Vibram provides a nice niche offering for any activity where water or damp conditions come into play with the V-Aqua.
The Vibram V-Aqua is a great--albeit niche addition to the Fivefingers lineup. It takes the previous models of shoes and strips them back to the most essential pieces and materials to make a water shoe.
The V-Aqua brings the materials of the traditional shoes in the Fivefingers lineup, adding in some twists that benefit the role of an aqua shoe.
One of those benefiting features is the silicone strips on the inside of the shoe’s upper to help eliminate slippage. The overlaid strip of silicon helps lock in the toebox in an otherwise lightweight and ultra-breathable upper.
That ultra-breathability shines when you actually dip your toes into some water (pun intended).
Due to the nature of the entire shoe being stripped down for water wear, the pull loop as well as the straps that lock in the top and back of the foot no longer feature cushioning and material over them.
If the shoes are worn too tightly, there were instances where the straps started to cut into the foot.
Size-wise, the V-Aqua runs true to Vibram Fivefingers sizing. As always, I would recommend getting fitted for any Fivefingers shoes in a store before purchasing.
But, if needed, the buyer can rely on the sizing of the more traditional styles such as the KMD or the KSO.
The V-Aqua is a barefoot shoe, so there is no midsole. The only cushioning provided in the shoe is a 2mm EVA footbed with silicone treatment to thwart bad smells from use without socks (because it’s barefoot).
Unlike other Fivefingers models, the footbed is not lined with a layer of cloth to avoid additional slippage due to that cloth stretching after wear while wet.
The outsole on the Vibram V-Aqua provides excellent grip due to the heavily lugged pattern featuring Megagrip technology.
Unlike traditional models like the KSO, the outsole does not feature razor siping. But, the Megagrip lugs do provide substantial grip on wet and dry surfaces.
The pattern of lugs is not so overbearing that you can feel the pattern underfoot. Regardless, it is substantial enough that there’s no loss of traction on uneven surfaces and materials.
Another feature of the outsole is small drainage ports to help water escape the shoes when they do get wet.
The overall look of the shoe is solid. The color scheme is good, with a more muted appearance. However, the straps appear to look somewhat utilitarian.
Nevertheless, the V-Aqua is definitely a shoe that can be worn for regular activities in addition to water wear.
- Weight (men’s 43) – 4.9 ounces
- Style – Barefoot/Neutral
- Upper – Polyester + Spandex, silicone printing
- Midsole – N/A (It’s a barefoot shoe.)
- Outsole – 3.7mm rubber featuring Megagrip configuration and drainage perforations
- Several non-slip features to help when wet
- Wide toe box
- Superior traction on wet and dry surfaces
- Utilitarian straps may cut into the foot if worn too tight
The Vibram V-Aqua is a water shoe for when water shoes are optional. If dexterity of your southern digits is required in a soggy environment, this shoe shines bright.
It provides superior traction in dry and wet activities and, as always, can be washed in a washing machine if it starts to get a little bit funky (or dirty).
The silicone printing on the inside of the shoe provides excellent non-slip benefits to compliment the traction on the outside of the shoe.
As always, find a store that sells at least the traditional KSO or KMD styles to find your proper size.
As a fan of minimalist running footwear, I have recently enjoyed some of the more fun road options that the genre has to offer. As a Certified Running Technique Specialist in the POSE method, most of my training (and that of those that I coach locally and rehab in our PT clinic) tend to stick to the pavement and light trails for most of their miles.
However, in recent years especially after suffering my first foot fracture back in 2017 and a re-aggravation earlier this season, I learned the hard way that just because you have learned to fine-tune your form, it does not mean that you can fail to be mindful of your variation in running surface and level of cross training.
In this spirit, I had high hopes and anticipation for the V-Aqua, winner of the Men’s Health Fitness Award for footwear in 2018. While the shoe certainly has its strong points, it is equally certain that this shoe has some areas in need of improvement.
Upper & fit
One thing that has always been an issue for sizing with the Vibram Five Fingers line is getting the proper fit. After floating between two sizes, I have in the past worn a 43 in the KMD Sport and a 44 in the Bikila.
I came to a bit of a conundrum with the V-Aqua, while the 43 fit perfectly when worn with bare feet to ensure maximum proprioceptive feel and moisture management as a water shoe.
If worn as a shoe for longer distances, at least a nominal barrier layer (such as an Injinji liner sock) would be prudent to prevent blistering and friction from the aggressive rubber overlays and seams on the articulated toe caps of the shoe.
This necessitated a trial of the size 44, which proved to be a fair fit in said socks, but would be unable to be worn without, due to a very loose feel in the heel and edges of the 2nd through 5th toes.
In the end, to rate the shoe for its greater intended purpose, I opted for the 43 and logged the 52 miles in this shoe with no socks. Initially, the shoe felt great through the upper.
