Around September last year, I started looking around for a pair of minimalist shoes I could wear off road. As I’ve said about a million times, I massively prefer running through the fields and woods like some kind of stupid hippy, skipping along in the long grass with my legs being lacerated by thorns. It’s great. There was no way I was going to even bother trying my old Mizunos (or ‘Cripple Machines’ as I prefer to think of them). My Luna Sandals (Originals) are definitely not suited to muddy footpaths and standing water. So it was clear I needed to get something that was able to do the job.
My first port of call whenever I’m looking for anything that I’m likely to buy online is Amazon. What can I say? I’m just a sucker for massive corporations that don’t pay any tax. Anyway, unbeknownst to a lot of people, Amazon have a subsidiary website called Amazon Warehouse. This is where they sell all the stuff that gets sent back to them. It’s still boxed, it’s still, effectively, new. But obviously you can save a bit of money AND I DO LIKE A BARGAIN. Hopefully the full caps will have sufficiently emphasised that point.
I got lucky. I’d read a little bit about VIVOBAREFOOT’s range, and it was almost overwhelmingly positive. But they’re not cheap – you’re not going to get much change out of ninety quid for a pair. I don’t know, but I feel like there’s a bit more of a risk when buying minimalist shoes than ‘normal’ ones. As luck would have it, he was a pair of Neo Trails for an unbelievable £33. Bought.
Since they arrived, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve run in something else. I love them. But rather than leave it at that, I thought I’d break it down a little bit. So here goes. The first ever All This Running Around review. It’ll probably be a load of absolute toss, but you’ve got this far so you might as well read it now.
Always a little bit hit miss, and again I think it’s more of an issue with minimalist shoes. Most (but not all) of the reviews I had read suggested that the Neo Trails came in a little on the large side. Meaning that if, like me, you normally take a UK size 10, then a 9 would probably do. My luck was holding though. There happened to be a 9 and a 10 in stock, and they were free to return. So I bought both, and was glad I did. The 9 was a perfect fit, the 10 was much too large. (To be honest, I think my feet are probably about a 9.5, but I’ve been buying size 10s since I was a teenager.) In summary then, my experience held true with what I’d read in that the sizes were fairly large. But everyone’s different, so either buy a couple of pairs with a view to returning one, or try some on in a shop. You know, those weird things you find in towns with people and stuff in them.
Question: what sort of preening pillock cares about what his or her running shoes look like? Answer: me. Okay, looks aren’t the most important thing when I pick out a running shoe, but it’s still a consideration. And the Neo Trails look great. I would happily wear them out and about if they weren’t caked in shit all the time.
When I first received them, I thought that some of the internal stitching looked like it might come loose. It appeared to be a litte bit stretched, but after all the miles I’ve put on them, they haven’t deteriorated at all. So I guess it’s just how the stitching looks.
Fit & feel
It’s quite rare for me to put on a pair of running shoes for the first time and feel that everything’s perfect. But it was. They were totally secure, with loads of room in the end for my toes to splay as my feet touched the ground. Unlike my Vibrams, there were no niggly little spots inside the shoe that felt as if they might rub, and there was absolutely no period of breaking in. I can honestly say that I’ve yet to have a single blister in my Neo Trails.
The ground feel is excellent, I would say better than my Lunas. And that’s not surprising, since the Neo Trail has a 2.5mm sole. (Although that’s not the whole story as we will find out…) It also comes with a removable insole that provides a few millimeters of padding which, they say, is to help you if you’re making the transition to a barefoot style for the first time. I ran with the insole in place a few times, then took it out. I daresay it may be helpful for some people but not for me.
Your feet will like being inside Neo Trails. The interior is soft and comfortable, to the extent that I’ve only worn socks with them on a handful of (particularly cold) days. The shoe is breathable, but I’ve been fooled by that word before. The Neo Trails actually live up to the description. They’re the first shoe I’ve used that doesn’t get sweaty, at least not noticeably so. Not only that, but having run over flooded land quite a bit over the last six months, they work well after being dunked in water as well. Three or four steps out of the water and they stopped squelching.
I have only one minor complaint, but it isn’t a fault of the shoe as such. I have twice stepped on a thorn that’s been embedded in the path on which I’m running, and on both occasions the thorn has punched through the sole and into the bottom of my foot. With a 2.5mm sole, you could say that it’s bound to happen. But Vivo markets this shoe as ‘puncture proof’. From stones, perhaps. But not sharp, pointy things.
The Neo Trail is a true off-roader. The sole is dotted with what Vivo hilariously refers to as ‘multidirectional lugs’, but what I would probably call ‘little rubber stud things’. They’re 4.5mm deep, (which fans of maths will notice gives the overall thickness of sole as 7mm) and they’re there to provide grip. And they work brilliantly. Only once have I ever slipped whilst wearing my Neos, and it happened when I was literally ankle deep in mud.
It is at this point in the review where it should, if it has not already, become clear that I do not write reviews for a living. Because what else is there to say? These shoes are lightweight, comfortable, have great ground feel and grip, look good and don’t stink. They have immediately become my all time favourite shoe, to the point where my Lunas barely get a look in. Despite the fact that they’re very much designed for off road running, I’m happy to do all my road running in them as well. That, I suspect, is why I’m starting to see signs of wear on the lugs, which may mean I’ll have to replace them a little bit sooner than I otherwise would. But that’s my choice, not a fault of the product. They are still going strong, and I’m expecting them to last at least until the end of the summer before I buy more, and possibly much longer since I can still use them for road running after I’ve lost grip. I read somebody say about these shoes that they’ve no idea why anyone would want to use them on roads or pavements. Well, just because I like them! And to be honest, even what I call my road runs are generally 50% trails.
Going back to that 2.5mm sole, it’s pretty obvious that the Neo Trail isn’t necessarily the best option for someone looking to make a gentle transition to a forefoot/midfoot strike. I’d put them alongside VFFs in that respect. But if you’re already reasonably comfortable with running in a barefoot style, the Neo Trails will give you no trouble.
In terms of general wear (aside from the lugs), the Neo Trails are pretty much the same as they were when I took them out of the box. The colours have faded slightly, which is unsurprising considering how long they’ve been wet and chucked in the washing machine. But the stitching is still perfect and the shoe feels the same as it ever did.
At this comparatively early stage in my life as a ‘barefoot’ runner, I can’t unequivocally say that these are the best off road minimalist shoe around. There are many more types for me to try before I can get to that point. But the thing is, why try them? If you’re going to try and make the transition to a barefoot style of running but still want some protection, it’s imperative you find a shoe that works for you. And I have. What I can unequivocally say is that I love my Neo Trails and will be buying more. For comfort, ground feel, looks and grip, they are perfect for me. VFFs and Lunas can be difficult for some people to get used to; I genuinely can’t imagine how anyone could have a problem with these.
If you’re looking for a minimalist trail shoe, I can’t recommend Neo Trails strongly enough.