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Researching Minimalist Trail Shoes

Mon 29th July 2013

After I completely forgot my 2012-13 CC6 experience and was punished for my lack of grip during the torrential downpour at Thunder Run 2013, it’s time to investigate some minimalist trail shoes.

Vibram Spyridon


I run in Vibram Five Fingers. Mostly KSO TrekSports, but occasionally in Sprints during the summer. I thought the TrekSports would be good enough, given they have far grippier soles than many of the original Five Fingers, but they do not. Unfortunately they do nothing to stop your feet sliding sideways, and are useless on downhills for similar reasons.

I would choose the Spyridon over the Spyridon LS as I really like the velcro fastner on the TrekSports. One of the only good things about them on a muddy cross-country course is the fact that tightening the velcro means I’ve never lost a shoe in the mud. Also, I wasn’t really that impressed by the lacing system on my old Bikila LS.

The Speed XC also sound like they might be an option, as they’re water resistant and have “cross-country” in the name, but with a TrekSport sole they would not be appropriate. Also, I’m not worried about my feet getting wet, I just want some grip in the mud!

While I’d like these to be the right shoe, I think they’re a trail shoe in the American sense rather than the British sense. I get the impression that they focus on protection from stones and branches typical of an American trail, and less on the grip needed in slushy British mud 🙂 However, I will get a pair of these and report back!

Brooks Mach,default,pd.html


In looking around for some spikes for track work, I was recommended the Brooks Mach cross-country shoe by a friend. I know a lot of people wear spikes for cross-country races in the UK, so this might be suitable. Spikes tend to be close to minimalist, as they’re lightweight and have very little heel-to-toe drop, I guess because people racing in them don’t tend to heel strike.

The length of the spikes look suitable for the type of mud I’m concerned about, but I’m not sure there’s enough of them or they’re big enough to give much grip. I’d also be concerned that there’s not much grip on the heels, as although I’d don’t tend to heel strike very much, when trying to control my speed down hills I’d like something to provide a bit of breaking (or maybe I should just learn to hurtle down hills better?)

Another downside is that spikes wouldn’t be suitable for courses that have a mixture of mud and gravel or tarmac. Given a surface that the spikes can’t dig into I’d be likely to either damage the spikes or myself!

If I get some track spikes, I might be brave enough to try them out on a CC6 to see if they’d be appropriate.

Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200

Bare-Grip 200_521

I was recommended Inov-8 as a company that might have minimalist trail shoes. Their site has an excellently thought out product browser, and I checked out both the off-road and off-trail sections. Within each section they categorise their shoes by the amount of cushioning the sole has. I immediately focussed on the left hand column which is “Zero Drop”.

The off-road shoes (TrailRoc 150 and 235) look ok, with a sole that looks a bit like the Vibram Spyridon, and footbeds of 3mm and 6mm respectively. However, it is the off-trail Bare-Grip 200 that looks most exciting. It appears to have incredibly large and grippy lugs, which would certainly give me more confidence in staying on my feet. It looks like a super-charge football boot sole (for the record, I wish I’d thought to take my football boots to Thunder Run!)

This shoe certainly has me most interested in its grip potential. However, I’m not entirely convinced of its flexibility and minimalism. I’d like to try a pair to find out though!

Vivo Barefoot

Lime Mens Breatho Trail - side view

Another of the barefoot pioneers, Vivo Barefoot are proponents of the tenets of barefoot running: thin and flexible soles, zero heel drop, and space for the toes to spread. I have an existing pair of Aqua Lites that I use for tennis and occasional running, and I’m fairly happy with them.

They sell a couple of trail shoes: Breatho Trail and Neo Trail. It’s not entirely clear what the difference between the two are, but I think that the Breatho Trail have a mesh upper for breathability and the Neo Trail have water resistance, and other than that they are pretty much the same (though this isn’t explicitly stated). The sole appears to be the same in the photographs and looks to be covered in semi-hexagonal lugs (two adjacent of the six sides stick out) which face in different directions, so should give fair grip laterally as well as forwards.

I could quite well try these. There are some shops selling them, so I might be able to try them on soon, and take a real look at the lugs.


There’s a few others I’ve seen on my search, that I don’t want to write as much about.

  • New Balance Minimus Trail – doesn’t appear to have much grip and with a 4mm drop its minimalist credentials are dubious. There might also be a pair called Minimus Zero Trail Lightning or MT00 but the New Balance site is so pathetic  that it’s impossible to find.
  • Merrell Barefoot Run Trail Glove – from the photos it doesn’t look like it has any grip and there’s not even a photo of the sole to confirm! Rookie mistake…

Going Sideways

I’m going to have take a punt and try some now. I’d like the Vibram Five Fingers Spyridon to be good, and I think I will try them first. I guess I’d rather them than the Vivo Barefoot Neo Trial, as they both seem to have a similar amount of lugs.

I’m not entirely convinced by spikes, and they would only be of use on courses that are entirely grass and mud.

I think the Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 might well be the right thing, given how extreme the lugs look. However, I’m not entirely convinced by their minimalist credentials. The specs show them to be thin and low-drop, but how flexible is the sole and how much space is there for my toes to spread? The only way to find out is to see a pair in person.


Having just put the photos in, I’ve realised that all minimalist trail shoes seem to come in lime green!

From → Running, Shoes

  1. Just read this one… One guy on our team ran in cc spikes, he stayed upright I think, and was a sight quicker than I was. The Breathos are mesh. Water in, water out. Ish. The Neos are waterproof. Never tried them, but I hear they are real hot houses. Proper sweatboxes for your feet. Those Inov-8s look interesting though, and if you do try the Spyridons, let us know how you find them.

    • I kinda wish I’d taken football boots with me. I reckon they’d have done a good job (though are a darn sight less flexible than my Vibrams)!

      I was leaning towards the Neo Trails, but waterproofing doesn’t bother me that much when running, so maybe I’ll try Breathos. I’m hoping to try a pair in-store in a couple of weeks.

      Basically I really want one of each, but can’t really afford them 🙂

  2. Phil permalink

    I’m running with Inov-8 RocLite 243 and I love them. I’ve also got The X-Talon 212 which are good when it’s really slippery. My calves are still sore as I’m just getting in to minimalist running.

    • How flexible are they? They look a bit rigid.

      • Phil permalink

        The RocLite 243 have almost the same sole as the X-Talon 212, but the compound is a little harder. They’re both very flexible, but the X-Talon are wearing out pretty quickly on the front under the toes because of the softer compound and possibly because I’m toeing off too much! I previously tried the TrailRoc 255 and they were far too stiff.

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