A True 4-Season Minimalist?
GEAR TEST: VIBRAM LONTRAS
Just this past fall Vibram Five Fingers released a new model of toe shoes called the Lontra. The Lontra was the answer I was looking for, finally an insulated Vibram so that I could enjoy my barefoot lifestyle all year long. I ordered my first pair and was not disappointed in the least. This “shoe” was hot! The concept was flying off the shelf and my feet were super toasty. I would wear them around town, everyday use, and chilly early morning runs. The Lontra was built for more though; the Lontra was built with the 4mm midsole and TC-1 rubber the same as the Treksport. I needed to take this on the trail and give this a test so it is worthy of the RRT wall.
The test subject: Ice Man. Familiar with winter trekking, I earned my trail name over my winter thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I have been wearing minimalist footwear for about 6 years. My first pair was the Vibram Classics and my Vibram collection is now at a very disturbing 9 pairs. I have enjoyed half marathons and week-long backpacking trips with them. I feel ready for the test at hand.
The test would be conducted on Mt. LeConte. LeConte stands at 6,593 feet in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The mountain has the most elevation gain in all the Smokies and is a mere 55 feet shorter than the tallest mountain in the eastern United States. LeConte will typically see 100+ inches of snow fall a year and its icy conditions are typically met with chain or diamond studded boots. How long, how cold, and how winterized is the Lontra really? We would go up Rainbow Falls trail, stay the night at the top, and go down Bulls Head trail the following morning.
You Are The Technology
THE MAKE UP OF A 4-SEASON SHOE
With minimalist footwear “you are the technology”. That is the slogan used in Vibram advertising. No strike absorbing heel pad, no rounded arch or shifting sole, just you. So what is the Lontra? A Lontra is a North American Otter apparently, fair enough; it is also a minimalist five fingered toe shoe. The Lontra is the only insulated model with a micro fleece lined interior for both wicking perspiration and also added warmth value. It is labeled as water resistant with fully tapped seams. It has an extended neoprene cuff that comes around the ankle as well to keep out debris like snow. As earlier mention they also gave it a thicker sole than other non-trekking models at 4mm and with some more aggressive mini lugs for traction. The 4mm sole will also provide added insulation from the frozen ground you may be traversing. Like many models and activities the Lontra feels best with a wool micro weight toe sock. This will also add warmth and was used in this test.
RESPONSIBLY WEARING YOUR VIBRAMS
The following review is based off of a prolonged trip with continued exposure to the elements.
On many levels these fury fleece finger shoes excelled. On the other hand, I would not choose them for this trip if I were to do it again. While they were plenty warm to start the journey they could not maintain it. The trip started at near 50 degrees, that temperature would drop sharply with elevation gain and we would be in temperatures just below 20 degrees up top. It was a 7 mile journey up the mountain and the top 4 miles of hiking were covered in snow and ice. My feet could not sustain their warmth despite my body burning off heat from a strenuous uphill climb. Once on the way up and once more at the top I would switch to some warm down booties while taking a break. The booties stopped the numb feeling momentarily so that I could put the Lontras back on and the hike could safely continue. On the way down we faced deeper snow and slightly heavier winds to chill the feet. Since we were moving faster down Bulls Head trail I was able to get to warmer temperatures fast enough to avoid a break. My toes I guess were comfortably numb.
Outside of the insulation value of the shoes they performed great! The neoprene cuff fit tight and kept out all debris and snow keeping my ankle and foot warm and dry. The sole of the shoe, although not modified for snow or ice versus other trek models still did well in those conditions. I did not have any issues with slipping and considering I was constantly on ice they did a fair job of blocking off winters chill as well. Given that it was snow and not rain, the shoes seemed waterproof during my test. Walking over streams of ice cold water I would have been in serious trouble if they were not. I would not trust them to be as waterproof as my boots but for these conditions they did great. Any sweat that had built up in the shoe definitely contributed to the struggle to keep warm.
Overall they were fun to backpack in and lived up to their advertised uses. I wanted to push the envelope and find their limits and I think I did that. I would recommend them for temperatures below freezing if the use is less remote and exposure is under 3 hours. I would recommend them for prolonged use at temperatures above freezing with or without winter’s ice and snow. This is a significant improvement from other Vibrams, I previously was not comfortable with prolonged exposure under 60 degrees.
Please remember that I am an experienced outdoorsman and that you need to take use of any gear, especially Vibrams, at your own pace. Vibram has a great guide to wearing your new minimalist shoes on their website. Know your limitations and please be responsible. You can find men’s and women’s Lontra proudly on the Roads Rivers and Trails shoe wall.