Some time ago I wrote about replacing my old hiking boots (Hanwag Tatra II Lady GTX) with a new pair. Those new hiking boots though are not just “normal” hiking boots, but barefoot shoes! Since about a year I own a pair of Magna Trail from Vivobarefoot. Manuel exchanged his Meindl Air Revolution 4.1 for the men’s model of the Magna Trail a short time later. However, apart from the color, we can’t see any difference between the men’s and the women’s model so far.
We have been testing our barefoot shoes intensively since the beginning of 2019 on hikes, daily walks and on a trekking tour last summer in Sweden and Norway. Today we are sharing with you our experience of how our barefoot hiking shoes have performed so far.
One year endurance test with our barefoot shoes
We have now tested the shoes for one year on every possible surface conceivable when hiking. In winter in snow and mud, on asphalt, forest ground, stones and roots or in alpine scree. Thereby we hiked through flat as well as steep terrain. In addition, there were many river crossings where we wore our shoes. Especially with the latter we quickly learned to appreciate the good feeling for the underground: stones in rivers are often slippery and if you notice this too late, you end up in the water (been there before). With the barefoot shoes we felt very safe.
We fell in love with the barefoot shoes
What can I say? We love the free feeling that the barefoot shoes give us from the first moment on. They are absolutely comfortable and we look forward to every hike. In the beginning I always wore rather thin socks. But after I got blisters on my heel once, I changed to a thicker sock model. With those I have no more problems.
A break-in, as our thick boots required, is not necessary. However, at the beginning our feet were exhausted even after short distances in the forest and without a backpack. But soon they got used to the new strain. In the meantime we can easily walk longer distances – like the Lieserpfad – with luggage and without any sign of tired feet.
Trekking tour through Lapland with barefoot shoes
Even on our several weeks’ trekking tour, which took us on 200 km through Lapland this summer, the shoes scored absolutely well in terms of comfort and reliability. At first we were sceptical whether they would be the right choice in combination with our heavy trekking backpacks. But the doubts turned out to be completely unfounded. Both Manuel and I felt absolutely comfortable in our shoes. In the scree we were even more sure-footed than with the boots, because we could feel the underground very precisely. This way we were able to set our feet better or to correct them if we were standing unsteadily. On meadows and damp stones we had at least as much grip as in our old hiking boots, despite the much less thick tread.
In the evenings, however, the feet were usually tired, especially after the particularly long or rough stages. I experienced this more than Manuel, but we both felt it. This fatigue, did feel a little bit like at the beginning of our barefoot shoe adventures. Maybe slightly like sore muscles, because we couldn’t train the several days’ cross-country trekking tours with heavy luggage at home. Soon you can read more about our walk through the border area of Norway and Sweden in our article Lapland 2019.
How waterproof is the Vivobarefoot Magna Trail?
According to the manufacturer, the shoes are not waterproof. They are however equipped with a neoprene lining. In the field test, the shoes initially held water for quite a long time. During a winter hike in slush the shoes kept completely waterproof for about three hours and in the following two hours my feet got only minimally wet. But with time the impregnation disappears and the shoes get wet faster and faster. Without impregnation you will have wet feet within about ten minutes in heavy rain or when walking through a damp meadow. It is of course possible to refresh the impregnation, which I also do from time to time. But you should be aware that the shoes are as the manufacturer says not waterproof.
Waterproof socks help keeping your feet dry
To avoid permanently wet feet, we have bought waterproof socks as an addition. Before we start day trips, we put them on if we already know that we will get wet feet. On our trekking tour we took them with us as an extra pair of socks and changed the socks if necessary. This way our feet stay dry even in bad weather or on wet ground and the waterproof socks are a great match with the barefoot shoes!
River crossing with barefoot shoes
On our tour in Sweden and Norway this summer we had to cross quite a few rivers. As they were often knee-deep and also a bit wider, definitely no shoe stays dry here. Taking off shoes and walking barefoot through the meltwater rivers is also no alternative due to the temperatures. Furthermore there is a risk of injury for your feet on the slippery but nevertheless sometimes sharp-edged stones.
