You may want to try a pair of huaraches running sandals. They're more barefoot-ish than VFFs by a long shot, but still protect you. And you can make a pair from a kit for as little as $19.95.
I liked mine so much (and so did the Boulder Barefoot Running Club members) that I ended up starting www.InvisibleShoe.com.
The Feiyue shoes look pretty good, but...
I recently ordered a pair of Ninja shoes (jiki tabi) - split-toed shoes with a sole that looks similar to the Feiyue. Frankly, I found the soles to be FAR too stiff.
If the VFFs are too pricey and it's too cold to be barefoot, I second the recommendation for the aqua shoes. I have a pair of the Teva Protons that work great with a pair of SmartWools to keep my feetwarm . But, it's nothing like barefooting or even FiveFingering.
I have an InvisibleShoe kit... waiting to be turned into huraches... Must. Get. On. This.
pace sera, sera
I also have the Protons. You can get them from Sierra Trading Post for about $25 - they are last year's model and were replaced by the "Sling King". So, they are cheaper.... but.... they are very warm. They are so warm that I find them uncomfortable when it gets above 20 degrees. I live in Massachusetts and run about once or twice a week before sunrise. They keep my toes toasty when the temps are in single-digit territory. They work really well in slush and are way better than my old trainers when I'm running in over an inch of snow.
It's kind of funny...I came onto the board specifically to look up what barefoot/minimalist groups there where here, and here's a thread about it right at the top of the 'new replies' column. Someone was even nice enough to post the link to it!
I agree about the price tag for VFF! I am murder on regular shoes. I've normally been a heavy heel striker, so I have serious doubts about being able to get 2000 miles on a pair of vibrams. Most other minimalist shoes are almost as expensive. It's kind of like paying more for the can of soup with no salt added. Charge me extra for leaving something out?
I've been working towards going barefoot/minimal. Seems like the growing trend with shoe companies is to make them taller and taller, which is exactly what I don't want. I run better in a low shoe, like a racing flat. I finally got so tired of my regular shoes that I haven't run in them for a month. I do 8-10 miles every time I head out the door. Lately, I've been doing some of the miles in racing shoes, but more and more of them in water shoes (or beach shoes). They're light, cheap ($6 at Wal-Mart), and really thin. I started with just 3 or 4 miles in them, then switched to my racing shoes for the rest. I did more and more in them as I got used to it. My last couple of 10-milers have been just in those. They don't fit very tight, because I have really narrow feet, so I won't be doing any racing or speedwork in them unless I want blisters. But, for just putting in the miles, they're great. I may eventually work up to barefoot, but it won't be until spring! Barefoot and 15* do not a happy runner make. (At least in my case.)
It did get me thinking about a shoe project, though, that would be even better than water shoes. I've started gathering things up to try making my own minimalist shoes. It doesn't look that hard. I'm going to try removing the sole/midsole from one of my older pairs with a heat gun or hair dryer. If I can find a full-length replacement sole for a reasonable price (sources, anyone?), I'll glue it to the old uppers with shoe goo, without a midsole. To me, I think it would be the best of both worlds. I won't get the weird looks that I get for running in water shoes, I can lace them up so I don't get blisters, and they'll be close to running in nothing. It's even an eco-friendly idea, because I'm re-using the uppers from an old pair, and just replacing the sole when it wears out instead of buying a whole new pair.
Barefoot and happy
I can suggest something cheaper than FiveFingers that's actually much better for teaching beginners how to run better.
Seriously, this stuff isn't rocket science, and it doesn't need to cost anything. I realize you may be apprehensive, but that's just fear of the unknown. Everyone that I've convined to try it has been shocked at how fun it is.
If it's too cold now, then wait until spring. By next winter you'll have learned enough to graduate to minimalist shoes safely.
Barefoot is safer for beginners, because there is no illusion of protection. People do get hurt trying to jump directly into minimalist shoes. You're far less likely to get hurt while barefoot, because your feet make it immediately obvious when you're doing something wrong, and you are naturally hyper-aware of where you're stepping.
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