Vibram Fivefingers Trek Ascent Expert Review

This is a guest post by Lee Firman - an adventurer and entrepreneur who runs a company called Feetus.

The Trek Ascent was released by Vibram FiveFingers in 2015, replacing the massively popular TrekSport.

I remember when Vibram FiveFingers first announced that they were discontinuing the massively popular Trek Sport back in 2014, I put my head in my hands and had that sinking feeling: This was their best trail shoe, their second-biggest seller (behind the KSO, now the KSO EVO), and my personal favourite shoe.

Trek Ascent

I needn’t have worried. As soon as I saw the Trek Ascent, I knew it trumped its predecessor. The look, the grip, the fastening mechanism, the improved fabric… The Trek Ascent is THE BEST trail shoe in the FiveFingers range. Let me tell you why.

The Trek Ascent is a minimalist / barefoot running shoe aimed at those who like to go off the beaten track. If you’re more inclined to go hiking or trail running rather than pounding the tarmac, the Trek Ascent is, in my opinion, the best shoe in the FiveFingers range.

Vibram FiveFingers advertise the Trek Ascent as a ‘hiking shoe’, and instead, regard the Spyridon MR as their trail running shoe.

Winter

The Spyridon MR is a great shoe for Spring/Summer trail running, but it really suffers when the ground is wet. On slippery mud and wet terrain, the grip on the Spyridon MR can often feel inadequate, leaving you feeling unsteady on your feet. The minimal grip also means you need to be extra vigilant when you’re running the trails; keeping your eyes peeled for debris and stones during your run can hamper the experience of off-road running.

When you’re out on the trails, it is so important to feel confident in your shoes. The maximum sole height of the Trek Ascent is around 9mm, which some may argue is a little too thick to be considered ‘barefoot’, but the reality is, when it comes to finding a good, solid, reliable trail shoe, if you want that ‘barefoot feel’, there has to be a compromise.

The Five Things I Love Most About The Vibram FiveFingers Trek Ascent:

  • The MEGAGRIP sole: 9mm thick with great grip; Assures confidence in handling different terrains. It copes well on the trails in all weather, yet the tread isn’t overly aggressive meaning you can still use this shoe for road and indoor training too.
  • The high ankle cuff: No one likes it when debris enters through the top of their shoe during a walk/run. The high cuff goes a long way to prevent this ever happening.
  • The quick-drying fabric: The upper fabric is lightweight making it extremely breathable. If you get stuck in a downpour or need to ford a stream, the technical fabric dries very quickly.
  • The quick-lace system: Simply fasten the shoes, pop the lace on to the Velcro tab and forget about your laces. They don’t come undone.
  • The look: I love FiveFingers for performance, but I confess that even after wearing them for 6 years, I still find them rather hideous. The Trek Ascent is one of the less garish styles. I’m a firm believer that if you feel that you look good, you will perform better; and the Trek Ascent looks sleek and fast.

The Trek Ascent in Summer

For me, the Trek Ascent really shines (bad pun, sorry) during the warmer, dryer months. When the trails are dry, the tread pattern of the Trek Ascent really grips the ground hard, leaving you confident on your feet. Handling winding single-track through woodland, no problem; descending grassy banks, easy; keeping controlled and balanced over rock, it’s a breeze.

Trek Ascent

If you’re looking for a minimalist trail shoe for summer, the Trek Ascent should be on your list.

The Trek Ascent in Winter

Being perfectly frank, there is no perfect minimalist shoe for winter. The low profile of the shoes means that you’re always close to the ground leaving you susceptible to water entering through the fabric of the shoe.

Vibram did release (in Autumn 2015) the Trek Ascent Insulated, billed as a winter / cold weather shoe. The Insulated version of the Trek Ascent is fantastic when it is cold AND dry, but the major downside of this shoe is that once it gets wet, it stays wet. The thick insulation inside the shoe takes a LONG time to dry, meaning your feet stay colder for longer.

And that is why the original Trek Ascent is the best model for winter. The lightweight upper fabric won’t keep your feet warm, but couple this shoe with a pair of Injinji’s OUTDOOR NuWool (Merino Wool) toe socks, and you have effectively created your own ‘insulated’ shoe. Your feet will remain warm and toasty during your run, the technical fabric of both sock and shoe help to wick sweat off the skin effectively, and if your feet get wet, the fabrics are lightweight enough to dry quickly.  

The Trek Ascent isn’t waterproof and it is all the better for it. In my experience, waterproof shoes only end up wet on the inside anyway, either from reduced breathability or from water entering through the cuff.

Can I use the Trek Ascent for Walking?

Definitely. Despite being a seasoned barefoot runner, I find it hard to walk for miles barefoot. Even in the most minimalist shoe (such as the KSO EVO or the EL-X) I find that the impact from heel-striking when walking makes it unenjoyable. However, the extra thickness of the Trek Ascent’s sole really removes that heel impact, making it a fantastic walking shoe.  

The Trek Ascent is designed as a hiking/trekking shoe, so rest assured, these boots were made for walking.

Can I use the Trek Ascent for long-distance running?

The Trek Ascent is perhaps the most suitable shoe in the Vibram FiveFingers range for long-distance. Of course, this is no ‘maximimalist’ Hoka-style shoe, but the relative cushioning makes it a wise choice for distance running if you’re an experience minimalist/barefoot runner.

Trek Ascent Winter

Can I use the Trek Ascent for road running?

Due to the Trek Ascent’s grip being not too aggressive, you can use this shoe on the road comfortably. The Trek Ascent makes a good hybrid for use on both road and trail.

However, I always encourage people to think of their running shoes as they would bikes. A road bike, with its slick tyres and lightweight frame is without doubt, best for the road. Similarly, shoes designed for the road use lighter fabrics, tend to have a thinner sole with less aggressive tread, and are faster on tarmac. If you want a road shoe, consider the Vibram FiveFingers V-RUN (formerly known as the Bikila EVO 2). The Trek Ascent is designed for off-road, so think of this shoe as a mountain bike or cyclo-cross bike.

Can I use the Trek Ascent in the gym?

Again, the tread is not too aggressive making this a capable shoe for indoor training. However, for a minimalist shoe that is more geared toward indoor use, the KSO EVO is much better.

Conclusion

The Trek Ascent should be your go-to shoe for trail running if you’re looking for something minimalist, lightweight, and reliable. Think of the shoe as a hybrid for all activities, but regard first and foremost as an off-road shoe.

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