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VIVOBAREFOOT Magna Trail Men's Hiking shoes
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Freedom and Protection for Your Sole

A sustainable, minimalist brand, I was always bound to do a travel gear review on VIVOBAREFOOT. They don’t make backpacks, packing cubes, or even plane-friendly pillows, but they do make shoes. And I consider the humble shoe to be fundamental to the traveller’s arsenal.

Beyond a pair of flip flops, it’s pretty hard for a one-bag minimalist traveller to pack any footwear. The pair on your feet need to pretty much do everything. For South America, I had nothing but my North Face hiking boots, which were great in the Andes, but felt out of place in Lima’s famous Ayahuasca bar.

So for most of my trips, I’ve gone for a decent pair of trainers. Usually a pair of 50 quid Nikes. They’re sporty enough to handle rugged terrain, while looking fine in casual settings.

But VIVOBAREFOOTs are better in many, many ways. They’re better looking, long-lasting, water-resistant, and capable over the roughest ground. Most importantly, they’re made ethically and sustainably.

Here’s why you should make the switch to barefoot shoes and why the VIVOBAREFOOT Magna Trail hiking shoes might just be your perfect option.

What Makes Barefoot Shoes Different?

The term “barefoot” is, admittedly, misleading. Obviously, your foot isn’t bare. That’s why it’s a shoe. But the great thing about barefoot shoes like the ones offered by VIVOBAREFOOT, is that they give your foot the freedom of being bare while keeping it protected.

What does this mean in practice?

Barefoot shoes differ from regular footwear because they:

  • Are “zero-drop”. This means that the heel is on the same level as the toes, as opposed to the heel being raised as is the case on most shoes.
  • Have no cushion. Many trainers and running shoes offer plenty of cushioning between you and the ground. Barefoot shoes do not.
  • Are highly flexible. Most barefoot shoes can be rolled up into something resembling a ball. This means that the shoe can bend and twist as much as your foot does.
  • Have a wide toe box. While other shoes push your toes together and hold them there, barefoot shoes give them space. You can wriggle and splay your toes to your heart’s content.
A wide toe box on the VIVOBAREFOOT shoes
The toe box may be a little wider than you’re used to, but VIVOBAREFOOT have created a nice looking shoe

The Benefits of Barefoot Shoes

Given the lack of cushioning and foot support, you may be wondering why anyone would choose this kind of shoe. Isn’t the whole point of a shoe to be the opposite of being barefoot? That’s literally why they were invented.

Well, it turns out that having a shoe that allows your foot to act as if it was bare does have a number of advantages.

Barefoot shoes benefit wearers because they:

  • Improve posture: If you feel a little uncomfortable when you first put on barefoot shoes, it’s probably because your posture is off. Barefoot shoes force the wearer to stand up straight and walk correctly. This improves posture, which in turn leads to fewer aches, better digestion, increased lung capacity, and a psychological boost in confidence.
  • Increase strength: By allowing your feet to do more of the work, your feet become stronger. Your muscles will grow, uninhibited by a constrictive shoe, which can deform your feet as they grow.
  • Improve balance: If the shoe isn’t offering you any support, then it’s up to you to find your balance. Don’t be daunted though! Because you can feel everything, it’s easy to react quickly, adjusting your position according to the terrain.
  • Make walking and running more fun: Since I’ve owned VIVOBAREFOOT shoes, I just want to move – all the time! There’s something so joyous about feeling everything as you move around. Once you give your feet freedom, they want to use it.
Thom Brown walking in his VIVOBAREFOOT hiking shoes
Ultimate flexibility helps you move freely and adapt to your environment

VIVOBAREFOOT for Ethical Travellers

No one does barefoot shoes as well as VIVOBAREFOOT. They’re made incredibly well, with each material being of the highest quality. But the Magna Trails cost £160, so what do you expect? If you want a brand you can trust, put your faith in VIVOBAREFOOT.

The Magna Trails, in particular, have great aesthetics. They look kind of like a hiking boot while being low-key and casual enough to wear as a normal shoe. And when I travel, these are the only shoe I bring with me, so I need them to do everything.

VIVOBAREFOOT has a shoe for every style, whether you’re looking to take up barefoot running or just feel more comfortable at an office party.

Thom Brown standing casually in his barefoot hiking shoes
VIVOBAREFOOT hiking shoes: stylish and unassuming

For me, however, the pull to VIVOBAREFOOT is an ethical one. As part of my attempt to travel better, I want travel accessories which are made to some kind of moral standard. Which, let’s be honest, my usual Nike trainers are not.

VIVOBAREFOOT is the ethical choice because they:

  • Work on the Ehrenfeld principle: to produce new things only if they help us connect to nature or help us to feel more human.
  • Develop new technologies to make sustainable manufacture more cost-effective
  • Make products that are designed to last a really long time
  • Use natural or recycled materials. Where they use leather, it comes only from wild cattle. My VIVOBAREFOOT Magna Trails are vegan and made of recycled plastic bottles.
  • Source materials locally. The materials used in the manufacturing process are gathered from as close to the factory as possible to minimise transportation costs.
  • They support local communities. Some of the shoes from VIVOBAREFOOT are hand-stitched in Ethiopia. This provides jobs to local people and helps them to build shoemaking skills. The company has provided $2 million worth of wages to local African communities and helped provide education to nearly 20,000 South African children.

How Does it Feel to Wear VIVOBAREFOOT Magna Trail Hiking Boots?

At first, the Magna Trail boots felt too big. I’m usually a UK size 10, but some reviews online said to get a size down. However, the size calculator on VIVOBAREFOOT’s own website said I should go for a 10, so I did.

However, when I first put them on, they seemed incredibly, well, roomy. I did them up as tight as I could and went for a walk. To be honest, they hurt.

It didn’t take long to realise that it was the tight lacing that was causing discomfort. So I loosened them and went for another walk. They were perfect!

Yes, there’s room for your feet. But that’s kind of the point. The elastic around the collar and the tongue keeps your foot in place, so there was no uncomfortable rubbing. When I wear the VIVOBAREFOOT Magna Trail shoes, it feels like I have maximum freedom, while being secure and protected.

Let’s talk about the Sole

Though thin by design, there’s a decent, thermal layer of material between your foot and ground. And yet, the sole is completely flexible.

When you walk in regular, cushioned shoes, all you can feel is a flat surface beneath you. In VIVOBAREFOOT boots, you can feel the whole terrain, as the flexible sole wraps itself around bumps and ridges. At the same time, however, those pads protect you.

So you can feel a rock beneath your foot, but there’s no pain or discomfort. You can feel the shape of the landscape while being protected from it. The space inside the shoe allows your toes and tendons to stretch and flex in response to the terrain.

Until you experience it for yourself, it’s kind of hard to imagine. But these shoes create an incredible sense of freedom and an urge to move. As you can feel every detail of the ground, you can adjust to it. It’s a wonderful, dynamic, tactile method of moving through an environment.

VIVOBAREFOOT Magna Mens Walking casually
Technical enough for mountain trails, casual enough for city streets

The Magna Trail hiking boots are my first barefoot shoe, but they’re better than any footwear I’ve owned. This style of shoe has plenty of benefits but finding something which looks awesome and suits your style can be tricky. I found my perfect shoe in the Magna Trail, but look around because VIVOBAREFOOT makes something for everyone.

Help me promote better travel!