The five-fingered shoe seems to fit, and a growing number of footwear-makers showcasing their 2011 product lines here at the summer Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City are getting in step with the natural-motion program.
Phenomenon is more like it. Spurred on by the ongoing popularity of the Christopher McDougall book Born to Run and a steady wave of converts, “barefoot,” “minimalist” or “natural motion” footwear styles are in a boom phase for 2011. Merrell, Nike, Saucony, Brooks and Teva will all offer styles modeled on barefoot physiology.
Merrell has partnered with Vibram, which kick-started the natural-motion craze with its Five Fingers line, to produce 3 forthcoming men’s and women’s models (1 for running, 2 targeted at multisport activity). The men’s styles will be known as the True Glove, Trail Glove and Tough Glove.
Unlike Vibram’s segregated, individual, this-little-piggy toe sections, Merrell’s styles enclose the wearer’s toes inside a traditional-looking toebox with a coated-rubber toe bumper. The difference: minimized outsoling, with individual traction columns beneath each toe.
“We spent a lot of time with Vibram to get the toe architecture right, where to place the toe breaks in order to get that gripping feeling,” said Yahn Levo, product line manager for Merrell’s men’s team. “Vibram has its Five Fingers, and it’s a great story, but we wanted to have something that was easy-on/easy-off. We think you still have that natural feeling.”
Levo says Merrell’s designs seek to offer a “neutral” shoe that offers sufficient protection and comfort while enabling the foot to function in a natural, near-barefoot mode, exercising different muscles in the process.
Merrell is not abandoning traditional cushioned running shoes for heel-strikers, Levo stresses. The new barefoot line is viewed as part of a “natural progression” to more minimalist footwear focused on forefoot strikes.
Merrell’s outdoor-minded styles, Levo says, are using a minimal 4mm midsole plus an EVA forefoot crash pad to protect against rock gouging on trails. “We think it’s a design very inclusive to a lot of runners and active outdoor people,” Levo said.
Vibram’s 2011 styles will focus more on the fitness market, says Jon Gaffney, Vibram’s digital media coordinator and an ex-college wrestler who says he has worn Five Fingers exclusively in the weight room for the past 2 years.
“In traditional shoes, which already tip your feet slightly forward, it’s difficult during dead lifts and squats to keep your knees from coming over your toes, which puts a lot of pressure on your knees,” Gaffney said. “I’m able to lift in a more natural, flexible position in Five Fingers.”
The most popular Five Fingers fitness shoe, the KSO (Keep Stuff Out), will be augmented in 2011 by the Komodo, featuring more lateral grip and a slightly thinner sole (2mm polyurethane) for activities that require more side-to-side agility such as paddleboarding. Meanwhile, the just-released Trek Sport offers a lightly lugged outsole to provide more grip than the KSO and a foot-protecting 4mm EVA midsole. The Trek Sport is targeted toward outdoor and trail sports.
Superfeet will offer a new copper-colored DMP (Dynamic Molding Process) insert designed for low-impact activities such as urban walking or for prolonged standing (e.g., teachers, retail salespeople).
The top foam layer of the 3-layer construction is designed to mold to the wearer’s foot while the traditional Superfeet heel-stabilizing heel cup that consolidates the foot’s natural cushioning in the heel pad and prevents any tendency for the foot to pronate to an excessive degree.
Merrell's Yahn Levo points out the individual toe channels on the outsole of the forthcoming Merrell True Glove.