Xero Shoes HFS Review
Cons: Heavier than most, potential durability issues, short laces
Manufacturer: Xero Shoes
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|Pros||Super flexible, amazing feedback, spacious fit, breathable, optional insole||Superlight, exceptional natural feel, flexible, affordable||Super low-profile sole, comfortably padded, designed for durability||Incredible natural feel, extremely lightweight, tacky outsole||Grippy, breathable, glove-like fit|
|Cons||Heavier than most, potential durability issues, short laces||Diminished grip off-road, confining stretch collar, bulky laces||Tapered toe box is a bit restrictive, traction is compromised by dirt, lack of versatility||Lack of durability, difficult to size correctly, goofy looking||Uncomfortable midsole, difficult to size correctly|
|Bottom Line||From its airy fit to its free range of motion, this barefoot shoe offers the best in lightweight running performance||A barefoot trainer that continues to define the category, this shoe’s ultra-thin outsole helps deliver superior natural feel||An incredibly thin outsole, supportive padding, and reinforced sidewalls make this an ideal barefoot gym trainer||An improved version of the original FiveFingers shoe, this unique option offers the opportunity to go as close to barefoot as possible||We were psyched on the fit and feel of this completely redesigned trail-runner, only to be disappointed by an overdesigned and uncomfortable midsole|
|Rating Categories||Xero Shoes HFS||Merrell Vapor Glove 5||Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3||Vibram FiveFingers...||Merrell Trail Glove...|
|Natural Feel (40%)|
|Specs||Xero Shoes HFS||Merrell Vapor Glove 5||Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3||Vibram FiveFingers...||Merrell Trail Glove...|
|Best For||Road Running||Road Running||Gym||Road Running, Gym||Trail Running|
|Stack Height||5.5 mm (w/o insole)||6.5 mm||1.5 mm (w/o insole)||5 mm||12 mm|
|Heel to Toe drop||0 mm||0 mm||0 mm||0 mm||0 mm|
|Weight (per shoe)||7.9 oz (size US 9.5)||5.8 oz (size US 8.5)||6.8 oz (size US 9)||4.6 oz (size EU 43)||7.7 oz (size US 8.5)|
Vibram XS Trek
|Midsole||None||None||None||None||Merrell Barefoot 2
(Includes Rock Plate)
|Insole||3 mm High Density EVA||Integrated
4 mm EVA
|3 mm Power Footbed||2 mm EVA + Drylex sockliner||Integrated Bloom Performance (Ortholite)|
|Upper Material||Mesh and TPU||Mesh and TPU||Mesh and Rope-Tec TPU||Mesh and TPU||65% Recycled Mesh|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Specifically designed as the running shoe within Xero's infamously minimalist lineup, the Xero HFS delivers on every key attribute of a barefoot running shoe, resulting in exceptional natural feeling. The patented FeelTrue rubber outsole provides a direct line of feedback between the ground and your feet. If you're not quite ready to dive headfirst into the barefoot experience, this shoe also includes an optional 3mm insole, made with high-density EVA to provide just the right amount of cushion. Xero originally made its name building Huarache sandals, and this design is incorporated into the HFS with adjustable tension straps stealthily hidden behind the protective TPU draped across the quarter panels.
We absolutely love the athletically-inclined HFS. This shoe takes the basis for Xero's approach to zero-drop shoes — natural fit, natural motion, and natural feel — and wraps them up in a package that defines excellence across all three key components. Don't be fooled by the bulky outward appearance of the HFS. Despite its seemingly more substantial build, these shoes are amazingly flexible, allowing complete freedom of movement for your foot. It is obvious how the supple flexion — both torsionally and longitudinally — improves ground feel, making it easier to flex downward and propel through your toes, allowing you to gracefully flow over any terrain.
This may sound outrageous, but among a field of strong barefoot competitors, a 8.5mm stack height is actually considered relatively tall. But that's only if you include the 3mm, high-density EVA foam insole — which provides a nice option for those looking to add a bit of cushion. The depreciation of ground-feel with the addition of the insole is negligible. You still receive high-quality feedback from the flexible sole, just with the benefit of a little added protection. Otherwise, the 5.5mm FeelTrue rubber delivers exactly what its name suggests: the true feel of having your foot right against the ground.
We're perfectly comfortable in bare feet, and Xero wants to keep it that way. The HFS is designed with a particularly wide toe box, whose airy feel is a serious improvement over the bulkier structure of the Prio — the HFS actually feels like a running flat instead of a skate shoe. Padding around the ankle gives way to a thin liner, which effectively and efficiently wicks moisture away from your feet through the double-layer mesh. The moisture-wicking liner combined with the spacious interior results in superior breathability, allowing you to comfortably run miles of pavement even through the heat of the day.
