Vivobarefoot Breathos Review

Barefoot shoes: One would have to be sleeping at the keyboard if he or she hasn’t read at least a dozen articles outlining the benefits or the hazards of going bare. Even the more cautious of souls (such as yours truly) have begun to wonder about and wander into this fascinating trend in running. And, the shoe market is keeping up with this trend reasonably well. From the venerated Vibram Five Fingers to the diverse offerings of Merrell, runners, particularly trail runners, are seeing more options for covering their feet in a minimal fashion.

VIVOBAREFOOT has been a major competitor in that market for some time. Vivo has the distinction of being one of the few shoe companies that was built from the ground up for barefoot shoes, not just as a sideline for other products. And, for many years, Vivo has offered runners of flatter and gentler surfaces shoes with great success. Now, with the release of their Breatho and Neo lines of shoes, they have made their bid into the trail running market.

Selecting between the two models is a relatively easy task. The Neo, the heavier of the two models (9.2 ounces), has a removable sock liner that is meant to help keep the elements out. The Vivobarefoot Breatho ($90), the lighter of the two (8.8 ounces), has the construction that one would expect in a “summer” pair of running shoes, lots of mesh and great breathability. Thanks to iRunFar and Vivobarefoot, I was able to take a pair of Breathos through their paces for a month.

Vivobarefoot Breatho

The Vivobarefoot Breatho.

Uppers
As mentioned above, the Breathos are meant as a warm-weather shoe. The midfoot and forefoot areas of the uppers are comprised mostly of a lightweight mesh (for reference: a softer version of what covers Kinvaras) and reinforced with synthetic leather. I will be the first to admit my surprise with the durability of this mesh. However, after a month of the usual abuse, it looks no worse for the wear and shows no points of compromise. The upper portion of the toe bumper has softened considerably and, while the sole still provides protection (more on that later), this is one area I would like to see the maker strengthen.

Vivobarefoot Breatho - upper

The Vivobarefoot Breatho’s upper.

The “tongue” and heel portion of the upper is made up of a soft fabric and foam combination. This is easily the warmest part of the shoe during a run. While the front of the shoe moves air freely, the heel cup remains quite sealed and is sadly not as well-ventilated. While not a fatal flaw, the difference in foot climate was noticeable after a run.

The “tongue” of the shoe is completely integrated into the fabric around it. This design causes the fabric to fold on itself when the shoe is tightened up to a narrow foot, such as mine. While I was concerned about hot-spots or discomfort at first because of this feature, I encountered no such problems. It also seems apparent that this kind of construction would be adaptable to many different foot volumes. It comfortably formed to my high, narrow, and small feet, even though the initial fit seemed very large.

Overall, the design of the uppers is appealing. Unlike other barefoot offerings, these shoes appear to be “normal” running shoes at first glance. Many of my running friends were surprised to hear they were barefoot shoes. (“They don’t have funny little toes?”) The “tongue” and heel fabric did capture some sand particles from some river-runs, which gives them a slightly speckled appearance.

Midsole/Inserts
Don’t blink, you may miss this section of the review. True to form and theory, the Breathos lack any midsole. Only one piece of the shoe anatomy fits, barely, into this category. The shoes come with inserts, which can be removed for a truer barefoot feel. They are a tad thinner than a typical pair of inserts in other shoes. As such, I choose to leave them in.

Outsoles
When I saw the advertised weight of the Breathos, I was a bit surprised that they were not lighter. After all, when you effectively remove the midsole of a shoe, you should expect a significantly light shoe, right? Well, the weight of the Breathos comes at their bottoms. The outsoles not only boast some of the most aggressive lugs I have run in for a while, they also wrap up around the foot providing close to 360* protection for the foot (2.5mm outsole with 4.5mm lugs). These features certainly cost the shoes in the weight department. However, I have come to believe that the feeling of security they lend is invaluable.

Vivobarefoot Breatho - outsole

The Vivobarefoot Breatho’s outsole.

When running in Merrell Trail Gloves (iRF review), I always felt very hesitant and cautious about foot placement. It only took a couple of wrong steps and a couple of sharp rocks to form that habit. However, after a couple of weeks in the Breathos, I found myself paying more attention to the woods around me and less to each little step. The amount of proprioception a runner desires is a highly subjective thing and cannot be reduced down to a universal number. However, for my tastes, the Breathos offer the right amount of protection in a barefoot trail shoe.

