Skip to main content

Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Knit FG review: barefoot shoes for both town and trail

These simple barefoot shoes can cope with whatever terrain you throw at them

Vivobarefoot shoes on grass
(Image: © Emily Woodhouse)

Our Verdict

These simple barefoot shoes are comfortable, easy to wear and have surprisingly good grip. Wear them everywhere from your doorstep to muddy mountain trails, but make sure to get the size that fits you right!

For

  • Comfortable
  • Durable
  • Good grip
  • Easy to wear
  • Pack down to almost nothing

Against

  • Be very careful to get the right size
  • May not be able to wear them without socks

Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Knit FG: first impressions

The Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Knit shoes are very simple footwear. They consist of a white rubber sole, a mixed polyester/elastane/TPU upper and polyester laces, with a toggle to adjust. The ankle is elasticated, holding a snug fit, with a handy finger loop at the back to help you pull the shoes on and off easily.

As with all barefoot style shoes, the sole is very minimal and the whole shoe can be folded in half or scrunched up into a ball. Not something you’d normally look for in footwear, but a great plus for squeezing another pair of shoes into a backpack.

Specifications

• List price: $180 / £140

• Sizes available: women's 5.5-11.5, men's 7-15 (US)

• Materials: recycled PET and rubber compounds

• Colors: obsidian/tan, black/white

• Best use: walking or running on trails

In terms of looks, you wouldn’t instantly notice they were anything different to a casual summer shoe that you’d wear down the beach. The white sole really adds to this look, blending in with other more standard footwear. It’s the shape of the toe box that marks it out: a wide, uneven curve – definitely foot-shaped not shoe-shaped. Slipping them on, they feel like wearing sneakers.

Honestly, I was starting this test a bit skeptical of the whole barefoot shoe revolution. The focus on veganism and eco credentials – never mind 'feel the floor' – in barefoot shoe marketing has left me feeling like I wasn’t their target market. But then I have heard there’s good science showing they’re genuinely better for your feet. Plus if I’m not in hiking boots, I’m probably barefoot already anyway, so I was curious to try them out for myself.

Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Knit FG: in the field

I've worn these shoes every day for almost a month. I swapped them in as a replacement for my normal footwear and have, quite simply, worn them everywhere. Given that I live on Dartmoor and spend a lot of time out the house, this has been a thorough test over grass, mud, rocks, bog, asphalt...

Initially my test got off to a slow start. Because barefoot shoes allow your feet to spread out, after years of constriction in standard shoes, people say to go a size up. I was surprised then, when the handy sizing app on the Vivobarefoot website (opens in new tab) put me as a UK 4. Most of my shoes are a UK 5, going up to a UK 6 in walking boots because my feet are quite wide. Still, I went with it and discovered very quickly that they were too small. I lasted 20 sockless minutes before both feet had bleeding blisters on top. So yeah, don’t do that.

Front-on shot of Vivobarefoot shoe

Stepping up onto rock – the shoe is very low profile but still has good grip (Image credit: Future)

Luckily I managed to correct course to a bigger pair that I could wear socks in, and they have been great ever since. But you have been warned: make sure you size up correctly and if in doubt, err on the side of larger. I did later try sockless again in my UK 5 pair – because, well, barefoot shoes. But again, after 20 minutes of easy walking I’d taken a small patch of skin off the top of my right foot. My conclusion is that my feet simply get too hot, start sweating, and rub. You should be able to wear Vivobarefoot shoes without socks, but maybe stick to socks if your feet are like mine.

In terms of adjustment to barefoot shoes vs normal ones, I didn’t feel the need to ease myself in particularly. I spend most of my unshod time barefoot anyway and was able to go straight into wearing them often. My feet already have a wide toe, narrow heel combination that often makes it hard to find outdoor shoes. These fit really comfortably from the start. I have done some trail running in these shoes too, but that did feel like something I would need to work up to, before going for any length. It is really noticeable how differently my foot hits the floor – naturally, not by any conscious decision.

Vivobarefoot shoes on woodland floor

(Image credit: Future)

As for the 'the feel the floor' thing, well, you do, but not in a way that’s annoying or that you’re constantly thinking about it (except perhaps if you step on a particularly sharp rock). Most of the time the thin sole just made everything feel a bit more casual. I know that sounds strange, but if thick soled shoes are more formal, it felt like I’d showed up in flip-flops – only no one else could tell.

Most of the time, feeling the floor didn’t make any difference, but the one time this really comes into its own is walking in the dark. When you can hardly see, it’s incredible the amount of information you’re processing about the floor through barefoot shoes (try it, it’s fascinating). Because, yes, I do spend an unusual amount of time walking around in the dark without a flashlight.

For overall performance, these shoes did really well. I was very impressed with the grip on the sole. It doesn’t look aggressive at all, but it could reliably hold on a very steep, wet grass without slipping. The only time I got anywhere close to a slip was on cut slate paving with a slick layer of rain. The Trail Knit FGs aren’t waterproof, but Vivobarefoot does make a similar 'all weather' shoe. In summary, these are practical, comfortable footwear for everything from trail running to wandering to the shops. I might just have been converted.

Sizing

Definitely use the online sizing app, but if it sizes you smaller than your normal shoe size, choose the bigger of the two.

Comfort

Surprisingly comfortable for such a simple shoe. You can feel the floor, but not in a distracting way.

Breathability

With socks these are plenty breathable enough, but sockless they don’t ventilate fast enough for my sweaty feet!

Durability

I’m impressed with how strong the upper is, especially at the bend point next to the sole that gets the most wear and tear. Even with very sharp creases there is no sign of cracking. I did somehow manage to get a thread loose in the stitching in that area, but looks like a loose end that can be woven back in or removed.