Barefoot running allowed at Air Force gyms


Vibram 2Air Force barefoot runners breathe easy. Rumors flooded into our e-mail box after we published a feature on barefoot running. Airmen wondered if the rumor was true: Are Vibram Five Fingers shoes banned from Air Force gyms or while wearing the PT uniform?

Staff Sgt. Darrell Knowlton was told when he walked into his base gym at Andrews Air Force Base to take his Five Fingers off. Tech Sgt. Bradley Smith also heard a rumor the barefoot shoes were banned while wearing the PT uniform.

After Action took the rumors to the source. Beth Gosselin, an Air Force spokeswoman,  confirmed that barefoot shoes are authorized for wear in a PT uniform and allowed at base gyms. However, airmen must wear socks under the shoes that look more like rubber feet when wearing their PT uniform. Commanders can also ban them if they feel their wear is unsafe, Gosselin said.

“There is no Air Force policy banning these shoes. Right now, individual commanders determine whether or not the shoes are suitable for PT wear,” she said in an e-mailed statement.


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  1. Seriously? We are authorized to wear these “shoes” but must have socks on…..How many socks have toes? The Vibrams are designed for wear without socks. Getting the authorization for this is like someone saying “Here is a million dollars, just for you, but you can’t spend any of it.” FAIL!!!

  2. So we have to wear socks with shoes that are meant to be worn barefoot, and look like feet for that reason. Also doesn’t the AFI say something about distracting footwear? I would think some people find these rather distracting. I mean I have a pair and would love to use these for PT, but I just don’t see it working out with how people understand the AFI.

  3. It is rather silly to require socks with the Vibrams. It does does defeat the purpose for wearing the shoes.
    However, one must adapt and overcome the small AFI annoyance. I recommend cutting the bottom part of the sock off so you have something similar to the ascots. Tuck in the ends and there you have it socks! The same approach was done to combat the black sock requirment before cothing manufacturers made the two fabric boot socks.

  4. Kent Cowgill on

    FYI, you can buy either injinji or feelmax brand socks- both have toe pockets. Feelmax makes crew length and even ultra-low ankle versions in white and black ( and some really bad multicolor stripes ). Injinji make mostly neutral color and length toe socks.

  5. First off they do make socks with toes that are worn by many runners so that is a complete non-issue. Second the word distracting is not used in the AFI. The exact wording is “Conservative (plain, no bright loud colors or excessive ornamentation) athletic shoes will be worn”. That being said if one believes that these shoes are “conservative” than run right out and buy them(no pun intended). I however think that regardless of how they feel on your feet they look unprofessional and are not conservative in the least bit. I would advise anyone with the authority to ban them to; do so based on that, regardless of the fact that they are unsafe.

  6. You can buy socks that are made for them. And they are made to wear socks with them as well. A lot of people wear socks with them.

  7. Fit to do _hit! on

    The AF PT program, uniform and rules are a joke so why not keep it consistent and let whoever wants to wear with these ridiculous looking pseudo-feet have at it.
    They’ve taken someone’s personal physical fitness level and made it a measuring point for career progression, all the while the AF micromanages workout routines, change the rules every three – five years and give referals to anyone who doesn’t do well. If the AF was a “real” corporation (like they try to run it) the amount of law suits would be record breaking.

  8. Really??? It sad that our leadership can not figure out that these shoes are designed to be worn without socks. Why in the world would they say these shoes are authorized, but socks have to be worn. You cant wear these with socks on!!! Common Sense.

  9. Teresa Merrick, SMSgt (ret), Ph.D. on

    To slam the VFF shoes on the basis of appearance vs performance is unbelievably narrow-minded (MSgt W comment). I’ve been wearing VFFs for two years now (I am an exercise physiologist and fitness trainer) and they aren’t any more unsafe than more conventional PT footwear, both for aerobic exercise and strength training. I feel they’re actually safer because they allow you to pay more attention to the feedback of your feet.
    Injinji makes toe socks that wick perspiration. If the AFI requires socks in other PT footwear, then it is reasonable to do so with the VFFs. And if observers find the shoes “distracting”, that is their own problem, not the wearer’s.

