A Fresh Start With The Vivobarefoot Tracker – Review
After the longest test period Opinionated World has ever been through, we’re finally ready to give you our thoughts on the Vivobarefoot Tracker – a brand new, freshly designed off-road boot replacing the now defunct Off-Road Hi.
Over the course of the past year or so, Vivobarefoot have slowly reduced their hiking range from three models to just one. Gone are the Off-Road Mids, the Off-Road Hi’s and the Synth Hiker. Instead, Vivobarefoot now offer just one boot – the Tracker alongside their trail running shoe, the Trail Freak.
Not too long ago, I said I’d taken to wearing Breatho Trails instead of the Off-Road Mid and given the conditions were relatively dry, I’d use them over the Off-Road Hi too. This discovery left me wondering about the purpose of the Off-Road Mid. Why would anyone use a heavier shoe over a lightweight, more agile model like the Breatho? It was waterproof and more hard wearing in the long term but those benefits never eclipsed the lack of weight in the trail shoes I could be wearing instead. My personal choices for hiking changed from the Off-Road Mid, Synth Hiker and Off-Road Hi to Breatho Trail or Off-Road Hi. I used the Breatho Trail when it was dry and the Off-Road Hi when it was wet and throughout winter.
Vivobarefoot must have been thinking along the same lines because the range of options are no more. One boot and one trail shoe with two variants (summer and winter) are what you have to choose from. I think this is a good path to have taken since it removes the confusing choice customers were having to make. I was asked numerous times whether the Synth Hiker should be chosen over the Off-Road Hi and which boot was favourable in winter and in summer. The problem was that the answer was never totally clear, it was down to personal preference more than anything else. I had the luxury of owning them all and knowing the pros and cons of each model – customers did not.
Now, all of the aforementioned hiking models are gone and have been replaced with the Vivobarefoot Tracker.
The Tracker is a completely new design, borrowing nothing but the sole and the waterproofing method from everything that has come before it. It has a much more conventional look with a brown leather upper mixed with press-stud secured eyelets and brown/red laces. On the bottom remains the off-road sole, now called the ‘V-Trek’ which is 2.5mm thin with 4.5mm lugs for the best traction.
The all-around abrasion guard is no longer needed because the new upper is made of abrasion leather and rip-stop Nylon trimmings for increased durability. Vivobarefoot call this ‘V Leather’. The leather upper is instead glued directly to the sole with the help of the separator band. Vivobarefoot have had issues with this before, namely with the One where the upper would separate from the sole after little use – processes were subsequently updated and the issue was resolved.
Also removed are the ‘lace lockers’ in favour of a traditional speed lace system (open hooks). All eyelets and hooks are now a nice quality metal, rather than cheap plastic. You’ll also be glad to hear the hooks at the top are secured all the way through the boot rather than in-between the materials. Vivo made the Franklin boot very briefly which suffered from these snapping off. Even the Off-Road Hi had plastic closures sewn in-between the outer and inner materials – I guess the reason these didn’t snap off was because of the larger surface area and therefore they could be secured more firmly.
Interestingly, the laces now start further away from the toe-end of the boot which gives you a slightly bigger toe-box than previously offered. While the barefoot movement has always advocated a big toe box to allow your toes to splay as you walk, the previous models were always the smallest in the range in terms of width. Not to the point of being too narrow, but on the limit and noticeably smaller than other products in their range. The Tracker solves this problem because along with the relocated laces, from what I can tell, it’s about 0.5mm wider too.
Vivobarefoot have also changed crucial dimensions of the boot and I feel it is to the detriment of the toe-box – the height of the toe is at least 10mm lower in the Tracker than in the Off-Road models – they’re super low profile. What this means is that the upper recedes further down in a much shallower manner at the edges and therefore reduces space above and around the toes. See my not-perfect diagram below to see what I mean. Slipping a sock-less foot into the old Off-Road Hi and then immediately into the new Tracker and you immediately notice the lack of space. In my normal size 8 (42), I can’t comfortably wear a thick hiking sock, which is no good for the winter. The only solution here is to size up, which shouldn’t be seen as a big problem – many people had sized up in older models too.
Inside remains the textile lining that was there before it – an inner sock if you like. This is a fully waterproof, Hydroguard equipped material that will keep your feet completely dry even in the wettest conditions. Also present is the standard 3mm insole which gives a minimal amount of additional comfort but does make a nice difference in improving their thermal qualities.
