Five Fingers Shoes by Vibram

We'll call them shoes, but you'll swear they're an improved version of your own feet. "Gear Up" from our July 10, 2007, /SW eNewsletter/

GUVibram368

Vibram

Vibram promotes its Five Fingers shoes as "an intelligent way to deepen your connection with your natural surroundings." I wasn't so sure how this applied to sailing, since I generally sail barefoot-stubbed toes and slips are part of the territory. I find wearing shoes while sailing keelboats to be either too hot or too soggy, so I just go without unless the boat is super wet, and then I'll wear my Aigle dinghy boots and swelter. However, the Five Fingers Sprint shoes are the best possible middle ground-basically an upgrade for your bare feet.On a particularly breezy day in Newport, I wore a pair of Five Fingers Sprint shoes while working foredeck on a J/22. Now, when I first saw them, I wasn't quite sure that their bedroom-slipper design would measure up to a sailing shoes' performance. The shoes are very comfortable once you get your toes in the appropriate spots (Vibram recommends walking around on carpet for awhile to get used to the sensation). Straps run across the top of the arch and cinch the back of the heel, giving the shoes a very snug feel. Because they're super-light, you'll hardly notice they're on after a bit. The top of the shoe is made of a soft but durable neoprene-type fabric. Almost all of the top of your foot is exposed, though, so if you're accident prone or afraid of weird tan lines, you may want to go with a shoe that has a mesh upper-- or the Surge model, which has a neoprene upper-- to give you a little more coverage. However, the Five Fingers Sprint shoes allow great breathability and kept my feel very cool.The soles' rubber skin provided great traction on the boat's non-skid. We took waves and powerboat wake over the bow more than a few times, but I had no problems running up to set the pole or getting enough traction to trim the spinnaker from the rail. When walking around, stepping on a cleat wasn't a painful experience, and because of the low profile and flexibility of the sole, I was able to get great leverage and traction from the toerails and chocks. At one point I was stepping on a line and could feel it tug at the bottoms of the shoes, which is a sensation you won't really get if you do the same wearing a proper sailing shoe. Perhaps most important (for me at least) was the fact that the rubber bottoms extend to over the front of your toenail, which means no more stubbed toes.Because of the straps and toes, your foot will not slip around inside the shoe, which was something I was worried about at first. The seams connecting the uppers to the soles seem very durable, and I had no problems with the shoe coming apart or showing signs of wear. At the end of the day, the shoes dry very quickly even when completely soaked, and they're machine washable. Vibram also promotes the Five Fingers for outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and especially running, saying that running barefoot is more ergonomic. I was walking around the gravel of the boat yard after sailing and I could feel every like rock, without the usual pain-a pretty neat feeling.If you can get over their semi-goofy look (basically, a watershoe crossed with a three-strap sandal), you might even wear the Five Fingers Sprint shoes into the party tent after sailing. I wouldn't suggest them for any kind of hiking with straps, and they may be cold outside of the summer months. If you're looking for more support or warmth, Vibram's Surge model may be more up your alley, as it has a completely neoprene upper, not unlike a dinghy boot. The Sprint retails for $80, and the Surge will run you $100. www.vibramfivefingers.com