The Vibram Five Fingers V-Aqua is an amphibious spin on the company’s “flagship” shoe, designed for athletes who want minimalist footwear on land and water. These shoes are comfortable, with great grip, but the spare, lightweight design means you’ll feel every rock and root if you take them hiking.
Vibram Five Fingers V-Aqua Men's
✅ Great traction
✅ Good for a wide range of activities on land and water
✅ Very comfortable
❌ Long toe boxes
❌ Limited back strap adjustment
❌ Foot takes a beating on rough terrain
❌ Durability issues
❌ Runs small
- Weight: 9.8 oz per pair (Men’s 12)
- Material: EVA rubber insole, Vibram Megagrip outsole, mesh upper
The Vibram Five Fingers V-Aqua is a minimalist, lightweight, amphibious shoe with great traction. The V-Aqua is about as close to barefoot as you can get in closed-toe footwear, and while it’s not rugged enough to stand up to prolonged use on trails or pavement, it really shines in and around the water.
I enjoyed the novelty of these shoes, and they forced me to engage with the outdoors in a new way, paying attention to every step and making more active choices about where and how I walked.
I would happily recommend these shoes to kayakers, canoers, boaters, stand-up paddle boarders, and beach workout enthusiasts. This shoe could be packed in on your backpacking trip as a camp shoe, but if you’re looking for a minimalist shoe for running or hiking, I would give the V-Aqua a miss.
To see reviews on other camp shoes, see our post on the best camp shoes.
Performance Test Results
What We Tested:
How We Tested
I tested the Vibram Five Fingers V-Aqua (Men’s) in southern Michigan during the late winter and early spring. The weather was mostly wet and chilly, and trail conditions were correspondingly wet and muddy in most places. I hiked in these shoes on several maintained trails, as well as through creeks and while wading into a few ponds and lakes. I also took them off-trail, scrambling over logs and blowdowns.
Picking up these shoes (or “tools,” as Vibram calls them) it’s immediately clear that they’re designed to be as light as possible. At just 9.8 oz per pair, they could easily be added to a pack as an additional camp shoe or water shoe without sacrificing one’s commitment to a low-end base weight. The bulk of the weight comes from the high-traction sole and velcro straps, while the mesh upper weighs almost nothing.
There’s no extra bulk anywhere on the V-Aqua. It’s designed to be minimalist, and it really felt that way on trail and in the water. Other than the added grip, it felt very close to walking barefoot, which would be the only way to go lighter than this shoe.
One reason Vibram’s Five Fingers line is so iconic is that there’s very little else like it on the market. This is doubly true for the V-Aqua: other brands have produced “swimrun” shoes, but none go truly “barefoot” with separated toes like Vibram has here. The V-Aqua also boasts the lightest weight in its category, though the Vivobarefoot Hydra Esc, at 10 oz, comes very close. (The Hydra Esc, like all others listed here, has a traditional closed toe box instead of separate boxes for each toe.) From here the comparable shoes add a good amount of bulk: the popular Inov-8 X-Talon 212 V2 comes in at 14.8 oz; The VJ Irock 3, another well-reviewed competitor, weighs in at 16.9 oz; and the Icebug Acceleritas8 comes in at 17.6 oz.
The Aqua X Sport Water Shoes from Xero Shoes are primarily for aquatic use, but can be taken on trail, and those weigh in at 12.4 oz per pair.
The Vibram Five Fingers V-Aqua weighs 9.8 oz per pair. You can easily attach this outside your pack without sacrificing your base weight.
The Vibram Five Fingers V-Aqua currently retails for $95.00. That’s not dirt cheap, and a cursory internet search will show you a handful of knockoff shoes that look something like a Vibram pair at a fraction of the cost, but there’s something to be said for quality assurance from a trusted and well-reviewed brand. (Vibram currently offers full refunds for six weeks after purchase and exchanges up to 90 days.)
