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Vivobarefoot Minimalist Barefoot Hiking Boots

Vivobarefoot Off Road Hi Barefoot Hiking Boots
Vivobarefoot Off Road Hi  – Barefoot Hiking Boots

What in god’s name is a minimalist barefoot hiking boot you wonder? I have admit, I was intrigued. I always thought the point of barefoot minimalist shoes was to put you in closer contact with the earth and make your foot do and feel more rather than coddling it in a hiking boot. Introducing a minimalist barefoot hiking boot sounded like an oxymoron to me.

I’m no shoe design guru, but I think I represent a fair approximation of the target market for this boot. I’ve hiked for many years in leather boots and only switched to trail shoes recently. Having a pair of leather boots for colder weather hiking, that maintained the same “ground feel” I’ve become used to, seemed like a good value proposition and worth investigating.

Still as a hiker, I expected that the Vivobarefoot hiking boots would provide some level of ankle support, a stiff heel cup to lock my heel in place, and a modicum of thermal insulation from the cold ground. So I was surprised to find that the Vivobarefoot Off Road Hi hiking boot provides NONE of these!

Urban Fashion Statement or Transitional Hiking Boots?
Urban Fashion Statement or Transitional Hiking Boots?


What are these boots like? Well, they’re fairly lightweight and only weigh 31 ounces  for the pair in a size EU 43, which I reckon is a US Men’s 10. They are very soft out of the box and have a soft, grippy sole that is mainly flat, without a distinguished heel. There’s good toe kick protection and a spacious toe box that I’ve come to expect on minimal style shoes.

In terms of ground feel, the sole of these boots is flat and fairly thin, and while there’s a lot more contact than you’d experience on a boot with a vibram lug, it’s not so overwhelming that it would scare off a transitional hiker who’s just trying on minimal hiking shoes for the first time.

Sole Tread and Profile
Sole Tread and Profile


To be honest, the VBF Off Trail boots didn’t really wow me as hiking boots or the minimalist equivalent of the same. The high top leather  provides zero extra support for the ankle, which left me asking why they even bothered including it in the first place,  and the sole doesn’t provide sufficient ground insulation for hiking in cooler weather without catching a chill.These boots are probably fine for warmer weather, but then I’d probably use a trail shoe and not bother with being smothered in leather shoe to begin with.


While it would be tempting to give this shoe a GONG! and be done with it, I can’t help thinking that Vivibarefoot is onto something. There probably is a market out there for people who like the security and scree protection that a hi top leather boot provides, but who also want a shoe that eases them into the minimalist barefoot world. I’m not sure the Off Trail is the proper design concept to meet their needs, but it’s good to see the company going down that path.

 Disclosure: Vivobarefoot provided Section Hiker with a complementary set of Off Trail Hiking Boots for this review.

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  1. I was wondering when these would show up somewhere. Have you put many miles on them? How do you think the sole will hold up?

    In the pics, the outside of the boots look like they are made of cheap plastic. Do they breathe very well?

  2. I hope others follow suit. I hiked mainly on sandals for years, but small changes in design, and my feet allowed them to rub my ankles. Swapped to trail glove and really like them, But a boot for cooler weather, off trail, and heavy scrub areas would be nice….

  3. Waterproof and breathable, says the manufacturer. They don't say what the breathable membrane is though. Plenty waterproof though for hiking in wet woods.

    My soles tend to last for a while since I only use boot on hikes so I might not be a good judge of sole durability. Of course, these don't look like you can get them resoled at a shoemakers.

  4. I'd like to see a long-lasting minimalist shoe that can be re-soled…

  5. I'd like to see a shoe maker. They've all but vanished.

  6. I think Vivobarefoots are overpriced garbage. I had an early pair of them and they were cut bizarrely and fell apart in a couple of months. They are also about 30% more than any comparable shoe. Get Altra Adams a size large and wear some neoprene socks.

  7. Interesting article. I've been wearing a pair of Merrell trail gloves for much of the season and they work quite well for me in most environments. However, now that it's around freezing in my neck of the woods I also find that the lack of any thermal insulation becomes a problem. I might try an insole to see how this goes, even though that is of course somewhat at odds with the whole concept of barefoot shoes. But better a bit thicker soles than cold feet …

  8. Why does the minimalist footwear movement feel the need to make a mockery of hiking boots? Whats next, barefoot ski boots and aerosol spray-on socks?

    Barefoot + Hiking Boot = oxymoron

    • I don’t think it’s a mockery. I like the barefoot feel as I walk, it is more comfortable for me and I can do longer distances when backpacking with a heavy pack that way. I won’t go completely barefoot, as there are too many things to injure a foot so I need some protection. Most of the minimal or barefoot shoes try to achieve a barefoot feel on the ground, but also an almost not there feel on your feet. I don’t mind having something on my feet to protect from scree and other scrapes on my ankles, so I want a ‘barefoot’ boot that allows two things:
      1. Allow my feet to function naturally, no heel, no toe drop, no support and ability to contour to the ground as I walk. This is the barefoot ‘feel’, I don’t care about being barefoot, but that feel I just described is the way I want to walk and hike.
      2. Provide ankle and foot scree protection, and keep chaff out of my shoe/boot. The upper on most hiking boots does this well, offers the ankle bone protection from scrapes and thorns and offers some padding should a rock or something be smacked across your ankle bone. I like the upper of most hiking boots, just not the massive sole.