The laces are thick and robust – your typical hiking shoe lace but they are also very long. Coming out of the final eyelet on either side leaves you with 60cm of lace, which is simply too much. I’ve never been a fan of laces flying about everywhere or being covered in mud because they’re dangling down but I’ve found my own solution to the problem by going through the final hook twice before tying up – this leaves me with a knot and two tiny loops. To be fair, that’s what I did with both my Karibas and Off-Road Hi’s too. I’m sure this isn’t going to be a complaint for most people – just fussy ones like me!
The design is cleaner, it is simpler and there are fewer seams and fewer creases. Everything is more polished. What we have now is a conventional looking boot without the bulk and a similar weight.
So what about the comfort, the overall fit and performance, the durability and the cost?
Other than the reduced toe-box height and the need to size up (I was touch and go with the Synth Hiker too), the comfort is better than ever. The interior is plush enough without adding un-necessary soft patches that only add to the weight. It’s soft around the ankle, reducing the luxury to a minimum towards the sole. The heel is barely padded, just enough to prevent rubbing, though higher up around the achilles the padding returns. The insole, as mentioned before is very thin and adds only a small amount of cushion from the ground. It’s there to take the edge off and for additional warmth in winter. I’d recommend leaving this in place (yes, you can remove it!) because unlike running on your forefoot, you heel-strike when walking (just without the jolt) so your heel could probably use the extra bit of comfort particularly if you’re carrying a heavy rucksack.
I didn’t get any bad rubbing from the Vivobarefoot Tracker – no marks or blisters. My little toe was a bit red from the smaller toe-box but after removing the hiking socks on every other occasion, this didn’t recur. Ground feel somehow feels better than before despite nothing changing over the previous models. I think it’s mostly to do with the close fitting nature and the lack of weight. The Tracker weighs in at 435 grams in a size eight which is really quite light. Most of the weight will have been saved when they removed the abrasion guard and the square of padding around the outside of the ankle. To put that weight into perspective, I also have beside me a pair of more conventional hiking boots – a pair of Keen Durand Mid WP’s which weigh 670 grams per shoe. That’s fifty percent more. Imagine that over a mountainous 20 mile walk and one of the benefits of barefoot boots becomes blindingly obvious.
Since February, I have tested the boot in pouring rain, hot weather, through bog, up and down steep slippery mud slopes, over moss coated trees, through streams – I’ve climbed trees, bounded over rocks and ran a handful of miles on tarmac and trails. They’ve been thoroughly put to the test. One thing I always like to test straight away is waterproofing, particularly because I always wonder how Vivobarefoot keep these from leaking and am always surprised when they don’t. I’m sure most people would think that central, textile based lining would absorb liquid like a sponge – thankfully it doesn’t. I’m happy to say the Tracker hasn’t leaked once and I also haven’t re-coated them with anything so their Ion-masking must be working very nicely.
The 4.5mm lugs give you a good mix of durability and traction – I’m sure the soles are ever-so-slightly harder than they used to be but I might be wrong – so you’ll be able to make it up those muddy banks and not worry about them wearing out quickly on tarmac.
Unfortunately, my model which are over 10 months old now and a pre-production sample, suffered from the dreaded upper/sole separation right at the beginning of testing. Fortunately, it stopped almost instantly at an amount that leaves it only an aesthetic issue up close and hasn’t affected the waterproofing. Vivobarefoot told me they expected this to happen in the early stages as they changed their bonding procedures and understood how best to work with the material. Ten months is a long time and I’m certain that the problem is now fully resolved – I’d like to test this out myself.
On a whole (and after removing my thick socks) I’ve really come to love the Tracker. The comfort all around combined with a lighter weight gives it an edge over what I used to wear. I don’t notice these on my feet even to the small degree I noticed the Off-Road Hi and the freedom of movement is better than ever thanks to the use of just one material on the upper – they are more supple because of this. Until the day my early edition samples give up the ghost, I won’t be donning anything else. At least not for hiking.
The Vivobarefoot Tracker is on sale now for £180 which is a fair chunk more than the previous model. Though as I always say, you get what you pay for and if it’s an extremely lightweight, nicely made, leather finished barefoot boot that you’re after, then you’re not going to find one better.
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