Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III Review: My new favorite barefoot shoe?

In a nutshell, the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite is a minimal shoe with a thin 4mm sole and plenty of room around the toes for perfect toe splay. The shoe starts to buck the trend of other standard minimal shoes by upgrading its styling, material choice and focusing more on environmental issues. 

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Weight

6.3oz / 180g for men’s US9

Stack height

4mm stack height
Zero Drop

Made for

Road running
Gym Work
Casual everyday

Fit

Low volume
Narrow/average wide midfoot
Wide Toe box
True to size

Feel

Very flexible
Maximum ground feel
Stable for gym work

Pros & Cons

+ Barefoot Feel
+ Style
– Price


If you’ve followed the barefoot industry for a while, you probably already know the trade-offs that brands make so they can deliver a wide forefoot, minimal shoe.

Styling is often an issue, and durability can be dubious.

But Vivobarefoot seems to be changing that trend with the Primus Lite III. 

I’ve now got over 500km on my pair of Primus Lite’s, and I’m super confident that I made the right choice.

In this review, I’ll take you through a full rundown of the shoes, including the all-important fit, plus all the reasons you may or may not want to jump into the Primus Lite’s yourself!

Which minimal running shoe is for you?

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Fit

With Vivobarefoot, I’ve found It’s either a love or hate relationship when it comes to fit. 

Let me explain. 

vivobarefoot primus lite iii upper

If you’ve been trying different running shoes out for a while, you’ll know there’s a specific “European fit.” Think of a narrow Salomon or La Sportiva vs. the wide US-born Altra, and to some extent New Balance. 

I think that the whole narrow, “European fit” has rubbed off on Vivobarefoot slightly.

But Vivobarefoot is a barefoot company, aren’t they supposed to be wide?

Well, they are, but only in the forefoot.

vivobarefoot primus lite iii heel

They certainly give you a nice hug when it comes to a secure heel and bridge (top of the foot). For me, that is perfect. I want a tight fit to ensure there’s no sloppiness, which I sometimes find in Xero Shoes. But if you’re expecting a very forgiving, loose fit, you may be disappointed.

As for sizing, staying true to size was perfect for me. As long as you buy a pair with enough length, you’ll have no issues with forefoot width (which I have seen others have problems with). They may feel long at the start, but trust me, you’ll want the space to embrace the room and allow your toes to wiggle! 

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

Feel

When you first put on a pair of Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III’s, you’ll notice that they’re a bit stiff, which is odd. I’ll talk about the materials used a bit later, but the upper is not super forgiving upon first impression. 

I’ll encourage you to look past that at the start. The plastic-like materials do soften when wearing them, kind of like you’re warming them up.

vivobarefoot primus lite iii ankle cuff

That being said, the stiffer feel does create a very secure feeling. If I take a quick step to the left or right, I’m 100% confident that my foot will not fall over the edge of the shoe. It’s firmly held in place and feels like a second skin.

Just because I say they’re stiff doesn’t mean they lose their flexibility. It’s all about the areas of flexibility. The upper is a little stiffer than you may be used to, but the sole and the underfoot are entirely flexible. The fold-the-shoe-into-itself test passes perfectly with Vivos, so you know you’ll be utilizing your foot’s unique structure and complex muscle system. 

vivobarefoot primus lite iii outsole

With a name like Vivobarefoot, I assume you already know that these shoes are minimal and thin underfoot. And the Primus Lite’s are no different. With only 4mm between you and the ground, you’re going to feel stones and bumps. But there’s no huge difference that you’ll feel between other minimal offerings such as Xero shoes. 

Up to now, I’ve run 50km in the shoes, with the longest run being around 15km with zero issues from day one. For me, that means there’s no wear-in period, and after 50km, they’re still feeling the same way as they did on day one. 

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

Durability

Now, this is where I feel Vivobarefoot will excel over any other barefoot company. 

