My first sighting of the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo shoes was on the feet of Erica Madrid of Apex Movement. They looked cool, and hey – if Apex Movement wears them, they must be decent shoes, right? I looked up the Neos and after seeing the price, wrote them off. $110 for a pair of shoes whose purpose is to feel like they’re not even there? No thanks.
But is there something about the Neos that makes them worth the price? Now that I’ve trained in them, I can give you the answer.
Note: Any minimalist parkour shoes are immediately going to be compared to the $20 Feiyue martial arts shoes. You could buy five pairs of Feiyues and have some change left over for the price of one pair of VIVO Neos. Therefore, I’ll be comparing the Neos to the Feiyues throughout this review.
Further note: To see any of the below pictures in high resolution, click on the picture and then on the fullscreen icon in the top right.
One more note: Thanks to Vivo for providing me with a review pair. So now I’ll get to reviewing.
What are the Neos?
As I’ve stated before, it’s unfair to review a shoe without first finding out its purpose; you can’t hate a pair of steel-toe work boots for performing badly as lightweight water shoes.
The Neos are designed for barefoot runners, with the marketing implying that they’ll be good for trail running due to the puncture-resistant soles. They’re also clearly meant to appeal to environmental types, being “100% vegan.”
It’s obvious that a lot of time went into designing these shoes – and a corresponding amount of money went into producing them, which is why they’re so expensive. Unfortunately, it seems VIVO decided to go completely for the premium label even when packaging the shoes, including individual bags for each shoe, and a high quality cardboard box printed with beautiful full-color pictures of… rocks. Supposedly the packaging is so nice because it’s environmentally friendly and biodegradable, but it would make more environmental sense to just not use so much packaging. Please, VIVO: package the shoes normally and cut $11 off the price. $99 is a much friendlier number than $110.
This isn’t something that should be a serious consideration when buying parkour shoes, but I do really like the way the Neos look. According to VIVO, they have “retro styling.” Whatever. I just think they look nice.
I picked them in red because the black version has a white sole, which is a recipe for a soon-to-be green/brown sole. Don’t ever buy parkour shoes with a white sole.
On Neos in my normal size, the heel and midsole fit nicely, but there seemed to be way too much length in the toes. After a few hours of internal debate over whether to send them back in exchange for a smaller pair, I decided to keep the proper sized pair and see how they turned out. I’m glad I did. The Neos actually fit quite well. There’s a quarter inch too much space in the toe area for my taste, but the rest of the shoe fits quite well. I have zero complaints comfort-wise. My toes will sometimes get squashed in Feiyues and KOs, but the Neos are exactly wide enough that although that never happened, the shoes remained snug. Snug, but they never cramped my feet during extended training sessions, which is something that up until now no shoe has been able to achieve.
The Neo’s grip design lends itself extremely well to grabbing rough surfaces. On brick, concrete, asphalt, they work great. Smooth surfaces like marble or tile… not so great. Not bad, but not really great.
The Neos really shine on wood and rough rocks. The Feiyues aren’t great grippers on wood, but the Neos absolutely blow them out of the water.
The way the shoe wraps around your foot really makes it feel like it’s not there at all. It’s definitely the least bulky shoe I’ve ever used. At 8oz per shoe, the Neos are half an ounce lighter than the WFPF KO’s (8.5oz), which are half an ounce lighter than Feiyues (9oz), which are an ounce lighter than Puma Faas 500s (10z), which are half an ounce lighter than the Onitsuka Tiger Ultimate 81’s (10.5oz).
See what I’m saying? The Neos are light.
When I first started wearing the Neos, they had above-average flexibility, but nowhere near the Feiyues. With usage, they gradually became more and more flexible until they match the Feiyues for all practical purposes.
This is where the price finally starts to make sense. I trained for a whole weekend in the Neos, spending hours running up walls and precisioning on concrete, yet the grip hexagons barely seem roughed up. I estimate that the grip will last at least as long as three pairs of Feiyues, probably more.
In more interesting news, I stepped on a tack while wearing the Neos. Didn’t feel a thing. I was extremely fortunate that the tack wasn’t any longer, or I would have been dealing with a tetanus shot. Those hurt.
Anyway, the thing that stopped the point from going through to my foot was the insole. You can just barely see the hole the tack made – I cannot find the hole it made on the actual shoe, which tells me that the rubber on these shoes is very densely packed.
