Vivobarefoot are some of the most stylish and “normal” looking barefoot shoes out there.
But are they any good for real sports enthusiasts? Or better yet, can Vivobarefoot make good barefoot running shoes?
In this post, I’ll introduce you to some of my favorite models and help you decide whether Vivobarefoot running shoes are the right fit for you. And if not, where to look next!
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The Primus Lite III is the best Vivobarefoot shoe.
It looks good.
It’s a great running shoe.
It’s a great workout shoe.
And you could even wear the black version to the office.
So, what makes it an excellent barefoot shoe?
How flexible is the Primus Lite III?
There’s only 4mm between you and the ground! If you use the included insole, this number is increased to 6-7mm. But at 4mm, the barefoot feel is fantastic and offers enough protection if you step on anything sharp. With such a thin outsole, it also means there’s outsole flexibility in every direction.
The upper is a little more restrictive, but it provides a secure lockdown for running. For proper barefoot motion, you want as little restriction as possible. The Primus Lite upper doesn’t precisely give that, so don’t over-tighten your laces. That said, the stiffer materials allow a secure lateral lockdown, making it great as a workout shoe.
The reinforced upper lends itself to durability. The upper is so tough it’ll likely outsole the outsole by far if you’re a runner. You could even scuff and scrape much of the shoe without seeing damage.
Which minimal running shoe is for you?
Take a quick 5-question quiz to identify the perfect minimal running shoe for your feet! You'll get both road and trail options based on your answers!
How wide is the Primus Lite III?
It’s not the widest shoe, which makes it great for our narrow-footed friends! The width tapers down from the toe box into the midfoot, which is good if you’re narrower/shallower and looking for a decent lockdown. My foot is relatively average in width, and it’s still an excellent fit for me, but if you’re on the wider side, I suggest looking to Lems or Freet.
The toe box is wide, but not in the little toe area. As with most Vivobarefoot shoes, if you’re little splays a lot, you may find the forefoot width a little restrictive. The fit is fine for most of us who have turned in little toes (likely due to conventional shoes when we were young).
The main aspect of barefoot running shoes is to get out of the way.
The sole should be thin.
The upper should be flexible.
For that, you want to look at the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite Knit.
How flexible is the Primus Lite Knit?
The knit upper allows the shoe to flex more than the standard Primus Lite. I noticed a crease point forming at the forefoot when reviewing the standard Primus shoe, which was caused by the stiffer upper materials. However, the Knit material used in this version offers greater flexibility throughout the shoe. For me, this creates a more “natural” barefoot feel.
If you’re looking for a ground feel with some protection, the Primus Lite Knit does the job. There’s only 4mm of rubber under your foot! Add the insole (optional) to that, and it’s around 6-7mm in stack height. Keeping the shoe flexible in every direction you can think of.
Does the Primus Lite Knit fit differently from the standard Primus Lite?
In short, yes. Mainly in the depth and width.
The Knit may be the solution if Vivos haven’t fit in the past because they’re too tight. I found the Knit to be more forgiving around the midfoot and heel, which is vital for those who experience pressure points with the narrower base of the standard Primus line.
The Primus Lite Knit has more depth than the standard Primus Lite. I’d mostly attribute this to the forgiving knit material, but I also want to say the toe box and the forefoot feel more roomy. If you’ve had issues with depth in Vivo shoes, I can confirm that the Knit models are much more accommodating.
When not to buy the Primus knit?
The flexible upper doesn’t lock down your foot to the sole like stiffer, more secure alternatives. This is important when you’re performing movements with lots of lateral movement. That’s why I wouldn’t suggest using this shoe as a gym shoe, and only really take the shoes on easy, flat runs. Opt for the Primus Lite III if you’d like a performance-oriented shoe.
Trail running is different from road running. There are rocks, bushes, and trees that necessitate more foot protection. And the unpredictable surface changes your running gait and requires more grip.
That means we need a different shoe when trail running.
