Review: Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail

Vivibarefoot Breatho Trail

The Context

I’ll start this with a full disclosure. I came to the Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail as a diehard barefoot runner. My barefoot races to date include a 50K ultra, a marathon, eight half marathons, and a short trail race. It’s almost impossible to get me into shoes at any time, but especially when I run. But I’d become keen on running trails – very gnarly ones, at that – and had plans to run an technical 50K trail race. Barefoot isn’t always wise for that sort of thing, or even possible. So I chose to open my mind a little bit, and look at options.

I did a lot of research, looked at a lot of product videos, asked a lot of questions of fellow runners, and then purchased a pair of Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail shoes. Online, sight unseen, from the good folks at Vivobarefoot US. It all felt a bit like I was going over to the Dark Side, but it’s turned out well. Read on…

The Shoe

The Breatho’s very much a minimalist trail shoe, in every sense of the word. It’s a true zero drop, with an aggressively-lugged sole, breathable uppers, and a wide toe box. It ships with a removable insole, which comes in handy if you’re transitioning from a more traditional shoe format or if you’re running on really cold ground. (I live in Canada, where the ground can get very cold indeed.) The Breatho weighs in at only 272 gms., which is plenty light for a shoe.

Now it’s time for a confession. I really dislike the look of most contemporary running shoes. Maybe I’m getting old and grumpy, but it’s all getting a bit much. Shrieking loud colours, unpleasant contrasts, freakish design. In many cases, it’s a matter of “all hat, no horse,” as they say in the Canadian West.

The Breathos, though, are different. They look subdued. They suggest elegance, calmness, and competence. They’re easy on the eyes. And that’s the case in all the colour options on offer for the Breatho – black/black, grey/red, grey/yellow, and grey/blue.

Breatho Trail colours

Now for some particulars…

The Breathos have an outrageously wide toe box. It’s so big and spacious, in fact, that when I first tried mine on, I thought that perhaps I’d bought the wrong size. There’s a lot of room there, which is a good thing. (I’ve become more used to this over time, but it still looks a bit odd.) One very nice feature is that the Breathos don’t have a tongue, which makes them ideal for wearing without socks. The ankle opening is quite low; that may, in rough or dusty terrain, allow stones or other debris to get in. I haven’t that happen yet.

The multi-directional lugs on the Breathos’ soles are one of the major reasons I chose this shoe. The lugs on the heel of the shoe face the opposite direction as the front to help stay upright on steep, slippery, and otherwise gnarly climbs and descents. The soles are very thin (2.5mm) and pliable (though Vivibarefoot says they’re puncture-resistant), which maximizes groundfeel and proprioception. There’s no mid-sole rock plate on this shoe, but that hasn’t presented a problem so far, even on very rocky single-track. The Breathos are both supple and protective – kudos to Vivibarefoot for that. As I said, this is a true zero-drop shoe, with only a 0.6mm difference between the forefoot and heel. There’s nice toe guard at the front, which comes in handy for the inevitable times you kick a rock.

Breatho flexibility

The Test

That’s all good. But how do the Breathos play out in the real world?

The simplest way of illustrating that is to refer you to my race report for the Vulture Bait 50K trail race I did in October. The Vulture Bait offered some pretty tough test conditions: the course was a combination of a few grassy open spaces and a lot of rocky, rooty single-track, with lots of mud, two water crossings, rough terrain, and a lot of elevation changes.

As I said in that report, “I’d only run in [the Breathos] a couple of times on some trails near my home in the weeks before the Vulture Bait, so this was a big test. They passed with flying colours! I wore them with an old pair of Injinji socks, and had no problems at all with either fit or support. Given the conditions of the race, and the fact that they were essentially an unbroken-in pair of shoes, I think that’s pretty remarkable.”

The Breathos check pretty well all the boxes I can think of. They’re as minimalist as a rugged trail shoe is going to get, which is something even a barefoot devotee can appreciate. They’re not something I’d wear on the roads – obviously – so I’ll save them for the trails. But they’ve opened up a whole world of running that wasn’t available to me before. Can’t say much better than that!

The Verdict

I came away from the Vulture Bait a big believer in the Breathos. They’re well-designed, comfortable, and they do the job they’re supposed to do. If I have to wear shoes, these are the ones I’ll wear.

5 stars out of 5!

My Breathos

Advertisements

3 comments

  1. A great review indeed! I have had a pair of these for a year or so (the grey and red ones), and I’d echo a lot of what you say. I do find mine can be slippery on rocks and tree roots, but generally not too bad. Durability-wise, I’ve lost a couple of lugs, but the wear hasn’t been too bad, not that I give them much heavy use.

    One thing I would say JustDeb is that the upper is so breathable you may find it pretty cold – they live up to their name in that respect. On the other hand, water escapes easily after stream crossings and the like.

    I think I may have bought a size that’s slightly small for me in that I find the toe box less roomy than you do Alan. I do find that debris gets in, nonethess. All in all I’m very happy with them and next year I intend to give them a proper test with some Scottish hill races. At some point I’d like to try some of inov-8’s offerings.

    1. Thanks for that feedback, Stig. It’s good to hear from someone with more experience of the Breathos than I. I’m going to see how the breathability works in colder weather soon – it’s -16C right now, and I’ve got a trail run with friends next weekend, when the temperatures will be similar. I’ll be sure to wear the optional insoles then! I’ve also heard very good things about the Inov-8s; they were the other shoe I was looking at before I bought the Breathos.

  2. I think I am going to check these out. Love my bikilas but I need something else in this cold. Maybe I’m a wimp but when it get below freezing I need my toes together with heavy wool socks. I have a pair of Merrells but the toe box is too small. Thanks for the review.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s