This gave me an idea. Vivo claims that the Neos have a puncture-resistant heel. Obviously they’re not puncture-proof, but just how much pressure does it take to get through the sole? I had to test it. For science.
I didn’t go so far as to scientifically measure how many Newtons were required to pierce the sole, but I did stab both my Feiyues and the Neos. I picked the shallowest spot I could find on each shoe (between grip grooves) and then shoved that tack in. Since this is science, I did it with the same pin. Twice.
I can confirm by both empirical and scientific data that the Neos are much harder to pierce. If you step heavily on a long tack or narrow nail in either shoe, it will go through, just because there’s so much pressure there’s no way the shoe can stop it short of a chain mail sole. But little things like sharp rocks, pinecones, small bits of broken glass, etc.? You’re much better off with the Neos.
Now comes the part where I put aside all theorizing and measuring and actually talk about my experiences training in these shoes. I’ve only listed parkour techniques, but I also want to point out that because they’re so thin, the VIVO Neos are ideal for weightlifting.
Once you learn to manage the toe box, wallruns feel pretty good. WFPF KOs or Puma Faas 500s have better grip, but the Neos are very solid on rough surfaces. They’re only marginally grippier on smooth surfaces than ordinary non-parkour running shoes – the grips just aren’t designed for that.
Very similar to being barefoot. The only thing I dislike is that you really have to break the shoes in and get accustomed to them before you can start safely pushing your limits in them. The reason for this is because of the long toe box; you’d expect the middle of your foot to be right around the center of the toe box, but it’ll instead be around the beginning. Once you get used to that, it’s just like being barefoot.
Between the lightness, super-thin sole, and the way the it wraps up around your foot instead of down, the Neos are awesome balancing shoes. Better than Feiyues.
Just like barefoot. You won’t have to worry as much about little rocks and shards of glass, but otherwise: just like barefoot, with all of the associated risks and benefits of being barefoot.
The long toe box tends to make things tricky (no pun intended) for the first few sessions, but once you learn how to manage that, it’s just like barefoot. Are you starting to see a trend here?
The Vivo Neos have a Dri-Lex Ægis Microbe Shield that’s supposed to provide “Comfort, Moisture Management, Total Breathabilty, and Quick Drying,” as well as protect against odor.
Comfort, check; breathability, check; moisture management, check. No complaints about comfort. The shoes remained dry and relatively cool even when I sweated in them. But that sweat? It sticks around. In three long days of walking around sockless in the Neos, they got absolutely horribly incredibly stinky. The kind of stink that makes you gag when you catch a whiff of it. I don’t know if this is just a tribute to my exquisitely foul feet sweat or if it’s the Neos’ fault, but you definitely need to wear socks, because the Neos cannot handle that much sweat.
When I went to wash the Neos to get that pungent stench out, they took a solid three days to dry. Granted, they weren’t in direct sunlight all the time – but for shoes with this little material, that’s a long time. And the red dye bled out a bit. I wouldn’t take these on a long hiking trip if they were my only shoes.
I’m not a big fan of the round laces. They look sharp, sure, but they twist around a lot, which makes them look less sharp. They don’t stay tied anywhere near as reliably as flat laces. The Neos’ laces are not bad, so far as round laces go, but I would much prefer flat laces like Feiyues.
I like wearing the Neos around school. For walking purposes, they’re the same as going barefoot. I love being able to condition my ankles even when walking from class to class with 20lbs of books on my back. To me, this alone is worth buying a minimalist shoe – any minimalist shoe.
Should you buy the Vivo Neos?
As with most shoes, it depends.
- Can you afford it?
- Are your feet strong enough that training in an extremely minimal shoe will not be dangerous?
- Are your training areas dangerous enough that you need puncture-proof soles?
Question #3 is probably the most important. Understand that these shoes will probably last you three to four times as long as Feiyues, which makes #1 less of an issue. If you’re considering a barefoot shoe at all, #2 should be a non-issue.
The ideal candidate for Neos is someone who…
- Lives in a city and trains in places where needles, rocks, or shards of glass are not uncommon
- Has a good bit of money
- Has been training barefoot or in minimal shoes for 6+ months
- Likes balancing and precisions
- Doesn’t do huge drops or tall wallruns on a regular basis
The final question for the VIVO Neos is this: do they live up to the expectations they set? The answer is yes. They are extremely minimal, with virtually no padding; they are grippy; they are very durable; they are puncture-resistant. Are they worth the price? That’s up to you.