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!
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.
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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