Many of the hikers we have met have brought a second pair of shoes with them for the wading places. Others accept that their heavy boots will get completely wet and won’t dry properly for days afterwards. We, however, have taken off our socks and the insoles from our shoes before the crossing. Then we simply walked through the river in our hiking shoes, dumped the water on the other side and put the dry insoles back in. When we then continued hiking in the waterproof socks, we had absolutely dry feet! But even with regular socks we had a dry feeling in the shoes within an hour.
Get wet faster – and dry a lot faster, too
It is a fact that barefoot shoes, like many trail running shoes, get wet much faster than a hiking boot with a membrane. But in contrast to these, barefoot shoes also dry much faster: the shoes are dry again the next day at the latest. Since the upper material is nylon, we don’t need to be afraid of drying it too quickly in drying rooms, which is known to be bad for leather and has led to cracks in my old hiking boots.
Shoes for all seasons?
At first we were afraid of freezing feet in the wintertime. However, we can eliminate these concerns! Due to the fact that the feet are very active in the shoes, they stayed pleasantly warm for hours even during a winter hike with -8°C. The thermal insole helps enormously. We have taken them out for a test and found that it is much colder then. If you stand still for a long time, though, you can notice clearly that the sole is quite thin. We therefore do not recommend it for long periods of standing still, e.g. at the mulled wine stand when visiting a Christmas market.
In summer temperatures, on the other hand, we sometimes wish the shoes were a little more permeable to air. My feet sweat very quickly and the neoprene prevents the humid air from evaporating. We are therefore currently thinking about buying a much more breathable model for the summer.
How durable are our barefoot shoes?
The appearance of the Magna Trail is much less robust than that of a classic hiking boot. After about a year of intensive use, signs of wear and tear are also clearly visible on our shoes. In some places the sole is already worn to the point where the tread is no longer existing. The upper material has suffered in the creases and I also have a small hole in the right shoe at this point. Manuel had to change his insoles after the vacation, as they were completely worn out. Those insoles can easily be reordered in the shop of Vivobarefoot. Good job Vivobarefoot! In Manuel’s version with the blue laces the upper material discolored after some use and the shoe became stained. During vacation the gluing of the soles on Manuel’s shoes came off in some places. But with a little superglue it was quickly repaired and still holds until today.
For people whose feet have a high instep, getting into the shoe is quite difficult. The small loop at the heel can be used to hold the shoe with your finger. Unfortunately, the stitching is not strong enough for this. Thus, be careful when putting on the shoes! We already had to fix Manuel’s shoes at this point. In addition, the loop is so tight that it is difficult to get the finger in and out.
If your shoes are muddy after a hike or if they smell unpleasant, you can simply wash them in the washing machine! We have done this several times and it works great.
A clear recommendation for hiking with barefoot shoes
From the comfort side we absolutely recommend the Vivobarefoot Magna Trail! It is warm enough, but not too warm. In combination with the waterproof socks it has adapted perfectly to every hiking experience. Since we got the barefoot shoes, we haven’t even taken out our old hiking boots. We just can’t imagine to squeeze our feet into those boots anymore.
In terms of robustness, however, the hiking boots clearly win. The material of the barefoot shoes has really suffered enormously last year and a new pair will probably be due soon. Nevertheless, we are certainly no measure for how long these shoes normally last, because we have used them really extensively. Still, if you wear normal street shoes in everyday life for a year, then they are usually ready for the trash, too.
Next year we’ll probably need new barefoot shoes
So we will soon start searching again and then definitely test an even lighter model. Currently we think about the Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Firm Ground. For all those who are looking for a really waterproof shoe, Vivobarefoot also offers a model with a waterproof membrane, the Tracker. However, due to the leather and the drying problem described several times, this is currently out of question for us. By the way, we would also like to try the shoes of other barefoot shoe manufacturers. Unfortunately, so far we didnt’t find any hiking shoes there that meet our requirements.
Is wearing sock in these shoes actually meant to be? Like would it not be better to not wear socks, also that your shoes would dry more quickly?
I think ‘barefoot shoe’ refers less to wearing the shoe without socks and more to the feeling of walking. It gets closer to walking barefoot than in other shoes. As with any shoe, you can wear barefoot shoes with or without socks. We like to wear them with socks, as our shoes are made of synthetic materials. Without socks we don’t like the foot climate in these shoes. Also, if the shoes are wet, it is easy to change the socks and the dry socks absorb some of the moisture from the shoes. Whether they would dry faster without socks is hard to say, we haven’t tried that yet.
