As trail shoe companies clamor to create the most minimal barefoot shoe on the market, Inov-8 may have just trumped the whole gang by releasing a shoe which can barely be defined as a “shoe”. The Evoskin ($65), made entirely of 3.5 oz of silicone rubber, is by far the closest experience to pure barefooting that there is on the market today (that I have experienced). Inov-8 clarifies to potential buyers that this shoe is a training tool designed to strengthen one’s feet and improve form, and not an overall trail running shoe. Other activities suggested for the Evoskin by the company include water sports, slack lining, and treadmill running. I tried to keep this in mind as I put on the Evoskin for my first basically barefoot jaunt down a crushed gravel (road base) trail.
The Evoskin is made of soft silicone rubber with a simple yet effective strap system over the foot allowing the wearer to adjust the tightness of the shoes from tight to tighter. The idea being that these shoes fit absolutely like a glove. Unfortunately, nothing fits over my unfortunately mangled last two toes which spent a significant portion of my life jammed into track spikes. Pulling on the Evoskins and getting them situated takes a bit of time and patience. Compounded by my deformed phalanges, I found considerable difficulty getting my last two toes pushed into the ample space provided. I think that most runners will fare better than I have. Despite this personal fit issue, the Evoskins are snug and comfortable. To be fair, I also a difficult time getting into the Vibram Five Fingers (which fit me horribly), or Injinji toe socks.
Pulling on the Evoskins requires some shifting of the silicone over the foot to get the toes in correctly. However, once this sticky rubber is locked in it does not require adjustment. Small holes on the top of the toes provide drainage, ventilation, and reduce suction; however, the Evoskins do get warm on your feet after wearing them for over 30 minutes.
I should preface this section by stating that I rarely run barefoot and my favored trail shoes all have at least a 4mm heel to toe drop. I spend a great deal of time at home barefoot, but otherwise I would not consider myself someone who is used to very little protection for their feet.
My first walk outside gave me a great idea of how much sensory feedback I would be receiving through this thin silicone skin. I could feel absolutely everything. My feet felt like they had thicker calluses on them, and, initially, I was timid to run in them. However, after my feet got over the initial sensitivity and shock I ventured out on a grass field for some jogging. Pure bliss! For runners who enjoy doing a moderate amount of barefooting on grass, but might find the runs abrasive to the soles of their feet, the Evoskin is definitely the way to go.
On the aforementioned crushed gravel trail I enjoyed more sensitivity to be expected. Sharp rocks, although small, were noticeable. Sand squished underfoot and running into a river for a cool off was great fun. The Evoskins drain fairly easily, but the tight rubber did leave my feet damp and I eventually developed a hot spot on one of my toes. When I landed poorly on a stick I felt it just as one would barefooting to some degree. Overall, throughout a four mile run on crushed gravel I experienced very little discomfort and the silicone “outsole” showed very little signs of wear.
Removing the Evoskins off sweaty feet can be a task. I found the most effective method is to pull the toes off one by one and the take off the heel of the shoe. Because I preferred to wear the Evoskins on the tightest adjustment some of the rubber nodules pulled out of the eyelets several times, but I didn’t have any trouble with this once I had them on.
For the avid barefoot runner looking for the most authentic barefoot experience with a little added protection, the Evoskin is your shoe. For the rest of us, I think that it is a valid training tool for running in the grass or at the beach, doing strides, or working on form drills. I enjoyed wearing them to the grocery store and getting strange looks from the mostly cowboy boot clad populace. But, my favorite place to wear the Evoskins was in the water. Anytime I soaked my legs in the icy cold river I put the Evoskins on to give me a little protection from the rocky bottom and to insulate my toes a bit. When you do this several times weekly it makes sense to have a pair of shoes that you can walk around in to protect your feet a bit. I also think that any rafter, kayaker, or sailor would find the grippiness of these shoes during water sports to be invaluable. Plus, these shoes are incredibly easy to clean and are light enough and packable enough to take with you anywhere.
[Disclaimer: As is usual for iRunFar, the author received a sample of the tested product from the manufacturer.]