This is a VERY long review. I felt it was necessary to discuss the many facets of this shoe. Many people have asked very specific questions; this review is an attempt to answer all of them.
For those of you that want a condensed version, here you go!
Very good shoe, I would rate it as being slightly better than Vibram's KSO. The EVO would be a good winter and trail shoe. Ground feel isn't as good as KSOs, but offers better traction and protection. Toe box allows foot to splay, allows foot to function naturally within shoe. It's not as good as running barefoot, but I think it is the best minimalist shoe available as of March 2010. After testing the shoe in many conditions, I have no problem justifying the cost.
The comprehensive review
Terra Plana's new EVO is one of the first true minimalist shoes designed specifically for running. Will they live up to the hype? Will they become THE minimalist shoe of choice for barefoot runners? Will the EVO be able to displace Vibram's KSOs as the reigning king of minimalist footwear? I spent my first weekend with these shoes with the goal of answering these questions.
My ideal shoe is no shoe. I base all my reviews off the premise that the human foot cannot be improved upon. Shoes should only serve as tools to be used when running barefoot is not feasible. I live in Michigan- running barefoot in the winter simply isn't possible on some days. I also belong to a gym that frowns on barefoot activities. I work as a teacher... I need shoes for the majority of my work day. If shoes are needed, there will always be a trade-off. You gain some benefit (protection, insulation, social acceptance, etc.) but also lose functionality. Based on this, there is no such thing as a "barefoot shoe." As a rule, no shoe will ever be developed that accurately replicates running barefoot. The EVO is no exception to this rule. In fact, I am mildly annoyed at the common claim that many minimalist shoes are an improvement on barefoot running. So goes marketing. Anyway, my goal for the review is to weigh the pros and cons of running in this shoe versus barefoot running.
I've known about Terra Plana for some time. Their Vivo Barefoot division was developed specifically to produce shoes that replicate being barefoot. I am always skeptical of such claims. Since their shoes were somewhat expensive and I don't have a pressing need for shoes, I did not consider purchasing a pair.
Terra Plana contacted me to review their Aqua. I expected a shoe similar to every other minimalist shoe on the market. It wouldn't live up to the claims made by Terra Plana. I was shocked to find the shoe worked exactly as described. The design allowed my foot to move as it does when barefoot. I still prefer being barefoot, but the Aqua was an excellent casual shoe. I wear them almost daily in school and dread the days I have to wear any other casual shoe. The Aqua was simply the best minimalist casual shoe I ever tried. The Aqua ruined other minimalist shoes for me. The Aqua didn't have much competition. The EVO wouldn't enjoy such a benefit... there are already some very good minimalist shoes that can be used for running.
Cost- The single most controversial aspect of this shoe is cost. The retail price of $160 is significantly more than every other minimalist shoe on the market today. Many people cannot fathom spending this much on a minimalist shoe. For me, the fact that this is a minimalist shoe is a non-issue. I suspect shoes cost roughly the same to manufacture regardless of the technology involved.
Here's an analogy. A good friend used to work for General Motors. The cost to manufacture a Chevrolet Cavalier was nearly identical to the cost needed to manufacture a Cadillac Escalade. Yes, the Escalade had more parts, but the manufacturing process is nearly the same. General Motors essentially lost money on the low-cost Cavaliers and made tons of money on Escalades. Related to shoes- "high tech" running shoes aren't going to be significantly more expensive to manufacture than cheap racing flats. The idea that minimalist shoes should be cheap because they are minimalist shoes is just dumb.
Terra Plana produces some fairly high-end shoes. They are not pricing their product to be sold at Walmart. They do take significant steps to increase their social and environmental responsibility, so that will add to the cost. I cannot fault Terra Plana for making their pricing decisions. I'd love for their shoes to be cheaper, but I'd love for Porsches to be cheaper, too. Hopefully this review will help you make the decision- are these shoes worth the cost?
Appearance: The EVO has a very distinct appearance. Unlike several other minimalist options (Vibrams, huaraches), the EVO looks like a "normal" shoe. From a distance, the hexagon pattern on the shoe resembles snake skin. I polled a large number of friends and students. About 80% loved the look, 15% hated it, and 5% gave a smart-ass answer. The appearance resembles some racing flats, except the EVO has a wider toe box.