Most of my miles were either on the treadmill, in the pool for water jogging to offload weight recovering from the stress fracture, and on the track, the light mesh of the upper shed water admirably and kept the foot dry and free of irritation.
The two-way straps in lieu of the performance lacing on other models such as the V-Alpha did well to provide security and a gentle hug of the arch. The lateral strap and placement of strategic silicone pads in the heel prevented friction and loosening
That is an important feature when running through deep water and trudging through lakes and streams if using this as a portage and boating shoe. However, the same suppleness was lost in the first few weeks as the seams in the toes of the second and third openings lead to severe hot spots and blisters.
This did not occur during running miles exclusively on land. As a shoe designed for water use, when tested in the pool (given the inability to get outdoors) during the Polar Vortex, the shoe felt as though it was grinding near the tip of the left toes.
The same issue was not experienced on the right foot, which I believe is the case due to a discrepancy in my two different sized feet. My left being roughly ¼ of a size smaller than the right. For the roughly 60% of the population who share the issue of having two slightly differently sized feet, it would be an amazing improvement for VFFs to be sized accordingly.
In addition to the sizing issue, while the straps do well to provide some level of adjustability to the shoe, after multiple uses donning and doffing the pair, the straps seem to have stretched to the point where the larger portion of the Velcro surface is not in contact with the felt opposing it, leaving, "tails" at the end of the shoe.
That could prove troublesome when out along the edges of the river bank or on the trails between portage stops. In previous models, especially the KMD Sport, the band seemed initially tight at the other end of the spectrum and possibly even a tad short.
However, when the strap loosened over time during the break-in period, it became much more comfortable and consistently easy to secure without issue. A mild shortening of the straps by less than ½ an inch would do well to help this shoe maintain adjustability but lose the end range insecurity with prolonged wear and tightening.
A feature that I did find helpful (also present in the V-Alpha) is the pull strap on the back of the heel. Reinforced with synthetic material, it enhances the durability of the heel collar that notoriously has been troublesome in years gone by when sliding on and off the heel of the shoe as the fit instructions from Vibram suggest.
In sum, though light and well ventilated, the upper and overall fit in the initial model of this shoe leave much to be desired.
Insole cushioning system
While the V-Aqua has little to no cushion to maximize proprioception and improve running economy, each model of the Five Fingers line has a slight difference in stack height of the insole to aid in serving the specific purpose of the shoe.
In this particular model, the insole is a razor-thin 2mm of silicone treated EVA cushioning, which allows for great feedback from the surfaces underfoot, but leaves very little protection from objects such as stones and exposed roots/plantlife often seen ashore unlike the shoe cousin the V-Alpha which has a slightly softer foam underfoot.
In terms of durability and grip to the foot, however, the treatment does an excellent job of shedding water and muck that tend to collect in a water shoe while giving the wearer a sense of security in the shoe. Even when worn in the pool up to waist height, the shoe never felt like it would slip or glide uncomfortably despite the lack of a traditional lacing system.
In addition, the drainage ports located in the bottom of the shoe which flow through the ball of the foot, midfoot and even near the heel did an admirable job ensuring that when you do get out of the water, you will have little trouble shedding down most of the moisture build-up.
Since this is the first model of the V-Aqua, the positioning of the ports does not seem absolutely ideal, though, as one area near the heel of the shoe left some pooling water when removed after use. One or two extra ports behind in the heel cup of the shoe would help to reduce this small flaw.
In addition to its usefulness afloat, the drainage ports and grip were quite nice when using the shoe as a cross trainer in the gym or in a clinic as the sure grip and moisture management made for a lighter shoe when performing plyometric activities and hopping drills.
Outsole & durability
The outsole on the V-Aqua, like many of Vibram’s recently updated outdoor offerings, is the MegaGrip compound. At 3.7 mm thickness, it provides more than adequate feel for the terrain and provides adequate traction, which can prove difficult for a shoe with such minute tread depth (see Merrell models such as the Trail Glove).
On ice, it seemed a bit unsteady at times, but this may also be due to the fact that my feet were rather cold when taken for the limited testing outdoors and may have hampered ability to navigate the trails more than a lack of help from the shoe.
In terms of durability, there were a few minor issues in the latter stages of testing the shoe. While obviously designed for fresh and saltwater usage, the upper materials and straps developed a weathered color and slight pink tint after multiple uses in the pool and one trip out into the mud at the nature preserve.
While they were run through the wash a few times, a shoe of this price point should likely have a better time braving the elements for a limited amount of wear. In addition, one possible reason for the hot spots on my left toes could be an imperfection in the medial second toe near where the outsole and upper material meet.
As you can see in the photo below, it appears that the sole is slightly coming away from the upper which may have helped cause some of the rubbing issues that I experienced.
