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(The Gear Loop) - The benefits of walking and running barefoot are widely publicised by medical folk and chiropodists alike, with clever people in white lab coats stating that modern shoes are designed in such a way that they promote abnormal foot positioning that can lead to all manner of problems. In fact, proper foot arches aren't full developed until kids reach the age of 6, so the fact that we often stuff our toddlers toes into stiff, non-foot shaped footwear means our obsession with rubber soles often causes the problem. According to Vivobarefoot, 90% of Kids are born with perfectly healthy feet. But by the time we are adults, many of us will experience a movement related injury or health issues concerning our feet.

Of course, we immeadiately recognise these guys want to sell you their barefoot wares, so it's only natural they want to poo-poo a comfy pair of trainers or hiking boots, but the only way to form an opinion is to test this stuff out. So we did. Starting with a pair of popular Magna Trail II boots that build on the company's active collection with an excellent Firm Ground multi-terrain sole, all weather water resistant upper materials and a thermal insole that keeps the feet toasty in cold conditions.

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Our quick take

You pay strong money for Vivobarefoot shoes and some will likely not get on with the naked foot approach, but they are fantastically versatile footwear that can withstand a lot of punishment out in the wild. A chunk of the lofty asking price is spent on recycled or heavily recyclable materials, while Vivo's general green credentials and eco-conscious approach carry a fair amount of financial commitment from the buyer, but after several months running, mountain biking, hiking and generally romping around in these, this reviewer is sold on the barefoot approach. Plus, they really do last. 

It's much better for the feet and helps strengthen the tiny muscles that often get neglected, which helps reduce the chance of injury, speeds up hiking times and even changes running style for the better. So much so, this reviewer went out and replaced general gym and strength training shoes with a set of Vivobarefoot Primus Lite II models, which have also been used and abused for well over a year now with zero complaints. It's true, walking and exercising barefoot takes some getting used to, but it feels great once mastered.

Vivobarefoot Magna Trail II review: lightweight barefoot brilliance

Vivobarefoot Magna Trail II

4.0 stars
For
  • Grippy sole
  • Waterproof uppers with hi-tech seal
  • Animal free
Against
  • Look a bit weird
  • Barefoot takes some getting used to

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In the Loop

Here's a quick summary of what the Magna Trail II offers.

  • Barefoot design
  • Recycled and recyclable materials
  • Grippy sole
VivobarefootVivo Barefoot Magna Trail II Review photo 7

But shouting from the rooftops about the benefits of naked tootsies is not the only thing Vivobarefoot is good at, as the company predominantly uses recycled materials that are more often than not vegan-friendly and free from any deceased animals. Plus, it has a scheme with Revivo, encouraging wearers to send old pairs that way so they can be reused and recycled. This goes some way to explain the lofty price tag and we totally understand that green credetnails are no good if the product is naff. 

Design & looks

Let's get this out of the way first, because although the Magna Trail II doesn't look too dissimilar to rival ankle-height walking boots when viewed from the side, they are a little unnerving when viewed from the top. This is because they are very obviously foot-shaped, allowing loads of room for the toes to spread out and the big toe to do its job. It's no way near as freaky as something like Vibram's Fivefingers V Run or Trail shoes, which are akin to gloves for your toes, but the outline silhouette is definitely very different to those found on classic hiking or trail boots.

VivobarefootVivo Barefoot Magna Trail II Review photo 8

The soles, although covered in a clever and very grippy pattern, are also extremely thin (deliberately so), meaning it is possible to feel the ground beneath when walking or running. This takes a bit of getting used to at first, but as Vivobarefoot suggests, it starts to encourage a new way of running and walking that is much better for the feet in the long run. Shorter strides, lighter foot-strikes and a focus on adapting movements to suit terrain. That said, the sole is fantastically tough and protects tender parts nicely. 

Getting the Magna Trail II on can be a bit of a faff, as the knitted collar and sock-like approach to the fit requires some wearing-in before it becomes really easy. But once on, they are extremely comfortable and, as the name would suggest, offer a weirdly naked foot feeling but one that also protects from the elements and keeps them warm. The Trail II model is only available in Obsidian black, while the Merino wool and wild hide leather FG versions also come in Edona Sage, but the all black iterants go pretty well with both outdoor gear and a more casual jean, if that's your thing. The Magna Trail II is also available in women's sizes, although the design across the Vivobarefoot range remains pretty much the same for both sexes.

VivobarefootVivo Barefoot Magna Trail II Review photo 6

Tough, bungee-style walking laces are also featured and these are threaded through equally hardy metal eyelets. Don't be fooled by the general thin, lightweight and flexible appearance, because the Magna Trail II can withstand a surprising amount of punishment, although we did find that after elongated periods of use, those bungee style laces could snag on the metal eyelets. If you do a lot walking, running and cycling, you may be replacing those after a few months.

Performance in the field

As previously mentioned, anyone used to the traditional and extremely supportive shape of a standard Vibram sole will find Vivo Barefoot's approach a bit weird at first. It doesn't feel like there's enough sole to protect feet from jagged rocks and other potential hazards. Granted, you will feel more of the earth beneath your feet but this reviewer hasn't ever experienced anything that could actually damage or pierce the sole. All it does is serve as a reminder not to land heavily on a big sharp rock when trail running, which can only be a good thing.

VivobarefootVivo Barefoot Magna Trail II Review photo 2

The sole itself is excellent and grabs on to rough terrain, allowing its wearer to scramble up hillsides and fells like a hyperactive mountain goat. Neatly, the sole on these revised second-gen models now wraps around the heel of the boot, giving more grip for varying foot strike methods. Straight out of the box, the shoes can feel quite stiff and fairly difficult to get on, but it doesn't take long before they soften up and become flexible enough to fold back on themselves, as the image below handily demonstrates. They are so thin, it's possible to stuff a properly worn pair into another pair of shoes, which could be handy when aiming to pack extremely light.

On top of this, a thermal lining keeps the foot really warm on colder hikes and Vivo Barefoot claims the outers are as close to waterproof as you can get. But we wouldn't recommend submerging your foot in a puddle, stream or river for too long, as that waterproofing isn't perfect nor does it last a lifetime. You'll likely want to coat them in a water repellent after a couple of months of use. On top of this, the thermal lining can make the feet very hot when out walking in baking summery conditions or running, so expect sweaty socks or swap to a lighter model.

VivobarefootVivo Barefoot Magna Trail II Review photo 1

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To recap

Vivobarefoot offers a nice alternative to the overly supportive and sometimes bulky hiking competition, while making a strong case for strengthening feet with its barefoot approach. Despite the lightweight construction, the Magna Trail II is surprisingly hardy and rapidly becomes a seriously comfortable go-to shoe.

Writing by Leon Poultney. Editing by Chris Hall.