The first thing to notice is the thin sole. Immediately, you feel close to the ground. The barefoot feeling can never be fully replicated in a shoe but if you need protection from the weather or the terrain, this is the alternative. The removable insole also allows you to choose just how barefoot you want it to feel.
The 4mm sole achieves a nice balance of allowing you to feel the ground whilst at the same time protecting you from stones and thorns with its puncture resistant sole. The lack of heel to toe height difference will take some getting used to for those unaccustomed to it and some runners may feel like they are slapping the ground as they run. However, with a sensible ‘breaking in’ [learn more about transitiong properly to barefoot] period the muscles of the feet and lower leg will relax and adapt to the new sensations allowing the foot to land in a more relaxed fashion. This is when you can begin to enjoy the feeling of running closer to how nature intended and start to use your VIVOBAREFOOT shoes as a training shoe.
As they claim in their brochure, running is a skill and technique is everything. This cannot be ignored; the shoe itself won’t give you good technique. It can, however, assist you in the process.
Despite their minimalist nature the Neo, with the multi-terrain sole, just like the Evo, is sturdy enough for soft, loose soil and rocks. It has a non-restrictive upper which manages to prevent your foot from sliding underneath as can happen in other shoes. This means it can be a great shoe for hiking on natural surfaces with all the challenges that come with it.
Considered a multi-terrain model, optimal for cross-training, zigzagging, through the park, running light trails and great city walks, the Neo sells itself short. From my experience it stands up to rougher terrain quite easily. Tougher trails and off-trail hiking were tried in this review with no negatives to report.
While some barefoot shoes are designed to be obvious and show the world you’re doing something different, the Neo’s subtle design means it can be worn without making a statement. Being understated enough that you can wear it as a day-to-day shoe means you have more of an opportunity to use it and reap the rewards of feeling in touch with the ground.
So which categories of runner does the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo appeal to? If you’re used to minimal shoes this should fit the bill. It’s definitely minimal, providing as close to a barefoot experience as possible in a shoe. Those looking to make the transition from lightweight shoes will be pleased by the levels offered with the removable insole. For someone looking to try minimalist running for the first time, this shoe can be used with the obvious caveat – use sparingly to allow your feet and body adapt to the new stresses.
The important question when evaluating a pair of shoes: Would I buy another pair? The answer here – an emphatic yes!