Vivobarefoot’s solution is the Vivobare Primus Trail FG. A protective, aggressive outsole, yet a minimal offering with a ton of flex and a secure fit.
What surfaces are the shoes perfect for?
The 2.5mm lugs and 4mm extra base rubber make them ideal for rocky or sandy conditions. The flexible design allows them to work in many conditions, and I love using them in the American West, where rocks, dust, and sand come into play.
In addition to the lugs, there’s a 3mm rubber base and a 1mm puncture-resistant layer. The 1mm layer adds a little peace of mind if you step on a nail or a thorn (which I have done in other shoes… it went straight through). And the 3mm base holds the shoe together to give some structure to the shoe. With only 6.5mm between you and the ground, you will feel the rocks, but your run will not end in damaged feet.
Is there enough upper protection on the Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG?
Whereas the upper is lightweight, high-risk areas are protected from scuffs and scrapes. One downfall of the shoe we’ll talk about later (Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Knit) is the protection. So, if you’re heading into the mountains and need toe protection, I’d suggest the standard Primus Trail.
The added protection means a reduction in flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a barefoot shoe, but compared to some, like the Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II, true barefoot freedom is reduced. I’ve removed the insoles from my pair to allow a little more space for my feet to flex and splay.
How do the shoes fit?
Like most Vivobarefoot shoes, the toe box is generous for the big toe but not for little toes. You may find the toe box a bit restrictive if you have a wide splay, especially on the little toe side. But if you’re like me and need the room in the big toe area, Vivo’s can work well.
The midfoot and heel are “fitted,” which is excellent for those narrower and shallower feet. This, to me, is the typical European fit. Fitted in the midfoot and heel. For trail running, this is great because it offers a lot of lateral lockdown. If you find the shoes too shallow, try removing the insoles to gain 2-3mm more space in the shoe.
If you’re looking at Vivobarefoot, chances are you did so because their shoes look 1% better than the rest of the barefoot offerings.
And some of you out there still want your shoes to look good when you’re on the trail. I get it.
Vivobarefoot has perfected the look of the Primus Trail Knit FG to satisfy the aesthetic requirements but also the performance aspect too.
How does the Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Knit lock your foot in place?
The upper is 100% knit with very little stiff/secure materials. For comfort, it’s amazing. There are no pressure points, and it’s almost like slipping on a sock. But for the trail, the performance is limited. If you hit odd-angled surfaces, your foot can slip inside the shoe.
The shoe is suited to mellow trails, where barefoot function is paramount. Smooth, predominantly flat surfaces are perfect for these shoes. Think 5km park runs where you want to perfect your barefoot training.
What surfaces are the shoes perfect for?
The lugs on the Primus Trail Knit are only 2.5mm deep, so they’re not made for mudpits. But at the same time, they do well in wet, dry, and rocky conditions. The spacing of the lugs are laid out in a perfect ratio to find a nice balance to make this a go-to shoe for many conditions.
In addition to the lugs, there’s a 3mm rubber base and a 1mm puncture-resistant layer. The 1mm layer adds a little peace of mind if you step on a nail or a thorn (which I have done in other shoes… it went straight through). And the 3mm base holds the shoe together to give some structure to the shoe. With only 6.5mm between you and the ground, you will feel the rocks, but it will not end in damaged feet.
What type of feet are the Primus Trail Knit’s made for?
I’d say the Primus Knit Trail fits ½ a size too long. ½ a size isn’t huge; it amounts to around 3.5mm, but it becomes an issue when the shoe only comes in whole sizes.
Vivobarefoot shoes taper aggressively on the little toe. This is where your foot shape comes into it. If you don’t have a large toe splay on the little toe, or it’s turned in like me, the toe box will work fine. But if you have a wide fan-like shape to your toes, you may want to look to another brand like Lems or Softstars.
This model fits deeper than others in the Vivobarefoot line. I attribute the depth to the flexible materials over the top of the foot. So, if you’ve ever tried Vivobarefoots in the past and found them too tight over the top of the foot, give the Primus Trail Knit’s a try.