One of the classic characteristics of Vibrams are their individual toe pockets. Yet other minimalist running shoes of the similar price, like the RunAmoc and the Evo, don't have individual toe pockets. I was originally thinking that the individual toe pockets are super important because they allow the toes to splay more, which makes fore-foot striking easier. Is this not the case?
I like the toe pockets because they fit better, causing no collision/compression in the toe box. Personally, I also think they make proper foot striking easier. For the record, RunAmocs also have a wide toe box, but (at least for me) they don't feel quite as good when running as the Vibrams. For walking, however, I haven't noticed that it really matters so much.
So having owned Vibram KSOs and RunAmocs. I prefer the former for running and the latter for just about everything else. They are both great shoes, just with different strengths (I don't have experience with the Evo).
I would venture to guess that few other shoe makers do the "toe-pocket" thing because of the increased complexity (and, therefore, cost) of manufacturing them. I have one pair of VFF KSO and one pair of Terraplana Vivo Barefoot Aquas. If I could get away with it at work I'd wear the VFFs pretty much every day. The VFFs conform better to my feet - not just the toes - so they feel more like wearing less (parse that one!). The Aquas feel like I'm wearing loose slippers that are snug at the ankle. I'm not sure the individual toe pockets are necessary for the better fit or proper foot-strike but, for me, they do add to the feeling of foot mobility.
The toe pockets are not important at all if what you're actually looking for is a minimalist shoe. I own Five Fingers as well as Soft Star Runamocs. The Runamocs are hands down the better shoe. It's not even close. The freedom of no toe pockets that the Runamoc allows is just one thing that makes it superior.
I have liked the toe pockets on the FiveFingers. I have a wider foot and the openness of the design really works for me. I have tried other minimal designs but often can't get the shoe on because they are too narrow for my foot.
I have been wearing some Five Finger KSO Trek shoes lately and been diggin' 'em!
Looking at the Vivobarefoot shoes too - got some on order as we speak.
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