These shoes allow you to walk with a barefoot gait, without a bare foot, avoiding the injuries that could sideline you. Rocks piercing the foot or breaking a toe on a curb is the end of a barefoot experiment, so I’m looking at this as an urban stepping stone to barefoot hiking when I’m better conditioned and more aware.
The flexible but rugged soles force you to adopt a more natural bio-mechanical stride. Rather than landing on your heel, as we’re accustomed to doing with cushioned soles, you land on the mid-foot or ball of the foot. This gait is less stressful on your knees and forces you to place the “strikepoint” of your foot beneath your hips, which also means you initiate forward movement with a lean instead of leg drive. The shoes’ toe channels don’t cause any discomfort, though I have found the five-channeled Injinji brand socks somewhat uncomfortable to wear beneath them, as the stitching pulls into the webbing between the toes.
The added articulation of the Vibram FiveFingers strengthens your metatarsal ligaments and muscles, which is noticeable in general balance and, oddly enough, upper body pressing strength. Since wearing these shoes every other day (every day can create arch and heel soreness) for two weeks — which took some adjustment in my walking style — I have almost eliminated lower back pain that started several years ago. I attribute this to the lack of elevated heel, which projects your knees forward and affects posture, often encouraging lordosis.
Within minutes of wearing these shoes there is a surprising new awareness of the ground, and a sense of tactile awakening. After all, when is the last time you walked on grass or any surface barefoot for more than a few minutes? I’m rediscovering the most natural means of bipedal movement in the world, which — in a concrete jungle — is a forgotten skill, and a forgotten joy.