Laces don’t hold tension across upper for entire run.
The VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail is a very comfortable and durable trail runner built with most of the specs that minimalists love; if it were just a bit lighter, it would be near the top of the class.
VIVOBAREFOOT has been one of the premier names in the minimalist movement for several years now, but until recently their focus was mainly on casual and dress shoes. They jumped into the running market in 2010 with the excellent Evo, which was designed as a road shoe, but which many users (myself included) took off-road for trail races and ultras. Over the past year the company has dedicated itself to making a shoe that’s rugged enough for high-mileage, high-performance trail use—and the outcome of that effort is the Breatho Trail.
Coming from VIVOBAREFOOT, the Breatho Trail meets virtually every minimalist construction aspect that purists demand: it’s completely flat and flexible in all directions, allowing your foot to move in any way it wants to. The only spec that’s lagging is the 9.6-oz weight, which is definitely high for this category.
Traction is provided by an aggressive outsole with 4.5mm directionally angled lugs, which sit atop a 2.5mm base layer for a total standing height of 10mm (4.5 lugs + 2.5 base + 3 insole). The outsole is very grippy in loose dirt and sloppy mud, and I’m thankful to have them when bombing down steep hills with loose ground cover. The only time I have to exercise increased caution is when I’m hopping across streams, as the rubber compound is somewhat slippery on wet rocks.
Ground feel is surprisingly good considering the size of the lugs, especially if you take out the removable insole—however, my preference is to keep the insole in my pair, because with it removed the Breatho feels a little loose and sloppy through the heel and toe box.
As the name implies, the uppers of the Breatho are very breathable and dry quickly after immersion in water. They’ve proven to be quite durable as well, and very resistant to pokes and punctures while bushwhacking off trail. The toe box is wide enough to let your feet splay naturally with each stride.
One quirk is the lacing system, where VIVOBAREFOOT eschews a traditional tongue in favor of a thick neoprene sleeve with laces on top. The shoe goes on easily and wraps the midfoot nicely, but the laces don’t hold their tension during the course of a run. They don’t actually come loose or untied—it just feels like they just lose their grip on the neoprene liner after a couple of miles. Otherwise, comfort throughout the upper is very nice, even with runs of several hours.