That said, the V-Aqua still feels like a bargain, as it runs cheaper than most well-known swim-run shoes. That makes sense, given that there’s so little actual shoe involved; other, more rugged products will necessarily contain more parts and materials.
The V-Aqua has no features that add an extra cushion or distance running functionality, save for what you already have in your actual foot. Something like the Vivobarefoot Hydra Esc, the closest comparison to the V-Aqua in weight but styled like a more traditional running shoe, has a commensurately higher price tag.
Among similar products, the closest competitor in price is Xero’s Aqua X Sport Water Shoes, at $129.99, with the Icebug Acceleritas8 coming in at $139.95 and the Inov-8 X-Talon 212 V2 at $150.00. On the upper end, the VJ Irock 3 will run you about $185.00, while the Vivobarefoot Hydra Esc costs $200.00.
Because they’re designed to create a “barefoot” experience, the V-Aqua is generally very comfortable to put on and wear around on good terrain. I was grateful that the mesh uppers, secured by a Velcro strap, fit snugly without pinching the bridge of the foot, as all the cheap water shoes I wore in childhood seemed to do.
It can be hard to find shoes that make space for feet as wide as mine without going overboard, and I found that the overall shape of the V-Aqua was a great fit for me and really did account for the natural spread of the foot when running or walking.
The grippy sole is shaped in a way that fits naturally with the rest of the shoe, with no uncomfortable edges or drop-offs on either side and seemed to reduce my tendency to overpronate. The V-Aqua is also extremely flexible, with the sole becoming razor-thin at the arch of the foot.
But unless you’re spoiled by a really great local trail agency, the terrain isn’t often going to be perfect. If you’re aiming for a basically-barefoot experience, you’re probably okay with feeling the impact of trail debris like roots and rocks as you walk or run. That’s absolutely the case in these shoes.
I felt every contour and imperfection of the trail and the creek bed acutely while wearing these Vibrams, and after a few miles, my feet had really taken a beating. There are plenty of people who actively seek out that kind of experience, but if you’re new to the world of minimalist footwear, the comparison to a hiking boot or even a zero-drop trail runner is stark.
I was glad that I hadn’t picked routes that required much scrambling or rock travel, for which I prefer the comfort of my trusty Altras. In the wet grass and the squelching mud and the soft bottoms of ponds, though, I did like the feel of the V-Aqua.
After a few hours of going in and out of the water and down the trail in the V-Aqua, I didn’t develop any blisters or hot spots. That said, the individual toe boxes are by necessity a one-size-fits-all situation, which meant that my particular gnarled toes had plenty of space to spare in three of the five slots.
Over prolonged use, I suspect that mismatch would create some chafing or blisters. Something to keep an eye on if your feet aren’t showroom ready.
If you need to go in and out of the water quickly, it’s crucial to have good traction on whatever shoes you choose. The V-Aqua really impressed me here, not only when I was navigating established creeks and ponds, but also on muddy uphills and downhills on washed-out trails.
As I mentioned, these shoes aren’t the most rugged on the market and won’t feel super supportive on rough terrain, but I found that they really shine in wet and muddy conditions. I traveled comfortably over some soggy, mossy logs and large, slick rocks with no trouble--it was when the sticks and rocks got smaller and sharper that I ran into trouble.
As someone who isn’t a zealous convert to the minimalist footwear lifestyle, I wouldn’t consider the V-Aqua for my everyday hiking needs or anything resembling long distances. You certainly can hike and walk in them, and would likely be grateful for that choice if you encountered standing water or deep mud on the trail, which you might need to avoid to prevent prolonged discomfort (or at least the annoying chore of cleaning) in more traditional hiking shoes.
But their grip and versatility make them a better choice for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, or canoeing. They could also be a good choice for beach runners who want a modicum of protection from debris or like to plunge into the water when they’re done working out.
Vibram Five Fingers V-Aqua on water.
The V-Aqua is able to be adjusted with two Velcro straps, one coming across the bridge of the foot and the other on the outside heel. There is also a pull tab on the back of the shoe for ease of pulling it off and on. The top strap felt very secure without being too rigid or uncomfortable, and I appreciated the back tab while I was putting on the shoes.