The double-mesh upper is unhindered by much TPU or other superfluous reinforcements, which improves both the lightweight feel and swing weight of the HFS. Featherweight and breathable is a winning combination for road runners, who often spend hours with their feet against heat-absorbing pavement — the choice to opt for white outsoles (at least in this colorway) also helps fight the heat. Regardless of style, these shoes both feel and perform like a racing flat.
After all this talk of their lightweight airiness, you may be surprised to find that the HFS is actually one of the heavier shoes in this review. While weight can be objectively ranked, heaviness is still relative — at a respectable 7.9-ounces per shoe, the HFS is still significantly lighter than most conventional shoes on the market. This lends itself to a better natural feel, as well as increased running economy — a win-win for this athletic trainer.
The HFS is first-and-foremost a road runner, evidenced by the "tire tread-inspired" outsole. Unique to this shoe is the placement of the directional, v-shaped lugs. While many other shoes only reverse the pattern to improve braking in the heel, Xero designers actually reverse the pattern at the very front of the forefoot. In natural running form, grip originates in your toes rather than relying on the lug pattern of a shoe's heel. Therefore, this is the spot where you will brake if you are fore- or midfoot striking.
The outsole looks like it is designed almost as a paired down trail runner or perhaps a slightly more aggressive racing flat. Regardless of which side of the fence you're approaching from, the HFS certainly crosses over well between road and trail. Flexibility — rather than tackiness or oversized lugs — is the driving factor when it comes to gripping with this shoe. While the lugs offer enough additional traction to brake when running down steep, loose terrain, those practicing proper technique will find that this shoe ultimately grips better when flexing their feet into the ground.
Even though this shoe is designed for the road, we were more than happy to take it to the trails and continue to build foot musculature in more technical terrain. It should be noted that due to the thin, 5.5mm outsole and sheer feedback, trail running in this shoe is likely best left to the hardcore, barefoot shoe enthusiasts. Unlike the Prio, we're less inclined to recommend the HFS as a shoe for those looking to transition from conventional footwear — but with the optional midsole, it will make for a perfect first barefoot runner for those already familiar with minimalist designs.
The HFS is still far from a trail-specific shoe. But if you mainly run roads — both paved and gravel — with an occasional foray onto trails, these will make for a great cross-trainer. To only improve upon their versatility, these shoes also make fantastic gym trainers. The low-profile sole and wide toe box are well-suited to weight lifting, and the lightweight, breathable upper makes them nearly ideal for pushing through tough, high-intensity workouts. Although there is not as much padding or ankle support as more gym-specific competitors, a natural training style dictates that those features should come from your own two feet, anyway.
Though not as bomber as other models we've tested, the HFS is still reinforced in key spots to improve durability and increase longevity. The Huarache-inspired straps — which also add to overall shoe structure — link the lace eyelets directly to the sole, rather than tugging on the upper. These straps are hidden behind purposefully placed strips of TPU along the quarter panels and across the heel sling, which help reinforce common areas of abrasion damage. Another thoughtful design point on the outsole is a slightly stiffer rubber under the big toe and outside heel. These are the areas that — if running with proper form — receive the brunt of impact and thus see the greatest wear and tear.
As we continue to say, the HFS is designed like a racing flat and thus excels as a road runner. From our time spent off-road, it is obvious that trails are definitely rough on the outsoles — even after only a dozen or so miles, the rubber started to wear in areas of high impact. We imagine that consistent road running in these shoes will be much friendlier to sole longevity than consistent trail running. We also worry about the timeline for the upper, which is not much more than a simple mesh. Again, the difference in lifetime will likely come down to how you end up running in these shoes.
Fortunately, Xero offers a 5,000 mile warranty on any shoe with a FeelTrue outsole — although this program inexplicably only covers the ball or heel of the shoe, and specifically "not an edge." Aside from a few questions of durability, the HFS presents a median value for a barefoot trainer. But considering its superior natural feel and high-caliber running performance, it is a worthy investment for your training.
In all athletics, power is built from the ground up. As an exceptional barefoot trainer, the Xero HFS allows you to access the true power of your own two feet to build a solid foundation of athleticism. This ultra-flexible zero-drop shoe is a nearly ideal minimalist runner. While it is certainly directed towards those with experience in barefoot training, it does present an intriguing entry point to barefoot running shoes for those already tuned into the minimalist style.
— Aaron Rice
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