It was pretty clear after my first barefoot trail run that I was going to need something to wear on my feet, back then stone bruising was a big problem, I was not ready to bare my soles on the rough granite hills that I used to run on. At the time, true minimal options were limited so I went for the Vibram 5 finger KSO.
So after three and a half years I still have my original pair, during this time I’ve pushed them further than they are supposed to go. They’ve been up mountains and through mud, in rivers and the ocean, I’ve worn them for walking about town on hikes and at festivals. So I can quite honestly say I know this shoe. Or is it really right to call it a shoe? The Vibram 5 finger range are more like foot covers, or maybe foot gloves.
The construction of the KSO is solid, without a doubt, the sole on mine is still very much intact, yes it’s worn a little over the years but no holes. The toes pockets have ripped in places, more to do with what I’ve put these poor KSO’s through than build quality – I stitched the worst ones up and this has held fine.
KSO stands for Keep Stuff Out and it does this fine in most conditions. This is the original Vibram shoe for easy trails until the launch of its younger brother the KSO Trek. The shoe closes with a velcro band that holds the mid foot in tight – a good thing, this is a glove fit, the shoe feels like an extension of the foot. With that in mind it’s easy not to think that this is all you need to run but the most gnarly of trails. What I’ve found is the KSO is great for dry easy trails but pretty useless on anything steep and slippery or sharp and rocky. That is unless speed is not an issue and you don’t mind slowing down to pick your way through the tough parts of the trail.
I did find them great fun on slight muddy inclines, where the sliding thing becomes a new type of balancing game, at any rate at some point mud becomes too deep for even the most aggressively studded shoe to grip properly, perhaps its best in those conditions to wear something light and sleek that doesn’t collect up half the field in its wake?
What about those toes? If you haven’t tried toe shoes (and Vibram are undoubtedly the best) you are definitely missing something. Once you manage to get you foot in to them – my record is about 10 seconds – You will find out the joys of the separate pockets and how the toes seem to come in to play whilst running. Your toes will splay out when your foot makes contact with the ground something that is hindered in tight running shoes.
These shoes are as close to barefoot as you’ll get but they lack protection for tough trails and are not suitable for winter running unless you can stand the cold. I would not use them in high mountains. For me they make a great fair weather workout shoe, for low mileage on easy trails.