Vibram, the Italian company known for putting the rubber sole into The North Face, Merrell, Timberland, Columbia, and Nike, has developed a funky-looking shoe called the Vibram Five Fingers.
The shoes look like gloves for your feet. The individual toe slots are designed to gently spread your toes, enhancing balance and stability, and promoting a more natural motion to reduce the impact on your joints and back.
The upper sole is made with a thin, abrasion- and tear-resistant stretch polyamide fabric. The foot bed is antimicrobial microfiber, and the sole is a non-marking rubber that is razor-siped for better grip. The weight varies by size and model. One mens size 42 (8 in the U.S.), weighs 5.6 ounces. while a womens 37 (U.S. size 6) weighs 4.4.
Five Fingers comes in three designs: The Classic ($70,www.rei.com), which looks like a ballet slipper with toe slots; the Sprint ($80, www.rei.com), which is identical to The Classic but has adjustable straps; and the Surge ($100, www.vibramfivefingers.com), which resembles a dinghy sailors boot, with a 2-millimeter neoprene lining and three Velcro straps. The Sprint is the most versatile model.
Practical Sailor found the shoes awkward at first. But after a few trial runs, testers grew accustom to having material between the toes; however, donning remained time-consuming and difficult.
The shoes don’t have much toe protection, but what they lack in immediate comfort and style-they truly are odd looking-they make up for in grip. The womens Sprint ranked with the top performers in our womens sailing shoe review (July 2007). They equaled the Teva Sunkosi, Best Choice for grip on teak, and the Teva Atrato, the
Practical Sailor Best Choice for grip on nonskid.
The shoes may prove suitable for windsurfing, boardsailing, and dinghy sailing, but for the average sailor, they are little more than an expensive novelty, in our view. For the same price, wed opt for a more versatile, comfortable shoe from our 2007 sailing shoe tests.