Review: VivoBarefoot Trail Freak Winterproof

IMG_5450I live in Colorado…when winter comes, I can either hop on a treadmill, or head out into the snow for a run!  Perhaps someday I’ll do a review of my treadmill someday…but the mere thought of that beast sends shivers down my spine…so let’s focus on the joys of trail running in winter in Colorado instead.  If you’re going to have fun doing that…you need the right equipment.  There’s nothing better than running at night when it’s lightly snowing!  Assuming of course you’re staying warm and cozy, and slipping and sliding all over the place.  Again, it all comes down to having the right equipment…and after spending my winter training for an April marathon, I’ve found some equipment that works great for me.  Starting from the bottom up, let’s talk about shoes, and my absolute favorite (for winter), the Trail Freak Winterproof from VivoBarefoot.

They’re very similar to the standard Trail Freaks, but with waterproof construction and a removable insole.  These different materials result in a shoe that’s much smaller than Vivo’s normal sizes – I own several VivoBarefoot shoes (both on and off road shoes), all size 44, and these size 44 Winteproofs were really snug in the toe section (compared to the wide, loose feel in the toes in the others).  After 180 miles in them they’ve loosened up a bit, but they’re still nowhere near as roomy as my Neo Trails.  The liner can be removed (which results in a more normal VivoBarefoot fit, still slightly snug though by comparison), but with just a 3mm sole, I want to keep that in there to insulate my feet from the snow I’m running on.  So, I cope, but consider ordering a size up from normal if you get these.  I wasn’t sure how I’d like the drawstring style laces, and while I found they do loosen up a bit, the shoes themselves never felt loose.

Traction in the snow and ice is phenomenal; they use the same tread and sole design as the proven Neo Trails and Trail Freaks.  Traction won’t be a problem.  Running through puddles and slush is a breeze…water does get in around my ankle, but the rest of the shoe does a good job of keeping the foot dry (the tongue is not a loose piece, its sides are joined to the rest of the shoe like a waterproof hiking boot would be, this undoubtedly helps).  Warmth is likewise never an issue, no matter what socks I wore, my feet were always plenty warm in temperatures as cold as 10F.  The 180 miles on these were not easy miles, either…when conditions were good enough (only patches of snow), I’d use my Neo Trails…I turned to the Winterproofs when it was either snowing or there was significant snow on the ground.  Sometimes that meant running on packed snow, sometimes I was breaking a trail through 6-8″.  Whatever I asked of these shoes, they delivered!

Naturally, all this does come at a price…$160 is the latest advertised price on VivoBarefoot’s website.  However, Vivo is always coming out with new colors for their shoes, sending the old colors to places like LeftLaneSports, so if you shop around, you can find a good deal on them (at the time of this writing, $97 at LeftLaneSports for example).IMG_5454

Review: VivoBarefoot Neo Trail shoes

Vivobarefoot Neo Trail shoesThis review is a bit overdue…you see, I’ve put 491 miles on these shoes!  I’ve grown fond of them and yet, it’s time to retire them and move on.  So, as a goodbye, this review.

I’m guessing if you’re reading this post, you were directed here by a search engine.  Hence I’m going to assume that you already know why you’d want to consider a trail shoe with a thin 3mm sole and no cushioning!  If not, check out VivoBarefoot’s website.  Yes, the sole is thin, though the large tread blocks add a bit of cushioning compared to 3mm road shoes I also own.  The small tread blocks and thin sole result in a highly flexible shoe that easily adapts to the contours of the trail…a feature I really love.  Protection from sharp rocks is adequate…you feel them, but it doesn’t hurt (my trail runs often include decomposed granite).  The level of grip is phenomenal in any terrain…even snow and ice are easily handled by these shoes.  While water resistant, they’re not waterproof and running through slush and puddles does result in wet feet (imagine that).  That same water resistance means they’re not going to breathe as well as some shoes, but with most of my running in <80F temperatures, I never had any issues with that (but I suspect these might not be the best shoes for hot running!).

I used these shoes primarily to train for a marathon through the winter months in Colorado.  While much of the 491 miles was on dirt and trails, a significant portion was on paved sidewalks and bike paths near the end of my training on the long runs.  I also ran the marathon (paved roads the whole way) in these shoes!  They handled the pavement just fine, and the tall tread blocks seemed to be providing some extra cushioning when compared to my ‘road’ shoes.  Many people online have complained about the tread blocks on these shoes not being durable…but as my 491 miles have shown, if you’re a moderately-paced runner like myself (~10min/mile), they hold up just fine.  A corner of a block or two have broken off, and they’ve worn down in some places to only a couple millimeters left.  That’s the reason they’re being retired..they’re still great shoes, but the depth of tread blocks is no longer as aggressive as I’d like and it’s summertime…time to hit the trails where I’ll need all the grip I can get!

Unfortunately, VivoBarefoot is no longer manufacturing this wonderful shoe (the Trail Freak has replaced it).  You can still find some unpopular sizes online if you search.  Stay tuned for more reviews of running gear, including the Neo Trails siblings – the Winterproof Trail Freaks, and the regular Trail Freaks!Vivobarefoot Neo Trail shoes

Run tracking in cold weather

When I first started getting serious about running again last spring, I used the RunKeeper app on my iPhone and, coupled with the app running on my Pebble smartwatch, was really liking it.  The Pebble app allowed for basic start/stop functionality and stat display.  Then, two things happened.  First, I discovered Strava, a really cool running site that also offered their own iPhone app.  More importantly though…it got cold!  Living in Colorado, ‘nice’ weather for running this time of year is temperatures in the teens and sunshine.  My limit is about 5 degrees…though that’s pushing it, it’s harder to breathe at that temperature.  Most importantly, I’ve found that my iPhone’s battery just doesn’t last when it’s cold and also having to keep the GPS active…it wasn’t able to track my long runs (>5 miles).

garmin forerunner 110Fortunately, the solution is pretty great!  I picked up an inexpensive Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS-enabled sport watch (pictured here; $120 at Amazon).  As far as sport watches go, it’s really basic, a true entry level model.  However, I’ve found it perfect for my needs.  The battery life is great (more on that later), it does a good job of tracking my runs and providing realtime stats.  Synchronizing with the Strava website is easy after my runs via a USB cable.  The only catch has been that battery life…it should last a long time in standby mode (3 weeks per Garmin), but I’ve found that if I don’t leave it plugged in to my computer to keep the battery top off, the actual battery level is a bit unpredictable when I head out for a run (it was out of juice one time after sitting less than a week).  Minor inconvenience really but something to watch out for if you get one of these…just keep it plugged in to your computer when not in use and you’ll be fine.  Battery life is supposed to be around 8 hours in active use, but my longest runs so far have been around 2.5 hours so I haven’t really pushed it.  The best part is, since this is in constant contact with my skin, I expect the air temperature won’t have nearly as much impact on battery life as it did with my iPhone.

Smart socks (no, really!)

smart sockThe emerging wearable technology craze has spread…to socks.  Crazy idea?  Well, not really, when you dig deeper.  Sure, they act as an ultra-precise step tracker.  However, with multiple sensors in the sock communicating to your smartphone via an anklet, they can help warn people who are excessively heal-striking.  This might even be of some use to barefoot runners (few of which run truly barefoot, so they’d be used to wearing socks already), though barefoot runners instinctively avoid heal striking already.  It can also monitor your cadence and notify you of changes needed to meet goals there.

You can read more about them at SenSoria’s website or preorder here.  Check out the video below.

Sensoria Fitness Smart Sock Tracker from Heapsylon on Vimeo.