Construction: Construction is of excellent quality. Terra Plana is a premium shoe manufacturer and the EVO is not an exception. The overall construction appears flawless. Upon close inspection, it was nearly impossible to find anything but the tiniest uneven gluing or wayward thread. Based on construction, I think these shoes would be exceptionally durable. Since there is nothing to break down, the shoe will last as long as the sole and upper hold up. I would cautiously estimate that these shoes could last for over 1,000 miles. I will continue to comment on this in the future.
The Positives: The construction is very simple (i.e.- not a lot of parts.) Based on experience, this is a very good quality for minimalist shoes. I remove the insole in all my shoes to increase ground feel, but the insole will provide about 1/8" of additional padding. The outer material is thin and very flexible. It is not waterproof, or even water-resistant. It is, however, extremely breathable. In tests of how the shoe handles water, it easily allows water to enter and drain. The materials dry VERY quickly. The sole is very flexible as it passes my "roll test." Thickness appears to be around 4-5mm. I lost my calipers...
The negatives: The base of the tongue protrudes down enough to touch your feet. This irritated the top of my left foot at the base of my toes after about four miles. My right foot was unaffected. I would suspect that this would not be a universal problem, rather an issue with my particular foot shape. This problem could be fixed with shoe goo, a piece of duct tape, or socks. So far, I opted for socks. Also, the sole is thicker than I prefer. Ground feel is very good relative to other minimalist shoes. Of the shoes I've tested, only Vibram's KSOs allow for better ground feel. I will address this issue in more detail later in the review.
How they fit/work: The fit of the EVO is unique compared to other minimalist running shoes. The shoe hugs the area around the upper heel. The entire midfoot and forefoot area have ample room to move within the shoe. This creates the unique experience. Unlike other minimalist shoes that attempt to mold to your foot, the EVOs allow your foot to move within the shoe without producing friction. I really like the functionality of the shoe. For those familiar with Vibrams or racing flats, this shoe will feel noticeably different.
Sizing: The EVO uses European sizing. My pair are size 44. To compare, I usually wear a size 11 (us) for most shoes. I wear a 42/43 KSO. The 44 fits perfectly. There's enough room in the shoe (without insole) to allow my foot to move freely even with socks.
Socks: I tested several socks with the EVO. I usually prefer Injinjis, which are great socks for ultramarathon running. They worked very well with the EVO. I also used a pair of Under Armor synthetic running socks without problem. In the spirit of experimentation, I tried a pair of thick thermal socks. They severely impeded the functioning of the shoe. I wouldn't recommend the EVO for ice fishing.
Toe splaying: There are a few elements that I consider a necessity for all minimalist shoes. The shoe must allow your toes to splay upon impact. My physical therapist friends have explained it as a trigger to a reflex that allows the rest of your muscles to coordinate excellent running form. If the toes are restricted, form suffers. The EVO, even though they are not as wide as the rest of the Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot line, have ample width to allow toes to splay. The only other minimalist shoe on the market that allows this much freedom are Vibrams. This characteristic alone dramatically increases the value of this shoe.
Ground feel: If there is a single characteristic that disappointed me about this shoe, it's sole thickness. At around 4mm, it is thinner than most competitors, but still slightly too thick for me. Ground feel is very good compared to other minimalist shoes, but not remotely close to barefoot. This is one of the trade-offs with minimalist shoes. As protection increases, there is an inverse correlation to ground feel. Most people using these shoes will be very happy with the ground feel/protection combination. I was able to run fast on very sharp gravel at night. I could feel the rocks, but not to the point where they caused discomfort. The sole also provides very good traction in a variety of conditions.
My own personal preference would be to have a thinner sole. I do run in conditions where more protection and better traction is desirable. For less rugged conditions, less protection and greater ground feel would be an advantage. In the future, I would like to see Terra Plana EVO model release a version of the KSO with a thinner, smoother sole. Hopefully they will not go in the opposite direction as Vibrma appears to be going and developing thicker-soled shoes.
Weight: When the weight of the EVO became public knowledge, there was an uproar of dissatisfaction within the barefoot running community. The EVO weighs approximately 8oz., 7oz. without the insole. Based on my early testing, the weight is a non-issue. The shoe weight was not noticeable on a 12 mile run. It is not as light as barefoot, but the weight would not be an issue if using these shoes for ultras.
