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 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.
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.
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!
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!