MBT Shoes: One of a Kind, Magical Shoe Line

May 24, 2005 (Updated Aug 28, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Comfort over long distances. Joint and foot health. Indestructible. Life-changing.

Cons:Price, but still worth it. Styling on some models needs work.

The Bottom Line: This is the shoe you'll want for a 50 mile hike. Or any time you're upright.

These shoes are fabulous. I wish I could give them 10 stars! They are unlike any other shoe and now, after using them for a year, all my "normal" shoes feel very jarring and seem to impede forward motion. MBT shoes, though, seem to magically propel one forward with a very rhythmic, relaxed motion. They seem to eliminate muscle tension.

Initially, I became intrigued about MBT shoes from a New York Times article. MBT (stands for Masai Barefoot Technology) by Swiss Masai is the result of an invention in 1997 by Swiss engineer Karl Mueller to ease his own back and joint pain. After searching, I finally found them at Foot Solutions, a store that seemed to cater to people with injuries and in need of orthotics. Thankfully, MBT shoes are more widely distributed now and have taken their place among sports shoes as well.

They also looked strange to me. Kinda bulky. And I was used to thinking a shoe with proper support would be molded around the curves and arches of my foot with plenty of give, flex and cushion. The footbed of this shoe is virtually flat. And the bottom of the sole is convex - curving outward from the main arch of the foot. That seemed like it would make the lack of an arch support even worse! And the shoe is built and designed to have NO flex. (In fact, if you force it to flex, you've broken the shoe.) It seems crazy - totally counter to every other shoe out there in every way. And it IS crazy! Except it's a real revolution that works.

Somehow, the design keeps the heel positioned at the back of the shoe so there's no movement of the foot in the shoe or forward slip of the foot towards the toe of the shoe. (No more blisters for me!) Because of this, I ended up with a smaller size than I normally wear even though I like a lot of room for my toes. And as you walk, the convex curve of the shoe rolls you forward so the initial strike of foot against pavement is lessened - maybe it's similar to the principal of rolling if you ever jump off a train? The sole is comprised of very thick, hard, dense rubber which has just enough spring to absorb any compression shock and at the same time, gives marvelous support to your arch. It feels like it creates a forward propulsion all on its own. When your foot comes down, it feels like the initial contact addresses the large muscles at the back of the leg as much or maybe even more than the front. No more shin splints? I soon discovered I could walk for miles without any fatigue or strain. I'm not exactly a fit person but now I start out every day with a 4 mile hike. That's a huge change for me. I also have a friend who, after switching to the MBT sneaker "Sport" model, returned to jogging even though she has arthritis issues. I also noticed a nurse running around wearing the "Sport" model at a hospital the other day. It's probably the best shoe in the world for a job that requires a lot of walking. There really is something to the science behind these shoes. I'm not sure how well these would work for a job that requires standing in one place, though. Your muscles would get a workout. But maybe that's a good thing.

I do have a word of caution, however. The convex curve can take a little getting used to, particularly on stairs or uneven ground. Use care until you gain experience and have confidence in your being able to keep your balance. But nothing out there can compete with them when it comes to walking on sidewalks. Traditional shoes make you feel planted - these make you feel like getting out and moving. The downside is less stability until you've had some practice. I also caution you to try these shoes out in a store for correct sizing. The internet and Ebay may be a great source for them, but I've found my size does not match up with MBT's sizing at all and also doesn't match up from one style to the next. Get to a store to make sure you get a proper fit. It may actually impact how the shoe functions.

I started out with a pair of black sandals because they looked the most "normal" of the shoe line. Also, they are adjustable across the ball of the foot and at the front and back of the ankle so positioning the foot onto the footbed is precise. This is true for the black and the white sandal but the tan does not adjust at the back of the ankle. I would have bought the tan except for this. I also bought a pair of MBT "Sport" shoes for inclement weather, but I love the sandals so much, I haven't been able to switch over to them yet - not even for a day. I bought an additional pair of black sandals for the day when my first pair gives out, but who knows when that will be? Even after a year of hard use, my originals are virtually just like the day I bought them. Whenever they get too gross, I take them to the bathtub and scrub them down with soap and hot water. They seem indestructible. Which makes the price a little less painful.

I've also noticed something very surprising recently that I can only contribute to these shoes. I've found my caboose isn't filling up my pants the way it used to. And my thighs aren't even looking like my own legs anymore. My college roommate used to say if pants with flared tops ever came into style (as opposed to bellbottoms), I'd be all set. Now, my thighs actually have a lean look - and where did all the cellulite go? Not that I miss it!

In addition, my little toe had an unfortunate run-in with a chair leg yesterday and was broken. But because this shoe doesn't flex at the toe, I can keep up with my hiking! My toe feels great as long as I keep my sandal on. I swear, MBT shoes are as great an invention as wheels on suitcases! Why aren't ALL shoes designed like this?

I hope these shoes become widely popular and encourage more research and development. And more designs. I've been trying to get my husband to buy a pair, but since the men's and women's styles are identical, he's balking at being my twin. Since they are unisex and we'd hardly get our shoe sizes mixed up, I don't see what the big deal is. Perhaps if the company gave a money-back trial period, it would encourage people (meaning him) to overcome the considerable expense and any style issues. I really don't think people can grasp all the benefits after wearing them for a few minutes at the shoe store. After trying them out for a month, though, I bet they'll be like me and never go back to traditional shoes. Never...

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