In early May Vibram settled a class action lawsuit alleging that the company made unsubstantiated claims about the fitness and health benefits of their FiveFingers running shoes. We suspect not too many of our readers were hoodwinked on this footwear imbroglio, but if indeed you ended up with pair of underperforming toe shoes and plan to cash them back in for $94, you’ll be in the market for a new pair of shoes posthaste. If you’re looking to give Vibram another chance, their long-time CEO Tony Post rolled out a new model under his Topo brand today. The Oterro ($100) is a multisport shoe that’s all function and no gimmick.
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Topo (a truncated version of Mr. Post’s name) debuted at Outdoor Retailer in 2013, the year after Post left his position as CEO of Vibram USA, which he held for roughly a decade. Like the FiveFingers, the original Topo line had a rather striking feature: the shoe looked like a cloven hoof. They even came in red. But the split-toe design was not based on mimicking the tracks of Satan; it was modeled after Japanese tabi footwear, which has traditionally been worn for everything from martial arts to gardening and theoretically offers more grip and control while running. It’s an interesting platform, and we’ll leave it at that — except to say that Nike briefly had a split-toe shoe, the Air Rift, in 1996, and that mountain goats have above-average dexterity.
Topo now also offers road and trail running shoes with a contiguous toe box. One of those shoes is the Mountain Trainer, a trail running shoe, and the other is the Oterro, which is workable for trail running but is more of an everyday adventure shoe endowed with the same neutral platform (little or zero drop), modest cushioning, secure heel, ample toe box, lightweight construction (9 oz) and seamless upper that the rest of the line has. We laced up in a pair to see how they performed.
The Oterro is a supremely comfortable shoe, easy to slip on and cinch down thanks to a quicklace system (not the Boa, which comes on some of their running shoes). It feels like a minimalist shoe with added cushion underfoot in the heavily lugged outsole. On trails it works fine at a competitive gait, but you don’t get the same fluid stride you would from a running shoe; this one is meant as a substitute for your lightweight hikers or for adventures that require a little bit of speed and agility, like a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race. Or, if you want a comfortable shoe to knock around the campsite or lake house over the weekend, this is it.
The Oterro, in other words, couldn’t be less controversial. It’s more of lifestyle shoe than a sport-specific shoe, and you can wear it without getting a new pair of socks or freaking out your religious neighbors when you leave hooved tracks in their yard. If the Oterro makes a larger statement, it’s that more companies are making shoes that do their best to stay out of the wearer’s way while bringing them a bit closer to the terrain underfoot. It’s a subtle statement, but one that will likely resonate better with most customers than toe shoes or tabi shoes.