      I don’t really like the Vivo hiking boots so much, but at least they’re in the right direction. I don’t see a mockery at all, just a different need being addressed. I agree, hiking like this isn’t for everybody, but I’ve been able to increase my range from 12 (comfortable miles per day) to about 17 ditching my old Vasque hiking boots. I’m more agile, faster and have less foot pain at the end of a day from my 45lb pack. It’s not for everyone, but I like it. No mockery, just different and different is always bad.

    • In fact, many of us absolutely need a boot designed similar to this one. I am an avid backpacker with small-volume feet and weak, weak ankles. In an effort to provide support for my ankles, I bought a pair of over-designed backpacking boots, with my feet suspended about an inch above the ground on thick vibram soles. Mistake. The last two summers I have rolled my ankles NUMEROUS times in these boots, something I had not done in my previous styles of smaller boots. Having become a minimalist runner, I now know the importance of a thin sole to keep one’s foot close to the ground to minimize the chance of rolling an ankle and to increase sensitivity to the terrain. Here is a description of what would be my perfect backpacking boot:

      1) Thin vibram outsole with shallow lugs
      a) thin to allow close connection to the ground
      b) shallow lugs to allow good traction
      c) Vibram for durability and traction

      2) kevlar layer between the vibram sole and footbed to allow a decrease in the debilitating effects of sharp stones

      3) padding-free wool footbed for warmth, durability, and odor control

      4) wide toe box BUT the ability to lace the shoes snuggly to allow for low-volume feet

      5) waterproof-breathable

      6) toe box and heal protection

      7) high top to keep grit, dirt, and water out of my amazing boots

      The backpacking community needs a boot like the one I describe. Someone–please–make it.

      • Russell Mocassin – Woodcock TLC, with the Vibram Newporter Sole, or minimalist Thula Thula or minimalist Country Squire South Forty.

      • Excellent, thanks.

      • Absolutely – have been wearing Thula with newporter sole for 8 months. Great wear on the sole – zero drop. Very comfortable. Not Cheap but worth the money. I think these will last for many years.

  9. I can't say that I'm all that interested in a minimalist hiking boot, however there is quite a growing market for a black leather minimalist boot that would be suitable for law enforcement or security jobs that require such footwear. In fact, if Merrell would just make a high top version of the tough glove that might just do the job.

    • Agreed. I wrote them and asked for the same thing. Those low tops are terrible at keeping crud out of your shoe. I can’t speak to law enforcement, just hiking and woods. If all one does is stay on a trail, no big deal. If one goes off trail, those shoes just don’t cut it. The sole is fine, keep that. The upper is not adequate, give me a high top (or mid top) to protect my ankles and keep crud out of the shoe.

  10. I think the whole point of having a high top that's not supportive is for the elements, mainly snow. That's the reason that I was looking at the boot. I don't need support, my ankles are plenty strong, I just need coverage to keep snow out of my shoes. Low cut shoes with gaiters don't really work very well. But the review says that the ground chill gets into the shoes, so that would trump being able to keep the chill out of my ankles, and lower legs. I do have to ask, did you wear socks with the boots when testing or did you go without?

    In answer to Massachusetts, I don't think the minimalist footwear movement is making a mockery of hiking boots, I think it is trying to protect the the wearer from very real discomforts or threats (wet feet when you are miles from shelter/warmth and in freezing temps). I switched to minimalist shoes to combat knee/foot pain/plantar fasciitis and all of that went away, thank god, but regular hiking boots became intolerable. With the heavy snow we've had so far this season I'm going stir crazy being essentially housebound. Thus the need to find an alternative.

    • Not just the elements like snow, but that’s there too. Think of walking through a woods (actual woods, not just a trail). There are many thorns, jagged briars, twigs, stones and rocks, even shale… lots of stuff to scratch or cut up your ankles. Those ankle bones stick right out, and are the perfect place to smack just about anything you walk past. A good upper can offer much protection from that. A well fitting upper can also keep out the crud (twigs, dirt, stones, ticks, etc) from getting into your shoe causing discomfort when you walk on it (between the sole and your foot). I am in the woods everyday, and the current crop of barefoot shoes misses the need for that type of wearer. For now, I stick with my homemade high mocs, until a good barefoot shoe fills the need. I’m still waiting, hoping, but waiting.

  11. I just got these boots and put them straight to work hiking in a foot of snow. I wore wool tights and a pair of cheap poly/cotton blend socks. I didn’t have gaiters and toward the end of the hike (2 and 1/2 hours) I got enough snow in my boots for them to get soaked. But for the first two hours, my feet stayed dry and warm. The fit and feel of the boot were great. It’s very light and has good traction, even in wet snow. We crossed a small stream, even walked in water a bit, and still my feet stayed dry and warm. This was my first time wearing hiking boots for the first time and not getting blisters. I love these boots!

