Opinionated World

Footwear

Vivobarefoot Neo Trail – A Great Winter Companion

It’s October and there are only 10 weeks until the shortest day of the year when I can start the countdown to the lighter, warmer days ahead. For the coming months though, the colder weather means our ultra-breathable, super-lightweight summer footwear is put away for a while and because of that, we need a replacement.

For the hikers, there’s some great footwear on offer from Vivobarefoot, but what about the runners? I can’t see many people taking a Breatho Trail or an Ultra out in the snow but is there an alternative? The short answer would be yes.

Vivobarefoot offer a more wintery version of the frankly brilliant Breatho Trail – the Neo Trail. It’s a slightly heavier, thicker, more padded and more water-resistant version of its summer cousin. They’re not particularly light, with each shoe weighing in at around 275 grams in a size eight (42 EU). Compared with the Breatho trail that sheds around 30 grams per shoe from that figure.

A wide toe-box and aesthetically pleasing.

A wide toe-box and aesthetically pleasing.

Being a shoe designed for the trails, the Neo Trail’s come equipped with Vivobarefoot’s off-road sole which is 2.5mm thick and has 4.5mm luggs for exceptional traction and overall grip. Like with the Breatho Trails, they provide just as much grip as any Vivobarefoot hiking boot but with a little more agility – mostly due to the low, ankle avoiding design and lower weight.

The upper is made from a durable, synthetic hydrophobic mesh – hydrophobic meaning they’re scared of water. For the most part, water tends to run and hide, rather than being absorbed by the shoe. That’s good news for the coming winter – rain shouldn’t give you wet feet, nor should a bit of snow dampen your adventures. Inevitably, your feet will get wet if you’re running through seriously boggy ground or puddles or if you jump into a lake, but for the most part, you should stay pretty dry.

4.5mm luggs for brilliant traction.

4.5mm luggs for brilliant traction.

Hydrophobic mesh uppers.

Hydrophobic mesh uppers.

Once they’re wet, they take a bit longer to dry because of the water-resistant upper but in footwear terms, it’s nearly impossible to strike a perfect balance between trying to keep water out and then wanting it to escape once it’s in. Generally, the more waterproof something is, the less breathable it becomes.

One complaint I have about the Neo Trail’s and it’s transferred over from a couple of other models in the range too, are the round laces. They’re prone to coming un-done unless you tie them very tightly and they must be heavier by a small amount than the flatter laces you’ll find in the One’s. The laces in the Neo Trail’s are also very long, too long infact and as someone who usually prefers to tuck away any sign of a showing-lace, it can be a bit uncomfortable. Half of that is my fault and I should leave the laces outside the shoe, but even then, you’ll need a couple of knots before they’re anything like short enough not to annoy you.

The toe-box is wide in true barefoot fashion, so your feet can ‘do their thing’ and splay out as you move. They’re comfortable with the extra thickness too – though they don’t feel so much like a second skin as with some of the Vivobarefoot models,but in winter I’m more than happy to have the extra warmth and protection.

Extra long laces, even with a double knot.

Extra long laces, even with a double knot.

The water test - no moisture inside.

The water test – no moisture inside.

The tongue is a one-piece, inner shoe-attached design, almost sock like which prevents it moving around. It also helps to keep out the weather a little better than a tongue that’s completely separate (like in the One). Despite the slightly heavier, rugged design these still remain pretty darn flexible – you can still scrunch them up into a ball which highlights the point.

I found the Neo Trail’s to take a little longer to break in than the other Vivobarefoot running shoes I own – more in-line with the hiking boots. I should clarify, or re-phrase ‘break in’ to something like ‘fit my foot perfectly’. I’ve never found any Vivobarefoot model to be uncomfortable or to rub the first few times of wearing and they’ve certainly never been stiff – so ‘break in’ is probably the wrong word. Especially since I previously said that some models required none at all.

Water is repelled and beads off nicely.

Water is repelled and beads off nicely.

One thing I’ve learned is that all the Vivobarefoot off-road models work not only as running shoes, but also as a good hiking shoe too. I wore Breatho Trails for half of the Caledonian Challenge in June, before it rained and on many other hiking trips too. The Neo Trail therefore makes a lightweight, less waterproof alternative to the Off-Road Mid.

In terms of aesthetics, the Neo Trail’s now come in just a couple of colours (in the UK at least) – their new Blue/Red or Olive/Lime variants. Gone are the red model I’m reviewing as well as the all black, black and yellow and olive colourways. Vivobarefoot seem to be going more towards bright, stand out colours rather than the understated, neutral colours of the past. In running shoes, this isn’t a bad idea because in my opinion at least, top-of-the-range performance shoes aren’t meant to blend in with the cheap rubbish you find everywhere else. People are more likely to see a blue and red Neo Trail and ask about it than an all-black model.

To summarise, the Neo Trail is the perfect winter running companion that should be right at the top of your list to see you through the freeze before the sun returns. At £90 (now vastly reduced), they’re not a cheap purchase but like I always say – you get what you pay for – and the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of a low price is forgotten.


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