Thanks to the suggestion and financial donation by one of my readers, I recently acquired a pair of Feiyue wushu shoes for review. What are wushu shoes? Wushu is a Chinese word that means martial arts, but it is also the name for a specific martial art (or sport) called wushu. Whether these shoes were designed as a general martial art shoe, or are somehow tailored to the specific sport of wushu, I don't know.
Based on my experience, minimalist shoes typically fall into one of two general categories: intentional and incidental.
The first category is what I call intentional, or engineered minimalist shoes. These are shoes that are designed, engineered, and marketed as premium barefoot-style shoes and therefore tend to be on the expensive side. They usually work very well for their intended purpose and are often sold as a specialty product to a saavy crowd. Examples of footwear that fall into this category are Vibram FiveFingers and Vivo Barefoot.
The second category is what I call incidental, or simple minimalist shoes. That is to say, they are not designed as a counter-product to today's over-built footwear, nor are they specifically marketed to barefooters. These shoes are designed to be simple using common materials, minimal engineering, and low cost production techniques. Examples of footwear that typically fall into this category include moccasins and huaraches. I would put Fieyeue wushu shoes into this category as well.
The first time I saw these shoes I went through some serious sticker-shock. $15 for a pair of shoes?! They must be crap... they must be plastic... they must be made in China... Well, they are made in China, but where else would you expect a Chinese martial arts shoe to be made? And no, they aren't crap (more on this later). I can't vouch for the factory conditions for the workers who make these shoes, but what I know is this: the design is simple and they are constructed out of two basic materials - cotton canvas and rubber. It is my opinion that the combination of a simple design and basic materials lends itself well to producing a low cost product of reasonable quality.
I typically wear a 9.5/10 in running shoes and a size 43 in Feelmax and FiveFingers. Using the size guide for Feiyue shoes, I ordered a size 43. I found the fit to be good if wearing thin socks, but a little too snug around the toes when wearing my favorite everyday Smartwool socks. I think that if I were to do it again, I would probably have ordered a size larger.
The shape of the shoes is overall pretty good. While I find that many shoes tend to squeeze my feet on the outside, these ones were shaped such that I don't notice it. I do notice that my toes are a little more crammed together than I like, but I think that this might be resolved with the size 44.
The shoes are very low-cut (which I really like). One side effect of this is that when the shoes are laced they don't fit very snugly around the top of the shoe (the opening around the ankle). In fact, there is often a substantial gap between the top of the shoe and the sides of my foot. I haven't found this to be bad, but just different. My foot does not feel like it is going to come out, nor does it feel restricted around the ankle either. I don't know if this is inteded by design or not, but I like it because I have very good ankle flexibility. I am somewhat concerned that if I went with a larger size this might become a problem, but I can't say for sure without testing.
The soles are plain-old rubber, nothing more, nothing less. There is no foam cushioning, and there isn't any form of cushioned insole. The soles are quite flexible, somewhat sticky (i.e. grippy), thicker than most minimalist shoes, and sport a simple ridged tread pattern. The shoes have great traction on most dry surfaces I have tried. I haven't worn them much in the ice/snow/rain, so I can't comment on how they perform in those conditions. They do have decent ground feel, but the thickness of the sole makes them a little stiffer and less sensitive than what I would consider ideal. Not bad by any means, but not perfect.
One interesting design characteristic of the outsoles is that they are rounded around the edges instead of flat and/or squared off (as most shoes are). The first time I tried on the shoes, they felt a little unstable (kind of like my foot wanted to roll to the inside or outside) if my center of balance was off. Perhaps I am accustomed to relying on my shoes for stability rather than my natural balance? I don't notice it any more, so my body has definitely adapted to the sensation - maybe my balance is getting better because of it.
The shoes do not have any form of raised heel. A HUGE plus in my books.
The only significant complaint I have about the shoes is the use of cotton canvas as the fabric for the uppers. This fabric is somewhat restricting (i.e. not stretchy), and doesn't dry quickly. I think that if the shoes were constructed using the same design but with a flexible/stretchy, quick-drying, synthetic mesh, they would be almost perfect. (Well, they could also make the soles thinner too, but I don't want to be too demanding!). I also find the use of cotton for the uppers to be uncomfortable outside in cooler/wetter weather. The use of a synthetic would do wonders for them in this regard as well.
Overall First Impressions
If you are new to this minimalist thing and are looking to dip your toes in the water, this would be an inexpensive way to do it (of course cheaper yet would be to go barefoot, but hey, sometimes that isn't always practical). I also think that they would make a great everyday minimalist shoe for almost anyone on a budget. If you are willing to spend more money (4 times the price), there are better options out there for minimalist shoes, but not necessarily 4 times better!
What remains to be seen at this point is the durability. My initial thoughts are that the softer rubber for the soles may be the first thing to wear out on them, but only time will tell. I will keep you posted with updates as I continue to use them.
Have any of you tried them? If so, what do you think?