Abby and I just stocked up on Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek shoes: we got two brand new pairs for me and two for her as well. Why the extravagant purchases? Here are five reasons.
Reason 1: trail running
In August 2010, I bought my first pair of KSO Trek shoes, primarily for the purpose of trail running, since I was sick and tired of the knee and shin and blistering problems I seemed to have whenever trail running extensively in any regular shoes, and I wanted more durability and protection against rocks than I got from running in less built-up racing flats meant for road running.
Furthermore, I had bought the KSO shoes earlier, but they just weren't, for me, suitable for much trail running, because of blistering issues and lack of protection (later, as I got used to more minimalist running, the protection no longer became an issue, but the blistering remained, so the last time I did trail running in the KSO shoes as a test was in June for National Running Day).
After a little bit of breaking in, during which I had a few blisters, I never got blistered again, for two years and counting. The kangaroo leather is very nice and quickly seems to conform to your feet and becomes smooth.
I have never run in the trails with my old regular monotoed running shoes again.
I have never experienced knee or shin problems again when trail running.
Reason 2: hiking
At first, I resisted the idea of wearing the KSO Trek hiking, because my typical hike involves terrain considerably rougher than my local trail runs, and goes on for more hours. But a year ago, in August 2011, following the lead of Abby, who started hiking in her Trek Sport shoes (which are similar to the KSO Trek in protection but are not made of kangaroo leather), I finally shed my “trail running” shoes that I had been hiking in, reluctantly, for several years (even though I always ended up with some knee/shin/calf/ankle/foot pain/soreness and some blistering on long hikes).
Starting out with 6 miles
My first KSO Trek hiking experience was on a hike that was only 6 miles long. But that experience was a revelation. I had no problems at all during the hike. I just had some tightness in my right shin after that hike, undoubtedly due to imperfect form. But no blistering, and no lasting foot soreness. As a result, I have never hiked again in regular monotoed shoes, but only in KSO Trek shoes.
Moving up to 20 miles
This May, I decided I wanted to really put the KSO Trek to the test. I wore the shoes on my most extreme hike of this year, a 20-mile training hike on the Rachel Carson Trail. I finished the hike with no blisters whatsoever, no knee pain. Yes, my feet were sore as heck after all the banging on rocks and tree roots and down the hills, but foot soreness always happened anyway whenever I did a 20-mile hike on the Rachel Carson Trail in any footwear. The interesting thing is that I recovered from this foot soreness extremely quickly, much more quickly than I ever recovered from foot soreness wearing more padded shoes.
Unfortunately, I cannot answer the fascinating question of whether I could do the 35-mile Rachel Carson Trail Challenge in KSO Trek shoes. I have completed the Challenge three times, each time with a different pair of regular monotoed trail running shoes, and each time with leg and foot issues (including severe blisters). The reason I cannot answer the question is that my feet were noticeably more sore after 20 miles on the trail in KSO Trek than they ever were in the regular shoes. There might be a problem with scalability.
However, earlier, in March, I had gone on a really tough hilly, bushwhacking exploratory hike that was about 10 miles long, and worn Injinji toe socks with my KSO Trek shoes. The socks provided additional protection that completely removed foot soreness. Unfortunately, I simply did not enjoy the extra bulk around my toes, and therefore have chosen not to wear socks again except when necessary in cold weather. But it is certainly conceivable that with socks, 35 miles on the Rachel Carson might be doable with KSO Trek shoes.
A recent hike
Abby and I enjoyed Atalaya Mountain in Santa Fe this month when we were in New Mexico. She wore her Trek Sport, I wore my KSO Trek.
Reason 3: paddling
At some point, Abby and I decided to start wearing Vibram FiveFingers shoes kayaking. I started off wearing the KSO, but then realized that wearing the KSO Trek offered a lot of advantages with no down side. Being thicker and leather, they protected better against being under the sun. The extra protection when stepping out into the water and onto rocky shores was also welcome.
(Down the Rio Grande in New Mexico, with view of Sandia Crest.)
No shoe funk
Finally, there is the infamous problem that the synthetic Vibram shoes tend to end up stinking after getting wet, even after washing! Abby and I found no perfect solution to this problem. It turns out that the leather shoes don't suffer from this problem at all. All I have to do is rinse the shoes thoroughly (without even any soap or detergent), air dry them, and then they are just fine. Believe it.
Reason 4: holes in my toes after two years and over a thousand miles
Discovering holes on Vulcan
I don't know when holes started forming in my KSO Trek shoes from 2010, because I did not have a habit of checking regularly for holes. I only know that I started feeling the ground with my toes only after a particular outing during which I spent over an hour running the three Petroglyph volcanoes near Albuquerque this month.
I was fairly high up on Vulcan and descending when I first noticed the sensations of volcanic rock rubbing on my bare toe.
(Here's Abby hiking toward Vulcan after I had already run down and was headed the other way.)
Examining the holes
Here are the holes, which occurred at the sides of the second toes of both my feet:
After Abby and I ordered and received our new shoes (Abby decided to finally also go for KSO Treks, after seeing how much I loved them in the past two years), I took some photos to illustrate the wear and tear:
As you can see, the old shoes are pretty worn down:
I'm not going to retire the old shoes yet, of course. I kind of like that they have, through being worn down, become more minimalist; feeling a little bit of dirt touch my toes once in a while is no problem at all (especially given my experiments with entirely barefoot running). I expect to continue to wear the old shoes for years to come; I did just start wearing a new pair (which I just ran a race in and Abby also, but will come up with a rotation system.
Reason 5: Vibram is discontinuing the KSO Trek shoes and they are on sale!
Finally, the unbelievable news: Vibram is discontinuing the KSO Trek, my favorite shoe!!
But a sale is going on right now: we picked up four pairs at a clearance price, and so can you before they disappear for good!
I am very sad that Vibram is discontinuing the shoe that I have happily put well over a thousand miles on trail running, hiking, and paddling. I hope that by stocking up, I will be able to enjoy the KSO Trek for several years.