To best describe Fila Skeletoes, you need a bit of background. When I started running last year, I became enamored with the barefoot running concept, but found my feet just couldn’t adjust to it. So I tried Vibram Five Fingers, which were great for walking around but didn’t work well for me for running. After a great deal of experimenting with shoes, I finally settled on a lightweight pair of normal running shoes, paired with wearing Vibrams for casual use. It puts me in the odd position of being neither fish nor fowl; not really part of the “barefoot running” community, but also not 100% an advocate of “traditional” running shoes.
Skeletoes are also neither fish nor fowl. They physically resemble Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs), but they are significantly stiffer soled and with a different style of upper. Are they minimalist shoes? Are they normal shoes with toe pockets? More importantly, are they simply decent shoes? Read on to find out!
Here’s how Fila describes Skeletoes:
Look no further you minimalist enthusiasts searching for the next generation of barefoot footwear! Fila Skele-Toes 2.0 arrive in August with more comfort (due to a thinner more breathable top, and stylish new colors. Fila builds on its successful line of Skele-Toes barefoot shoes by debuting an updated 2.0 version that maintains original ease-of-entry features like the bungee pull-on tabs and EZ slide four-toe design but new new ones to increase overall comfort that advance the cause of getting back to a more natural way of “being on your feet.”
Most importantly, Skele-Toes 2.0 tops are now made with 2 ply nylon, a lighter material with 4-way stretch, excellent breathability and silicone print for structure enhancement that gently conforms to your feet. In addition, Skele-Toes 2.0 come with increased arch and toe protection, allowing some of the foot’s more sensitive areas to go the extra mile. To round out the new updates to Skele-Toes 2.0, the shoe now features reflective material on the heel as well as more color combinations so barefoot fans can choose a color that caters to their personal style. So the days of of barefoot shoes looking like surf booties is over!
2.0 also features a padded collar, front and rear bungee pull tabs, a multi-strap Velcro closure system to ensures a perfect fit, and Fila’s EZ-Slide technology for greater ease of entry — a feature that barefoot enthusiasts will love, especially kids. Along with the lighter fabric, there is also an injected Phylon midsole and rubber outsole for increased comfort and protection. With its signature Skele-Toes skeleton graphic, the flexible, multi-purpose outsole features onmi-directional traction elements.
It’s impossible to cover Skeletoes without also discussing VFFs, so let’s start with how they’re similar and different. The soles of VFFs are very thin and “razor siped”, meaning traction comes from the tiny cuts in the rubber to grab the ground. The “ground feel”, or how well you can sense the variations in the terrain, is excellent. In VFFs I can feel the different textures of sidewalk under my feet easily. Skeletoes have stiffer, thicker, more traditional soles, with a traction pattern along the bottom in rubber. This greatly reduces ground-feel on man-made surfaces. It’s far better on uneven ones like trails, but more on that later. The other benefit is that Skeletoes are more waterproof than VFFs. If it’s even slightly wet outside my VFFs get very cold and very damp immediately, but since the Skeletoes soles are more substantive, they don’t absorb water. The only time I experienced damp toes was when the upper got wet, which isn’t any different than a normal shoe. This gave the Skeletoes an advantage when I was debating footwear on rainy days!
Then there’s fit. VFFs can be very tough to fit properly to your feet. You need a ruler, a sizing chart, and toes that cooperate. I have two pairs, Classics and KSOs, and I’m two different sizes in them (one is a men’s 41, the other a women’s 42). Skeletoes, meanwhile, fit true to normal shoe sizes. I’m a women’s size 10 in most shoes, and those fit me perfectly in Skeletoes. The uppers are also very different. VFFs are simple, with thin fabric uppers and either a strap or an elastic cord to dial in the fit. Skeletoes have two straps, as well as pull tabs to make getting them on and off simpler. While Skeletoes look very overly engineered, their straps actually do help with the fit, and the uppers are snugger and warmer. Skeletoes definitely run warmer than VFFs, a plus now that it is fall here in New Jersey.
But the real difference here is in the toes. VFFs have five toe pockets, but Skeletoes merge the last two into an “ez-slide” pocket instead. This makes the shoe immensely easier to put on, and the fit feels slightly more comfortable as well. Personally, my pinkie toe fits in VFF pockets, but it falls short of the edge of the pocket, making it sore after a long period of time. Bunking with my ring toe in the Skeletoes makes my pinkie toes happier, plus it has saved me from the dreaded pinkie-toe-stub. Nothing is worse than walking around barefoot or in VFFs and having your pinkie toe go rogue and crash into the edge of a doorway, dresser, tree root…it’s bad. And as I said, they’re much easier to put on this way. You only need to guide three toes into individual pockets, a much less arduous task than matching all five. As an aside, if you have difficulty putting toe shoes on, the best way to do it is forefoot first, and before your toes hit the pockets position your fingers between each toe pocket. This helps guide your toes into the proper places, and after a few tries muscle memory will kick in, and you’ll find you can get them on and off with ease. It’s just a matter of training your feet to spread your toes out properly.
