
First off, let’s talk a bit about the shoes in general terms. These are both pretty much as minimal as you can get for trail shoes without going for something like a hurricane sandal. They are best for use on fairly smooth surfaces without too many rocks and are suited to runners who have fully transitioned into minimalism and have strong feet and calves. Whilst some people do use shoes like this for more challenging and technical terrain, I feel that the chances of foot injury are just too high to justify it and there are many other better options for this purpose. Both shoes also cope rather well with road running but this will obviously wear the soles down fairly quickly and reduce the grip they provide.
After running for a couple of years in the Vibram Bikila and Trecksport, I was really excited when they released the Spyridon last year as I was hoping it would resolve some of the slight limitations found in their other models if used for running off road. When designing a super-minimalist trail shoe, one of the tricky things to get right is how protective to make the sole. If you add a bit of cushioning to provide protection against rocks, you risk raising the stack height and reducing proprioception. On the other hand, if you make it as thin as possible (like Vibram’s other models) the runner will have to be extra extra vigilant to avoid injury.
Vibram tried to reach the ideal compromise with the Spyridon by using a thin rubber sole supplemented by a flexible rock plate. Whilst you still have to tread rather carefully at times, the sole of the Spyridon does strike an excellent balance between ground feel and protection. To me, the slight down side of this is that when compared to something like the exceptionally light MT00, the Spyridon is actually noticeably heavier (195g vs 124g) due to the big slab of rubber that makes up the sole. Now don’t get me wrong, 195g is by no means heavy but you can tell the difference when you compare the Syrodon and MT00 on your feet.
The spyridons are not too grippy in damp conditions and wet grass but I have noticed that in deep mud, they can sometimes out-perform other more knobbly shoes. I think this is something to do with the flexibility and the way that the shoe contours to follow the shape of your arch which almost allows you to claw your foot into the mud.
One of the main sources of annoyance when running or walking in fivefingers comes when you hit a meadow or a field covered in long grass . Within a few seconds, you often end up with various pieces of foliage stuck in between your toes which you have to stop to remove. After a while, this can cause wear between the toes as shown in the picture below. I’ve had the same problem with all of the fivefingers that I have owned, although I should also point out that it does take quite a long time for the holes to appear and even longer for them to become a real problem.
Another significant down-side with fivefingers and the spyridon in particular is the price. You are probably going to end up splashing out £120 for these and whilst they are well built, this does feel like an awful lot of money when you compare them to other options.
Despite these niggles, the big selling point of the fivefingers is in the fit and how they feel on your feet. The combination of the width of the forefoot, the toe pockets and the overall shape of the shoe means that they really do hug your feet but in a non-intrusive way. They almost seem to disappear when you wear them and feel very close to being barefoot. In comparison, conventional minimal shoes always make your feet feel as though they are ‘in something’ and it’s just not quite the same. Sizing is very important and ideally, I would recommend going for a fitting or at least following the sizing guidelines on the fivefingers website very carefully.
I’ve have also found that apart from the wear between the toes, these shoes are actually pretty durable when worn in appropriate conditions and this does go some way towards justifying the price.
I’m a really big fan of the New Balance Minimus range as they have taken much bolder steps into minimalism than most of their main-stream competitors and I think this deserves credit. The entire range uses the minimus last, meaning that they are all the same shape and this works perfectly for me as they happen to fit my foot extremely well. The fit of the MT00 is pretty snug for me in a D width and provides just enough room for my toes to spread. Some have complained that the toe box is a bit on the narrow side for a shoe that is supposed to promote natural foot function and it’s unfortunate that New Balance don’t stock the wider 2E version in the UK.
Further to my comments above about how Vibram approached the design of the sole with the fivefingers, New Balance have tackled the issue in a different way by using pods of lightweight foam, protected by rubber in high-wear areas. This means that you feel a little further from the floor and slightly less ‘connected’ than the Spyridon but they are still extremely flexible and can be rolled into a ball. A problem with the design is that you are potentially slightly vulnerable to rocks poking through between the pods and I’ve had this happen myself a couple of times. As a result of this, I would say that these are slightly less protective than the Spyridon, even though they are more cushioned and they also provide less proprioception. This really shows what a good job Vibram have done in this department with the fivefingers. The MT00 is ideal for use in dry conditions but does not cope well on mud and wet grass.
The big advantage with design of the sole however is that the lack of rubber means that the MT00 is very light indeed at 124g. This is also due in part to the very thin upper material which is beautifully designed and looks great in my opinion. As a result of this feather light construction, the MT00 feels fantastic on your feet but compared to the Spyridon, you are still always quite aware that you are wearing a shoe.
One problem I have had is that the material above the toes crinkles and folds at the flex point which can sometimes lead to blisters on the top of the foot. As the inner of the shoe is designed for sock-less wear, I really think that NB need to address this issue if they do an update at some point.
I have also read in quite a few places that people have had durability issues with the MT00, like the upper wearing through or coming away from the sole at the flex point but I have had no problems so far after 100mile+ use on dry trails. In any case, this is a very light shoe and as such, needs to be used in appropriate conditions. It’s never going to be that durable when there is so little to it, so I think that a shorter lifespan is a worthwhile compromise to achieve the weight. If you are looking for something similar but a bit more sturdy (and heavy), you may want to check out the Merrell Trail glove which is an excellent alternative.
Full price for these is around £75 and although this is much cheaper than the Vibrams, it’s still quite a bit of money. New balance have discontinued the orange version shown here and are now only supplying it in blue but if you are lucky, you can find the other colours at discounted prices.
These are both excellent shoes and their merits and limitations bring them so close together that I really can’t pick one over the other. I think it depends on whether the fit and feel of the spyridon are more important to you, or if the light weight and lower price of the MT00 will win you over. The issue with things getting stuck between the toe pockets of the Vibram’s does bug me so if you are going to be running on long grass regularly, I think this could sway your decision.
In my experience, the points I have made above are applicable to most cases of trying to decide whether to opt for a toe shoe or a super-minimalist ‘conventional’ shoe, so I will try and summarise this below:
What’s your experience of fivefingers in comparison to other types of minimalist shoes? Have you tried the Spyridon or MT00? Feel free to leave your thoughts below…..