UPDATE: This review was first published last year but is updated for 2015. We have added news about the new 2015 Ulysses and some new Vivobarefoot sandals below this article.
For the past few summers I have been wearing sandals a lot, mostly the Teva Zilch and Teva Northridge. This summer marks the first time I have worn a huarache inspired sandal, the VIVOBAREFOOT Ulysses.
The first time I wore the Ulysses I immediately felt an enormous freedom for my feet. Most sandals have a strap around the ankle. This strap not only holds the sandal securely to the foot, but also impedes flexibility. I have had misgivings about ankle straps and have experimented with various adjustments. When I started wearing the Ulysses (which does not have an ankle strap) I realized how much the foot is restricted by them. Of course there is also a downside; when walking in difficult terrain, the secure fit ankle straps provide can be necessary.
VIVOBAREFOOT designed a very minimalist looking sandal, especially in the black colour. What I like about the design is that it doesn't have a sporty or outdoor look but a more urban look. I really love to wear the Ulysses for daily use in town during the summer.
Most huarache-like sandals have a strapping system that goes around or through the sole. VIVOBAREFOOT avoided this by constructing the sole out of three layers. The first layer is the sole itself, the second layer is were the strapping system is attached, and the third layer is the footbed. This sandwich construction makes the soles thicker and more rigid than usually found on VIVOBAREFOOT shoes. The sole thickness is about 8 - 9 mm. The rigidity sometimes causes a clapping sound when walking, which also depends on your stride. With a real barefoot stride (as seen here) the clapping is less pronounced than with a heel striking stride.
For daily use in an urban environment I think the sole works well. For a real barefoot experience in nature I would prefer a more minimal shoe. However, the Ulysses allow my feet the flexibility and expansion that they love to have. This flexibility is enhanced by the partial elastic straps, which also makes it very easy to take the Ulysses on and off. There are no straps that can be tightened, which also contributes to the minimal design.
Not shown in the photos, the uppers non-elastic material has a shiny, almost fluorescent effect when light shines on it in the dark. This is very useful when cycling, walking or running at night. And maybe this will bring huaraches into the disco scene.
One VIVOBAREFOOT supplier mentioned on their website that the Ulysses run small and they advised buying a size larger. I don't really think it runs small but my feet tend to move forward when walking which make the sandals look like are too small. Another problem is that the sole is quite rounded off near the big toe, making the area around the big toe run a bit small. Not everybody has greek or celtic feet. I find it interesting to think that the English designers at VIVOBAREFOOT probably have Celtic feet. German engineered minimal shoes (like from Sole Runner or Joe Nimble) have the most room for the big toe, probably due to their Germanic feet. The same thing can be said about Vibram FiveFingers that are designed by Italians with Roman feet...
The Ulysses is a completely new model from VIVOBAREFOOT. They have shown that a lot of their shoes stay in the collection for a long time but they are also willing to improve their shoes if necessary. I expect the Ulysses to return in the summer 2015 collection and I also wonder if and how they will improve it. I think a thinner and more flexible sole would make this sandal even better.
My Ulysses weigh about 182g each in size EU 45 / UK 11 / US 11.5 and they are vegan.
The Ulysses are available in men's and woman's styles. The woman's versions have different elastic straps and are available in multiple colors.
NEW: The Ulysses has a new heelstrap for 2015. The elastic strap has been replaced by a Velcro strap. Acoording to Vivobarefoot the main reason for adding the velcro to the strap on the new Ulysses was to improve the adjustability and to enable a custom fit for the wearer.
Photo courtesy of De Trek barefoot store.
For 2015 Vivobarefoot added some more sandals to their summer collection. I think this a good thing because there are not many minimal sandal options except huaraches and flip flops. Teva seems to have stopped producing their Northridge and Zirra lite sandals. Of course Xero Shoes joined in with their Z-Trek sandal for 2015 too. Vibram Fivefingers stopped the production of their Treksport sandal but for women they still have the Alitza and VI-B.
The new Vivobarefoot models are the Pandora and Shiva for women and the Maran for men. And then there is also their Achilles running sandal which is one of the oldest Vivobarefoot models that is still available and it is nearly unchanged since its introduction.
The Shiva is a step in model without a heel strap. This is great for women who like take off their footwear with no effort and as many times as possible.
The Pandora is a sandal from the Handcut range just like the Maran for men below. These sandals are made in Portugal and are more exclusive (and expensive) than the sandals from the regular range.
Of course for 2015 there are new colours like this pink Ulysses for women:
And there is still the old Achilles. Do you have any experience with this sandal? We are interested. Please share your experiences in the comments below.
VIVOBAREFOOT is already working on a new sandal for summer 2016. No details are available yet.
The good thing about sandals and huaraches is that they really give freedom to the foot. The toes can really splay and your foot's skin can breath instead of sweat. There is also one downside. In shoes your sweat keeps your the skin moisturized, also the calluses. In sandals the skin can dry out and make painful cracks in the calluses. So when winter is over take care of your feet's skin before turning into sandals and remove excess calluses.