Xero Shoes Prio Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
A true zero-drop shoe that lays close to the ground, the Prio offers an optional removable insole that adds an additional 2mm of cushion to the otherwise ultra-minimal 5.5mm outsole. The straps on the sides of the shoe are more for function than fashion. Based on the huarache design, these straps can be pulled to tighten the heel pocket, and since they are incorporated into the lacing system, naturally pull the upper around your foot the tighter you tie the laces.
Although these road runners do not fit the archetypal appearance of a barefoot shoe, they are deceptively minimalist in design. More than just an extra-wide toe box, the whole shoe is specifically designed to be roomy so that your entire foot has room to spread out. This is particularly noticeable in uneven terrain, where your foot is unhindered to adjust to its proper position within the shoe, offering you naturally more stable footing.
This is one of the few shoes we tested that has absolutely no toe-spring, rendering it completely flat from heel-to-toe. While it does lack a bit of downward flexion, it is incredibly flexible upward right at the natural point where the ball of the foot meets the toes. This allows for a comfortable running experience and enables you to activate both the support of your arch and the rebound of your toes. Though not as lightweight as other trainers we tested, the Prio glides smoothly across pavement.
The Prio includes a Chevron-style tread that efficiently sheds water, but the low-profile lugs are not exactly grippy off-road. It is certainly possible — and quite enjoyable — for these shoes to crossover as trail runners, but they are more apt to the road or gym. We particularly appreciate the thoughtful addition of an optional, 2mm insole. This provides a bit of arch support for those who need it (without diminishing ground-feel) and will likely help ease the transition for those trying out barefoot-style shoes for the first time.
With the added insole, the Prio is an excellent, genuine barefoot-style road runner with just a bit of cushion. Without the insole, the proprietary FeelTrue rubber of the thin, 5.5mm outsole provides the raw feedback diehard barefoot runners expect. Xero designers wouldn't dream of including a midsole, so your foot lies right next to the ground in this true zero-drop shoe.
They are certainly not as lightweight as other road trainers we tested, but they are nearly unmatched when it comes to barefoot accuracy. Without the optional insole, there is no form of conventional support — but even with the insole, the difference in ground-feel is negligible. Mainly, the Prio is remarkably stable, thanks to its wide design that allows your foot to create its own solid platform naturally.
Although the Prio is flexible upward, we do wish we were able to dig-in more with our toes to grip the ground for improved bounding — we often found our toes slipping in the oversized toe box. It seems like some of the extra padding on the upper could be sacrificed to save on swing weight, but it does make this a super comfortable shoe to slip on. The upper is a majority mesh, which does a fantastic job when it comes to breathability and thermoregulation.
Still much more lightweight than many other conventional trainers, the Prio is easily one of the heaviest shoes in our review. Regardless of its true barefoot-feel, this shoe is bulky — the design almost reminds us of a skate shoe. At its most minimal, it weighs in at 8.4 ounces per shoe. That's nearly two ounces heavier than the closest competitor, and if you include the optional insole, each shoe tips the scale at 8.8 ounces.
Despite its extra weight, we believe other trainers in our review could have been served by having a more robust insole like the one in the Prio. Oftentimes, runners struggle with giving themselves time for their feet to recover between workouts. The optional insole provides you the flexibility to decide before a run whether you want more or less support that day. While these options mean that this trainer is heavier than most of the pack, it does afford an extra level of comfort that those transitioning to barefoot-style shoes will likely appreciate.
Like many of the barefoot runners we tested, the Prio fails to achieve high marks in traction as soon as the roadways become wet or slick. On damp, flat surfaces in particular, the low-profile lugs don't do a great job of shedding water, leading to a few awkward slips.
But on dry days and mixed-surface runs, the Prio is a fair shoe. The rubber is not particularly tacky, and although the downward flexion is somewhat compromised compared to others we tested, the thin outsole still offers natural grip from the toes. The v-shaped, "Chevron" style lugs are thoughtfully reversed on the heel, providing some level of extra traction on downhills. Expect better performance on pavement and compact surfaces like gravel or dirt roads — on loose, rocky trails, the lugs are simply too shallow to prevent slipping.
As a shoe that is clearly devoted to the core ideals of barefoot running, the Prio is surprisingly versatile. It is lightweight and breathable enough to run roads even on the hottest days of summer, yet burly enough to withstand light precipitation and the colder running conditions of spring and fall. Unfortunately, this trainer does not confidently crossover into trail running, where its unreliable tread pattern left us feeling less than confident, particularly in rugged, technical terrain.
The Prio seems like a compelling option for those looking to transition from conventional to barefoot-style running shoes. Notably, it feels more substantial than other core models while still offering a true zero-drop design and superb barefoot accuracy. Most importantly, the optional insole offers enough additional support while you work on adjusting your running style and building up the musculature of your feet.
We've driven home the point that the Prio doesn't look like a typical barefoot shoe. But, this point is amplified when considering the durability of this rugged shoe. Though far from heavy by conventional standards, these shoes differ greatly from the pack when you consider their meaty build.
The upper utilizes a tightly woven, dual-layer mesh. That body is overlaid with a synthetic leather that is both remarkably flexible and impressively abrasion-resistant. The durable design is most easily noticeable around the toe box, which is reinforced with multiple layers of this same synthetic layer.
An integral part of the huarache-inspired design, the external straps also add an additional level of support to the lacing system. The sole extends up the sides at the midfoot, almost like an external TPU stabilizer. While this in no way adds the same type of conventional support, it does help secure the shoe to your foot and increase durability in a spot that often scuffs and wears out quickly.
For those who are looking to bridge the gap between conventional trainers and barefoot road runners, the Prio offers you a shoe that comfortably walks that line. This is a great trainer, offered at a great price. Although the skate-shoe inspired design may not appeal to all, we appreciate that these shoes can be worn more casually than some of the other models we tested, only adding to their versatility.
When it comes to minimalist training, the Xero Shoes Prio is a shoe that offers solid protection while staying true to its barefoot-running roots. From the adjustable huarache-style straps to the optional insole, no other shoe we tested provides the same flexibility of design features. As our Top Pick for Road Running, this shoe is likely to inspire your running for years to come.
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