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Toe shoes may look silly, but runners are embracing them anyway

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The phenomenon of shoes with articulated toes is one of the strangest product trends in the outdoors and running worlds as of late. But the funny footwear is popular and indeed becoming almost commonplace at trailheads and footrace starting lines across the United States.

Since 2005, when Vibram S.p.A. introduced its original FiveFingers shoe, a growing niche of walkers, hikers and runners have come to appreciate the dexterous shoes’ tight fit and allowance for a natural stride.

Today, Vibram has a large line of FiveFingers shoes for men, women and children. On its web page, www.vibramfivefingers.com, there are more than 25 models, including cross-trainers, casual, and running-oriented styles.

Prices range from $75 for the FiveFingers Classic model, up to $125 for the men’s or women’s KSO Trek. The latter is a Velcro-strapped toe shoe complete with kangaroo leather uppers. Yes, these are odd creations!

With any great success comes copycats, and last week it was announced that Vibram S.p.A. is suing Fila USA Inc. for making a shoe too similar to the FiveFingers line. For now, the Fila shoes, called the Skeletoes, are still for sale at www.fila.comfor $49.99.

Skeletoes are not made for running as some of the FiveFingers are. The shoes are stiffer than FiveFingers and built more for casual wear as opposed to intense activity. Another distinguisher is found in the toe pockets, as the Skeletoes cram your two smallest toes together in a single double-wide compartment.

A final contender comes from Inov-8 Ltd. and its Evoskin, a minimalist shoe I recently reviewed in the column. The Evoskin is made entirely of silicone, essentially a foot mold with individualized toes. It came to market this year for $65.

The Evoskin is the most minimal of all toe-shoes. Wearing them, you can feel even tiny pebbles on the ground through the thin, squishy soles. I compare the experience less to wearing shoes and closer to suddenly acquiring large calluses under each foot.

Despite their silly looks, millions of Americans have strapped on toe-shoes in recent years. If you’re curious, I encourage a wear test at a shoe store. If you like the fit and feel, walk out of the store with your chin up. Your newly dexterous feet may look funny, but with a continued rise in popularity and use, you’ll hardly be alone.

Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.

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