Mid-Term Report of the Feelmax Kuuva
This article was originally published at ADVENTUREinPROGRESS. It has been moved to this site so that all of my minimalist footwear articles exist in one place.
It has been almost 2 months since I first received my Feelmax Kuuvas. Now that the weather has cooled down a little, I have had some opportunities to test them in the conditions for which they were designed.
The first outing that I took them on was our camping trip to Common Ground Fair. Our days were spent at the fairgrounds, and our evenings were spent camped out in a farmer's field. During the four days we were there, the weather varied from a warm 65 F (18 C) to a frosty 32 F (0 C) to a wet/rainy 50 F (10 C). On the warmest day I wore my Niesas (my current favorite all-around shoe) and for the remainder of the days I wore the Kuuvas. Activity over the course of the weekend consisted primarily of walking (and eating) as we explored the expansive fair grounds.
The second outing that I took the Kuuvas on was much more of a rigorous test: I took them on a hike up Mount Katahdin, Maine's highest peak. The weather for this day was cold, cloudy, foggy, windy, drizzly, and at some points rainy. The temperatures started at around 42 F (5 C) and hovered in the 45 - 50 F (7 - 10 C) range for most of the day. The terrain was quite harsh, consisting mostly of big rough, wet rocks, gravel, and a little sand. The day was long, and I spent most of it wearing a pack while scrambling over all kinds of natural obstacles. These are most likely the types of conditions for which the Kuuvas were designed.
The following is a quick video of me taken by John Sifferman showing what the conditions were like:
My current favorite sock combination for these types of conditions is a pair of thin Injinji NuBamboo liner toe-socks under a pair of regular wool socks. For the Common Ground Fair, the wool socks were Dahlgren hiking socks, and for the hike up Katahdin, they were a pair of Bridgedale knee-high snowboarding socks. I generally don't like wearing thick toe-socks in colder weather because I like my toes to be as close as possible to each other for warmth. I do like to wear a thin toe-sock liner however to help wick perspiration and prevent blisters due to toes rubbing together.
So, how did the Kuuvas perform? In a nutshell, they performed very well. When first putting them on (after having worn Niesas/FiveFingers on a regular basis over the course of the summer) the Kuuvas feel a little stiff and restricting. Most notably is the extra stiffness around the ankle and additional rigidity due to beefier soles. Unlike the Niesas, which have a sewn-on fabric sole, the Kuuvas have something that can be best described as a rubber bumper that goes around the perimeter of the sole. This bumper adds water-proofness and significant abrasion resistance not found in the Niesas (which have a stitched seam around the perimeter) but adds to the rigidity of the sole. The good news about all of this is that after a short period of time I don't really notice them on my feet at all. If a shoe goes unnoticed on the feet after a period of time, then they are probably going pretty good. If - after wearing them for a while - I can't wait to take them off, then that is not the shoe for me.
While at Common Ground Fair, my feet stayed warm and dry during the cold evenings and cool, damp, dewy mornings. While hiking Mount Katahdin, my feet stayed dry until the last hour or so of the day, when they started to get damp. Even then, I was not certain whether the dampness was due to perspiration or soaking from the outside. Either way, I consider the performance to be excellent considering the level of activity and weather conditions encountered. These boots are definitely both water resistant and breathable as advertised.
While hiking on the rocks, the boots performed very well. The rubber sole grips well and allows the foot to mold sufficiently to the terrain to provide good stability. They are not, for obvious reasons, as flexible as FiveFingers and thus became a little more slippery as the rocks got wetter. This is the price I suppose that one has to pay to have warmer/dryer feet. The fabric used for the uppers (an imitation leather product called Clarino) is very tough, stands-up well to abrasion, and provides enough breathability that my feet seem to remain dry while being active. Overall I have found the construction to be very durable, with one caveat that I will discuss below.
After I returned home from our Katahdin trip, I closely inspected the soles to see how they were wearing. I noticed two places where the rubber sheeting was becoming un-bonded from the bottom of the boot. These can be seen in the photographs below. These issues should be relatively easy to fix with a little Shoe Goo, but is something that people should be aware of if using these in harsh rocky environments. Perhaps this is a manufacturing defect in the boots I received, or I am using them in terrain that is more rugged than what they were designed for. Either way, I will be communicating with Feelmax to see what there thoughts are on the matter.
In summary, I am very impressed with the Kuuva. I feel that they fill a niche that is largely un-represented by manufacturers of minimal footwear. While most companies are creating designes for warm, dry climates, Feelmax is working towards tackling weather conditions that are less than ideal. I applaud them for that because many of us don't have the luxury of being barefoot all year round! I would highly recommend the Kuuva as a spring/fall weather boot, provided you are aware of the issues I have noticed with the sole. If you typically don't find yourself in a rugged environment, then you most likely won't experience any issues at all. If you are looking for something that can take you backpacking in rocky, rough terrain, then you may need to watch the soles. As I learn more on this issue, I will update this review.
If you have questions, or want me to expand on anything, please let me know!
Update Oct 25 2009: I have since spoken with Feelmax regarding the sole de-lamination issues I encountered and they said that the problem has been identified and fixed in the current production version.
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