As a trail runner, I have been on the lookout for a minimalist shoe that could handle the icy, snowy trails during the winter. The VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail may just be the perfect shoe for this.
A more pumped up, rugged version of the popular Neo, the Neo Trail fits like a slipper, much like VIVO’s other running shoe offerings, with their wide lasts and roomy toe boxes. The Neo Trails look a little more sporty and styled than the Neo.
The only performance-related differences on the Neo Trail are the lock-lacing system and the grippy 5mm lugs on the sole. The Neo Trail is a little stiffer and heavier than its counterpart, but any runner would be glad to give up some of the lightness for that aggressive sole on the trails.
The Neo Trail, like all of VIVO’s minimalist running shoe lineup, is made from 100 percent vegan materials. It comes with the usual removable sole, and a soft inner lining so you can go without socks.
Running in snow and ice is one of my biggest fears, especially because I have accident-prone ankles. My first long run in the Neo Trails settled all my fears. I ran 8 miles of New England winter trails that were composed of 1/3 ice, 1/3 snow and 1/3 rocks and sand. Two miles in, knee-deep lake water had crept up onto the path. All of this gave me a fantastic obstacle course to test out the Neo Trails.
Rocks and sand were no problem for this shoe. I glided over the trail bed, hardly feeling the sharp rocks beneath the puncture-proof sole. The lugs did their job of digging into the earth and forming a nice barrier between it and my foot.
Because the sole is so flexible, the shoe didn’t roll over every time I landed funny on a rock. It simply curved around the uneven ground, letting my foot remain strong and my body balanced naturally. This feature may be the best thing about this shoe.
The Neo Trail’s grip on snow was faultless. A shoe like this almost begs for hard-packed trail snow. I felt strong and confident running those miles of snow and ice. The hydrophobic mesh and microfiber uppers deflected wetness from the snow, and kept my feet warm. Well, that was until I dunked them into 40-degree water. Twice.
After a brief period of frigid, squishy enjoyment, they stayed wet, but warmer than I thought they would. Bravo on that front. I do suspect though, that the materials in this shoe might be way too hot for summer trail runs.
The Neo Trail had excellent grip on ice and I remained upright through the whole run. In my other running shoes, I might have given up and resorted to scooting along the worst parts. The Neo Trails did a job above and beyond what I expected out of them on ice.
But for all its ruggedness, the Neo Trail still feels like a minimalist shoe. Lugs and all, I still felt the ground. The soft, flexible sole is really the key here. It lets you feel the texture of whatever is underfoot. I could distinctly feel the difference between the various textures of the trail I was on, and of the road.
The only downside to this softness is that I could also feel the lugs of the shoes under the balls of my feet, particularly on harder surfaces like ice and pavement (although I’m not sure why anyone would use them on pavement). It is a drawback to the demand for a trail shoe that is also minimalist, but one that is acceptable.
The VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail is an excellent all-around trail running shoe. It is rugged and protective while remaining exceptionally light and pliable for its genre. Its heavy lugged sole is aggressive enough to provide grip in all trail situations, while still providing an acceptable level of ground-perception that a minimalist runner needs to remain strong...and upright.
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