This beefy, tread-happy KSO upgrade with kangaroo leather is the perfect solution for trail runners and those who have been looking for a little more protection underfoot. Despite the substantial sole and the use of leather, this KSO remains as comfortable as the previous incarnations. It is yet another winner from a company that so far, can do no wrong.
Squeezing into the KSO Trek requires a little more effort than its more malleable KSO compatriots. The kangaroo leather does not stretch. There is a well thought-out elastic installed to aid in the insertion of the foot but, despite this addition, there is no rushing when putting on these shoes. Once in, however, your feet will find a friendly and familiar home. The kangaroo leather is sensually soft and very comfortable next to the skin. There are no perceptible seams to bother your foot. The fit is snug, but it is supposed to be that way. After all, these shoes aren’t made for walking—they are made for trail running. The snug fit is excellent for the quick maneuvering and side to side movements of a trail run.
Flex / Sole
A departure from all previous FiveFingers models, the KSO Trek has some bite. The tread on the sole is significant. It is a little more like a hiking boot than a shoe and provides excellent traction over loose material and in wet conditions. The shape of the sole is also new. There is a thinner ridge following the shape of the foot more closely as the sole works its way from your heel to your forefoot. While it would appear that this would provide less support or a noticeable difference in comfort, the new design doesn’t impact the comfort of the shoe in any way. The sole also curves up around the outside of the foot and along the back of the heel slightly. This provides better protection for the sides of the shoe from wetness and materials along the path. The sole is, of course, not as thin as previous designs, but then this is exactly why it was made. The thicker sole provides protection from impact and sharp objects, which is needed by someone who is running through rough terrain. The sole flexes in all the right places. The rubber connecting each toe is thinner at the joints allowing for excellent toe movement despite the thick design.
Support / Insole
There is, of course, no support as with all FiveFingers models. The insole is the standard FiveFingers insole. It is stitched into the shoe, but is washable and stands up well to heavy use.
The obvious and not unexpected side effect of the thicker sole is that some of the sensation of being barefoot, that FiveFingers are so well-known for, has been lost. There is, however, still significant feedback when compared to traditional footwear. The flex of the shoe and the excellent flexibility in the toes keep this product firmly in the minimalist shoe category. This shoe has, after all, been created because trail runners, and those with more extreme uses for FiveFingers footwear, found the previous designs lacked the more rugged sole needed for such heavy activities. This product answers this need perfectly and thus should not be faulted for its thicker sole. There is a whole lineup of models to choose from for those who would prefer a thinner sole.
It is remarkable that a product that seems as dense as leather can breath. The kangaroo leather product is specifically well-suited to this type of use and, indeed, the foot remains well ventilated despite enclosing the foot completely. Packer Leather, the makers of the K-100 kangaroo leather used in the Trek, state that the kangaroo leather itself has ‘high water vapour permeability’ providing added inherent breathability to the product.
The K-100 Packer Leather ‘has been engineered with a permanent water repellence technology based upon hi-tech polymers’. This allows for increased perspiration resistance compared to other leather products and prevents sweat damage, prolonging the life of the shoe. Packer leather notes on their website (www.packerleather.com) that sweat damage is what typically makes leather hard, cracky, and darker in colour. Therefore, the Treks should have an increased lifetime as a result of these technologies.
The added thickness of the sole, the new sole design, and the increased water repellence of the leather used, combine to make the KSO Treks far betting in wet conditions than the regular KSO product. Having said this, the material used in between the toes is a fabric and does leak water over time. For casual users of the KSO Trek (if you wanted to go running on wet pavement, for example), the new design significantly reduces the introduction of water into the shoe.
The information provided with the shoe notes that the Treks are protected against microbe growth from two independent systems: an inorganic chemical microbe protection within the leather from Packer Leather, called Microblok, and a physical microbe protection barrier by Aegis Microbe Shield. With these two systems, one can hope that the familiar smell associated with long wear of some FiveFingers products will be significantly reduced. The review pair have had significant use without any noticeable smell.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
As we have come to expect, Vibram FiveFingers are a well-made product. The KSO Trek is no different. The quality of the leather is outstanding and the shoe is an exceptionally well-made product.
The fit of the KSO Trek is designed to be snug because of the intended off-road use, however, the fit is comparable to previously reviewed KSO models from Vibram. The strapping system is the same system used in regular KSO models and allows for a secure fit. Correct sizing is likely more important with this model. While previous models were made of materials that would stretch easily, the leather used here does not stretch in any significant way. I would suggest if the fit is not perfect immediately that they should be exchanged for a different size.
The Treks are listed at $125 USD on the Vibram FiveFingers website. These are well-made shoes and fill a niche that no other product currently on the market fills. They are also cheaper than most trail running shoes. With all this taken into consideration as well as the substantial R&D costs needed to continue to bring us great new designs like this, these shoes are good value for the money.
Although it would be difficult to convince anyone that FiveFingers are a stylish product, this design has a more polished and sophisticated feel because of the use of leather. Of course, that may change after you use them for your first run in the woods! They have the FiveFingers style, and because of that, they are stylish to us!
There should be no break-in period for these shoes. The first time you put them on, the fit should be instantly comfortable. The leather is not likely to stretch and the length and width of the shoe are set firmly due to the shape of the sole. If these do not fit correctly when you first put them on, try a different size.
These shoes are easily cared for. Vibram FiveFinges recommends that, when it comes time to wash these shoes, they be machine washed and air dried away from sun and heat sources.
KSO Treks are made of thicker and thus warmer materials than the traditional KSO product. The leather breaths well and provides a comfortable warmth for the foot. Toe socks like those from Injinji, Feelmax, or ToeToe may be needed in colder climates.
The marketed primary use for the KSO Trek is for off-road trail running. The tougher sole will suit many other uses where a thicker more protective sole is preferred. The fit is extremely snug. The forefoot is well protected against sharp objects while still providing decent ground-feel. It is very likely that many that use FiveFingers products for sports of any kind may find the extra protection preferable to the regular thin-soled KSO. Due to the new sole design and the more water resistant leather upper, the Treks are better suited for wet weather conditions than any other FiveFingers model. Although many of the FiveFingers products are used as “water shoes” the Treks design may not be as well-suited for in-water use.
Vibram has become well-known for listening to their audience. The Treks are the perfect example of a product created as a result of feedback from FiveFingers users. These are an excellent addition to what is rapidly becoming a diverse range of footwear products that allow your feet to move naturally while maintaining a level of protection. They are well-made and well-designed. For anyone wishing to have a more robust FiveFingers shoe, the KSO Treks are for you.
Go out and treat your feet to a pair today.
Stay tuned for a review of the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila!
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Jason Robillard has been a barefooter since 1992 and has been racing barefoot since 2006. His passion for barefooting and barefoot running finally led him to become more active. He is a founding member of The Barefoot Runners Society, founded the Barefoot Running University, and wrote a book, The Barefoot Running Book, to guide runners in learning the skills and techniques of barefoot and minimalist running. Jason talks about how he started barefooting and how his passion for barefoot running led to the Barefoot Runners Society, The Barefoot Running University, and finally The Barefoot Running Book. This is a great interview you shouldn’t miss if you are interested in barefoot running.
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We interview Barefoot Ted! We talk to Ted about how he discovered barefoot running and his part in the famous book Born To Run written by Christopher McDougall. This interesting and hilarious interview should not be missed!
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