  10. This company sells shoes that are plain black and conservative. It just happens the picture shown would probably not be considered conservative by command.

  11. Wow! unsafe and unproffessional. First of all I love the Air Force it has been wonderful to me and my family the last 21 years. As a leader I will tell you to research anything before you run out and buy them or make assumbtions that they are unsafe. But here we go again making assumptions that something is unsafe because of how it looks. How can shoes that fit your feet like your barefooted be unsafe? We allow females to were heels in Blues. The number of times my wife has rolled her ankles wearing heels is ridiculous. But then again, they do look professional. Our bodies were designed to walk barfooted. We adapted to some extent for warmth, early shoes were not comfortable it was a sign of “class”. Studies have shown that injuries in running became more prevelant when we started wearing shoes. So what is more unsafe, your running shoe or my five fingers. I own two pair one that is grey and yellow and a black pair. No one has said anything to me and I ran my last PT test in them and I will continue to wear them for my next PT test. Since I have started running in my five fingers, my back, joint and shin pain has disappeared. As leaders we need to be smart on new products and ensure our Airman are wearing shoes that do not cause them pain or discomfort (with in reason). Yes they do make socks for the shoes but the shoes are made to wear without socks. The AF needs to move forward and allow some wiggle room or put out a sup to the current AFI. My challenge is next time you are in the gym and you see that person with yellow on their shoes tell them to take them off cause the AFI says they can’t have bright colors. And remeber anything that looks like your barefooted is unproffesional so make sure you keep your feet covered in the shower. To those that are proud wearers like myself, happy travels. Those that don’t own a pair, are you that scared of what people may say about your shoes.

  12. Unprofessional? I laugh because how professional do I look when I am sweating like a fat man. We are supposed to be fit to fight and when these shoes assist in such a significant manner and add to an Airman’s overall health and wellness it should be a non issue. I attribute my 98 (new standards) to these awesome shoes. We are in a state of flux and if congress can possibly repeal DADT then I’m sure that we can wear some naturally fitting foot covers.

  13. I have read the comment on the Vibram Fivefingers and think that like everything in the Air Force and the rest of the services has become a fight to see who can make the final decision. I have served the Air force and our country for 18.5 years and I have worn the VFF for years. I am a leader who has 12 subordinates who own the VFF because of me and I will continue to promote them. Those assigned to me have increased PT scores by at least 20 % and scores and wiast sizes dont lie. The haters and fat bodies who think they have to always base their decisions off what THEY think is professional is rediculous. Get a grip and buy whatever the HE_L you want and let those that want to buy VFF to improve do it. The military has turned into a political battlefield rather than a Proffession of Arms that defends what our fathers faught so hard to protect. Well hopefully someone puts as much into making the Air Force Blues look like the military again instead of a lame business suit.
    So others may live

  14. Why are we so concerned about image? So, these shoes are “unprofessional” because the toes are separated? Seriously? Is that really the big issue? Besides, who says there has to be copious amounts of padding and springs in my shoes for them to be “safe”? And FYI, they make shoes that cover the whole feet, not just the one’s pictured.

    We, as humans have evolved exponentially the past 100k or so years. And when did we, as humans start wearing athletic shoes? 50…maybe 100 years ago? So where are all these running injuries coming from? Springs? Extra padding maybe?

    And to all the skeptics (I was one of them!): my back pain is gone, my run time is down, and I have far more endurance and ability with running than ever before. And why? Here’s a hint: it’s not because I wear Nike Shox.

