These Packable, Podiatrist-Approved Loafers Go With Everything and Don’t Take Up a Ton of Luggage Space

Your new favorite travel companion.

Most of us spend our days without much sense of the ground below us. Sure, we know it’s there—but with our evergrowing love of max-cushioned shoes, we don’t really feel it. Yet, natural foot care experts say there are several benefits to swapping all that foam for a more functional or natural shoe, often called a “barefoot” or “minimal” shoe.

“If your feet can sense the ground and your toes are spread out, your balance is going to be way better,” says podiatrist Ray McClanahan, DPM, a podiatrist in Portland, Oregon. “Some barefoot shoes, if they’re shaped properly, will enhance the circulation to the bottoms of our feet by about 20 percent. Several studies have shown that our arch muscles will get about 10 percent stronger.”

An obvious place to start testing this out would be with our gym shoes, since better balance and proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space) can make for a better workout. Enter: the Vivobarefoot Motus Flex ($190), a new shoe with a super-thin sole that’s designed as a performance trainer for workouts like calisthenics or primal movement exercises. Separated into two parts to help your feet move more naturally, it’s even flexible enough to be worn during yoga. As an avid fan of the floaty, foamy sneakers that nearly everyone is wearing these days, I wasn’t sure I’d think of wearing a barefoot sneaker. Turns out, my feet *and* my balance loved feeling more connected to the floor.



Vivobarefoot Motus Flex — $190.00

Available sizes: 4.5–11, in half sizes

Stack height: 2.5 mm

Weight: 280 grams

Colors: 3

Pros:

  • Thin, flat outsole and roomy toebox help wearers feel grounded
     
     
  • Lightweight, breathable mesh upper 
  • The sole has enough flexibility to handle a variety of workouts (even yoga)
  • Crafted with vegan recycled materials
  • Vivobarefoot offers a 100-day trial to make sure you’re happy with it

Cons: 

  • Not for people looking for shock absorption or arch support
  • Runs big

First impressions

Out of the box, the Vivobarefoot Motus Flex feels virtually weightless. The lightweight sock upper combined with the “thin, decoupled outsole” are bendy and flexible, clearly designed to contour to the shape of feet without weighing them down. And they are bendy—the 2.5 mm outsole can be flexed, twisted, and even rolled up. This flexy sole and stretchy upper ultimately allow toes and feet to spread out for that ultimate grounding grip.

I first laced up my pair of sneakers–which I got in the vibrant white space dye colorway—for some casual strolls around the neighborhood to get a sense of how they felt on my feet. They were even thinner and more flexible than I was expecting in my hands. My feet felt the impact of the concrete with every step. Though there’s enough rubber that it didn’t hurt if I stepped on a rock, softer surfaces like grass or packed dirt were definitely more comfortable to walk on.

On first wear, I immediately fell in love with the cushy mesh upper, which is super breathable and forms right to my foot. The back holds my narrow heel in place without any slipping or irritating my skin. Meanwhile, the integrated elastic laces mean there’s nothing I have to tie or adjust when I slip the shoe on. I do notice the fit is quite long though. I ordered an 8, my typical size. But there’s quite a bit of extra space between my toe and the front of the shoe. When I looked up the sizing guide on Vivobarefoot’s website and measured my foot, it recommended a 7, which would have been a better bet. Pro tip: Size down.

How the Vivobareoot Motus Flex performs

After a couple of days of walking around, I slide the shoes on to test during a strength workout. They move right with my feet, and although they’re a little big, I don’t slip around, even during plyometrics exercises. I’d worried that the ankle area might start to rub my skin, but it doesn’t bother me at all.

Photo: Author

As I get into my groove, I notice something funny: I’m not wobbling as much as I usually do during exercises like single-leg squats and reverse lunges. Maybe there’s something to this better balance thing…

I test it out with a yoga flow. Honestly, I can’t say I’m a fan—I prefer the feeling of my bare skin on the mat. But if wearing shoes was my only option, I find the Motus Flexes are flexible enough to comfortably tuck my toes in plank or camel pose, and they keep me feeling stable in one-legged balances like a dancer’s pose.

Vivobareoot Motus Flex: My honest thoughts

I was surprised by how quickly my feet got used to wearing Vivobarefoot’s Motus Flex. One day, after doing a short bodyweight workout in them, I switched into a cushy pair of Brooks to head out for a run—going from 2.5 mm of material under my heel to 28 mm was a shock. Sure, I was thankful for the padded landings. But I also suddenly felt like I’m wearing enormous clown shoes. Turns out, my feet were already missing feeling a little more connected to the floor.

If you want to try barefoot shoes, be sure to take it slow and steady. “People’s bodies have to get used to this new foundation,” Dr. McClanahan says. “And everybody, even young, healthy people, have to take their time with this. It’s exactly like strengthening any other part of our body—nobody would go to the gym and try to bench press their heaviest amount on the second day.” He suggests starting by wearing them for just five minutes during a workout, then if they feel good, add on a couple more minutes each time.

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