Vivobarefoot Trail Freak Review
Vivobarefoot have stepped up their trail running offering with the Trail Freak. It builds on and improves the previous model, the Breatho trail. I have had a great experience with my Breatho Trail shoes, 805km in and they are still going strong. It’s been a revelation to have such a minimal but grippy trail shoe. So I was excited to see what they had come up with in the Trail Freak.
What has improved since the Breatho Trail?
There we some short comings with the upper on the breatho that could cause wear at certain points of the shoe, mainly where the forefoot bends. Vivobarefoot have addressed this with extra lining material at all the weak points. In my testing this seems to have fixed the areas of concern.
There is a new toggle lacing system that doesn’t undo when running, yay.
The heel seems to grip my foot a little better. This gives me a more solid feel to the shoe, especially when running up hills.
Apart from that, the Trail Freak keeps to the strengths of the Breatho, a flexible, grippy and lightweight trail shoe that excels in a variety of technical terrian.
The upper on this shoe is a mix of breathable mess and reinforcing material. The red styling is nice, if you like the bright trends in modern running shoes. Personally I could do without the black detailling on the toe box, but that’s just a little quibble.
Overall the upper performs well. It keeps you cool in the summer while providing a stiffer and more hardwearing outer than the previous model. Running in winter conditions is fine too if it’s relatively dry or you are prepared to get wet. It doesn’t often get colder here than -1 degree celisius and if it does then the mud is frozen anyway. I’m not sure that you’d want to take these out in the snow.
Comfort and fit
The fit is actually a little tighter in the heel and just slightly stiffer than the Breatho trail. This is an advantage for me, the shoe feels more secure when running up steep hills.
Like all Vivobarefoot shoes, the trail freak uses a zero-drop 3mm sole with a removable 3mm insole. The toe box is roomy and gives you plenty of space for your toes to splay when landing your foot.
Materials inside the shoe are comfortable and designed for barefoot wear. Unfortunately for me, there is a small piece of protective material at the end of the toe box that caused a good deal of rubbing when I tried them sockless. It seemed that it would be foot shape dependant and others might not have the same issue. Certianly with socks on the shoe was very comfortable.
They don’t have any midsole EVA or cushioning so if you are used to a higher stack height shoe they might take some getting used to. Personally I find the flexibily and give in the soles to be fantastic and I find them a very comfortable shoe overall.
The sole is the key feature
The outsole of the Vivobarefoot Trail Freak’s are engineered for serious grip, with 4.5mm lugs that perform just as aggressively as they appear without sacrificing the overall barefoot feel. If anything they add a little to the cushioning effect, making stoney trails more comfortable than some other Vivobarefoot models.
The grip from the sole is fantastic on everything except smooth wet rock. I’ve run in the Trail Freaks in mud, gravel, dry technical trails, wet rooty forest, puddles, and steep descents. They handle it all wonderfully while still giving you great ground feel
But, durability problems? Not sure yet.
I need to preface this section by saying that I’ve had two pairs of these shoes. The first showed very poor durability as described below. I returned them to the shop after only 105km of running. The second pair is only up to 65km but are looking better. I’ll update this section when I have done more distance in them.
I keep my trail shoes exclusively off road, I usually drive to the start of the tracks and run from there. Terrain in New Zealand varies but I have mainly been running on grassy fields, gravel tracks and beech forest (a mix of soft loam, roots and some rocks). By the time I had run 50km I was starting to notice cracking on the base of the lugs. By 83km I had torn off several lugs on both shoes, with many more lugs on their way out.
At this point I started to get concerned. You see this isn’t my first issue with this sole from Vivobarefoot. I owned a pair of Neo trails that had some major issues with the soles as well. With the Neo’s I experienced:
– Cracked and torn lugs
– Disintegrating lugs
The Neo’s had to be retired at just over 300km with the uppers in near perfect condition because the soles were so uneven from lost lugs that running in them was painful. I heard from a local friend that had the same issues, that the new Breatho’s were better and I bought a pair. As stated above, they have been great and while there is some wear on the lugs there has been no torn lugs at all. Phew.
Imagine my surprise and disappointment to see this happening again. They have been used on the same trails, in the same way as the breathos and come up with dramatically worse results. Is this a systemic issue or did I just get a dud pair? I sure hope it’s the latter.
I also noticed stitching starting to fray and some minor issues with the upper. The right toe guard was also starting to come unglued. All an all the shoe was looking a little worn after only 105km run.
I’ve tried to reach out to Vivobarefoot about this directly but have heard nothing back. I’ll update the review if I do.
I really want to love this shoe. I love the earlier version and since this fixes most of the minor issues I had with my Breatho trails I would love this shoe, if it stayed together. However, the durability issues in the first pair I had have introduced a small amount of doubt. I really hope that the first pair were just the result of a bad manufacturing batch and not indicative of the overall shoe design.
##What I like:
– Grip: These shoes have great grip in the mud, on loose dry gravel and technical trails. The only issue I had with them was on smooth, wet rock surfaces.
– Ground Feel: Common to all Vivobarefoot shoes, your feet can feel what you are running on. I love the
– Wide toe box Again a common feature in the Vivobarefoot range, there is plenty of room for my toes to spread out when running.
##What I dislike:
– Durability: The pair I bought have major issues with the sole shedding lugs and other wear and tear appearing in the upper. The second pair seems to be performing better but it’s a little early to tell.
– Almost sock-less: The seam issue that I found causing problems for my little toe prevented me from wearing the shoe sock-less, when care has been taken to make the rest of the shoe seamless on the inside that seems a shame
Quality 3/5, Comfort 4/5, Price 4/5, Looks 4/5
Update after 500km run
The durability concerns that I had during my main review have proved well founded.
I have some major tearing in the upper where it is joining the sole. Even the welded overlays have torn away from the join. The result is that the upper is considerably loser than it was and I am unable to really lock the shoe down in the midfoot (tightening the laces just pulls the tear open further). I thought that the upper was going to wear better than the previous model Bretho Trails. However, the upper on my Trail Freaks looks (and is functionally) much worse at 500km than my Breatho’s look having run 1240km. That’s a major disappointment and I don’t think I’ll get that many more runs out of this shoe. In hindsight this is a major flaw in the design of the shoe with not enough structure in the midfoot.
Also the lugs on the sole are deteriorating faster than I’d like. I obviously expect to wear down the lugs on any trail shoe but some of the lugs are snapping off and some are almost completely worn through. I’m careful to keep my trail shoes off the road except where absolutely necessary. Again comparing the sole to the Breatho’s, I got to 800-900km in the Breatho’s before the soles looked like this.
All in all, I’m fairly disappointed with this shoe. I’m hoping for better things with the Primus trail but the jury is out on quality issues with the latest vivobarefoot trail shoes.
My updated rating
Quality 1/5, Comfort 3/5, Price 4/5, Looks 4/5
Disclaimer: I purchased these shoes myself, they were not provided by Vivobarefoot or a third-party.