Pushing the limits of the Prio on some dirt roads and rocks near Mt. Elbrus, Caucasus Mountains, Russia.
The Prio is a simple, minimal running shoe. It looks like an "ordinary" shoe in many ways, but instead, you get a thoughtfully designed minimalist shoe that allows your feet and toes to function the way they want to—with the freedom to splay and play.
The Huarache-sandal-inspired straps anchor your foot in place, securing your heel while allowing space for your mid- and forefoot to bend, flex, splay, and otherwise operate as your body's natural shock absorber. The adjustable inverted V straps also help secure the shoe, and while we found these to be a bit on the wider/higher volume side of the shoes in this review, the strap system functioned well to secure the fit on narrower/lower volume feet.
The spacious toe box allows your toes to splay, improving stability, and the soft materials enable you to raise and lower your toes. This allows you to pre-tension your arches for landing (by raising your toes up, known as dorsiflexion). The thin, supple sole then enables you to feel and grip the ground with your toes as you transition to pushing off (this is the plantar flexion phase of your stride). These shoes excelled in our Fit Test.
Testing the performance of the Prio on cobblestone streets in Moscow, Russia.
In our Ground Feel test, we found that these shoes blunted the true barefoot experience more than the lightest and thinnest shoes in this review. But sometimes we liked that—they made gravel and rough roads feel like walking on soft grass! In the Prio, our feet were still free to move naturally, but we avoid all the jabs and pinpricks of all the sharp little things we walk over. If you find you need a bit more ground separation, you can add an optional 2mm insole.
In our Running Form test, these shoes provided a simple, consistent platform that stayed out of our way and allowed us to focus on proper form without getting confusing feedback from the artificial surface under our pads. The sole is stiffer than the thinnest soles in this review, but the consistency of flex and suppleness makes them perform very well nonetheless. It is also not the lightest shoe among the competition, but it is balanced enough to feel lighter than it is.
The wide toe box and soft uppers also made this shoe perform well in the Running Form Test. The shoes promote your foot's natural shock-absorbing motion—before landing, you raise your toes to pre-tension your arches (this is dorsiflexion), and then as you push off from the ground, you flex your toes as if grabbing the ground (plantar flexion).
These shoes do feel a little bulky, with some padding in the uppers. If you prefer a more svelte shoe, you might look at the Merrell Trail Glove 4 Knit or the Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO.
We experienced some minor rubbing under the ball of the foot on longer runs in these shoes, but thin toe socks and tighter lacing resolved the issue.
The footbed of the Prio is stiffer than we anticipated, but the flex is even and consistent from heel to toe, making it a predictable surface that doesn't disproportionately or unevenly impact our stride. The sole is scored in two places, which sometimes makes shoes bend excessively in one spot and less in others, but the design of the Prio made the flex smooth and consistent.
The 5.5mm sole is thin enough to allow you to feel the ground without wincing at every bump, stick, pine needle, or darn little sharp rock. The shoes feature a "zero drop," which means the heel is not elevated. Xero claims this "allows for proper posture, balance, and agility." The wide toe box allows toes to splay naturally, and the soft uppers let them rise and fall naturally with your stride.
Testing the suppleness of the sole in the Footbed Test.
These shoes insulate you from a purely barefoot experience, but they don't wholly inhibit the positive attributes of going barefoot. The Prio's feel like little clouds on our feet, softening the ground and terrain around us without robbing us of the stimulation of being barefoot. This is great for gravel and other urban environments where we don't want to risk going barefoot for fear of injury or hygiene concerns.
Testing the flexibility of the forefoot in our Footbed Test.
These shoes can be worn without socks, but we prefer to wear them with socks as the fit is looser and more spacious. We like them with thin toe socks. With this combination, these shoes feel a little warmer, making them a great option for cooler weather runs in dry environments—though the bumper and toe rand will help keep some splashes of water out.
At 16 ounces for a women's size 10 (European size 42), these shoes are not the lightest in this review. That's 8 ounces per shoe, whereas the whole pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO's weighs that much. However, 16 oz is pretty lightweight compared to the rest of the running shoe industry. While they don't compete as well in this metric, they feel lighter than they are (when compared to pairs that are lighter but feel clunkier). The shoe is well balanced, and the weight is distributed evenly, contributing to a lighter 'feel' than the scale declares.
The Prio is designed for urban use, with a smooth sole. In our tests, we took it on trails, and the sole did not do well on dirt, so if trail running is your jam, we recommend checking out their trail running shoe.
The Prio's sole is also not the stickiest rubber in this review, but it's up against heavy competition with Vibram soles used in several other barefoot/minimal models. For general urban running, gym and casual use, these performed very well. The smooth, supple sole allows our feet to feel engaged and active even on the most homogenous, monotonous surfaces of the urban environment—and bend easily around the more variable surfaces found around town, helping to keep our feet stimulated throughout our urban adventures.
These shoes performed well on the roads and cobblestone streets, and well enough on dirt and gravel roads, but they are meant for urban use, not hiking, with the smooth sole.
If you like the feeling of gripping the ground when you run or walk, these shoes will allow your feet to move and flex appropriately, but the shoe itself won't move with your foot. For that, check out the Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO.
The Prio shoes are not waterproof and not meant for wet weather. They are relatively breathable with vented upper fabrics, but the padding and thicker materials overall make them feel warmer than other models in this review, especially the Vibram KSO EVO and the Merrell Trail Glove Knit shoes.
The toe rand and circumferential bumper on the shoe help keep dust and some splashes of water out, much like a tiny bathtub around your foot. But once water gets over the top of that bumper, it's liable to end up on your foot.
The Prio is not a waterproof shoe, but it can handle some splashes and shallow puddles with the protective toe rand and bumper material around the shoe.
The Prio held up very well to many miles of running, walking, through workouts and even some light hiking. The toe rand protects them from scuffs and abrasion. We identified issues during our testing period, and appreciated how the huarache-inspired strap support system maintained the same fit and tension in the shoe over many, many miles—they never stretched out, which can be a concern with lightweight shoes. These minimal shoes are simple and durable.
These shoes are great for urban running, workouts, and casual use around town. We also enjoyed moderate trail running on hard packed, flat trails in the Prio, but we would recommend trying their trail running version if that's your main use.
We also particularly enjoyed these shoes for post-workout downtime. They gave our feet enough protection to allow some relaxation without inhibiting the biomechanics of our feet so that we could reinforce good movement patterns even while recovering from a workout or a run. They were particularly pleasant after our fully barefoot training and strengthening runs when our pads were a little toasted or our foot muscles fatigued.
At just under $90, these shoes are an excellent value. They are well made and will stand up to many miles. They are a straightforward design that stays out of the way your foot wants to move, and are versatile enough for most daily tasks. This is a shoe you can wear as a running or workout shoe and roll into town for coffee or errands without making too loud of a statement that you're into wearing minimalist footwear.
Urban runs are the Prio's bread and butter, shown here on the streets inside the beautiful Kolomenskoye Park, Moscow, Russia.
The Xero Shoes Prio are an excellent minimal shoe for everyday wear. These look like a normal pair of kicks, which is nice for the days you don't want to field questions about those funny foot shoes you're wearing—and you still get the benefits of foot freedom you enjoy when entirely unshod. The Prio features a slightly stiffer sole than some of the models we tested, but we liked that the sole was supple and flexed evenly and consistently from heel to toe. The soft uppers and wide toe box ensure that your feet feel free when you must be shod. The Prio is an excellent shoe and a great value for those who want to promote their barefoot strengthening and enjoy the barefoot running style.