Minimalist footwear in climbing, though uncommon, has not broken through the mountaineering community just yet. Taking its popularity in running, minimalist footwear has banked on the fact that our feet have been contorted for years by modern footwear. The heels, artificial supports and thick soles have all but kept our feet from developing the way it should: naturally. Recently, I have been able to use a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSO, one of the more popular minimalist footwear brands today, on a couple of climbs; and here are my thoughts.
I initially bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSO as a recommendation from my runner friends who upheld its benefits. I will admit, these pair of shoes is pricey for what you get. The FiveFingers KSO stand for Keep Stuff Out, a brand line of FiveFingers that aims to do just that- keep dirt from entering the shoe. From the outside, the FiveFingers KSO resemble a large pair of toe-socks with a rubber outsole. Majority of the shoe is covered by abrasion-resistant nylon with a single strap near the ankle. The sole is a very thin 3.5mm Vibram performance rubber; the same rubber that shells many other hiking shoes around.
When I purchased my first pair, I was unsure. It was difficult to put on and hugged your feet in an uncanny way. Indeed, I felt like I was barefoot and walking around the mall feeling every crack in the tiles was a different experience. It was a given, however, that due to its bizarre appearance as a shoe, that I would get a lot of stares. The shoe needs a couple of weeks of breaking-in. As a casual shoe, it is comfortable and breezy- a great combination for our tropical weather. But, it is not at all water resistant, so I advise you think twice before taking these out on a rainy day.
If your intent is to use this as an athletic shoe, I suggest reading up on barefoot running and the different techniques associated with it. I took these shoes on a number of climbs, most notably the double day-hike of Batulao and Talamitam with PinoyMountaineer (see Hiking matters#193 and 194) and an ascent of Mount Pulag with my friends last March. In both occasions, these pair of minimalist shoes held up great. I can attest to the grip that the Vibram soles deliver and you will probably even find yourself using your toes for extra grip up boulders. The quality, too, is excellent; taking me up 5 mountains, these shoes have not taken a tear yet. The nylon is intact and the soles are good as new.
Being super-lightweight and minimalist in nature, these shoes perform best in minor climbs wherein the environment is less extreme- wearing these shoes atop Mount Pulag almost made my feet unusable with the cold. Hiking near barefoot is also a unique experience. Each step was like a dialogue in a conversation, with the mountain responding with ground feedback- A truly different mountain experience.
Vibram FiveFingers can be purchased in Rockwell, Trinoma, Glorietta and Mall of Asia. For more details, check them out http://www.barefootwearinc.com/