Vibram FiveFingers, which are about as minimal as you can go and still remotely call something a shoe. But for many runners the FiveFingers are a bit too minimal and the "barefoot running" craze has remained out of reach for most of us.
Fortunately other companies have embraced the minimalist concept and delivered shoes for the rest of us. Over the past month and a half I've been testing several pairs of minimalist shoes that were built for the rest of us, and over the next few weeks I'll be posting my thoughts on each of them. The first of those shoes are the new Sketchers GObionics, which are just slightly above the FiveFingers on the minimalist continuum.
Sketchers isn't necessarily the first shoe company that comes to mind when you think about running shoes and I have to admit I was a bit skeptical when I first got my hands on the GOBionics. But then I put them on my feet and my doubts began to evaporate quickly. These shoes aren't so lightweight they practically feel like you aren't wearing anything on your feet all. Of course, thats the whole point of minimalist shoes, right?
Not quite as form fitting as the FiveFingers, the GObionics hug the feet nicely none the less. The synthetic mesh upper is extremely breathable, which came in handy in the hot Texas summer. The interior of the shoe is lined with soft, moisture absorbing materials that make it possible to wear these shoes while running barefoot, while a removable insole helps you to customize the perfect fit even further.
While these are incredibly lightweight shoes, they do have one major advantage over the FiveFingers – namely the fact that they have a sole. That goes a long way toward protecting the bottom of the foot, especially on longer runs. That alone made these a better option for me personally than Vibram's offerings, although I still felt plenty of rocks, sticks and other debris while running in my Sketchers.
The other thing that stands out about these shoes is just how flexible they are. I'm not sure I've ever put on a pair of running shoes that are remotely as flexible as the GObionic straight out of the box. There is zero break-in time with these Sketchers and as soon as you hit the road on your first run, you'll appreciate the comfort they provide.
These shoes aren't perfect however. They are still very much minimalist footwear and may still be too lightweight for a lot of runners. I personally limited my distances to just 4-6 miles in the GObionic, as anything beyond that left my feet a bit on the sore side. On longer runs I still need more support than these shoes can provide, although I have to admit they are a joy to wear on those shorter distances.
Overall, I really enjoy running in the Sketchers GObionics. They are minimalist for sure, but provide more comfort and protection than the alternative. They are the shoes for the "not quite barefoot" crowd and I think they'll be very popular with runners looking for something a bit more than what the FiveFingers have to offer. At $90 they're also quite affordable.