The heel strap is the weak link here. Because of how the two Velcro pieces line up, tightening it much past the factory alignment is difficult, as there’s nothing for the “burr” side to grab onto past a certain point.
Given that this is a wide shoe with long toes and a company recommendation of going a size up, some people are going to need flexibility in their strap adjustments, and I had hoped that the straps would help this one-size-fits-all shoe accommodate different foot sizes and shapes. That wasn’t the case. I didn’t suffer greatly as a result, and overall I liked the fit, but people with other foot proportions might need to play around with sizing in order to get the V-Aqua to work for them.
The swim-run shoes that are the V-Aqua’s best comparison all have laces, which is a tradeoff to consider. Laced shoes are easier to tighten or loosen at multiple points of the foot, but also tend to lack the overall side-to-side freedom and flexibility of a truly minimalist shoe like the V-Aqua.
As far as competitors with straps, the closest analog is probably the classic Teva Universal sandal, which in my experience has more pliant and adjustable straps than the V-Aqua.
Adjusting the Vibram Five Fingers V-Aqua using its two velcro straps.
The patterned Megagrip sole of the V-Aqua runs the length of the shoe, curling up to cover the front of each toe. Between the toes, and in a stylish bridge across the top of the shoe, is a perforated material that is slightly thicker than the single-layer mesh that constitutes the rest of the upper.
Inside the shoe, there is a thin silicon-treated EVA liner, which is designed to prevent internal sliding. The whole shoe is extremely breathable and lightweight.
The V-Aqua is machine washable, which is a plus, given the range of uses it’s designed for. It can’t be put in the dryer, but air dries quickly.
Other comparable shoes, including the Aqua X Sport water shoe, have a fully enclosed upper, tongue, and laces. The V-Aqua has none of those things. It exposes a bit more of the top of the foot than its competitors and is adjusted with a pair of Velcro straps rather than laces.
Vibram Five Fingers V-Aqua is made of EVA rubber insole, Vibram Megagrip outsole, and mesh upper.
As the V-Aqua is meant to be, well, aquatic, it isn’t at all waterproof. Instead, it’s designed to quickly drain accumulated water while not absorbing it. The mesh of the main body and small perforations in the sole maximize drainage, although they also maximize the amount of initial water intake. In this regard, it’s far closer to a traditional water shoe than a hiking shoe or boot, in which water resistance is desirable.
Comparable swim-run shoes are designed much the same way. Product descriptions for many swim-run shoes on the market boast of drainage capacity rather than water resistance, with the understanding that the goal isn’t to keep feet permanently dry but to get them dry quickly after submersion.
Accordingly, my score here is based not on actual water resistance but on how my experience was affected by the shoe coming into contact with water. Overall, I was satisfied with the drainage of the V-Aqua during my testing adventures. My feet never got completely dry thanks to sporadic showers in the area and accumulated water on the trail, but I never felt too badly waterlogged in between soakings. The shoes dried within about two hours once I was back indoors.
With repeated use on rugged terrain, I could see durability being an issue with these shoes. The sole itself is of good quality, but its thinness means that it could wear down with repeated use on rough surfaces. The single-layer mesh construction of the upper also feels thin enough to puncture or tear if you’re not careful.
A number of customers leaving reviews on the official product page seem to agree and say that the durability of the V-Aqua is a letdown compared to other Vibram products they’ve enjoyed.
The standard Vibram Five Fingers warranty, which applies here, ensures a full refund for any reason within six weeks of purchase, and a one-to-one exchange for reasons of product defect within ninety days.
If you’re primarily using the V-Aqua for water recreation, they feel like they’d last well beyond the need for a refund, but prolonged use on asphalt or in the backcountry might be a different story. And if that’s your primary intended use, there are plenty of non-amphibious options on the market designed with that purpose in mind, including other barefoot Vibram products.