When my daughter was about a year old, we got her her first little pair of toddler shoes. They were white leather, and she loved them. No, she ADORED them. She refused to take them off. Ever. Not only during the day when her little self was toddling around, but if she woke up in the middle of the night and found that her beloved shoes were not on her feet, she screamed and cried. Now I know how she feels. I've never loved a pair of shoes like I love my new Five Fingers Bikilas.
When I got my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers toe shoes in 2007, I thought I'd found heaven. They were the "Sprint" version and I wore them everywhere. Then I started running in them. They were great, the next best thing to barefoot running. Except for one tiny little problem: the splinters from the bark trail, plus sand, dirt, and gravel got in them all the time. Stopping to pick stuff out of your shoes can put a damper on a good run.
Then Vibram came out with the "KSO" version of the shoes (stands for Keeps Stuff Out) and my hubby got me a pair for Valentine's Day (what a romantic!) . I really thought I was in heaven. I could run on our wonderful bark trails splinter-free, and I upped my mileage in them until I almost never ran in regular shoes anymore. Again, I thought I'd found shoe nirvana. But then I started trail running in earnest, like steep rocky muddy trails. The slick soles on the KSOs weren't so great at that. The occasional rock strike to the instep made for some painful bruising, and the slippery bottoms weren't great in the clay-slip mud that our trails are famous for in the wintertime.
Now Vibram has these wonderful things called the Five Fingers Bikila LS. I have no idea how they took something so completely perfect and improved on it this much but now I'm REALLY in heaven. Really. Mere words cannot describe how much I love these shoes. I never want to take them off, even when I sleep. I actually want another pair, so I can keep one set nice and clean to wear absolutely everywhere, and have one pair to get muddy on the trails. As you can see, they're already doing that.
The Top: The quick-lace system on the Bikila LS is a very nice feature. It makes them much easier to take on and off, and almost makes me think maybe I could use them in triathlons. They also have a liner which makes them a true running shoe. The old Sprints and KSOs were not lined, leaving a lot of barefoot runners with blisters. I didn't really have that problem, but I have to admit that the liner makes for a far more comfortable shoe. Have I said how comfortable they are? How much I never want to take them off? One more nice feature is some good bits of reflective striping, a nice added touch for visibility (which you can never have too much of).
The Bottom: Better yet, the sole provides a lot more traction and protection against bruises from sharp rocks on the trail. When I ran on gravelly trails in my KSOs, I had to be constantly scanning the trail ahead of me for any sharp stones. With the Bikilas, I'm able to run more naturally and enjoy the view of the woods around me. In a one-hour trail run over roots, rocks, gravel, and mud, I didn't get one bruising encounter with anything on the ground. That's good news in my book.
Since we've had non-stop rain for the last, oh, forty days and forty nights, I feel comfortable in saying that these soles provide great traction on extremely slippery muddy trails. You think I'm joking about the "extremely muddy" bit? Try running up this trail. It's like a filthy version of a Slip-n-Slide. Yet between the improved grippiness of the soles, and the natural advantage of having your toes available for traction, I can run up this with zero slippage.
The Barefoot Feel: Honestly, this is what most worried me about buying the Bikilas. I thought that new sole would reduce the barefoot feeling of the shoe and leave me with less of a natural stride and less feeling for the ground. But it doesn't feel that way at all. This was a very pleasant surprise. They've managed to keep the flexibility of the shoe completely intact by segmenting the grippy bits of the sole. It honestly feels little different than the KSO or Sprint soles when I'm running.
All in all, I can't think of one bad thing to say about this shoe. Except maybe that it should come in purple. Congratulations Vibram, you've done it again.