The Vivobarefoot Ultra 3 is the shoe in my closet that has gotten the most wear this summer. Despite the 6 or 7 pairs of trail running shoes I’ve been wearing and testing over the past few months, this shoe seems to beat them out for everything else that’s not on a trail. I initially purchased the Ultra 3 as an evening walk-a-round shoe for our pilgrimage on the Camino Portuguese. Since returning home, they have stayed on my feet and become my favorite pair of shoes around camp, at the beach, or for a day out and about.
The Vivobarefoot Ultra 3 is super light, coming in at 8oz per shoe for my size 11 US. Vivobarefoot is a company that specializes in anatomically shaped shoes that give you an uninterrupted barefoot feel. The Ultra 3 provides an expected minimum feel underfoot, but with adequate protection via a puncture resistant outsole. My favorite part of the shoe is the EVA upper with hexagon cutouts. This design allows my feet to breathe in hot weather, drain and dry after getting wet, and still feel protected when kicking around a campsite.
Fit and Weight:
I wear a size 11 US in the Vivobarefoot Ultra 3, which is a full size smaller than my standard size 12 US shoe. The reason for this is that I mostly wear these barefoot, and also that the foot shaped last doesn’t require any sizing up to get a nice forefoot fit. At 8oz per shoe, the Ultra 3 is super light on foot, and only weighs 1 lbs when stored away in a backpack.
My heel on the Vivobarefoot Ultra 3 has a slightly narrow fit that cups the back of my foot perfectly. The flexible nature of the EVA upper on the Ultra 3 will allow this shoe to fit just about any foot shape. I’ve worn this shoe walking around cobblestone streets in Portugal and Spain, as well as around a few rocky campsites and have never felt any discomfort or hotspots.
The midfoot on the Ultra 3 fits on the wider side which works well for my wider than average foot. I usually wear these shoes while relaxing and leave them pretty loose. When I need to walk or run in them, they tighten up around my midfoot nicely.
The toebox on the Ultra 3 is wide and luxurious. Vivobarefoot shoes are all anatomically shaped and allow for maximum toe splay. I can remember putting these shoes on after a few 15+ miles days on the Camino Portuguese and felt like my feet were in heaven. It was so nice to have a breathable foot shaped walk-a-round shoe after a long day on the trail.
The upper on the Vivobarefoot Ultra 3 is made of a hexagon honeycomb shaped EVA. This is the same EVA that is usually found in the midsoles of running shoes. The shape and composition of the upper make them very comfortable and allows them to conform to the shape of my foot. Most importantly, the EVA makes these shoes naturally non-absorbent in water. When using a shared restroom on the Camino pilgrimage, I was able to shower, get dressed, and walk around town in the same pair of shoes!
The Ultra 3 uses an elastic bungee style lace that tightens up and loosens with ease. The elastic allows me to slide my foot in and out of the shoe quickly and comfortably.
The one downside to the upper to note is that water can pool in the footbed. All of the holes on the honeycomb upper sit above the outsole line. There are two drainage ports on the medial arch of each shoe, but water will still pool in the heel and forefoot. A few kicks of my feet usually shakes all of the water out though, so it’s hardly an issue worth docking points for. In use, it’s actually a design choice for a good reason, as it helps keep sand, dirt, and debris from sneaking in through the holes on the shoe.
The Vivobarefoot Ultra 3 is built on a 0-drop platform without a cushioned outsole. The midsole and outsole on this shoe are the same thing. This can be jarring at first for people used to well-cushioned shoes with a large heel-to-toe drop. After a slow adjustment period and a few minor stride alterations, you won’t notice it as much. The big plus side to shoes without a midsole is that you get great ground feel and proprioception.
I like to wear minimal shoes at the gym and while walking around town to engage all of my foot and leg muscles. This helps to develop and maintain balance and overall leg strength. If you’ve never worn a pair of shoes like this before, make sure to start slow and work your way into them.
The outsole on the Ultra 3 continues with the hexagon theme of the upper. Vivobarefoot uses a really nice sticky rubber on the Ultra 3 that clings to wet and dry surfaces. At first glance, all of the hexagons on the outsole look identical. Upon further inspection, you’ll notice that they come in different sizes and depth. There are also sections of lugs with chamfered edges. This mix of lug pattern is well thought out, as it provides a nice blend of grip and traction on a wide variety of surfaces. I’ve worn these shoes on slick tile floors, mossy rocks, gravel trails, cobblestone streets, and rain soaked concrete, and have never had anything but solid traction.
The Vivobarefoot Ultra 3 is the ultimate camp, water, and travel shoe for backpackers and world explorers. They’re lightweight, pack small and light, and provide a versatile footwear option for whatever your journey throws your way. Even if you’re not one that likes to travel, you’ll find the Ultra 3 the perfect shoe to wear around town, at the beach, or at the lake. At $80, they’re a little more than some might expect for a minimal pool shoe design. I’ve been using these for a few months now, and feel that they’re worth every penny.