Ventilation/insulation: Ventilation of this shoe is excellent. It is probably the most breathable shoe I've worn. The mesh-like upper easily allows air to flow around your foot. This would be an excellent hot-weather shoe. Unfortunately, ventilation also reduces insulation. I have never had a problem with cold feet. I run barefoot in temps down to 25 degrees (F) and wear vibrams down to -10F. I did a sockless run in 20 degree temps. My feet and toes did not get cold. If cold feet in sub-freezing temperatures is a problem, these shoes would not solve that problem.
I tested these shoes on a variety of terrain in a variety of conditions. The testing simulated the conditions i would normally run in both training and racing.
On gravel roads: For me, gravel roads are among the most demanding environments for minimalist shoes. The road I run on consists of sharp, unavoidable rocks strewn over a very hard-packed dirt road. Minimalist shoes help by eliminating the need for intense focus required to run these roads barefoot. The protection offered by the EVO was extremely good. I knew I was running over rocks, but the sole disbursed enough force to prevent injury or modification of form. This is one of the few surfaces I prefer wearing shoes to barefoot.
Distances: My ideal minimalist shoe MUST be adequate for distance running. Since I really only use shoes for cold temps or rugged terrain over long distances, this is an absolute must. My longest run in the EVOs thus far has been approximately 12 miles. This seems to be my reasonable threshold for determining a shoe's suitability for distance running. Based on the early returns, this will probably be my preferred shoe for rugged 100 mile races.
Speed: I don't normally do much speedwork. My usual "speedwork" consists of an occasional 3 mile tempo run or a local 5k. To give the shoes a fair test, I ran a series of 40 yard sprints and a one mile run at a 6 minute pace. The shoes functioned well at a fast pace. The weight of the shoe was not obtrusive. Based on these tests, I think this shoe would function well as a racing flat. This may be a good solution to high school and college cross country runners searching for a minimalist shoe that provides better traction than Vibrams.
Trails: I love barefoot trail running. There's no greater feeling than flying through the forest feeling the trail under foot. As much as I love barefoot trail running, there are some trails that are simply too rugged to run barefoot, especially when pace is an issue. A good minimalist trail shoe must provide good ground feel while offering some degree of protection. Any time you cover your foot, you lose some degree of traction. As such, it is also necessary for a trail shoe to provide traction. The EVO is one of the best minimalist trail running shoes I've found. As I mentioned earlier, the sole is a bit too thick for me. I prefer more ground feel and less protection, but I also prefer running barefoot whenever possible. Traction also factors into this equation. The EVO provides very good traction compared to my other trail running shoe- my Vibram KSOs. The EVO doesn't provide as much traction or protection as New Balanace's MT100s, but ground feel is far superior in the EVOs. I plan to do a thorough comparison very soon, but this would be a good summary (in order of best to worst):
Best traction- NB MT100s, TPVB EVOs, VFF KSOs
Best ground feel- VFF KSOs, TPVB EVOs, NB MT100s
Hills: The EVOs perform well on hills. Uphill running provides adequate traction for both running or power-hiking. Downhill is interesting. The design of the shoe prevents your toes from hitting the inside of the toe box. This has been a chronic problem with every other shoe I've used. Over the course of a long race, this is a major cause of bruised and blackened toenails. I don't know if this was a planned benefit or a coincidental consequence of the shoe's operation. At any rate, it is a major advantage over other minimalist shoes.
Non-running activities (crosstraining, other sports): I do quite a bit of corsstraining. Most involves high intensity interval weight training. Like running, I prefer to be barefoot when doing these workouts. Since my gym does not allow barefoot activities, I am always searching for a good minimalist solution. I tested the EVOs in two conditions. The first involved doing five exercises for a minute each in rapid succession, resting for a minute, then doing five more exercises. Good shoes should allow great flexibility, great traction, and enough stability to accurately place your foot. The EVO excelled in each test. The second condition involved a game that required sprinting on a basketball court, stopping, rapidly changing direction, and jumping. The EVOs passed this test, also. The slightly hard sole compound did not provide as good of traction as basketball shoes, but did fare better than my KSOs and Saucony Kilkenny XC2 racing flats.
