The iconic FiveFingers from Vibram, still leading the minimalist shoe industry.
The Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO scored very well in our performance tests. On numerous runs in them, we assessed the shoes for fit, ground feel, and how well it promoted efficient running form—or at least as much as we are capable of running efficiently, so perhaps said another way, did they let us run naturally without trying to control or correct our movements?
The KSO EVO is one of our favorite running shoes in this review because it let us run uninhibited, but protected our pads just enough to allow us to unleash and run as swiftly as we wanted (on the appropriate terrain, of course). These shoes hugged our feet so well we barely knew they were there, but they provided enough padding to our soles so that we could cruise over terrain with more challenging textures. The soft and thin upper fabric allowed our feet to flex up and down with ease as we pushed off and landed during the many strides we took in these shoes.
For those up on technical running terminology, these shoes allowed easy plantar flexion and dorsiflexion by minimizing the resistance of the shoe to our natural foot movements.
The KSO EVO has a total of 5mm of sole between your foot and the ground—minus socks if you're wearing them (which we rarely did in these shoes). The sole is made of a single material, which is one sign that it is not designed to control any running motions or correct technique flaws (as some more built-up shoes are). These shoes allow you to run just as you run and focus on the rest of your body and your technique.
Testing the performance of the Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO in Kolomenskoye Park, Moscow, Russia.
When our lead tester first tried running in these shoes several years ago, she strained her foot muscles and launched into months of plantar fasciitis—she had committed the classic error of running her normal terrain and mileage in her new kicks. At first, she shunned the shoes. At the time, she had been running in another pair of minimal shoes, so "clearly" the problem must have been with the FiveFingers.
Or, maybe not.
For this review, we took foot strengthening seriously, building up slowly and progressively, and we are happy to report healthy, strong feet at the end of months of training, and miles of running. We enjoyed every minute we spent in these shoes—they made us feel the joy of our childhood summers, running around barefoot in the grass or on the beach, but without the fear of stepping on a bee.
Our only worry with the KSO EVO is the painted-on, plasticized outer protection bands. The edges of these protective coating strips could rub on our feet sometimes, usually not noticeable except on much longer runs. And it was more noticeable if the fit of the shoe wasn't absolutely perfect. Take the time to get the right size so that you don't end up with any unnecessary rubbing.
Be sure you get the perfect size and fit when you purchase a pair of FiveFingers! Our first pair turned out to be a tad too large, and the rubbing of this little bit of textured fabric quickly turned into a hot spot.
No shoe could score a perfect 10 in this rating. That's reserved for purely bare feet. Any shoe is going to alter the way you walk, run, jump, kick, play, etc. no matter what—even if it is as minimal as possible.
Underfoot, there is just under 5mm of material. The KSO EVO features a 2mm sock liner, has no midsole, and has a 3mm rubber sole. The thin polyester upper allows your foot to move freely up and down (that's dorsiflexion and plantar flexion, mentioned above in Performance) during landing and push off—and through every motion in between.
Twisting the footbed of the Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO to look for minimal platform stability and maximal freedom for our feet.
In our Footbed test, the KSO EVO proved very flexible, confirming ease of movement in all directions, and minimal inhibition of natural foot motion. The sole is easy to twist, so it doesn't offer any artificial stability, and the forefoot is easy to bend, allowing toes to rise and fall naturally as you land and push off. The sole is 5mm (well under the 10mm benchmark) from heel to toe, making it a "zero drop" shoe. There is no traditional toe box, so we can't say these shoes have the signature wide toe box—instead, the toes are entirely independent, similarly allowing the toes to splay naturally and achieve a more stable anatomical platform for running and walking. And the last two details of the footbed test: the upper is lightweight and breathable, and the lacing system is simple, secure, and non-constricting.
Testing the forefoot flex of the Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO in our Footbed Test.
The FiveFingers KSO EVO are some of the lightest running shoes on the market. Our European size 41 or US 9-9.5 women's weighs just 8.5 ounces for the pair. We were astonished and pleased.
Since you lift the weight of your shoe with every step, any extra weight on your feet adds up very quickly. Compared to our usual footwear wardrobe, these shoes felt as if we had absolutely nothing on our feet—while still enjoying the benefit of a little protection for our pads.
This FiveFingers shoe gets most of its traction benefits from the simple fact that you are so close to the ground it is easier to keep your balance and recover from slight slips on loose trails. Since you are not standing on a tall platform, it is easier to sense where you are relative to the ground and much easier to keep your balance and center of gravity when running.
Beyond this, the XS Trek sole from Vibram is optimized for wet conditions, with grooves that allow fast drainage and contact with the ground. The sole also does well on dusty terrain—even much better than most on the dreaded dust-covered-rock phenomenon. The non-marking sole is also excellent for indoor use.
Testing traction on steep dusty social trails in Kolomenskoye Park along the Moscow River, Moscow, Russia.
These shoes are excellent for the die-hard bare-footer looking to expand the benefits of barefoot running into the more challenging seasons. The KSO EVO's are a great choice for hot summer runs on asphalt where the heat will melt your pads, and they may also allow you to push the barefoot benefits into the cooler fall months as temperatures start to dip.
The uppers consist of a highly breathable, thin polyester fabric, so they offer no insulation, but may provide just enough on cool-weather runs for those well adapted to barefoot running. The darker colored upper materials can make running in the full summer sun more challenging, but the lightly colored soles do help to keep your pads cool, insulating them from hot ground surfaces.
We didn't mind getting the Vibrams wet, so long as we didn't mind that our feet got wet, too.
The Vibram XS Trek sole is optimized for traction on wet terrain, making the KSO EVO a good go-to for those who spend most of their running time barefoot, but want to protect their pads from damp trails or frosty morning runs. They won't keep your feet dry, however, if it's really wet out.
We saw no issues with durability during our testing. These shoes are reinforced where it matters—the rubber of the sole curls up to protect the tips of the toes, and there are snake-like scales on each of the toes to deflect debris and prevent scuffing. There are few seams to fail, and the laces and eyelets are strong enough for long-term use and abuse.
We loved these shoes for the times we had to run on flat, monotonous terrain. These shoes allowed us to maximize the benefits to foot strength and improvements in running economy when on level terrain, which is a great place to get good feedback on the efficiency and health of your running gait.
We liked the Vibrams on flat, smooth terrain when we still wanted to give our feet a good workout.
These shoes might not be as cheap as your birthday shoes, which were free, but they're a smashing value. For their simplicity and durability, we imagine you'll get a lot of miles and a lot of fun out of these shoes.
Sometimes going out for a run is really more about stopping to enjoy the wildflowers. The Vibrams let you do both at the same time by picking the flowers and bringing them along between your toes.
The Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO is one of the lightest running shoes on the market. They do not offer much other than protection for your pads—and that means these are a great shoe for the barefoot enthusiast who is reluctant to put shoes on, but due to weather, terrain, or hygiene, might sometimes need to wear something on their feet. If you're serious about your running form and diligent in your foot strengthening, this is the shoe that will best stay out of your way. We thoroughly enjoyed testing this shoe—but it was not the type of test where you just put on a new pair of shoes and give them a whirl. We spent months building up our foot strength and improving our running economy so we could fully appreciate these minimal running shoes—and we appreciated them very much.