Five Fingers Fit Like Gloves

Unique watersports shoes protect a notch above barefoot.

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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.

Five Fingers Surge

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.

Bottom Line:

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.

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Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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