  15. I wonder if the haters of these shoes are secretly hiding webbed feet inside their tennis/running shoes??

    Seriously, the air force as a whole has to learn to be a little bit less serious (no pun intended) about some things. How much is it REALLY going to hurt good order and discipline if people wear these things? I might suggest those who believe it will learn to loosen up a little bit!

  16. Bradley Smith on

    I too am a vocal advocate for VFF and minimalist running. My leg injuries are down and my run times are the best I have ever had. I did my PT test in my VFF and posted my fastest mile and a half in my career. I will continue to wear them and promote the usage of VFF and other minimalist brands to my peers.

    One more thing, the gym here at Hickam AFB has banned them from being worn in the facility. Not sure why individuals in leadership positions are so resistant to change and new advancements. I mean imagine if this was their attitude to when it came to computers and electronics, we’d still be using dotmatrix printers and mainframe computers.

  17. Johnson, Christopher on

    It’s disappointing when appearance standards are given more weight than performance and safety standards.

  18. Bradley Smith on

    Just found out that Hickam reversed their gym policy on 16 July. I guess common sense finally won out.

  19. I just wear them without socks and let them deal with it. They are not meant to be worn with them therefore I am going to continue to wear them without them. Get over it. They are an athletic shoe. Just because you don’t have a pair and they are different doesn’t mean you have to be a hater! I run in them about every other day swapping them out with my bright white and neon Newton Motions doing up to 12-13 miles in them on occasion. They have actually helped reduce the amount of aches and pains I have had in my knees and ankles, plus my half marathon time has dropped greatly.

  20. @ Josh; Injinji Socks are socks with toes, so you can be in regulations.

    I would like some help with this subject, I need an official policy stating we can wear minimalist/barefoot style shoes that is not so grey, The regulation states it’s up to the Company Commander. It shouldn’t be up a Company commander on the types of shoes I can wear. I feel VFF are just another type of shoe, just because it looks funny doesn’t make it not a shoe, fact is it covers the top and bottom of my foot, I can wear socks with them too, it shouldn’t be a big debate here. The benefit far out weigh the cons (if any). We weren’t born with Thick running shoes on our feet, so if I can wear a product that benefits these sore knees/feet I see no reason why we can’t wear them.

  21. I’ve always wore socks with mine PT gear or not. Seen alot of people wearing them in PT gear w/out socks and I tell them that they are out of regs. They start to say something, then they realize that I am wearing those same shoes, but I have white socks on.

  22. I have been running in them for two years. I run faster, and with less pain. I tried the Injinji socks (which I could not find in white) and found that just trying to put the shoes on over the socks was extremely painful. I have a PT test this week, and I am hoping it won’t be an issue, since they have tightened up a lot of the rules surrounding PT tests. They are the only running shoes I have at this point, so I will be no-showed from my test if I can’t wear them.

  23. Got really thin socks, cut the toes off and taped them with non-sticky white tape so they wouldn’t ride up on my feet. Maxed the run, so I don’t have to fool with any of this again for a year. I still think the sock thing is ridiculous but you have to play the game.

  24. Really? People want to ban these? (MSgt W) I bet most of the people that think negative about them have some sort of profile or there overweight. Guess what!? You should start wearing them too. I’ve been wearing them and I decreased my 1.5mile, 5k, 10k, and half marathon times. I do weight training and CrossFit in them aswell. They prove to be much more safe because I can feel every muscle working and know if I’ve gone to far. I never get pain in them. My lowest PT Score ever is 100%… and no, I’m not just some skinny guy, I’m someone that does CrossFit as RX’d and wear VFFs.

  25. CrossFitting PTL on

    The only issue I have with wearing socks with these shoes is how tight it makes the shoe on my foot. I’ve been wearing VFF without socks for a while now and it has made a world of difference so I ordered some to wear in PT gear. The VFF have to be precisely measured to the foot to get a really good fit. I simply don’t have the money to own a pair for CrossFit/ 10k races and for a cheaply thrown together “fitness” program dictated by the Air Force. I wanted to be a PTL to help change some of the fitness mindsets of the AF and all that keeps happening is the AF squashing any forward progression on a personal fitness standard. SO I just grin and bear it at PT sessions and then workout like a monster at CrossFit.

