LAST week's thundershowers gave me all the reason I needed to slip on a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, the strange-looking new slip-on shoe with individual toe compartments that's intended to combine a barefoot feel with the protection of a hiking boot.
I don't usually test a product that's not on the market, and FiveFingers won't appear in stores until spring. But who wouldn't be eager to try a pair of these peculiar glove-like shoes? I took them to Eaton Canyon above Pasadena for a hike and some rock hopping.
The shoes seem best suited for light-duty use, but Vibram is marketing them for canoeing, kayaking, canyoneering and sport fishing.
Canyoneering, as in hiking rocky trails and crisscrossing rivers? I'd have expected nothing less from Vibram, which makes 32 million soles annually for more than 1,000 footwear brands.
Wearing FiveFingers seemed odd at first. Where I usually see laces and a shoe tongue, there was only bare skin. I gave the thin elastic cord on the back of each shoe a tug for snugness.
My first steps on pointy rocks were tentative but pleasant. The soles followed the contour of my feet so well it felt like walking barefoot; I could barely feel the rocks.
Soon I was striding over rocks as well as dried branches and most anything else that looked nasty. Nothing poked through or bruised or felt uncomfortable.
Jaunts in the creek produced slightly different results. I had no problems when I could see where I was stepping. But in murky water, my toes struck rocks and it hurt. Dedicated water-sport shoes such as Five.Ten's Water Tennies offer slightly more toe protection.
Traction on boulders, even wet ones, was impressive. Imagine a thin coat of soft, flexible rubber painted on the bottoms of your feet, from the back of the heel to the tips of the toes. These shoes performed like that. When boulder hopping, my feet curved to the surface and increased traction.
And despite the large opening, I never had to slip the shoes off to shake them out, so little sand entered.
Will I consider spending the $70 they'll retail for? Definitely. Not only are these shoes versatile and good performers, but they pack as well as any designed for outdoor use.
For its first pair of shoes, Vibram got off on the right foot.