Hands-on Gear Review

Xero Shoes Prio Review

Best Buy Award
Price:  $90 List
Pros:  Versatile, durable, tough, unique
Cons:  Weighty, aggressively barefoot in design
Bottom line:  This versatile, rugged shoe is a bit bulky and clunky looking but performs as well or better than more established minimalist designs out there.
Editors' Rating:   
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Style:  Barefoot road
Cushion (mm):  Optional 2 mm insole, which brings weight to 9.7 oz
Manufacturer:   Xero

Our Verdict

The Xero Prio strikes out new territory for a manufacturer who largely made huaraches and sandals before now. They struck it big with their ultra-running sandals modeled after the Tarahumara came to fame in the book "Born to Run". Xero came out with some interesting design choices that look bulky for a barefoot shoe — and these are the heaviest at just under 10oz - but we found that they were a great first effort for the company and an excellent choice for runners who want some of the features that this shoe offers. Those features melded into a fair priced model make this our Best Buy award winner.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Minimalist and Barefoot Shoes of 2018


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Thomas King

Last Updated:
Friday
February 24, 2017

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With an optional removable insole that drops these from a 2mm cushion to practically nothing, we enjoyed running in these barefoot shoes. The wrapped straps on the upper can be adjusted to form-fit your feet, and it even wraps around the entire shoe. We saw a method like this on the Editors' Choice winner, the Merrell Trail Glove but not one that gave wearers the opportunity to make their own choices about how the shoe should fit and we're confident everyone would appreciate a little bit more control over fit.

Performance Comparison


The chart below shows that the Prio did consistently well across the review and only suffered in the Traction category, and its overall performance earned it our award for Best Buy. Taking into account that this is the first forte into a traditional trainer for the company, it's very impressive that it beat out some namesakes of barefoot product lines for the past few years.

Platform Performance


These road trainers were deceptively minimalist in design and appearance and accomplished exactly what they set out to do.


Whether you use the optional 2mm insole or not, you feel every hit of the ground in these. After a few runs without the insole, you will have an idea whether you want it or not. Frankly, these are as aggressive as the Primus Lite when it comes to raw feedback and road performance, and that's not a good thing for all runners.

They may look clunky for a barefoot style shoe  but the Xero Prio feels great on a long run day.
They may look clunky for a barefoot style shoe, but the Xero Prio feels great on a long run day.

Some may like it; we chose to put the insole back in though. And like the Merrell Vapor Glove its an excellent, genuinely barefoot road-style shoe with zero drop. While it scored as well as the Stealth 2 in this category, it is less forgiving without the insole insert than the Stealth.

Barefoot Accuracy


Once again, if you take the insole out, stand back because I don't even know how there's a difference between running truly barefoot and running with these on without the insole.


Again, they don't look like a barefoot shoe, but who cares? We still drew looks on a couple of group runs for their yellow flair and probably because they aren't as obviously branded as something like the Vibram KSO or Merrell Vapor Trail, both of which just have that distinctive look of their brand.

Side by side comparison of road shoe design.
Side by side comparison of road shoe design.

However, the actual accuracy of being both a shoe and a barefoot shoe suffered some against the leaders in the pack and the Stealth 2 does a better job of being both a shoe and a barefoot running platform.

Comfort


We found that the more looped lace design, as well as the option to remove the insole, created an excellent mix of comfort and accuracy to the stated effort of producing a barefoot trainer.


As you can see, the insole slips right out, and instead of revealing an unfriendly picture of the visible inner construction of the shoe, staples and bolts and the like, there is another option for runners, the choice to run even more barefoot — with even less support than the insole offers!

The only shoe in this review to come with an insole  and its removable if you'd rather be more committed to the whole barefoot thing.
The only shoe in this review to come with an insole, and its removable if you'd rather be more committed to the whole barefoot thing.

Other trainers like the Vapor Glove could have been served by having a more robust insole like the one here. Runners looking for the flexibility to decide before a run whether they want more or less support based on how well they recover might prefer a shoe like this one. But, alternatively, run without it and it's like running on the Primus Lite which is entirely unforgiving at transferring the feel of the road. Maybe the heavier weight of this shoe gives it a better overall comfort, it's hard to determine why these felt so good to wear, but they just nailed it in ways a shoe like the Stealth 2 couldn't.

Traction


It was the rainy, misty season when we tested these out in Central Virginia as you can tell from a lot of the pictures in this review and that means we saw how they did on wet roads and cobbles.


This outsole design just didn't cut it. Maybe it needed more pockets or better water-flow management but on even damp, dewy flat surfaces we had a couple of weird slips just like we did in the FiveFinger KSO.

Booking it off-road in these shoes feels even better than the road.
Booking it off-road in these shoes feels even better than the road.

On the dry days and mixed surface runs, the Prio is a fair shoe, still not performing quite as well as the Vivobarefoot Stealth 2. It's fantastic at airflow management and keeping your feet dry and cool unless you're getting rained out, but you probably have a special trash-shoe that you run on downpours anyhow.

Durability


This is a rugged shoe. We've harped a lot on how it doesn't look like a typical barefoot shoe, and that might be why it feels so durable.


It's not weighty by any stretch of conventional running shoes, but it is the weightiest in this review at 9.7oz with the insole in and 9.3oz without it (on a size 11). It differs in itself in a big enough way from a shoe like the Vapor Glove just due to how flimsy that shoe feels in comparison to the meatier Prio. No other contender stuck out as having exceptionally bad or good durability. Some shoes had some spots we cast sideways glances at, like the Primus Lite, but among the barefoot competitors, everyone did reasonably well.

These huarache-like straps are also reflective tape and are very visible in low-light conditions.
These huarache-like straps are also reflective tape and are very visible in low-light conditions.

We dug the wrap-around reflective material built in with the huarache style straps that secure the shoe. There's a lot of it, and it promotes visibility out there on the road in any low light scenario, whether early or late in the date or during rainy days like the one in this picture.

Best Applications


These are best for runners that want a shoe that looks conventional, that gives the user some options and performs very well as a road trainer. As always here, we remind runners not to get too aggressive unless you've regularly been pounding the pavement in some other zero-drop, minimally cushioned shoe for weeks and already have trained yourself to run in a fore-strike or mid-strike gait. These are an especially aggressive take on the barefoot running style, and the look of them may be a bit deceptive to some. They also might not be in your local running shoe store, so if you're still doing the brick-and-mortar retail thing, they might be hard to come by.

Value


At $89.99 these are a great price for such a versatile shoe and coupled with the shoe's performance in the pack of barefoot shoes, earned it the Best Buy award. Frankly, not enough companies throw fun, cool ideas at you. Sure, you might never take the insole out of these, but who cares? At least you know you can. A lot of shoes out there cost way more than this and are only marginally different, so if you want bang for your buck, these are for you.

Conclusions


The Xero Prio is a new product line for this company which has mostly been doing sandals before now. The options you get for the insole and adjustable wrap-around strap are cool new features whether you use them or not. Among the pack of winners in the barefoot shoe review, this is a great first new stab at the product line from Xero.
Thomas King

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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