Hi Katharine, many thanks for this – really interesting. I/we have just recently “discovered” barefoot shoes and already looking at other areas of our life where they might be used. Like you guys we also do multi-day camping treks in places like Norway, Sweden, Iceland etc. so was very interested to read your experiences in these shoes while wearing a heavy backpack. The idea of not having to wear the heavy Hanwags/Meindls is attractive – but would be a big change
I am slightly concerned about ankle stability on rough, stony ground or on steep or slippery slopes particularly with the heavy pack. So was wondering if you have any thoughts on this.
Also thanks for sharing the photos of the wear and tear and the comments on robustness. I have a feeling that the volcanic expanses of Iceland would be a real challenge.
Many thanks for anything you can share
Manuel was also a little worried at the beginning that the barefoot shoes would offer less stability. But so far we have had no problems with twisting ankles. I suspect that muscles and tendons get used to the lower stability and adapt accordingly. I recommend, however, to get used to the shoes before going on a trekking tour and do some “training” hikes with you backpack!
Indeed, we have also noticed that rocky ground wears down the soles of the shoes more. Last year, when we hiked in the scree a lot on Nordkalottleden, they suffered quite a bit. The photos in the article were taken after that holiday. We did some hiking on Kungsleden this year in a new pair that didn’t challenge them as much as last year.
“ankle stability” depends very much on your muscles and ankles (i.e. very personal thing).
Barefoot shoes are no less (and not more) stable than trail runners or sneakers.
Personally haven’t used boots for over 20 years now, and haven’t had ankle issues.
Though for more than 20km daily (for many days) I far prefer trail runners, especially for long stretches on hard surfaces, or whole days downhill.
I love bare feet shoes and sandals, but after some time the bottom of your feet start blistering due to the simple repetitive compression, and nothing beats a soft shoes in those situations.
My advice – bring barefoot shoes and trail runners – usually weigh as much as pair of shoes, you are more versatile – and you have a change of dries.
you’re right. In terms of stability in the ankle, a barefoot shoe is no different than a trail running shoe or even a hiking shoe that is a low shoe. We gradually increased the intensity to train the muscles in the ankle.
In the meantime, we wear barefoot shoes almost exclusively in everyday life as well as when hiking. We have not had any problems with blisters, even over several weeks with heavy backpacks and in challenging alpine terrain. I think that depends very much on the inividual foot.
Barefoot shoes in combination with trail running shoes are certainly also a good solution. We walk without a second pair of shoes when trekking because of the additional weight on our tours. The barefoot shoes are even after fording a river quickly dry again.
As so often in life: It is up to you to make the best decision for you.
Hi! Thanks for the long-term review. I’m thinking of getting the vivo tracker fg which I believe has the same sole as the magma trail. I don’t do long wet hikes, so I’m not concerned abouth the drying time.
There are two things these shoes need to do:
1. short walks in the woods, with moss covered rocks. How good traction do these soles give you for that?
2. walking to work in snow and ice. How good is the traction in snow and ice?
Hey! Yes, indeed all the “firm ground” shoes have the same soles. So for us they offer good traction on wet rocks, roots and probably also on moss covered rocks. Of course those grounds are always a bit slippery no matter what shoe you are wearing. We like the fact that you feel a lot more through the soles so you also have quite a good feeling for how good you are standing. This allows early detection of when the shoe might slip away. That way you have enough time to react.
In the snow the Magna Trail did quite well, as long as it was not frozen too hard. In frozen snow it is however probably better to use spikes.
So I would guess that the tracker is well suited for your intended use!
I was reading your review as I am looking for a barefoot boot with better grip in mud.
If you are still looking for other barefoot walking boots can I recommend the Freet Mudee? I’ve had mine 1.5 years, and worn them almost every day for at least 1 hour. I’ve just reached the stage where the soles have worn down so have no tread pattern in some places. Apart from that they are still excellent. Only problem I found is they lack grip in slippery mud.
Thank you for the through review. I’d not known about waterproof socks, so that is good advice to consider as I think about a barefoot style hiking show.