The April launch of Vivobarefoot’s latest Extreme Survival Collection (ESC) boot, the Forest Tracker, brings a flexible, minimalist feel to the leather hiker. We put them to the test on Pacific Northwest trails and in, well, forests.
If you’ve never experienced the Vivobarefoot design, it offers one of the most distinctly different on-foot sensations available in the footwear space. With brand principles embracing the natural flex and motion of the foot, the footwear offers a wide, thin, and flexible design to let the foot naturally splay. It looks different. It feels different.
The Forest Tracker ESC puts all that in an outdoor-ready hiking boot that lets you feel the terrain — but not get injured by it — and makes your foot do the work while embracing upper comfort and extreme flexibility.
In short: Vivobarefoot brings a completely singular footwear experience in the Forest Tracker and with high-quality construction. The $220 Forest Tracker ESC embraces wild hide leather for natural water resistance, a unique Michelin-designed outsole compound and patterning for traction, and a minimalist feel quite unlike a traditional hiking boot.
Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC Review
Out of the box, the Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC lets you know you’re in for a different experience. The boot simply looks different. The minimalist design is the antithesis of overbuilt hikers, and the wide toebox comes pronounced.
To keep the boot lightweight and breathable, Vivobarefoot doesn’t use a waterproof membrane. Rather, it employs a wild hide leather for natural water-resistance and an air-mesh lining for improved breathability and drying.
The boots include a 50g tub of Renapur leather balsam for the user to apply for improved performance and durability.
Even without cushioning underfoot, there’s plenty of comfort on the upper, as the lining and ankle and heel construction employ padding. There is a unique mixture of the “ancient tradition,” as the brand likes to call it, for natural foot movement.
And this modern design makes the Forest Tracker an incredibly flexible boot — yes, you can fully roll the boot into a ball — that can still handle the ruggedness of a true hiking trail.
An accredited B Corp brand using sustainably sourced natural, bio, and recycled materials, the Forest Tracker also features an outsole side stitch for easier repair.
Just because Vivobarefoot comes void of underfoot foams and cushioning doesn’t remove protection or grip. Vivobarefoot collaborated with Michelin on a “unique” rubber compound and then designed V-shaped lugs meant to ensure traction in multiple settings.
While the wearer can certainly feel the ground underfoot — and whatever contour the ground has to offer — they remain protected from it. And thanks to the aggressive lug pattern, they stay locked into the terrain, even if the lugs struggled at times to fully clear the muck common in the PNW.
The brand’s logo in the arch offers an additional effort to get more grip underfoot, providing a differing pattern midfoot to gain traction on uneven surfaces.
By staying low to the ground — and we’re talking lower than you’ve likely ever felt in a hiking boot — you feel every aspect of the trail. But, you also have the freedom to accelerate knowing that you aren’t hovering too high on the footbed.
While hitting the dirt, branches, and rocks of the Pacific Northwest, the traction pattern performed well and provided security.
Fit & Feel
When you first strap up the Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC, you’ll be shocked at the space in the toebox and wonder if you can even hike in the boots. You can.
The design, which comes in European sizing, allows you to tighten the laces around the ankle — the anti-rust cast brass eyelets are a nice touch, by the way. This design then allows your foot to enjoy the natural splay, and the room to do so when you start moving.
It takes getting used to, there’s no doubt. It is a different sensation if you’ve never done it before.
If you’re shifting from a heavily built boot to a Vivobarefoot product, you may want to take it slow and not break out on an epic journey. At your first go, your feet are forced to do more work and can tire more quickly.
At the same time, feet have room to maneuver and stay relatively cool along the way. That mesh lining does the trick of increasing airflow and working to keep moisture away from the foot.
The high collar height means a tight lace kept the boot firmly secure, even tight. Lacing looser or not strapping the top eyelet created additional freedom around the lower leg.
Flexibility was the unsung hero of the design. Now sure what to expect, other than the fascination with the entire boot’s malleability, was the footwear’s ability to move so easily.
It didn’t disrupt security and enhanced the natural feel of the experience. Even with a padded collar and additional protection around the ankle and on the heel, its flexibility wasn’t compromised.
Should You Buy the Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC?
If you’re ready to try a new experience in hiking, give the Vivobarefoot principles a shot. And the Tracker Forest ESC is a high-quality platform for that.
The Michelin outsole provided secure traction and underfoot protection (remember, there’s no underfoot cushioning). And the interior lining was a welcome comfort addition. The wild hide leather presents a durable, natural option that helps protect against the elements.
The natural, flexible feel of the Tracker Forest ESC was just as intriguing as the minimalist barefoot sensation, providing a link throughout the boot that inspired a move closer to the trail.
The Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC surely isn’t for those who crave the creature comforts of highly built uppers on ample footbeds of foam. But for those looking to let their feet move, get in touch with the trail, and maybe force your feet to work a little harder, the Tracker Forest ESC does so in a premium package.