Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Skinners are my new favorite minimalist footwear

8 years (March 2011) and 5 pairs (2 Classics, 1 Sprint, 1 KSO and 1 KSO EVO) of Vibram Five Fingers (VFF), 5 years (August 2014) and 4 pairs (1 Sensori Venture, 1 Amuri Venture, 1 Amuri Cloud, 1 Amuri Z-Trek) of Xero Shoes, and 2 years and 2 pairs for Skinners later, Skinners are my new favorite minimalist footwear. Here's why.

Skinners on a trek passing through streams, slippery and sharp rocks, pebbles, gravel and the works.

Even though I got my first pair of Skinners back in July 2017 (I was one of the original backers of their Kickstarter back in June 2017) I didn't use them much primarily because, as a long time VFF user, my toes felt very constrained in them (like in a regular shoe). I ended up using it as a backup shoe (in case the VFFs and Xeros give up on me, which they have) for my travels because it's super compact and easy to pack. So they were stored away ready to be used in case of emergencies, which basically meant I didn't use them much.

A couple of months ago, when the nylon lace on my Xero Venture tore during a trek, I had to use my Skinners and really loved it. The trek was during the rains, with slippery and sharp rocks, pebbles, gravel and the works, and I really loved how Skinners felt. Having tried that same trek earlier, completely barefoot (only for a short distance and ended up with bruises on my feet), I really appreciated the minimal yet right amount of protection the Skinners provided. I was hooked.

I needed the same feel as Skinners and started looking around again to see if I could find alternatives that wouldn't constrain my toes and stumbled upon suggestions to try Skinners one-size bigger than your normal shoe size (especially if you have wide feet, which mine are and have become even more wider after I gave up on regular footwear). So I decided to give it a shot and ordered another pair of Skinners, this time, one-size bigger than my normal shoe size.

Having used them through most of the monsoon season here in Mumbai and for a variety of purposes including trekking, I can now say Skinner are my new favorite minimalist footwear.

While the reasons why you would like one over the other will be different for everyone, here are my reasons for why I prefer them over VFFs and Xeros:

  • Skinners have the most minimalist sole of the lot offering more connection and feedback from the ground.
  • I prefer minimalist footwear that cover my feet because it keeps my feet clean which is important to me because otherwise they get dry and crack when exposed to dust and the elements. Both VFFs and Skinners satisfy this criteria. When it comes to small puddles, I think Skinners do a better job as the water-resistant sole wraps around till the top and offers more protection (I used to get water seeping in on the VFFs where the sole meets the upper).

The wrap around water-resistant sole is perfect for small puddles.

  • Wraparound footwear also feels more minimal to me in the sense that I can use my feet naturally without having multiple elements of  the footwear get in the way like they do with the Xeros (had a few close calls while driving because the soles would get in the way and get stuck sometimes on pedal or mat).
  • Except for my first few pair of Vibram Five Fingers (Classic, Sprint and the orignal KSO) each of which lasted me over 4 years, my experience with the newer VFFs (especially the KSO EVO) hasn't been very good when it comes to durability. I've had a similar experience with Xeros. Since Skinners don't have glues or seams it looks like they'll last longer as there are no parts that can fall apart. The sole can still get worn out and the upper can possibly tear but I'll have to see how they hold up.

The hole that the lace goes through, torn on my first Xero.

  • Skinner are super compact and easy to carry along while traveling as a second shoe for emergencies, multi-sport (to slip into after bouldering or skateboarding) or the gym.
  • Skinners are the easiest to get into and out of.

A note about repairability: This is important to me because I would rather pay a premium for a pair that lasts me a long time than pay less and have to change my shoes very often resulting in more waste at the landfill. The one thing the Xeros have going for them is that you can easily repair them at least when it comes to the laces. With the VFFs I couldn't find anyone in Mumbai to glue the soles properly when they come off and have lost 3 of them to bad repair work (glue that made them very stiff and painful to wear). Hopefully the glue-less and seamless design of Skinners means they might last longer.

Replacing the torn lace with a paracord I picked up from Amazon.
Good as new!

I recently also got the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite II BIO to try out (so your can look forward to a review of those) but I don't see myself wearing them for a while till I wear out the Skinners.

A word of caution: I wouldn't recommend Skinners as your daily-everything shoe if you're just starting out transitioning to minimalist shoes and would suggest easing into them slowly.

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