Best for all-the-way committed minimalist runners, general Cross Fit or floor workout activity, outdoor yoga, or all-purpose outdoor use.
Two points of reference before jumping into the full review:
It’s Vibram’s convention to name footwear models with acronyms – such as the KSO (Keep Stuff Out) or anything ending in LS (Lace System). Accordingly, the EL-X is an Entry Level Crosstrainer, designed for running as well as general exercise.
The EL-X is a stylistic throwback to the company’s initial Sprint and Classic models, both of which are now discontinued, but which were the most minimal models in the lineup prior to their dismissal.
Consider the EL-X a leap back in time from both a design and weight standpoint. At 4.23 oz, it’s the lightest model in Vibram’s current lineup.
Fit and Comfort
Uppers on the EL-X are a very thin mesh that has a soft feel against bare skin. Whereas previous non-laced FiveFingers models could pose some difficulty in putting them on, the mesh of the EL-X is very stretchy, making the shoe very easy to slide your toes into. The thin elastic ankle collar has the right amount of snugness without feeling tight, and once on your foot, the upper feels almost like a second skin. If it weren’t for the rubber outsole, you might not even realize there’s anything on your foot.
Some caveats with the fit – thin rubber overlays on the upper provide a modicum of stability between the upper and outsole, but there’s no way to adjust the fit if you happen to be an “in-betweener” with Vibram sizing. Secondly, the profile is a bit lower around the ankles than other FiveFigers models, so the ankle collar may slip down toward the heel, especially if the fit is slightly loose or if you’re trying to wear toe socks.
You simply won’t find any better flexibility than you have with the EL-X; with nothing more than your finger strength, you can roll the whole thing small enough to fit in your palm. Same goes for lateral and diagonal flexibility.
In addition to being the lightest FiveFingers shoe, the EL-X also features Vibram’s thinnest outsole to date at a mere 2.7mm. (The SeeYa has a 3mm outsole, so we’re talking fractions of millimeters here, but the EL-X still wins.) Combined with a 2mm insole, total stack height is less than 5mm – and with complete flexibility, ground feel is outstanding with this shoe.
The most impressive aspect of Vibram’s new outsole pattern is that despite its thinness, it provides very solid grip on all dry surfaces, including roads, groomed trails, and indoor hardwood or gym flooring. Rubberized areas extend medially at the metatarsal heads and big toe areas, in order to maintain traction when cutting laterally or diagonally.
While the mesh isn’t intended for harsh conditions like bushwhacking, there are modest thin rubber reinforcements on top of the toes for puncture and tear resistance. The shallow outsole lugs show minor wear after about 75 road miles.
Thanks mainly to the outsole, which performs well in a variety of conditions, Vibram hit the mark quite well with the intended purpose of the EL-X. The shoe is equally suitable for high-mileage running, an indoor/outdoor workout shoe, or a combination of the two. They would also make a great lightweight summer shoe for general outdoor use and exploration.