Mountain Hike (Review) in Vibram EL-X

These are my thoughts on the Vibram Fivefinger EL-X toe shoes. I extensively tested my footwear in extreme hiking conditions, in the time window of one full hiking season. Generally a hiking season starts in spring and ends in late autumn.

  The last few years have been a disappointment to me in the world of Fivefingers.  Designing non-breathable upper; on top of a heavy aggressive and stiff sole design.  Which all perform poorly in the Pacific Northwest outdoors while backpacking the Olympic National Park.  I was beginning to question if they actually took footwear outside in the mud before releasing them on the market.  (Shy of the Seeya; which in my eyes is on the top VFF ever made)

   My hopes were immediately raised after watching the sneak peek video over on online last summer.  Could the designers over at Vibram redeem themselves to the outdoor market?

Using the Vibram EL-X in the Mountains

  The EL-X promised to be the lightest, most breathable and offer extraordinary ground feel.  New streamlined syphoned sole begged for mud.   They would also feature an updated tweak; with a strapless design.  (I have already cut the straps off all my VFF's years ago with a pair of scissors.)

Vibram EL-X snow
Hiking for the day with Vibram Fivefinger EL-X on snow - photo by Greg

Minimalist Footwear

  The EL-X is the one of the lightest pair of footwear I've seen.  Sitting very low on the ankle and having a strapless design; your foot feels secure.  The rubber material type skeleton does a great job molding to your foot.  Almost like another layer onto your skin.

  I do not see any major issues with durability; considering how thin the material on the upper is.  The seamless stitched internals also have not aggravated the skin like in the past while wearing other VFF's.  The elastic used around the opening of the foot; does a great job of holding snug against the skin to keep small objects out.

Vibram EL-X weight
Vibram EL-X on scale in ounces.  Very light. 

Footwear Breathability

  The upper and footbed used on the EL-X currently rated number two in the VFF world.  Does a superb job at keeping small rocks and sand completely out of the inside.  However the rate that water/moisture leaves  your foot is affected.  The Seeya still remains to be king.

  I also experienced a 'squishy feeling' in the footbed after a creek crossing, but dissipated after moisture left the footwear with a few steps.

  A small amount of breathability is effected where the like skeleton type design used to secure your foot in the El-X touches the skin.  I foresee some issues with hot spots here on the long trail days.  One can prevent this by stopping and removing footwear for an 'air out break' every 3 hours or so.

Vibram EL-X wet
Wet trail days with the EL-X

Surfaces Traveled

  • Wet Trail
  • Off Trial
  • Log Balancing
  • Snow
  • Ice
  • River Fording
  • Urban Hiking

Vibram EL-X snow
Hiking at Hurricane Ridge in EL-X - shot by Greg - Looking into the Bailey Range.

Feeling the Ground

  The most important aspect to being a minimalist is connecting with wilderness.  For me that means feeling the ground with every step.  Doing this all while providing some protection against cuts and punctures.

  The footbed has a spongy type feel to it and is something to be desired, but provides excellent ground feedback in the long term.

  You will feel every little pebble while wearing these.  Give your feet a 'break in period' before attempting those long trail days; even if you are an avid VFF wearer.

Sole Tread Pattern

  The siphoning design does an amazing job at hiding the awareness of the lugs with each step.  I don't even feel them under my foot, but still providing Velcro like grip on wet and ice.  Very unique experience as I walked across a downed tree; while exploring the forest.  Felt very secure across the wet bark and moss.

  Performing well on the mud and ice, I would have no problem using these year around.

Vibram EL-X
Tread on the Vibram EL-X


  • Ultralight
  • Ground Feel
  • Overall Breathability
  • Tread
  • Snug Fit
  • Cost (considering the average cost of trail footwear)


  • Absorbency in Footbed
  • Overkill with the amount of plastic like skeleton material used

Suggested User

These will replace Seeya's as worn footwear for my adventures in the Olympic National Park

  Who would I suggest these to?  Looking for an almost seamless connection with the ground with each step?  Want to feel every little root, rock, snow or mud?  Want the weightless feel on your foot; almost like wearing socks?  Want ultralight footwear for maximum amount of stride efficiency?   Looking to take your minimalist journey to the next level?  These are for you!!

  Never plan giving up your boots on the trail?    The Vibram Fivefinger EL-X {affilate link to finance this site} make great camp shoes for river crossings, exploring or lounging around camp.  Only 6.9oz a pair (see above). 

Updated in March 2017 by Barefoot Jake

Disclaimer: These footwear were purchased by Barefoot Jake for this review.