For all you that love to play in your five-fingers, or your skeletoes, but hate pulling grass from between your tosies, this may be what you've been waiting for.
The idea behind minimalist footwear is that your feet are pretty well designed as is, and changing the pitch of your stride (by having a raised heel), or padding your foot from impact, can cause issues since you aren't able to walk with the balls of your feet striking first, which allows the arch of the foot to take the impact of the strike as opposed to the heel. If you've ever seen a little kid run, they almost look as if they're on tip-toes, because they haven't had 20-30 years of shoes teaching them to have their heel strike first. I personally got into minimalist shoes by accident. I picked up a pair of frog feet to use as water shoes last summer because Target was all sold out of regular water shoes. Turns out, they were the most comfortable shoes I'd ever worn, and for a week on vacation, my chronic ankle and knee pain went away, even though I was walking more than usual. So, the short history, and the personal story is over, let's get to the review...
This is the Bellville TR-103. It's also available in black and coyote (101 and 102 respectively I believe). They're built in conjunction with Vibram along the lines of a minimalist shoe such as some of the running shoes we've seen hit the market or the toe-shoes that look so dorky, but are so comfortable. In the box they look like any other combat boot pretty much, but there are some significant differences.
First off, you'll notice the total lack of a distinct heel. The "drop" of a shoe is measured by the difference in the height of the heel-bed and the height of the toe-bed. These boots have a 5 mm drop. That ain't a whole lot, although it is more than the zero drop in your average toe shoe. The sole itself has a ton of surface area with the tread, and although I haven't had them out in the field yet, they appear as if they would give very good traction.
The next tip-off that these are not your ordinary boot is the flexibility of the sole...
The soles themselves are much thinner than you would expect on a combat boot, so they have a ton of flex. You have enough protection to walk on rocks, but this boot will give you a much deeper feel of the ground than you're used to. If you've not worn toe-shoes before, you might be shocked at how much striking with your heel hurts, and how much more you can "feel the road". If you have worn toe-shoes before, these actually feel a bit thicker than you're probably used to, but still are quite responsive.
The toe-box is wide, and foot shaped, so your toes can spread as you walk to take up some of the impact, and give you better balance. It's not a steel toe boot, but the toe area is pretty stiff on top. You'll have a good bit of protection here if that is important to you.
The insole is quite thin, and provides just a bit of arch support, sticking with the minimalist goals. It's just enough to protect you from the stitching of the shoebed, and looks to be quite durable. Once again, time will tell.
Once on the foot, some of the other features become apparent. There is a ton of support worked into the ankle area. The crossing diagonal bands provide a very comfortable heel cup, with an added area of Achilles support. This is a real stand out area compared to many of the work-boots I've been wearing to play in for years, and may bug some of you that have not had your shoes with this feature before. It feels nice and comfy now, but we'll see what things are like after a day at the field.
Construction seems to be very tight and clean. The seams and stitching are all in good shape and are straight. I'll see how the sole/shoe attachment holds up as it doesn't appear to be stitched, only glued. Once again, time will tell.
The laces tie through grommeted holes and then through metal loops up the shin. There are no fast-laces here, so these are somewhat of a pain to get on and off. Don't expect to jump into them in a minute.
Forums so far have indicated that they tend to run a bit small, and suggest that you order a half size larger than your normal shoe. I'll agree there. I also read that they run narrow, but I'll disagree on that point. I got wide when medium would have been comfortable as well. It's not a huge point since the whole idea here is to have as little shoe hitting you as possible anyway, but it is something to keep in mind.
These do have side vents a-la the old jungle-boots, so don't expect them to be waterproof either. I'll probably hit them with a shot of Scotch Guard anyway, but I'll know that if I step in a puddle, I'm getting wet.
I'll come back with more notes when I've had them at the field, but for now I'm satisfied with the fit and finish. They run roughly $120.00, which is comperable to other boots of this quality. More info to come as I have longer with them.