Despite the combined last pockets and the stiff, stiff sole, Skeletoes do accomplish the important point of toe pockets-they let your toes move and splay as you walk. It’s hard to explain, because the soles are stiff enough that it’s hard to wiggle your toes, but there’s enough room in the pockets for your toes to spread and work. I’m not a podiatrist or any sort of foot expert, so for more on toe splay and why toe shoes can help, check out this article on Birthday Shoes. In any case, I found the Skeletoes allowed my feet to function well, and that’s the most important thing.
Even though they are significantly stiffer than VFFs, Skeletoes are only around an ounce heavier than the similar Vibram Five Finger KSOs. I was a bit surprised, since Skeletoes feel so much more substantial, both in my hands and on my feet, but clearly that did not translate into extra weight. I did a weight comparison of the Skeletoes to KSOs as well as my running shoes (Mizuno Elixir 6s) and Converse One Stars. Skeletoes weighed in at 6.2oz, my trusty KSOs clocked in at 5.4oz, the Elixirs were 9.2oz, and the Converse were a surprisingly heavy 15.4oz. For reference, the Skeletoes, Elixirs, and Converse were all size 10 women’s shoes, and the KSOs were men’s 41.
The weight example also illustrates an important point: how stiff or flexible a shoe is encapsulates only one part of the whole package. The Converse pair are flat as a pancake, and in description alone they sound like great minimalist shoes. But throw them on a scale, and they’re a solid 6oz heavier than my “traditional” running shoe (which in turn is only 3-4oz heavier than light toe shoes). This is all a bit of an aside, but the point is to remember that “minimalist” is a slippery term, and your best bet is to go with how your feet and body feel over an arbitrary label.
So with all that covered, what do you use Skeletoes for? Fila basically describes them as a casual shoe, for any kind of walking, light hiking, etc., but they do specifically state that they are not for running. I don’t know what makes them running unfriendly, but I also didn’t test it. However, I did use them for walking and hiking. I liked them somewhat for walking the dog and running errands, but found that seams or something inside the toe pockets was irritating some pre-existing blisters on my toes. Where the Skeletoes really shined was on a hike with Sarah and our dog. Sarah is a much faster walker than me, and I am usually trailing behind mumbling about how I’m just sore from running and can’t keep up well. However, in the Skeletoes I was able to keep pace, had better traction, and felt the trail under my feet, which both felt nice and kept me from biting it on a root or rock. I also fixed the blister issue by wearing the Skeletoes with a pair of Injinji toe socks, and there was still plenty of room for my toes to stretch. Bear in mind we weren’t on a terribly technical hike; the picture above was taken while we were walking, so as you can see it was mainly dirt with the occasional obstacle or uneven ground.
Should you rush out and grab a pair of Skeletoes? That’s a personal choice, and it depends on a number of factors. If you’ve never tried toe shoes before, I strongly encourage you to try a pair before you buy. Toe shoes are a very individual choice. Now, if you have already decided you like toe shoes, there’s a few things for and against Skeletoes. On the plus side, they’re warmer than Vibrams, thanks to the thicker upper and soles. They’re also a lot more accessible for activities like hiking since your feet are more protected but still get the benefit of some ground feel. The major downside is the thickness of the soles, which make the shoes much stiffer, and if you’re looking for the “closest to barefoot” shoe, these aren’t it. On the style front, they look a bit more like normal shoes, and with a pair of jeans probably fly under the radar more than VFFs. My biggest style quibble is with the large FILA emblazoned on the side of the shoes, though it’s honestly not any different from a Nike SWOOSH or similar logo.
If you’re firmly in the barefoot or VFF camp, I don’t know that Skeletoes will be on your shopping list. They’re too close to regular shoes with toe pockets. On the other hand, if you’re looking to stick a toe (no pun intended) in the reduced shoe category, the Skeletoes are an affordable and comfortable way to get started!
Safety tip: Fila doesn’t cover this, and it probably is less of an issue with Skeletoes due to their stiffer soles and mild cushioning, but there can be a transition period when wearing more minimalist footwear. If you’re coming from wearing a very substantive shoe, don’t be surprised if you find that your feet are sore, or your calves feel like someone punched them with brass knuckles. Wearing a flat, lightweight shoe that lets your toes move and splay activates different muscle groups, and it’s not uncommon for it to take some time to adjust. So don’t go out and buy a pair of Skeletoes and immediately wear them for a long day of hiking, or to a vacation in Disney World or someplace that requires a great deal of time on your feet…give your body the chance to learn the joys of lightweight, minimalist footwear; remember to take it slow and have fun!
Skeletoes are available directly from Fila, as well as from major clothing and sporting goods stores.
MSRP: $49.99 for adult sizes and $44.99 for kids
What I Like: Comfortable; easier to put on than Vibrams; great for hiking; run warmer than Vibrams
What Needs Improvement: Stiff sole; edges of the toe pockets irritated my toes without socks; giant FILA logo; can be too warm for spring/summer