Number one, the build quality feels beautiful. The upper is carrying little to no bulk, and the joinings of different materials are near seamless. The only areas that could give way are purely down to wear rather than material failure. 

vivobarefoot primus lite iii toes

The quality of the upper materials seems near bulletproof. Most of the material used is soft, pliable plastic. It’s something you wouldn’t usually see on a running shoe, and I think they’re ahead of the industry. It’s still lightweight, flexible, and highly durable. And for peace of mind, the plastic used is post-consumer recycled plastic. 

When it comes to the sole, I will have to reserve judgment for now. I see no apparent signs of wear right now, but can they match the 5000-mile guarantee from Xero Shoes? I doubt it. But Vivovarefoot has a trick up its sleeve.

Buyers in the UK can send their Vivos back to get fully repaired, including a resole for the price of £57 ($74). Sadly, that service is not in the US yet, but the website promises to see the service soon. I understand it may look a little pricey, but I feel it’s a tremendous advantage for longevity and a great option if you want to make a purchase that’s better for the planet. 

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

Conclusion

As you can probably tell, I’m a fan of the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III.

You won’t get that soft, comfortable skate shoe feeling when you first put it on, but trust me, that’s a good thing.

That snug-fitting rear and roomy toe box encourages your feet to work in the most natural way. And yes, they may cost you a pretty penny, but you’re paying for a great experience and not just a simple foot cover.

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

Forza runner feature image

Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Knit FG

Forza runner feature image

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite Knit

Forza runner feature image

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

Forza runner feature image

Vivobarefoot Primus Trail

Nick
Nick

Nick is a UESCA-certified ultramarathon coach and avid barefoot runner, having over 5 years of experience in barefoot training and has competed in multiple ultra marathons wearing barefoot shoes. Starting his journey in the running industry over 10 years ago in New Zealand, Nick evolved from a running shoe salesperson to a passionate advocate for the transformative power of barefoot running. He believes in its potential to enhance running experiences for all and combines his unique insights from both personal achievements and professional coaching to guide and inspire the running community."

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5 Comments

  1. Thank you for another great in depth review. I recently ordered these. I have had the trail version for quite some time about have become irritated by the rubber lip on the outside of the mid foot. I have always sued 43 or 10 in US in the shoes. But have ordered 44 to see if that makes sense. I suspect I am really 43.5 which is what i used to wear in any other sneaker but Vivo does not have half sizes. What size would you suggest? I am really trying to decide if perhaps after 2 yrs of Vivo shoes and my feet growing perhaps I am ready for teh 44 and perhaps just wear thicker socks if it becomes an issue.

    Thank you again.

    Chris

    • The 1/2 size issue!
      It’s the same situation I’m in, especially in the knit versions of these shoes. I find that the shoe is just a touch long in my standard size, but the rest of the shoe dictates that I must stick true to size.
      So for you, it seems that width is an issue. That said, you will find the Primus Lite a little more forgiving that the Trail version, so I advise you stick with EU43’s because I think the length will be a bit much. But as you have the 44 on order, there’s no harm in trying.
      Another option would be the Primus Knit, in EU43. The upper is much more flexible so you’ll have less of an width issue making them fit a little larger.

      And lastly, you can try other brands too. Xero Shoes Speed Force II is a great option as long as your toe splay isn’t too large.

      • Thank you very much for your helpful and kind reply. I may try the knit as well. Good idea!

        Chris

      • I have teh 43 primus lite III. I like them. They are actually a bit longer than the same size in the trail model which is good for me. They do feel snug right where the toe knuckles are. I wish they just made them a little wider. I had to take out the inserts to give me more space. So there is a quicker transition since there is no foam at all now. I do feel like my feet get sweatier with no insert. I hope it does not become a problem. If you have any contacts at Vivo, could you tell them to make a wider version of the Primus Lite III? Thank you for the amazing reviews! I have been using Vivo shoes for over 2 yrs now and I can’t go back to normal shoes. Just would like them a bit wider. Have not found a suitable alternative yet. I wear the Tracker Decon FG boots for hiking and like them.

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