Slippery conditions (snow/ice/mud): I tested the EVOs in snow, on ice, and on muddy trails. Traction was surprisingly good on all three, but fall short of the deep lugs of typical trail shoes. Ice was still slippery... nothing short of ice screws would be considered "good." Snow and mud traction was definitely better than KSOs. I have not tried Vibram's Treks yet, but I suspect they may provide marginally better traction than EVOs.
Unfortunately, Terra Plana released this shoe at the end of the winter running season. I think this shoe would be an excellent winter running shoe based on the combination of minimalist design and available traction. If needed, these shoes are sturdy enough to use a product such as YakTraxs. The ventilation would be an issue for some runners, but warm socks would negate that problem. I wish I would have had these shoes three months ago.
Water: As I mentioned earlier, this shoe is not designed to protect against water. Based on my tests, it acts like a trail shoe. It allows water to easily penetrate, but also allows it to immediately drain. The shoe itself is made from materials that dry very quickly. Once wet, performance and weight do not significantly suffer.
Temps: Based on design, this shoe would perform well in warm and hot climates. The ample ventilation would allow good airflow to your feet to both cool and dry them. Cold climates would be more difficult to predict. I didn't have a single problem with these shoes in sub-freezing temperatures, but I usually don't have problems with any shoe. As I mentioned before- if you have issues with cold feet, this shoe would probably require warm socks. If you do not have a problem with cold feet, cold weather will not be an issue.
Treadmill: I'm not a treadmill runner. I would prefer to run in any other condition. Still, I wanted to test the heat-transfer of these shoes. My home treadmill produces significant heat. Running barefoot beyond a single mile is nearly impossible. With Vibrams, I can approach three miles before the heat becomes a major issue. To test the EVOs, I ran four miles. I found the shoes did a fairly good job of insulating from the heat of the treadmill deck. I don't think I could do a long run on a treadmill, but if I did, I think these shoes would work well.
Comparison with similar shoes: Throughout this review, I mentioned a few other minimalist running shoes. I've tried many varieties and have extensive experience with aqua socks (or beach shoes if you prefer) and Vibram KSOs. I ran a 50 miler in aqua socks and a 100 miler in KSOs. I'm intimately aware of their pros and cons. The EVOs are clearly superior to aqua socks. The only reason this would be an issue is cost. The EVO sells for $160. Aqua socks can be found for as little as $5. Is the EVO really that much better? For the vast majority of barefoot runners looking for a minimalist shoe- yes. I would recommend aqua socks for brand-new barefoot or minimalist shoe runners only if they were not fully committed to making the transition.
Recommending the EVO over the KSO becomes a little tricky. Based on my tests so far, the only advantage KSOs have is better ground feel and price. Personally, I would lean towards the EVO because of my likely usage. For me, I would use a minimalist shoe in cold and snow OR over very rugged terrain. The EVO is definitely superior to the KSO in winter conditions. On rugged terrain, I would opt for the increased protection over ground feel trade-off. Again, that would lead me to favor the EVO.
The EVO may also be superior for individuals that cannot wear vibrams because of fitting issues. The nature of the EVO allows for a greater variety of foot anatomy. If you are looking for a good winter shoe, the EVO would be an excellent choice. Finally, the EVO may be a better choice if aesthetics are an issue. Some people simply prefer to avoid the attention from the novelty of Vibrams.
If Vibrams are working for you, the EVOs won't likely be a huge improvement. I would still consider purchasing a pair of EVOs at some point. I consider both to be very good products. Neither will replace barefoot running, but both are very good tools to use when conditions warrant. If the price were equatable, I would recommend the EVO without reservation. Since the EVOs cost almost twice as much, you will have to decide if the cost would be justified. For me, it is. Based on my usage and role running plays in my life, the added cost is a non-issue. This is the best minimalist shoe produced today. Terra Plana's first attempt at developing a great minimalist shoe was a success. I believe this shoe (along with shoes such as Vibram's Bikilas) will push the rest of the industry to develop true minimalist shoes.
The EVO and other Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot shoes can be found here:
For a 30% discount (excluding EVOs), use the coupon code BAREFOOTU30 at checkout. This code is valid thought March 31st, 2010.
This product was provided by manufacturer.