  26. I’ve recentely started to wear the VFF’s and I have to say that most of my joint pains are already gone. And as far as wearing socks, I just use them for the 1 hour a week we actually have SQ PT. And if the military is looking into the area of looking more professional, then they need to reverse their decision on walking while talking on a cell phone, that is IMO way more unprofessional.

  27. As an Army officer with 13 years in the force I absolutely applaud the Air Force senior leadership for taking the time to educate themselves on reasons behind the wear of Vibram Five-Finger shoe. Unfortunately, many senior leaders in the Army have eliminated this option simply for cultural reasons. The thought process at these levels is very similar to the thought process of “MSGT W” above. They are judged on the way they look on not for reasons of performance or effectiveness. This clearly implies that the issue of those that don’t not accept this shoe is cultural. Thus the thought-process is “why should I change now? OR…I have never worn these shoes…OR…We have always done it this way.” I think it is safe to say we have all experienced this mentality in our line of work even though we incessantly preach decentralization and initiative. Nevertheless, as soon as some folks decide to educate themselves on finding new and improved ways of doing business, i.e. minimalist running and the incredible benefits, they are struck down for cultural reasons…i.e. “it is not a conservative shoe.” In other words, wearing a shoe that is “conservative” regardless of whether it can improve performance and reduce injury is the first and foremost measure of effectiveness these senior leaders find as important. Thus whether they know it or not, this suggests that looks are more important than performance and they are unwilling or just too busy to take the time to fully educate themselves on this shoe and its positive benefits of physical fitness. This also suggests that it is easier to simply say “no” than learn about “the why” behind the wear of the VFF. I would also suggest this is a much deeper problem than the VFF. This has to do with the culture of our organization and how we solve problems. Let me ask all of you: How often have you tried to take the initiative with improving the performance and effectiveness of your unit, team, squad etc only to be told no because the leader you had to get approval from was not used to your recommendation? I would only ask all of you junior leaders out there…the folks that will be making major decisions in the future to consider and remember this issue when it is your turn to either educate yourself and your Airmen, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors or simply say “no” because it easier…

    Lastly, just like the thousand before me and countless others after me, I could provide you with my personal anecdotal story of how VFFs have radically improved my physical performance and long term effectiveness, but I would suggest this would be selfish on my part. I am inclined to believe that changing the organizational culture of how we think as leaders would help solve the misunderstanding about VFFs along with the many other cultural misunderstandings in our line of work. It appears that the Air Force is doing that. Hey Big Army, take a look at your AF brethren!

  28. Have to agree with Jimmy above. Army NCO and with a P2 Profile for falling arches. Running shoes actually cause more pain and a stress fracture. Made fun of my friends in the VFF until I got my first pair. Smoked my APFT Run with the Bikilas on, and run 4-5 miles every other day now. My BDE and BN Commanders are all for the VFFs, but the Old Army can’t or won’t except change. Before someone discounts the VFFs for fitness (running, gym, cross country) read and investigate the pros and cons of it.

  29. I agree with so many of you who have these VFF shoes! A friend of mine who runs all the time got me to get some in this most recent deployment of mine. I had hip issues from the recent birth of my daughter (7 months prior) and couldnt run at all. As well as ankle issues form prior breaks and sprains. Once i was able to run i got these shoes and seriously i have no issues now. I have no ankle problems at all, this entire deployment i have only run in these shoes, yes they require socks here, but somtimes i think that is good it helps keep the new blisters from forming on the ball of my foot.

    i have the sprint all black version and the white and green Bikila’s. i have dropped 5 minutes of my 5k run time in 4 months, along with 4 inches off my waist, and my calves look great! I have always been a horribly slow runner, for the last 7 years of AF PT tests i have 15 minutes or more for my 1.5 miles run. I test soon, so i will update you on how much better my time is with these shoes on.

