Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa
Think of the SeeYa as a specialty shoe: it lacks crossover appeal for general exercise or going off-road, but if you’re looking to shave some extra weight for a race effort or hard workout on the roads, you’ll definitely notice a difference. But only experienced minimalists need apply; if you’re new to this natural running game and try to hammer too hard in the SeeYa, you’re asking for trouble.
You’ve heard of a man’s man? The SeeYa is a minimalist’s minimalist shoe. It’s the lightest FiveFingers model Vibram has ever created, with a lower profile and reduced structure that makes them feel almost like having nothing at all on your feet.
Prior to this spring, Vibram’s flagship road running model was the Bikila, but the SeeYa is distinctive enough from that model to occupy a whole separate category. From a performance standpoint, the SeeYa was designed as a one-trick pony: it’s intended for experienced minimalist runners who do the majority of their running on roads.
The most significant spec on the SeeYa is its weight—at a mere 4.8-oz per shoe, it’s more than a full ounce lighter than the 6.0-oz Bikila. The difference lies everywhere: the upper material, outsole material, and overall construction are all areas where the SeeYa comes in lighter (or lesser, as the case may be) than its predecessor.
Uppers are composed of an extremely thin, lightweight polyester stretch fabric. It’s about as thick as a pair of dress socks, and just about as flexible. The material is so stretchy that it’s very easy to slide your toes in the boxes quickly, which is a very nice improvement over the original Bikila. The top strap is also light and lean—and truthfully, I found it fairly ineffectual when it comes to tightening the fit. During my initial runs (and while going sockless), I experienced some small blisters at the base of the strap on each instep. I eventually didn’t have the problem anymore, so I’m going to chalk this up to a breaking-in period—but between the blisters and the lack of utility, I’d prefer that Vibram had just shaved more overall weight by eliminating the top strap altogether.
In addition to being thin and stretchy, the upper is bereft of any supportive structure; there’s no heel counter, no stability overlays, and all of the material is completely collapsible. The good news is that this makes the entire shoe light and flexible; the bad news is that if the fit is bad, there’s not much you can do to adjust it. Fit of the SeeYas isn’t ideal for me; in particular, the heel area felt very loose, and with any sort of lateral movement—even just running around the curve of a track—I felt my heel sliding a bit inside the upper. I’d like for the upper material in the heel area to be more snug, or for it to have a bit more structure in place like a light heel counter.
Vibram also modified the SeeYa outsole to shave weight, using lightweight and flexible TPU material along the length of the shoe (all the blue areas). Gray podded areas are made of the same TC1 rubber that Vibram uses on its running models. In my testing, the outsole of the SeeYa wasn’t quite as grippy as other Vibram running models. I noticed a small amount of slipping on an all-weather track, and on a couple of occasions while running on a wet track or road.
The TPU is a mere 1mm thick, and the pods add an additional 2mm. Combined with a 3mm insole, your total standing height in the SeeYa is roughly 6mm. Because they’re so thin and flexible, ground feel is really superb—you’ll feel virtually every crack and pebble in the road. For experienced minimalists, this is great, but if you’re a newcomer you’ll probably like something with a bit more protection between you and the road.
Although it’s somewhat one-dimensional, Vibram’s stated goal of creating a shoe for dedicated minimalist runners—the minimalist’s minimalist shoe—is fairly well fulfilled with the SeeYa. The question of whether the super light and thin construction are an advantage or drawback is up to you and your individual level of experience.
How We Tested It
Approximately 150 miles of road and track running, and a few miles of groomed trail use by a single tester in Monterey County, CA. Conditions were mostly cool (40-70 degrees) and dry, with occasional wet or rainy outings. Longest run was 23 miles.
Donald Buraglio is the editor of top minimalist running blog, Running and Rambling. If you're interest in minimalist running shoe reports, we encourage you to check out the archive of test reports on his excellent site. —The Eds.
The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.