The traction the lugs provide is remarkable. Their shape is sharp and aggressive and worked extremely well on the wet and muddy trails that I ran them over. At this point, they don’t show any noticeable wear. However, as the trails continue to dry out and I venture out on longer runs, I suspect the lugs will begin to wear a bit more rapidly, as the rubber is a bit on the softer side.

Overall
Compared to the other barefoot shoes I have owned or encountered, Vivobarefoot’s Breathos are a worthy offering. One can easily see and feel the experience of this company in barefoot shoes benefiting these new trail models. Individuals looking for a barefoot trail shoe that offers reasonable foot protection and good breathability should certainly lay their hands on a pair.

Adam Barnhart

discovered from an early age that he loved running , but didn't like starting guns. As a result, he is frequently found wandering the area trails around Anchorage, AK, but only at races after considerable peer-pressure is applied. When not trail running, Adam keeps pace with his wife and kids, works as a pastor and, with the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group.

There are 19 comments

    1. dogrunner

      Not Adam, and I don't use these for running, but I like them a lot as a hiking shoe. I do feel the lugs when walking on hard surfaces, but it is not bad or annoying, just there.

      I do not wear them for running because of the weight (I really feel the weight of anything over 8 oz, probably because most of my running is in Miz Univs). I also have trouble getting the feel of these shoes adjusted and keeping it that way because of the integrated "tongue" – hard to get lace tension right for me. It is fine when walking, but my feet slip around inside the shoe too much when running (and I have wide feet). The roominess of the shoe is great when walking though. I wear my regular running socks with them (smartwool, balega, drymax trail lite), btw.

      1. Joel

        dogrunner, I also wear Wave Universe for road running (1,900 miles on two pairs and they're still good!). I'm pretty happy with NB Trail Minimus for trails right now, but just curious: what do you run in on trails?

  1. Plodder

    I've been running in these for the last 300 miles and I agree about the lugs being too soft.

    Sniffer, I run in socks with the insole in and I can't feel the lugs at all.

  2. Nrmrvrk

    Any opinions on how the sizing compares to other shoes? The Vivobarefoot website shows the shoes on the large size compared to other Eure/US size charts I've seen. Vivo equates their EU 47 to be a US 14 where every other chart I've seen says that EU 48 is a US 14.

    confusing.

  3. dogrunner

    Love the MWUs. I am on my 2nd pair of MWU3s after getting >700 miles on the first before the upper ripped too much on one shoe to hold together. The 2nd pr is one of my trail shoes for hardpack dirt trails (anything not too rocky or rooty). I also just started a 2nd pair of MWU4s in rotation with my 1st pair which now has 1100 miles on them.

    Trail shoes – muddy, soft or wet grassy type trails I use the Inov8 Xtalon 190. I like the NB Trail Minimus Zero for easy trails too, but prefer the MWUs because believe it or not they have more underfoot protection (slightly thicker stack height) than the NB Trail minimus zero. I also have the Merrell Trail Glove in wide – I need wide sizing which limits options. Traction is not very good with those, unfortunately. If the trail does not dictate a need for traction, the MWUs are just a good. (btw, it is the soft upper that lets them work for my feet – they are not super wide). I had a pair of NB Trail Minimus (the original, not the zero drop) but the band across the instep was really uncomfortable.

    Still looking for a lightweight somewhat protective trail shoe for more technical (rocky or rooty) terrain, that comes in wide sizes and has a heel-toe drop < 4mm.

    1. KenZ

      Well, it's a bit unconventional for the trail running crowd, but see if you can still find a pair of New Balance 507RG in your size/width. RG stands for rubber spike… it's a cross country racing flat. Fantastically light. Minimal heel drop. 6.9 oz. Comes in wide sizes. Got my first pair for like $35. Good under foot protection. Decent tread. I have no idea why the minimalist movement complained so much early on that there were no decent shoes: cross country flats have fit the bill for a long, long time…

      They've been discontinued, but that means there is likely a replacement; I just haven't researched it.

