What started out as a boat shoe for deck hands needing comfortable, waterproof footware with lots of grip may just have spurred the biggest sports industry revolution since … well, since Nike launched the first athletic shoe revolution back in the early 1970’s. Funny thing is, if you talk to most folks wearing Vibrams Five Fingers they’ll probably tell you that if it wasn’t for Nike screwing everyone’s feet and knees up with their over-engineered sneakers the Vibrams never would have caught on and triggered the “barefoot revolution.” If you’ve read Born to Run (thanks, Alex!), you know the argument and then some.

Unlike traditional athletic shoes that cushion and support your feet with all manner of foam, air pockets, and plastic reinforced heels, Five Fingers are meant to protect the wearer from the dangers of asphalt, rocks and other stuff lying on the ground while preserving as much of a barefoot feel as possible. Instead of separating your feet from the road with padding, VFF’s (as they’re affectionately known) rely on the notion that humans were meant to run – and walk and play – barefoot, and that built-up running shoes actually lead to injuries by promoting unnatural running form and numbing the wearer to important feedback his feet are trying to gather and transmit to better inform each step he takes. As Vibram puts it:

[Five Fingers] allows you to land on your forefoot, directly below your center of gravity, resulting in optimum balance, increased stability, less impact and greater propulsion. Running in Five Fingers delivers sensory feedback that improves agility and equilibrium and allows immediate form correction. In addition it stimulates and strengthens muscles in the feet and lower legs.

About two years ago I got into running. I’m no marathoner but I’m pretty hooked at this point. I’m also a tech nerd and gearhead, and have been obsessed with sneakers since I was about seven-years-old. So, I’ve tried different running shoes and moved from a traditional modern shoe with lots of foam and various straps meant to keep my feet and ankles stable to lighter, more minimalist kicks designed to give a more “barefoot-like” experience. I’ve even been known to do a very, very little bit of totally barefoot jogging on the sidewalks near my house after completing a sneaker-equipped run. But I’ve yet to strap on a pair of Five Fingers. Why? Two reasons: First, I’m still kinda nervous about going from more minimal shoes to hardly there shoes, given my status as a regular but not super-fit or super-strong and flexible runner. Second: VFFs are ugly as sin. Maybe it’s ’cause I grew up in the heyday of Air Jordans and Adidas Marathon Trainers, but wearing a glove on your foot just looks weird to me. I see ’em pretty regularly in my neck of the woods, people walking around or running down the street with Vibrams on, and while I admire their forward thinking I still silently chide them for a total lack of style.

Is my vanity getting in the way of my good health, or are Vibram Five Fingers just too weird to wear in public? Ugly but deadly, or just plain ugly? You decide.