‘MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology) was born in 1996 when we discovered that natural instability can have positive effects on the human body. We made this discovery by observing the wonderfully agile Masai people walking barefoot on natural, uneven ground. Seeing these people in action made us realize that the human body is simply not designed to walk or stand on the hard, flat surfaces of modern society. So we set out to develop a new kind of footwear, one that would mimic walking on soft, uneven ground. The results have been dramatic and revolutionary. MBTs are now sold in more than 55 countries around the world and many enthusiastic users enjoy wearing MBTs.’ – http://uk.mbt.com
BACKGROUND ANY WHY I NEEDED MBTs
I bought my MBT sport ‘shoes’ in Summer 2010 after having accidentally discovering them on one of the Spring Bank holiday weekends. At the time they cost approximately £250 (the price varied a little depending on the retailer and boy did I shop around!) but I bought them from eBay for about £50 (bargain). The retail price is still around £250 now but I’ve noticed that stores (online especially) usually have a discounted price.
I’ve always been a fan of walking everywhere possible and in 2008 I decided to cut out the bus sections of my commute in favour of walking, and on some routes even finding shorter routes to walk rather than taking the tube or train. However, because I had started seriously working out pre-puberty my skeleton is not in the best of shape even though I’m pretty fit overall and I’ve had to change certain habits to support it better, footwear included. I went from wearing heels (platforms and wedges) to low heels (1-1.5 inch) and trainers every day. By the time I found out about MBT footwear the shoes, trainers, plimsolls and dance sneakers I’d been wearing just weren’t cutting it anymore. They would be fine for 6 months – 1 year but then they’d wear out and/or actually cause me more pain. So it must have been a message telling me to move on when I quickly stopped into an almost empty store soaked from head to foot looking for shelter and was confronted with a wall of MBTs…
It was a typical UK Spring Bank Holiday, pouring with rain out of the blue, and rather than continue the walk back to the hotel I stopped at a health store to wait out the weather. I looked at all the freshly made foods (you know it’s essential to feed your stomach through your eyes ahem) and vitamins etc until I reached the back and saw curved sole shoes for the first time. I had vaguely heard of them previously but didn’t really know much so when the store assistant saw me looking she was more than happy to help out. WARNING – when you try curved sole shoes for the first time take care to keep your balance and not step on the kindly assistant’s hands in the process, as I did! She had warned me that it’s not like wearing regular shoes and you have to adjust your posture to get used to them first. However, hearing and doing are two different things and as I soon as she helped me put them on I felt like I was falling backwards and as aforementioned straight onto her hands. I was terribly embarrassed and apologetic but thankfully I’m light and quick so it was only for a split second… but still. She told me that to get used to the stance at first the best thing to do is try to put my weight directly on the centre of my feet or lean forwards a little. I wasn’t so sure but quickly got used to them after walking around. I still wasn’t sure though because I had always been weary of shoes that rock as I’ve had sandals that rocked at the front (though flat at the back) and I used to be scared of walking down stairs in them and I used a buckle a bit. However, MBTs curve at the front and the back and they are sturdy so the ‘rock’ is balanced out as you walk with each foot countering the rocking motion of the other. Unfortunately though none of the shoes in store were vegan friendly (the ones I had tried on at the cajoling of the store assistant were to see how they felt and not seem like a tourist who had gone into a shop for reasons unrelated to their wares) so I couldn’t buy any but I bought a bunch of foodstuffs to make up for the earlier incident.
I went back to the hotel thinking I had to try some more that were suitable to my lifestyle because I was impressed with how ‘bouncy’ I had felt in them, like walking on air. Our feet are designed to walk on the earth not concrete, tarmac, asphalt etc with no ‘give’, when we walk on hard unforgiving surfaces all the downwards pressure comes right back up and for people like me with aching bones or joints, it can really hurt and turn into chronic pain. Hence I quickly started scouring online stores as MBTs weren’t so popular back then and not often seen on the high street. Doing so made me realise that getting the right size and feel for the shoes was more important than regular shoe buying.