In general, the outsole did not disappoint and certainly lives up to its namesake in terms of safe and efficient grip to inspire overall confidence in the outdoorsman (the reason for the genesis of the company as stated by Vigo himself).
The design and minor tweaks to materials, however, will go a long way to determining the long-term success of the shoe in years to come.
Being a fan of the style that the VFF's have to offer, I admit that I am a bit partial to the design of this shoe. As a therapist, I love the fact that my toes not only can move freely and independently but that they are more spaced out at rest than in a traditional shoe, allowing the great toe to stabilize the foot and make better use of the fine muscle movements in the foot and ankle.
Having said that, for a shoe that is designed to take you through a vast array of outdoor milieux, it is fortunate that the V-Aqua has three color options to fit the varied needs of its wearers. If you are mostly poolside or a beachgoer, the grey, and off-white combo will probably suit you best.
For those on the water, there is a blue and black option. For the portaging fiend in you, there is an all-black option that probably will weather the storm best for the long haul.
As always, the main drawback lies in versatility for wear outside the workout. Due to the ports in the sole and the non-traditional design, it makes the shoe an obvious non-starter for most professional workplaces and even a safety hazard with a porous sole in other situations such as out on the streetwear sharp objects or tiny pebbles and rock salt could make things uncomfortable, to say the least, this time of year.
- Articulated toe box makes for an anatomically correct and efficient position for proper foot/ankle mechanics through stance and take-off
- Above average grip and moisture management in wet conditions
- Vegan-friendly materials and a strong, snug overall feel for the security of body and mind
- At MSRP $90 it is a fair representation of market value compared to similar models
- Highly flexible and thin sole makes it an ideal cross training shoe and for proprioceptive training
- At 4.9 oz., it is tough to beat for feather-light performance
- Imperfections such as the aforementioned toe area could lead to irritation for some
- Lack of versatility in the cold and for your day job may make it a lesser used shoe in the quiver
- A more abbreviated strapping system and tweaks to the upper would go a long way to the look and feel of the shoe over the long haul
- Lack of a wider array of sizing can be frustrating for them, “size tweeners” among us
While the shoe certainly is well designed for the purpose of granting you confidence in grip afoot or afloat, to keep the V-Aqua above the tide, it will need a few tweaks to reach its full potential.
I would like to premise this review up front by saying that Vibram FiveFingers does not consider the V- Aqua model as a running or training shoe. As the name suggests, the V-Aqua is specifically labeled as a "water shoe" meant for activities involving wet surfaces, such as boating.
That said, the V-Aqua at first glance still maintains the overall spirit of many of Vibram’s barefoot shoes that provides a thin, traction-focused outsole combined with a flexible upper designed to mimic the shape of the foot.
Given these facts, I decided to give the V-Aqua a try across a number of activities (running included) to see how they fared.
Comfort & fit
The V-Aqua differs from several of Vibram’s other FiveFinger shoes in that it utilized Velcro straps instead of a lock lacing system. There is one strap that extends across the top of the foot, and another that wraps around the heel of the foot.
Overall, the inside of the upper material is smooth and soft on the skin of the feet and is breathable, as it is intended to allow water to pass through and dry quickly. Rather than using a tongue, the V-Aqua supply an elastic mesh-like material that lightly hugs around the ankle.
Inside the shoe, the V-Aqua utilizes small rectangular rubber pads around the heel to provide less heel slippage inside the shoe. As far as putting the V-Aquas on, adjusting them, and walking around go, they are very comfortable shoes.
Outsole & insole
The V-Aqua introduced the new "Megagrip" outsole, which appears to be geared toward providing reliable grip even for wet surfaces. For running and walking purposes, more traction is always helpful, and I found that the V-Aquas had no issue providing grip on dry and wet roads alike.
The outsole is also relatively thick, providing durability and good protection against rocks or twigs on the road. The design of the outsole seems to also prevent the upper of the shoe from scraping or touching the ground, which is a plus for preventing the upper from tearing.
A defining feature of the V-Aquas is that there are tiny holes that permeate through. Because the V-Aquas are water shoes, the purpose of the holes is to allow water to drain out more quickly when the shoes get wet.
As mentioned, the material of the V-Aqua is very soft, flexible, and breathable. Around the darker gray strips of rubber across the upper, it appears like there are tiny holes.
However, these tiny holes seem mostly cosmetic because directly underneath the dark gray rubber is still the light gray mesh anyway.
Like Vibram’s other FiveFinger shoes, the V-Aqua is great in providing a close-to-the-ground, minimalist experience that allows runners to adopt a natural stride relying on the balls of the feet. The outsole provides excellent traction, and the breathable and soft upper makes sweaty feet are not a problem.
That said, as I mentioned in the very beginning, these are not running shoes, and as a result, they also seem to lack the careful fitting mechanisms included as part of an optimal running shoe. For example, the shoes lack both a tongue and a lacing system.
