Ok Readers, it’s time for me to weigh in on the monkey feet toe shoes. I think I have given them a fair trial now, and due to my experience and research, I consider myself an authority on the matter. I have had a pair of Vibrams for over a year now, and on top of that, I’ve read lots of articles, watched youtube videos, and even gone to a barefoot running lecture at REI, all trying to convince myself to keep wearing them after that time I was standing at a stoplight during a run and the car next to me pointed and laughed in my face. Or rather at my feet.

These are the kind I have.

But you know what, they are worth the point-and-laugh. They are that awesome.
I feel I should mention at this point that I was a skeptic, and I was tricked into getting a pair.  My friend Shelby, (a Toesie from birth), saw these things and knew right then that her phalanges must be coddled into their own pockets in order to flourish. She bought a pair. But she was mis-sized at the store. Due to the newness of the whole idea, and the precision of the sizing, it’s not surprising, but it was a sad thing to have a new pair of toe shoes that squash your toes. This is where I come in. Shelby’s shoes shoddily sized, slipped onto my small sausages splendidly. Out of concern for Shelby’s little piggies, I was persuaded to buy them from her at a discounted rate so that she could get a new pair in the proper size. So because of my charity, and to be sure, curiosity, I bought Shelby’s pair of Vibrams. So I used them.
Here’s how I’ve used them and what it was like:

1. Hiking/walking: This is where the toesyness took my heart from the beginning. I went hiking at Eaton Canyon in Pasadena soon after getting my Vibrams. There’s a creek and a waterfall there, and my toes splashed about free and happy and grippy and no slippy. I felt like I was experiencing a whole new world with my feet. I wrapped my toes around every obstacle and conquered. My feet became investigators and journalists, instead of tourists in the bus of a hiking boot.

2. Running: After the hike I was so excited about toes that I had to run in them too. I read a bunch of articles about barefoot running, and about being careful, and starting slow, so I took it slow. I ran a mile at first, then a couple more, even though my average run at the time was more like 5 or 6 miles. My feet and the muscles around my arches, ankles, and calves were all a little sore, but it felt good. So a couple weeks in, I couldn’t hold back anymore, and 5 miles it was! By the end I was blistered to bits on the balls of my feet. I was hobbling in the grass. Whoops. While it lasted during that run, I was fast and it felt great! But my poor feet were used to the lush padding, arch support, and elevated heel of my Asics. Lazy gits. That was a little discouraging, but after my feet recovered, I was back at it. They changed my stride just slightly, and I got faster and faster, as my feet and body became accustomed to the forefoot strike. Now I only run in Vibrams. It took a few months to get the hang of what it’s supposed to feel like to run lightly on my forefoot like all the people in the youtube videos. But now, going back to the Asics and the other running style feels just stupid. My feet feel stupid because they can’t feel the ground, my legs feel stupid because they are just clodding forward hoping that the feet know what’s going on down there, and I feel stupid because more likely than not, I didn’t wear the Vibrams because I thought they would look stupid and the people at the stop light might point and laugh again, and is that ever a good reason to do something? No, says the toes.

3. Climbing stuff:
Now I’m not really a hard core rock climber or anything, but I do like climbing stuff, and monkey feet are great for that. In fact, here’s a really awesome picture of myself wearing the shoes, while climbing a tree, back when I had dreadlocks. So you can just see with your own eyes what fun it is to climb things with your toes.

Toes. Tree. Dreads.

4. Backpacking:
This post has been instigated by the backpacking instance. Last weekend I went to Yosemite. With my Vibrams. I also went with 3 friends who’s feet were remorsefully contained in ankle-supporting heavy hiking boots, and one friend with a cheap knockoff pair of toe shoes. He only got four toe pockets for his money though. Apparently that brand can’t count and left out the pinky toe. He said that he liked them because he didn’t want his pinky toe lonely anyway, so it was a good bargain. Our plan was to hike about seven miles in with our packs, make camp, and take day hikes from there. A pretty chill trip, nothin to crazy. Not going up Everest or anything. Therefore a perfect test for the toes. On day 1 I wore the Vibrams with Ininji toe socks for slightly more padding and rub resistance (a mistake of mistrust. I thought the Vibrams alone would surely not be enough). After 3 or 4 miles, my feet felt some discomfort, some rubbing, and so I put on my emergency hiking boots for the second half of the hike. I thought, “Ok pretty good, the toes lasted for half the hike.” At this point, the other feet in our hiking crew were not super happy either. More than one hiking boot wearer pulled out the moleskin already, so I felt good about myself and my feet in comparison. Putting on the boots after the Vibrams was like trying to walk while wearing a Hummer. I was suddenly more afraid of twisting an ankle despite the high tops because I couldn’t think with my feet at all! You just plop’em down and hope for the best.

My feet are hidden, but I promise, I was wearing the shoes.

I ended Day 1 of packing with no blisters, feeling good, but with enough soreness that left me wondering whether my feet could handle 3 days of day hiking with my toes exposed and alone. I also wondered whether the toe socks were the culprit to blame for the rubbing, and whether the Vibrams would fare better bare. The next day we hiked and climbed and scrambled down the valley, following the waterfall, all day, and my feet did great. Mr. FourToe Kenny wore his knockoffs to much success as well. We were speedy trailblazers and canyon climbers with our nimble, intelligent grip on the ground. Mine dried much faster though. He had to avoid the water. I wore my Vibrams constantly for the entire duration of the rest of the trip without one blister, or any other foot issues for that matter. By the time we hiked back out, I put full faith in the little toesters, and wore them sockless for the 7ish miles with the pack. Conclusion: for warm weather backpacking all you need is Vibrams. No boots. No socks. Just toes.

Have you tried Vibrams or other minimalist footwear? What do you think?