When Vibram FiveFingers first hit the market, and especially after the outstanding KSOs were released, part of their appeal was that they were adaptable to practically any activity you could think of. Early marketing campaigns showed users running, hiking, practicing yoga, doing parkour, leaping from boulders into a lake, and so on. The product mimicked barefoot function almost perfectly, and people came up with countless new applications for use as their popularity increased.
From the beginning, Vibram has embraced customer feedback and suggestions for improvement, and as a result, they’ve spent the past couple of years expanding and specializing their product line to appeal to the widest range of athletic interests possible. So while the KSO is still a great all-purpose shoe, it’s not nearly as good for hiking and trail running as the KSO Trek, or for road running as much as the Bikila (and Bikila LS).
(And to make sure everyone knows what I'm referring to before we progress any further, let's throw in some back links to my original reviews, shall we? I'll have these at the end of the post as well
Vibram Fivefingers KSO review
This spring, Vibram introduced the Fivefingers Komodo Sport , which is targeted at multi-sport athletes and general fitness enthusiasts. It has some very noticeable design changes from previous FiveFingers models, most of which are very effective, although there’s one in particular that I wasn’t crazy about. It features an entirely new outsole that will appeal to athletes who demand a lot of lateral movement (think tennis, basketball, etc), and is ideal for working out in the gym. However, it’s still quite attractive as a running model – in fact, most of my testing has centered around trail running (I know … shocking), and this model has performed nearly as well as the KSO Trek, which is Vibram’s gold standard for going off-road.
Closed mesh upper; PU abrasion dots on toes
From the midfoot to the toes, the upper of the Komodo looks very similar to the Bikila, although its closed stretch mesh material is slightly thicker than the mesh used on either the Bikila or Bikila LS. Also present here are the same polyurethane dots above the toes which the Bikila LS uses for increased abrasion resistance.
Very dirty ... but still very yellow
The Komodo is available in black, gray, or yellow; the dark colors are quite sharp-looking, and the yellow is, um … very yellow. Since bright colors aren’t really my thing, I was kind of hoping that a lot of trail miles would dull the color of this particular pair a bit, but that hasn’t quite happened yet. I’ve heard that some folks really love the bumble-bee look though, so I won’t dwell on this too long.
Separate straps around heel and on top of foot
One of the design changes I wasn’t crazy about was the addition of a second strap to the upper. Stylistically, this two-strap design borrows from both the KSO (with its single strap that wraps around the heel) and the original Bikila with a top strap that isn’t integrated around the heel. On the Komodo, there is a second, independent Velcro strap to adjust the heel fit – but in practice, I found that cinching this strap tighter than the “factory” positioning resulted not in a more snug ankle fit, but in gapping at the inside of the ankle, as seen here
Gapping at R inside ankle collar with heel strap tightened (click to enlarge)
Ultimately, rather than mess around in search of the perfect heel fit, I just returned the strap to its starting position, and the ankle collar stayed in place just fine. If you have unusually fat ankles, loosening the strap probably won’t help, either, since the primary size-limiting component here is the circumference of the ankle collar. So I’d say the extra ankle strap is a nice idea, but doesn’t quite deliver the practical application for which it was intended.
Removable smooth 2mm insole
One noticeable change to the Komodo is a smooth insole that provides a seamless, stitch-free bottom layer for improved comfort against bare feet. The insole is 2mm thick and is removable, although replacing it is somewhat difficult thanks to the individual toe cutouts. Many sockless users will appreciate the fact that for the first time, there’s no stitching underneath your foot to cause potential irritation. Although I generally wear socks for my long trail runs, I’ve spent many sockless miles in the Komodos, and the combination of sockliner and insole is nearly as comfortable as the Bikila and Bikila LS. If you’re thinking of removing the sockliner on these, be forewarned that the undersurface is fairly coarse, so you’ll probably end up wanting socks – which might defeat the point of removing the insole in the first place.
The insole brings up a point of overall thickness, which gets a little bit confusing with FiveFingers sometimes, because some models use insoles and others use an EVA midsole. On the Komodo, there is no midsole material, so its standing height is the 2mm insole plus the 4mm outsole, or 6mm total thickness. That’s actually slightly less than the Bikila models at 7mm (3mm insole plus 4mm outsole), as well as the KSO Trek and Trek Sport (4mm midsole plus 4mm outsole), but slightly more than the KSO with a 2mm insole and 3.5mm outsole. Perhaps it’s the power of suggestion, but I found that the Komodo’s ground feel generally reflects the specs: it’s noticeably better than the Trek and Trek Sport, roughly equal to the Bikila and Bikila LS, and slightly worse than the original KSO.
At 7.1 oz, the Komodo weighs in as the heaviest FiveFingers to date, although to be fair it’s only a half-once heavier than the Trek Sport. I suspect that the extra weight is primarily attributable to the additional Velcro strap – which is unfortunate, since I just explained that I didn’t find the extra strap very effective – and perhaps the thicker mesh of the upper. If you use these as a dedicated running shoe, you’ll probably notice a weight difference compared to the 6.0-oz Bikilas, but if used for their intended multi-sport purpose, the additional weight of the Komodo might not be too troubling to most users.
New multi-sport outsole
Here’s where Vibram really changed the game on the Komodo: its brand new aggressive 4mm rubber outsole that is grooved in multiple directions to facilitate rapid stopping and turning, and for additional grip on generally flat or smooth surfaces such as asphalt or hardwood. Just as with the overall thickness, flexibility of the outsole is a middle ground for Vibram as well: the Komodo is more flexible than the KSO Trek and Trek Sport, but slightly less than the podded Bikila and Bikila LS.
Lab testing in the Wasatch foothills
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised as to the general durability of the outsole for running. I’ve put close to 100 trail miles on mine, and they aren’t showing any significant signs of wearing down yet. When I heard that this was a “multi-sport” model, my fear was that it wouldn’t be compatible with distance running, but the Komodo has been more than up to the task. In fact, for dedicated trail running, I definitely prefer it over my Trek Sports, although it’s not quite strong enough to dethrone the KSO Trek as my first choice. For dedicated road running, I still prefer the lighter weight and overall comfort of the Bikila LS, but if you’re going back and forth between road and trail a lot, the Komodo would be an ideal choice.
All things considered, the Komodo just might be the successor to Vibram’s original KSO as the premier all-purpose do-anything model. The KSO was the first FiveFingers model I owned, and I used it for everything – trail running, yard work, and general goofing around. Thanks to my product review gigs, I now have the luxury of owning different models for different uses – but if I had to go back to a time when I could only pick one FiveFingers model to do everything with, I’d definitely pick the Komodo over the KSO now. For anyone else in that situation, the Komodo would make a great introduction to the joy of wearing Vibrams.