By relying only on Velcro straps, I was only able to get a rough, imprecise fit around my foot at best, while some parts of the shoe still felt loose or unevenly tight. On walks, this is not an issue, but for running purposes, this leads to a lot of inside-the-shoe foot movement that is uncomfortable.
In addition, the holes on the bottom of the shoe that is meant to drain out water can also prove to be inconvenient if running on dirt-heavy, sandy, or dusty surfaces. Things will make their way easily inside the shoe, which can get uncomfortable quickly.
Overall, these issues lead me to say that, if you’re looking for barefoot running shoes, you may want to steer clear of the V-Aquas and check out the KSO EVO instead. The V-Aqua shoes will work, but they are not specially designed for running purposes.
In order to provide a fair assessment of the V-Aqua, I tried them out for other activities, namely walking and hiking. Because the shoes provide such good traction even in the face of wet surfaces, the V-Aqua works well if you are hiking on flat trails along rivers or trails comprised of mostly smooth boulders (rock scrambles).
If you are tackling more challenging trails or mountains, you should still stick to hiking boots. The V-Aqua is also a good shoe if you like to wear close-heeled shoes by the poolside. They work well for any hot day and dry quickly as intended.
Vibram FiveFingers did not appear to intend for the V-Aquas to be running shoes, but I gave them a try as running shoes anyway and personally, concluded that Vibram’s other options (like the KSO EVOs) are much more suitable.
The V-Aqua is made of soft and smooth mesh material and comes with great traction on the outsole, but the model is not designed for providing the meticulous fit that many runners often desire.
The holes on the bottom meant for draining out water can also allow a lot of dust and dirt to enter the shoes if you are running on such terrains.
All that said, to give proper credit to Vibram, I think the V-Aqua performs very well for what they were intended for, and that is being worn during activities involving or near wet surfaces.
They are a good option to wear by the pool or on a boat and are lightweight and breathable such that they make a great outdoor alternative to flip flops or slides during hot months.
If walking on a wet road or surface, the V- Aqua provides sufficient traction to traverse safely - thanks to the Megagrip outsole material. However, regardless of what shoes one is wearing, individuals should always act with caution on slippery surfaces.
Thank you for reading!
Good to know
- Don’t settle for going barefoot when it's time to hit the water — the Vibram FiveFingers V-Aqua has got your back. This minimalist trainer is an amphibious tool ready for any adventure, be it on land or water. The upper is crafted from a lightweight and breathable material that is quick-drying and leaks water fast.
- The sole unit is made of the Megagrip technology that is created to provide traction on both dry and wet surfaces. It has numerous perforations at the bottom to facilitate water drainage. The ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) insole provides cushioning, but it has been crafted to be porous to allow water to go out.
The FiveFingers V-Aqua from Vibram caters to both male and female athletes. It comes in EU sizes 39 to 49 for men and 36 to 42 for women, which is the rough equivalent of US sizes 7.5 to 14 and 6.5 to 10, respectively. According to the brand, this model runs small, so shoppers are advised to get a size up. As for the width, it is only available in a medium profile, but the stretchy upper material allows it to accommodate a broader foot shape. There are straps on the midfoot and around the heel which help to deliver a locked-down feel.
The Vibram FiveFingers V-Aqua is equipped with a 3.8-mm Megagrip sole technology. This innovative rubber compound is flexible which aids the foot in gripping uneven and wet surfaces. It is fitted with triangular lugs that provide superior traction and steadiness. The outsole also has multiple drainage ports that facilitate water seeping out and keep the inside aerated.
Found inside the shoe is a 2-mm EVA insole. It cushions the underfoot and serves as another layer of protection against uneven and rough surfaces. It has been treated with silicon, preventing the foot from sliding during wet conditions. The footbed has perforations that assist in water drainage.
A textile fabric makes up the upper of the Vibram FiveFingers V-Aqua. This material is stretchy and delivers a sock-like fit. It is also breathable and quick-drying. Synthetic overlays reinforce the toe pockets and some areas of the midfoot to protect the underlying material against abrasion.
The trainer features a slip-on construction, but straps allow wearers to adjust the fit. One of the straps is found at the midfoot which delivers a locked-down fit, while the other is around the heel, helping to secure the rearfoot and keep it steady. There is also a fabric loop at the back of the collar that makes it quicker to pull the shoe up.
- Vegan shoes may not come in abundance, but many of Vibram trainers are, including the FiveFingers V-Aqua. Vegans can rest assured that no animal products were used in the manufacturing of this model.
- This footgear is intended for various indoor and outdoor activities which means it can get dirty very quickly. The good news is it can be machine washed so cleaning won’t be a hassle. After cleaning, let it air dry away from direct heat so the integrity of the footwear won’t be compromised.