    I recommend these shoes to anyone with minimal body aches, but i caution dont run more than half a mile in them at first. Work your way into them, for the next day you will be so sore, your calves will hurt more form that half mile than any previous distance run. I say to all, isnt it worth sucking it up and wearing the socks, to be allowed to wear them period? I get subdued colors and socks i guess. They improve most people’s stamina, aches and pains, improve times, so if its a improvment why so much stress on them being “different”?

  30. The only reason I know anything about VFF’s is because of some PJ’s I met while attending tech school at Lackand . I asked about them one day and they said that they were comfortable and that they help strengthen your legs. If AF special forces are using them then there must be some validity to these shoes. My new pair of KSO’s should be arriving here this week. For those of whom are curious here is a good start point:

  31. I have been told by the staff at the Patrick AFB fitness center that VFF are banned from the gym for “safety reasons”. They say it is a USAFE reg. I’ve been going to a gym off-post because of this. Does anyone know this reg and whether it really exists or not?

  32. Capt Who Cares on

    REALLY, SERIOUSLY, you’re worried about whether I wear socks at PT. For a serious run I wear my VFF, for the organized PT with the PT “uniform enforcers” I skip it. Those people need considerably more fiber in their diets.

    The Air Force J-O-B is great, stupid crap like this is what makes people hate their jobs.

  33. MSgt Painless Runner on

    Ok, Ok,

    Physical fitness and the Air Force (AF), two subjects that did not fit together when I joined 20 years ago. It occurred to me, while reading this string, that my generation was never properly trained to run. It was assumed that we had the knowledge before we arrived at basic training. Most of us did not ever learn how to run/move naturally or with economy. I did not learn to run naturally until about three months ago. Many forget that Man was built to run, but without shoes. So, after hobbling around the track for decades, plagued by injury and slow 1.5 mile run times, I am now a runner that is pain free. Many thanks to the anthropology department at Harvard University (Daniel E. Lieberman,
Madhusudhan Venkadesan,
Adam I. Daoud, and
William A. Werbel) for helping me to understand how humans are supposed to run.

    By the way, I like to run using the New Balance Minimus line of shoes (MT10) over the VFF on the street. For some reason I prefer the VFF for the dirt though. Socks? If you are thinking of shifting to a minimal shoe, fit your new shoe with socks on. It makes a big difference, perhaps ½ a size. Safety? Hello people, have the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) cosponsor a study to prove Harvard’s theory. I don’t have a large enough population size to pull accurate statistical deviation from, but I feel in my hart the theory is correct.

    Professional? Faddish? Give it some time, my generation will be gone very soon so the new AF can make the changes.

  34. I have been diagnosed with degenerative joint disease in my neck and back. I use an inversion traction machine I use daily. My back hurts like hell after I run. I put these Vibrums on and I can run faster and longer and my back feels good durring and after.

    People are designed to run naturally. I don’t know about you but I haven’t heard of any one being born with shoes on…

    The Air Force is changing, face it. “Onward and upward”. People don’t like change, they get comfortable and lazy. Remember in the 80’s you thought computers were a fad?

    BTW: I wear socks with my Vibrams because I am required to. I wear knee high socks that are white and cut the feet off the socks and tuck them into my Vibrums.
    Bet that looks real professional, right…

    Five finger running shoes/socks neoprene like a wetsuit, do you wear underwear under your wetsuit? No. THat would be some serious chafing I surfed for 15 years and you wear a rash guards if you chafe that’s about it.

    Wearing socks with 5 finger running shoes= asinine

  35. So the Air Force gives a utility uniform that is tactical as a bag of broken hammers. Then they give us PT uniform that is only good for walking to your car in. But when something good comes along that actually helps is useful and healthy they bastardize as they do with everything else.

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