When the VIVOBAREFOOT Off-Road Hi was released I knew this would be the perfect cold and wet weather hiking shoe for me. The Off Road Hi is an over-the-ankle hiking shoe made from leather, ripstop nylon with a waterproof/breathable HydroGuard liner. The looks are like a traditional classic hiking shoe. It uses VIVOBAREFOOT's off-road sole (2.5 mm base and deep 4.5 mm lugs), the same as found on both the Neo Trail and Breatho Trail. There is also an Off Road Mid version available which has the same design, but does not cover the ankle.
My Off Road Hi’s weigh 940 g / 33 oz for the pair in a size EU 45.
The first time I hiked in them I did a real off road walk in them. Later I used the shoes for some other multiday hikes and a trip to the Garfagnana mountains in Italy where I walked over rocks and rocky trails for a week. It was great and the shoes performed well. The soles have a lot of grip and still give good sensory feedback, though not as much as flat soles. The lugs just transfer all the humps and bumps through to the 2,5mm base.
The hard rocky trails were not very friendly to the lugs though. Some of the lugs broke off. I have been able to fix them with glue but I am not sure how long this will last. VIVOBAREFOOT saw this problem too and now all of their shoes with off road style soles will have new soles that are made off a stronger material that is 50% more abrasion resistant. Independent testing of this has been done by the SGS company.
When you use the Off Road Hi for your Sunday afternoon walk in the woods and then go to the pub beware that mud, leaves etc. stick easily - in large quantities - to the sole. The good news is that the dirt can also easily be removed with water, a stick, or by stomping on the ground.
The waterproof lining is sandwiched between the exterior leather and the lining. For a waterproof breathable lining it is important that the uppers themselves not absorb excessive moisture. My experience with the Off Road Hi is that the leather absorbs moisture very easy. The leather also discolors when wet. I recommend to threat the shoes with Nikwax Fabric & Leatherproof or something similar before wearing them and to repeat this regularly. The first time I did this I put three layers of Nikwax on the leather.
The leather is very soft and this feels pleasant to the feet. But I also got some scratches in the leather.
My left shoe also started leaking. VIVOBAREFOOT’s guarantee covers leaking until one year after purchase or 50,000 flexes. This means 50,000 shoebendings which is about 50km / 30mi of hiking. Leaking is not something that automatically happens. My waterproof VIVOBAREFOOT Aqueous (no longer made) shoes still don’t leak after intense use on the trail and around town.
Some hikers prefer low-cut shoes and don't understand the reasoning behind using an ankle high shoe. With low cut shoes more dirt can enter the shoe, and sometimes you just want some ankle protection. In Italy the woods were full of Chestnut trees. The nuts have spiky shells that can prick annoyingly in your feet. I had taken two pair of shoes with me: The Off Road Hi’s and a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves. The Off Road Hi’s protected my feet against the chestnuts but the Trail Gloves didn’t.
I really loved wearing the Off Road Hi’s, despite the technical problems I had with the soles, the leather, and the lining. I must mention here that I have used the shoes a lot on heavy and rocky trails and for bushwhacking etc. VIVOBAREFOOT is the only company that makes barefoot/minimalist waterproof shoes designed specifically for hiking. There is a kids version as well, without the lugs, but with the waterproof lining.
One improvement that I would like to see is for VIVOBAREFOOT to make it easier to attach a gaiter to the shoe. With traditional hiking shoes, the strap of the gaiter goes underneath the arch of the shoe. With minimal shoes the soles are completely flat. With a gaiter attached, you would feel the strap with every step and it would wear out quickly. One possible solution would be to make attachment points at the sides of the shoes where gaiters could be attached.
With its distinctive looks I think the Off-Road Hi is a good shoe for general cold and wet weather use both around town and for hiking.
VIVOBAREFOOT has also released a synthetic hiking shoe: the Synth Hiker. This shoe is also waterproof, has the same off-road sole, and an ankle height between the Off Road Hi and Mid. Stay tuned for a review on this one later.