Vivobarefoot Aqua Review: Zero Drop Work Shoe With Fantastic Ground Feel

Vivobarefoot Aqua InsoleI’ve gotten a number of emails recently from readers asking about what type of shoe I wear to work. Given that I’ve spent most of the past 4 months either in sandals, barefoot, or in running shoes (i.e., summer attire for a college prof), none of those are likely the answer that most people are looking for. Now, one week into my teaching semester, I’ve had to make the adjustment to being in regular shoes again for most of the day. Fortunately, my work shoe of choice is quite possibly the most comfortable shoes that I own.

Vivobarefoot shoes have long been a favorite among minimalist runners, but prior to this year I had never tried them. I always thought they looked a bit strange, perhaps because they have a really wide and somewhat rounded toebox. Last winter, my friend Mark Cucuzzella offered to send me a pair of Vivobarefoot Aqua shoes from his store (TR Treads). He is a big Vivobarefoot fan, and wears their shoes regularly when he’s in the clinic (he’s a family doc in addition to be a shoe store owner). I accepted Mark’s offer, and quickly became a convert.

Vivobarefoot Aqua Side

When it comes to comfort and ground feel, it’s really hard to beat Vivobarefoot shoes. I now have a variety of Vivos, including the Aquas, Neo, Neo Trail, Achilles sandals, and Ultra, and all have very thin, zero drop soles. As a result, all of them provide a great connection to the ground. Like many of the Vivobarefoot shoes, the Aquas come with a removable insole, and the liner under the insole is finished nicely, with the expectation that many people will use them without it. I measure the sole thickness as 8mm with the insole, 5mm without. To be honest, these shoes are among the best that I own in terms of ground feel, and they feel great underfoot while I’m lecturing or scooting from bench to bench in the lab. Because of the thin sole, flexibility is also excellent – the Aquas can easily be folded into a ball.

Vivobarefoot Aqua Sole

Vivobarefoot Aqua Top

In terms of width, the Aquas also shine. The toebox has ample room and is not restrictive in the least – I’d compare it to a Croc, Birkenstock, or the Altra Instinct in this area. This is much appreciated in a shoe that is on my feet for 8-9 hours straight. The upper is mostly leather, with a few area of mesh that provide a bit of ventilation. The interior is lined by a soft synthetic fabric, and the tongue is elasticized on the sides – the latter is nice as it allows me to use it as a slip-on rather than ever having to mess with the laces.

Vivobarefoot Aqua BackIn order to justify the list price for the Aquas ($140), durability and quality should be expected, and I can report that these shoes have held up phenomenally. After wearing them for nearly the entire Spring semester, I’ll be darned if I can find any wear at all on the puncture-resistant sole. Wish I could say the same for my other work shoes – I trash the heels on most of my walking shoes (I’m a scuffer when I walk). The uppers still look nearly as good as new as well – nary even a scuff on the leather.

Perhaps the only drawback I have encountered with the Aquas is that they aren’t the best choice in snow. The combination of a lack of traction and the lack of a thick enough sole to raise me above slush level has made for a few treacherous walks from my car up the hill to my office in the winter. I may break down and buy a pair of the new Vivobarefoot Off Road Mid boots for the coming winter.

Vivobarefoot Aqua FrontConclusion: To say that I love my Aquas would be an understatement. I’ve come to believe that what we wear on our feet for most of the day can have as much, if not more, influence on our foot health as what we wear on a 30 or 60 minute run. My feet are happy spending a full day in my Aquas, and the fact that they are zero drop means that I can take them off at the end of the day and go for a run in a zero drop running shoe without fear that my Achilles and calves will rebel at the abrupt change. From a durability and quality standpoint, the Aquas justify their price and then some. The Aquas are a great, great shoe, and they get my highest recommendation.

Vivobarefoot Aqua shoes can be purchased from the Vivobarefoot website or from Zappos.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Anders Torger says:

    I have a pair of Aquas and use them a lot as a daily walking shoe. I use them without the insole. One interesting observation I’ve made is that I somehow seem to get more easily sore under the heel using these shoes than being completely barefoot. I could be that the particular balance between proprioception and protection in this shoe leads to that I smack my feet harder to the ground than the protection is suitable for. Barefoot I walk softer.

    So I think that there may be minimal shoe designs that take away just a bit more proprioception than it offers in cushioning/protection, and to me this Aqua shoe seems to be that way, but it is not a big problem. Still love the shoes.

  2. Just got a pair last Christmas during a 50% off markdown sale. Being expensive as it already is in the Philippines I could only imagine that there would never by enough interested customers to keep stocks moving. Suffice it to say the price doesn’t justify itself when compared to cheaper sneakers.

    The result? The same stuff that was on display earlier that year went on sale that month. The consequence? Roughly only 3 uses my Vivo (Aqua white) shoes disintegrated – literally! The black trim just above the sole started falling off and turned to powder. The sole itself started showing tears just under the ball where the shoe normally bends. The shoe was obviously old stock and the material probably started to decompose.