    • Thnaks for that mini review, I am waiting for mine in the mail and I am sure they will meet my needs now. I can’t tolerate the thick hiking boots anymore, so with merino socks I know I will love those in the snow and mud.

  12. As a construction worker, i would hope that there is a shoe manufacturer out there that will one day perfect a minimalist boot- a solid toe covering, flat but puncture proof sole, and the flexibility of a VFF. I guess this is the closest thing to it till then

  13. I think there’s some merit to this idea. Like David said I like the idea of a minimalist boot. In my mind the reason that they have the high ankle area is not for support but for keeping debris out. Basically instead of wearing a trail runner and a gaiter, you can just wear a boot. Makes things simpler and you don’t have to worry about the strap on the gaiter.

  14. Wanted to add that these remind me a lot of wrestling shoes. I wonder if the soles would hold up on those?

  15. I’ve just tried some on at the VB “Experience” in Covent Garden, and can’t see the point of them, either. I was expecting a waterproof-style tongue, but that’s completely absent, so everything above the ankle joint is pointless as far as I’m concerned.

  16. Hi, I own a pair of these along with some other pairs of Vivobarefoots, but have some trouble here:when running in barefoot shoes, I land midfoot/forefoot and any offroad-lugs will hardly be noticeable. But when hiking/walking with a natural gait, the heel touches ground first. After the break-in period, the sole of the OffRoads became nicely flexible…great. But now the one lug sitting right under the heel kept “pertruding” through the sole resulting in a very sore heel after a day of wearing the shoes. So what do I do now? Sacrifice proprioception and try to find an insole that has something like a plastic cup under the heel? Am I the only one with this problem? Help….

  17. How about a pair of work boots in the “barefoot” fashion.
    Like “Redwings” just leather and sole Please!

  18. I’ve owned these for two years, taken them backpacking and up Washington, Adams and some 4000 footers. I wish they had a bit more ankle support. My main issue that raised heel hiking boots encourage you to drop down on your heel on the downhill, putting a lot of stress on your knees.

    With these puppies, you’re going down on your forefoot/midfoot. It requires more muscle control, but my knees are fine now coming down mountains with loaded packs. It has definitely slowed my pace a bit, you can’t really ‘run’ down a mountain in these as with some traditional boots, but if you enjoy your knees that may be a good thing.

  19. I got a pair of these not long ago. They were a joy to wear. I have problems with narrow shoes, especially when my shoes are wet. I wore my vivobarefoot on a three day hiking trip in torrential rain. The shoes filled with water and it was like walking in my own personal foot puddles. Having said this, they were still comfortable to wear and caused my feet no problems. Unfortunately I lost a lot of the tread during the trip.These shoes give terrific grip but the grip does come away easily. i would therefore only recommend these for Sunday afternoon strolls and nothing serious.

  20. Disclaimer: I am NOT a hiker; I use minimalist shoes to improve the overall health of my feet due to other medical conditions.

    I have a pair of these for snowy days in Wisconsin, and I love them! While they don’t have the same ground feel as some of the other styles (my Kalis, for example), the zero drop, adequate toe box and no arch support allow my foot to still function more physiologically when improving my traction on slippery surfaces.

    They aren’t waterproof, precisely; I’d call them water-resistant.

    I do use them for snowshoeing in the winter as well.

  21. In Nature I go BAREFOOT always. Never in shoes ! I’m a barefoot hiker on Romania.

    • No need for boots. So called ankle protection is dangerous because it weakens the ankle. The best ankle support is being barefoot, because the foot and ankle muscles are strengthend. As a barefooter, I sometimes need protection in winter, when thaw salt is used on streets, or on extremely rocky hikes. In these cases, I revert to minimalist shoes as tools. Mother nature’s footwear is best. I have been hiking in the Sierra Nevadas these past weeks, and my bare feet never let me down.

  22. Okay. Before I really kick on with my review of Vivobarefoot Hiking Boots, I should add that I love Vivobarefoot Shoes for everyday use. Very comfortable and a pleasure to walk in.

    So, on my birthday I decided I’d hike/Climb/scramble a bit up the Pyg Track to the Snowdon Summit. On the way up the Shoes gave good grip over the rocky terrain and I made the summit (with my Dog) in two hours. Cloud cover then came in and my dog refused to head back down the Pyg as she couldn’t see anything in front of her so we switched to the Llanberis Path, and BOY DID MY FEET HURT! The boots sole gave little or no protection to my sole and I felt every bloody rock and stone on the longer walk down, it wasn’t fun! I’d have sooner been in my thick soled Adidas sliders!!!

    I will be investing in some Mammut Hiking Boots for my next ascent up Snowdon but my view ok Vivobarefoot Hiking Boots… is be aware the soft sole is great for climbing but offers little protection over smaller rocky areas.

    For me, being a novice it was a learning experience – I will be heading up Snowdon on the Pyg Track again before I try CG in 2019 – but next year it’s Snowdon, Tryfan, Scafel Pike and Ben Nevis and these won’t be done in Vivobarefoot Boots. Will break in my Mammuts when I get them later this year.

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