My shoe size is quite small, sometimes I have to wear a half size up and my foot shape is a bit wide with even toes rather than the more common narrow with uneven toes shape so footwear with pointy or rounded toes are a no-no and so are shoes with a lot of fabric that isn’t accounted for in the sizing which then takes up the space your foot is supposed to be in. I did some online research reading reviews to understand the fit better (I find people’s experience wearing shoes outside of the shop and over time very helpful) and realized that the pair I wanted for walking a lot in were quite a slim fit and small in size. I bought one size up, they fit perfectly and I moved on to looking for a pair to stand around in more than walk and I knew the size to buy, or so I thought. I bought the MBT sport-2 style in the same size and was disappointed because they were too big, not just a little bit that I could make up for with an extra inner sole or thick socks, but big enough that I had to give them away (to my mother who is still very happy with them!) Size isn’t usually a problem once I’ve tried on a pair or two from a brand but with MBT I found that their sizing wasn’t consistent through the ranges, rather the size/fit differed per individual style and asking the sellers what they’d recommend wasn’t enough. So I tracked them down in a bricks/mortar shop and found that I needed a whole size down from the first pair I bought. (FYI – MBTs come in half sizes too.)
The sport-2 style is well made with sturdy construction and durable materials in thick and padded layers. They’re also breathable and can take a little water but are not waterproof, so walking in light rain is fine and they won’t get stained but walking through puddles or in a downpour will leave you with wet feet. They’re very comfortable but that’s once you’ve gotten used to them, since they’re quite bulky and even though they’re not heavy they can feel so when you first wear them. I also found the ‘tongue’ in both the sport-2 pairs I bought were quite hard/stiff and would stick into my feet until I bent them upwards a little and they adjusted as I wore the shoes.
I’ve been wearing these regularly for quite a while now and find that they are perfect for standing in for long periods of time, I gently rock in them whilst standing still sometimes and my legs feel fine rather than being tired and achey from being on my feet. I personally don’t find them as versatile for walking as I walk brusquely and long distance but they support the body well for upto an hour of walking whether fast or on a nice constitutional, after that my feet and joints start to complain. I can also run/jog a little in these e.g. running for the bus whereas the other style I bought specifically for walking cannot be used for running at all. I can’t imagine jogging as a sport in these, but I guess it depends on the person and it might just be a case of getting used to it.
In regards to sports in general, I’ve found these supportive when using exercise/gym equipment but I’m not sure if they can be worn on waxed gymnasium floors (ask the instructor beforehand if you want to try them). They are well suited to outdoor sports but are a little too bulky for me as I like to feel light and agile on my feet, it might be different for those who need to feel more solidly in place/grounded in their actions. The soles have excellent grip and I have never slipped in them and I rarely buckle (if I do it’s usually because I’ve had to change direction or side step quickly whilst walking on a crowded pavement). Stopping, starting and pivoting are not problem in these.
They don’t take much maintenance except for a light clean with a damp (and sometimes lightly soapy) cloth now and then. Additionally the Grey/Silver sections on them are quite subtle so I’m able to wear them as part of work wear, however bear in mind that the colour accents on the front light up in dark lighting, they are not fluorescent but they do ‘glow’.
Since I discovered MBTs I haven’t looked back or regretted it and the two different styles I bought are my go-to shoes, they’re all I need every day except for special occasions. It would take something pretty special to supplant these and even though I was taken aback by the price at first, it didn’t take me long to realize why and now I fully understand their value. I had never bought shoes above £60-70 before and usually settle on a lot less but the pain relief and prevention these provide through their strength and supported mobility is worth it. I’ve taken a look at cheaper alternatives but I haven’t come across a brand that didn’t pale in comparison and if you don’t mind buying second hand there’s always places like eBay that sell both new and used (sometimes lightly worn or unworn).
The one thing I can’t decisively review is the claim that your muscles will be better toned for wearing these. I know that is one of the most popular reasons for wearing curved sole shoes and one of the main selling points for some brands but personally I’ve never noticed increased toning even though I’ve worn the shoes consistently. That could be because I’m already quite toned and have done a fair amount of regular exercise so short of suddenly trying a sport totally unrelated to what I do already I probably wouldn’t feel a change in muscle definition. That said, I did find that following periods of non-travel and/or weight gain I had to ‘get back into’ walking in the shoes again – the same applied for the other MBT style I have – it didn’t take long but initially it would feel like more work on the first outing or two. So those who do not exercise as much or regularly might find a lot more toning to their muscles. I can’t imagine that there’d be no muscle toning/building because of the rocking motion and the bounce whilst walking and with regular use they should help improve your style of walking and posture. I have good posture (drummed into me as a child) but I still feel that I stand straighter in these and if I bend my knees slightly the support is increased.
You can find out more about the benefits here: http://uk.mbt.com/Home/Benefits.aspx
Overall I’d give these two scores – 4/5 for people new to MBTs because you have to give them a chance and get used to them and 5/5 for those who do that and realise that they are worth the effort and pay you back.