I’ve had the opportunity to start wearing my first two pair of “minimalist footwear” shoes nearly simultaneously.
The shoes in this review, the Dharma style of Vivo Barefoot shoes from Terra Plana
, arrived a few days before my Aqua-style shoes.
Whenever possible I’ll try to compare the Dharmas to bare feet, “normal” shoes, and the Aqua shoes in an attempt to accommodate each reader wherever they’re at.
First off, the Dharmas I received for review were the green color. It pleasantly reminds me both of a pine tree and guacamole. It’s not at all muted, but also doesn’t demand attention.
The design of these shoes is very simple. They look like basic loafers with a seam down the top of the shoe. They even have the typical elastic sections at the sides like most loafers do to ease slipping the shoe on and off.
Overall, the Dharmas look like any other loafer out there with a slight impression of higher quality.
Speaking of quality, it’s easy to tell that greater care went into making these shoes than your run-of-the-mill loafers. From the sturdy materials, to the hand stitching, to the focus on impacting the environment as little as possible, these shoes are very nice.
Compared to standard shoes, the Dharmas and Aquas are much higher quality.
For what you get out of these shoes, the price is pretty steep. I would expect that these shoes would be more expensive than your average pair of canvas loafers because of their build quality, however $140 USD seems really high. I could possibly see a justification for the leather version of this shoe reaching that price point, but I believe it’s asking too much for a canvas shoe.
I’ve got to think that you could find a high-quality loafer for less. Granted, they may not have as much of a “barefoot” feel or be as kind to the environment, but your wallet would thank you.
Let’s be clear: These shoes are very comfortable. The first time I wore them to work I tweeted, “Walking the office shouldn’t be this comfy. Feels like house slippers!” And they do. It almost felt wrong for my feet to not be confined in some tight shoe while working. While putting them on, I did wish that I had a shoehorn, as they don’t flex at the opening very freely. This certainly isn’t a big deal, though.
Hands down, Vivo Barefoot Dharmas win over regular shoes. The Dharmas feel like a soft glove wrapped around my feet compared to even the most comfortable sneakers. Comparing them to the Aquas, the Dharmas are slightly more comfortable around the foot. While the Aquas are still incredibly comfortable, I found that I needed to be careful how tightly I tied the laces. If they were too tight my feet didn’t feel as able to flex, move and breathe the way I wanted. Each and every time I wore the Dharmas, however, they never felt confining.
I must say that going barefoot so much before wearing these shoes spoiled me. Nothing can replace the feeling of bare sole on the ground below, so I have to take a mental step back and review these on their merits: a flexible shoe with an ultra-thin, puncture-resistant sole.
First off, the toe box on the Dharmas was adequate enough to prevent my toes from feeling “confined.” While I would have liked a little more space to wriggle my toes up and down, the space provided wasn’t a problem and was certainly more than 99% of regular shoes out there. Compared to the flexible suede of the Aquas, the Dharmas provided my toes with far less vertical space. Where the Aquas have so much space that I could almost make “fists with my toes” wearing them (ala Bruce Willis in the movie Die Hard), the Dharmas afford no such luxury. As for toe box width, my foot seemed to fit perfectly from side to side. In Aquas of the same size, my foot actually felt a little narrow for the toe box.
Wearing the Dharmas without the removable insole does help the foot feel as if it’s walking on the ground with bare feet. While the ultra-fine sensations of texture and temperature are not there – and never will be – the Vivo Barefoot shoes certainly remove the problem that many other shoes cause for our feet. There is no thick heel sole. There is no cushioning. They force the wearer to adjust his/her gait in order to avoid a hard heel strike, which can only relieve the amount of pressure going up through a person’s legs and into the rest of the body.
Interestingly enough, the removable insole in the Dharmas feels firmer than the Aquas’. The latter’s insole seems made of either different materials or in a different manufacturing process, thereby making it feel almost like memory foam. While the Dharmas feel pretty firm with or without the insole, the Aquas feel much softer while using the “cushiony” insole. This might all be best explained with equations:
- Shoe – Insole = Firm
- Shoe + Insole = Less Firm
- Shoe – Insole = Firmer
- Shoe + Insole = Least Firm
What I like best about both the Dharmas and Aquas is that my arches always felt much more free to flex compared to normal shoes. I was impressed at how much more movement the Vivo Barefoot shoes gave my feet overall. That makes me believe that these shoes are far healthier for my feet and I look forward to wearing them more.
While both styles are Vivo Barefoot shoes, I didn’t feel like my feet were quite as flexible in the Dharmas. I get the impression that the Dharmas are a “version 1.0” style in the line and that the Aquas are “version 2.0” or greater. Not only are the Dharmas a bit less flexible, but I felt like the materials between my feet and the floor were a little thicker. I got less of a sensation of the ground below wearing the Dharmas. The difference is slight, but I felt less shod overall wearing the Aquas. Don’t get me wrong, though. Compared to regular footwear, the Dharmas are still far more flexible and give much more of a barefoot feel.
The Final Words
When shoes are necessary, I like the Terra Plana line of Vivo Barefoot shoes very much. The Dharma style feels very comfortable around the foot, provides a thin sole to help our feet take over with a more natural gait, and is made of quality materials to boot. While I prefer the Aqua style because of its increased flexibility and barefoot feel, I would pick the Dharmas over regular shoes any day. The sticking point about them, however, is their price. In the end, if you are not concerned about the cost and/or you find that the high quality of materials and workmanship warrant it, the Dharma line of Vivo Barefoot shoes from Terra Plana is certainly worth a look and feel.