By Steve Hill – Rattling Chains staff
Depending on when, where, and what type of courses you play, finding the right footwear for disc golf can make or break your round.
Sure, if you play in a manicured park setting that boasts raked concrete tee pads, you can probably get away with wearing those clunky old skate shoes collecting dust in your closet. But if you play on any sort of uneven terrain, or tee off from rubber mats, gravel pits, or – gasp! – dirt, you’re going to need some heavy tread to keep you on your feet.
Enter Vibram FiveFingers.
With a combination of a mesh upper, durable tread, and impressive flexibility, I dare say the FiveFingers make the ideal disc golf shoe.
That is, if you are willing to open your mind.
You see, these shoes are less like shoes and more like gloves for your feet. They look a little odd and definitely feel strange at first. But, like Garth from “Wayne’s World” liked to say, “After a while, they become a part of you.”
Vibram, a long-time purveyor of footwear who a few years back hopped into the disc golf manufacturing game, was kind enough to provide Rattling Chains with a pair of TrekSport FiveFingers back in December. After wearing them for a few months, they continue to hold up tremendously in most conditions and, most importantly, have grown increasingly comfortable with each use.
Being an avid runner, I was familiar with this type of minimalist footwear already. I hadn’t taken part myself, but I have seen plenty of people wearing them at various races, and I even had a former coworker swear by them for comfort and stability.
I understand the trepidation a consumer might feel when simply looking at these shoes. On the surface, they don’t necessarily look comfortable, and as far as functionality for every day use, they don’t look like they would cut it.
But, as we all know, looks can be deceiving.
Indeed, when I first received my FiveFingers, the first time I took them out wasn’t to the disc golf course, or for a run. It was to the grocery store.
Did I feel a little funny? Sure. But, per the directions that come with the shoes, it is recommended to try them out in light use a couple hours a day to get your feet and legs used to them, so I followed the rules like a good boy and ventured up and down the aisles with these odd things on my feet.
And man, am I glad I did. If I would have gone full bore into a round of disc golf or a more intense activity, I would have been hurting.
Because these are minimal shoes, they really make your feet and legs work a bit differently than conventional shoes. As a result, while going for a run in normal shoes later that night, I felt a lot of tightness in the sides of my legs that I don’t usually get from my daily outings. After thinking about what might have caused the discomfort, I realized that the FiveFingers accentuated the natural pronation of my foot. That is, I tend to run and walk more on the outside of my feet, and the FiveFingers amplified the workout my feet were getting because there was less padding than regular shoes.
So, because the outside of my feet were working harder, it transferred up to the outside of my legs. It made for a bit of an uncomfortable run that day, but I also saw the bright side: If these shoes were making my legs work harder after a couple hours of walking in them than my 20-plus miles a week of running did, I am going to be stronger for wearing them long-term.
But you didn’t come here to read about a little leg soreness. You want to hear how these shoes perform on the course, right?
Both of my home courses sport rubber teepads, which, as users of these launching spots know, can be quite the harbinger of doom. Any dirt or wetness on them, and they are hell for getting a good grip from which to tee off.
Except for when I wear the FiveFingers.
In fact, the first round I took these shoes out for was just before Christmas on a San Diego winter day – mist, and lots of moisture on the ground and on the tees. Never once was I concerned I was going to slip and fall off the pad during my drive, though, because the tread is so well-distributed to all the places your foot hits the tee.
Plus, the tread is fairly burly – so much so that, when my two-year-old is napping, I have to walk a bit more lightly on our wood floors, lest my FiveFingers sound more like my wife’s heels.
Aside from the tee, the FiveFingers are also excellent for upshots, as you truly feel more connected to whatever surface you are playing on. While this isn’t always good (read: public bathrooms), being able to dig your toes in on a hillside or easily navigate large rocks and downed branches gives you confidence while playing.
And really, that is the biggest takeaway I have from wearing the FiveFingers – I feel more confident, because I am taking one more variable out of the equation. When I don’t have to think about slipping, it is a lot easier to concentrate on the line I am trying to hit.
I do have a couple minor quibbles with the shoes, though.
First, the mesh upper leaves your feet susceptible to moisture, be it from grass, or an inadvertent puddle step. I wouldn’t recommend these for winter conditions in most areas, but I am able to get away with them in Southern California. If you have the luxury of wearing different shoes to the course based on the season, this model is excellent for the warm months.
My biggest concern with them, though, is the mesh-like material used between the toes. While this feature is certainly necessary for flexibility and fit (not everyone has the same size toes, after all), it is a point of vulnerability in the design. I have taken quite a few pine needles and twigs in between the toes, and am always fearful of broken glass at my local course working its way between there. Luckily, it hasn’t happened, but that is something I never worried about with conventional footwear.
Still, having to pay closer attention to litter is a small price to pay for the benefits of these shoes.
Finally, one other note of caution – FiveFingers aren’t going to be fit for all feet. For example, Vibram also sent a pair to Rattling Chains boss man P.J. Harmer, and he couldn’t make them work. Even after going into stores and trying on multiple pairs, he couldn’t find something that would be comfortable on a wider foot, and the salesperson at the shop — a young, athletic female — also said she had problems with the fit. So, before making the plunge and purchasing FiveFingers online, it would be wise to go into a store and test them out.
Still, with a savvy combination of less weight and more grip, FiveFingers really are tremendous disc golf shoes. And, what’s more, they are an amazing conversation starter. I get questions about them every time I wear them out – either to the course or elsewhere – which proves to me that Vibram is doing something right.
While they may not look natural, the fit and function are there. I’d highly recommend the Vibram FiveFingers to any disc golfers who are willing to take a chance. Disc golfers tend to be a bit more outdoorsy to begin with, and these shoes further heighten the experience and integration with nature, as well as add much-needed confidence to your game.
Steve Hill is the associate editor for Rattling Chains. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @OneMileMore.