    I had the shoe replaced with the same model but different color and material type (Aqua Grey). While this one held up for almost a month now I could clearly feel the inconsistencies in the quality of construction.

    Firstly, just by pinching heel counter’s loop (that thing you used to pull the shoe over your heel) one side (right shoe) evidently felt thinner as if the material used there was not the same as the left shoe.

    Secondly, I can see there were subtle wrinkles on the right shoe’s upper toe box. Poking the toe box of my right shoe again gave me the impression that this side of the shoe was made (albeit, lazily) by some factory worker who never bothered to pick the right portions of their raw materials to use in the shoe. Hence, an unbalanced feel.

    This current replacement is still under observation.

    Steep price aside, the shoe feels very comfortable and I would love to wear this everyday if the questionable quality holds up.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Sorry to hear about the issues. I can say that I’ve been wearing my Aquas almost daily to work for a year and there are virtually no signs of wear.
      Sent from my iPad

  3. I have the Oak’s.  Absolutly love them.  Worth every penny.  I’m a teacher (High school, AP Bio and general science) and had always felt fatigue in the legs after school that I thought was just part of the job.  After going with these, I still feel tired, but nothing like before.  I have also noticed that since school has started I feel more comfortable running in my Bikilas and especially my Hattoris.  Connected?  I think so…

    Got them at Two River Treads.  Thanks Mark!

    • Pete Larson says:

      I think it makes a big difference to keep the Achilles and calf stretched during the day when it comes to running in shoes like the Vibrams. It’s amazing how different it feels to spend the day without a stiff slab of rubber under your feet…

    • Love me my Aquas, but I’m taking AP Bio, and it’s,…well, a pain in the butt.  Hope your’e better than my teacher.  But am I comfy in these shoes while in Bio, so it makes it a bit better.

  4. Got my Aquas for 60 dollars at theClymb.  Terriffic ground feel.  Excellent shoe.

  5. Ranpergamin says:

    I am hunting for a biz oriented minimalist shoes.. These are hard to find.
    Even Vivo does this light brown sole that makes it look sporty.

    I found one company that does custom minimal shoes for 248$…. I wonder when this trend will happen, and why they aren’t doing proper biz shoes, with out a sportish glitch.

    Even the Merrel tough glove have that edgy sole @ the front that gives it off-road shoes look/reminder, instead of being committed to fully outwear shoe..

    Frustrating..

    • You could also look into Kalso Earth shoes.  Not minimalist really, but they do have a generally wider forefoot and a heel that’s actually lower than the forefoot.  I work in a suit-and-tie office unfortunately, and these are the closest I’ve found to a minimalist dress shoe.

    • Mark Cucuzzella says:

      Go for the RA by VivoBarefoot. I wear the black leather pair for military duty.  several business folks in Shepherdstown wear the black or brown ones.
      Thanks Pete for sharing the word on the importance of the work/casual shoes. i do not know about you but I’m walking and working more than I’m running. Maybe one day this will change :)
      Mark Cucuzzella MD

  6. Great review!

    I have become a big fan of Vivobarefoot as well – perhaps my favorite shoe company – and use several of their shoes for various activities: Evo’s to run in, Oak’s and Ra’s for workwear, and Ultra’s have become my camping/canoeing shoe. I’m looking forward to the Neo Trail’s as a possible backpacking shoe, in addition to running gnarly trails. And I agree, they all have amazing ground feel. They seem to want to be a complete shoe company.

  7. What great reviews , thanks.

  8. Excellent review. I use a pair of Dharma’s or Oak’s interchangeably at the office (and run w/ the Evo, for the most part). I bought my first pair full price but I’ve acquired additional shoes from them over time at theclymb.com. It’s sort of a daily deal site but for outdoor apparel. They’ve had shoes from Terra Plana for about 50-60% off, and have offered their products twice in the last 10-12 months.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Yes, the Clymb is a great source for Vivobarefoot shoes. Next time they have Oaks or Ras I may have to grab a pair.
      Sent from my iPad

  9. Whotrustedus says:

    Any thoughts of the Aqua (or Oak or Ra) vs the Merrell Tough Glove?   I do like the fact that Vivo does not feel compelled to adorn their company name on the sides of their shoes.  OK for casual but I’d rather not be advertising the company in a work environment.  

    • Pete Larson says:

      If Merrell put a flatter sole on the Tough Glove, I’d probably buy it. I find the sole of the Trail Glove to be a bit too unstable in the heel for walking around all day every day. Don’t have the Oak or Ra, but in general I love the Vivo shoes.

    • I have the Tough Gloves for the office. I don’t notice the non-flat sole that I hear so much about in reviews. I find them comfortable both for the office and for running (I’ve done as much as 8 miles in them). They are hard to find in stores but if the trail gloves (which you can find even in big box stores) are comfortable the tough gloves should be as well. The leather of the tough gloves loosens up/breaks in a bit…

  10. I just started running and blogging about it, my first pair of shoes already need to be replaced.  All of my running takes place on the streets of NYC, my goal is to fun all of NYC. We’ll see how it goes.
    Thanks for the info 

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