      1. dogrunner

        You are right about the XC flats getting there first, but I have never found one that is wide, just varying degrees of snug. But I am non-denominational so am willing to try any good prospects. I give away a lot of rarely used shoes ;)

    2. Adam Barnhart

      dogrunner – If you come up with a pair like that, let me know. My poor father is always on the hunt for better trail shoes for his wide feet. Great comments also! Thanks!

    3. Joel

      Cool. I live in Southern Arizona, so the trails tend to be super technical. More Mars lunar landing, less fire road… So wearing the MWUs on the trails (which I've done, a little) is a bad plan. =)

      Are you wearing the Wave Uni 4s or the 3s? I stocked up on several pairs of the 3s a couple years ago, and still haven't gone through them. I know the 4s are heavier. What are your thoughts, if you're wearing the 4s?

      1. dogrunner

        Best I have found for width is the NB Minimus Trail in 4E width, but those shoes are pretty minimal (nice and light but not a lot underfoot). The NB 110 in 2E (does not come in 4E) is a little heavier, much more protective underfoot, 4mm drop and good traction. My pair had a weird slant (tipping foot inward) which really bothered my knees, otherwise this would have been a good rough trail shoe. fwiw, NB has some weird shaped lasts, but at least they come in wider widths.

        @Joel – I like the MWU4 better than the MWU3 – mostly because on the 4 the upper is more of a soft fabric and on the 3 it is a less stretchy mesh. Fit, weight, and feel are nearly identical other than that. I don't notice the very small weight difference. I just bought a discounted extra pr of MWU4s (makes 1 pr of orange, 2 prs of red including the new pr). They just came out in Minnesota Vikings colors (not my style :) ).

  4. Jur9en

    With those relatively protective soles I wonder if they deserve being coined as "barefoot" shoes. Wouldn't the category "zero-drop" shoe be a better description?

    In this regard: how flexible was the sole in your experience, did it allow the foot to flex? And is the toe-box wide enough?

    1. dogrunner

      The toebox is reasonably wide and the sole is reasonably flexy, but I agree that these are better described as zero-drop than "barefoot-style" shoes. The NB Trail Minimus zero has much more ground feel penetrating to the foot.

    2. Adam Barnhart

      Jur9en – Great comment. I imagine that we are wandering into a grey area between what qualifies as truly barefoot and what is zero-drop. As long as they lack a midsole, I consider them barefoot… but that's my own definition.

      Flexibility was good. Less that Merrell Trail Gloves. You can still ball them up like so many barefoot runners like to do.

      Toe-box was sufficient for my feet, which are rather narrow. I'd say pretty close to Trail Gloves, perhaps a bit larger. Larger than Peregrine. Very much akin to Brook's Pure lineup.

  5. Jam

    I've had these for a couple months now. Used for running trails, hiking, mowing the lawn, and baseball – yes baseball. The lugs are great for traction. I find the toe box perfectly wide and with lots of ground feel. In fact, if I do a more rocky technical trail, I would opt for more shoe.

    @Sniffer – Hardpack is ok, but I wouldn't run roads with these.

    @Nrmvmrk – I wear a 13 US and 46 is my Vivo size.

    @Jur9en – Semantics. I would classify these as barefoot. If it weren't for the lugs, there wouldn't be much between you and the ground – especially without the insert.

  6. Adam Barnhart

    You do get some feedback from the lugs on harder-packed surfaces and, certainly, on pavement. I didn't get an abundant amount of time on either of those surfaces (partially by choice). You would start to see some significant wear on those lugs.

    Socks v. no socks is really a personal preference. I largely prefer socks to prevent blisters and keep the "stink" factor down. I find that my shoes become much more "flavorful" without socks. That being said, I can't foresee any significant problems going sans socks… it would fit the design of the shoe.

  7. Adam Barnhart

    Nrmvrk – I am completely with you on that comment. And, I should have made note of it in my review on the sizing. It IS confusing.

    I wear an 11 in almost everything. That typically equates to a EU 44-45 (usually on the higher end of those numbers). I got the Breathos in a size EU 44 and they fit great. So, it would seem that their EU conversion is a little low for the US size.

    Hope that helps!

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