I was recently given the opportunity to test/try out a pair of shoes from a company called ANK.  I was very excited about this opportunity as these shoes are not in the same category as the shoes that I typically use.  The Kiso model I was sent is a five-toed shoe, but it is not exactly minimal, which made me even more curious about them.  I wondered if they would be flexible, if the thicker sole would make them less functional, if they would be comfortable, and if they were made well.  All of these questions were answered in a very pleasant and surprising way! 

Yes, this is a five-toed shoe, but it’s not the ones you think.  ANK is a new company to the market with a product that in my opinion is a great bridge of the gap between conventional and minimal shoes.  They have two models, the Kiso and the Ninva, which are basically the same shoe except for the number of straps they have to secure the shoe to your foot. 

These shoes are made of very high quality materials consisting of a mesh for the toe pockets and upper, patent leather wrap for support/shape, and rubber sole.  The inside of the shoe is smooth, soft, and seamless.  The foot bed is mesh, and I was torn when it came to the use of this material.  When I wore the shoes around for walking, to work, or leisure time, they were super comfortable.  When I took them out on the first run, the mesh felt rough.  I never suffered anything like blisters from it, and the issue seemed to go away with the second and third runs, so it may have just been a one-time thing as I adjusted to the shoes.  The toe pockets are roomy, and I felt like I had more than enough room in them.  They are also stretchy and soft, which keeps my toes from feeling any friction or discomfort.  The straps are placed well for keeping the shoe snug to the foot but not in the way of any foot or ankle movement.  They are also comfortable against the skin while making use of soft fabrics where they make contact with the foot.  For durability’s sake the lower strap is connected directly to the upper while the top strap is looped through a metal eyelet attached to the shoe.  The straps are solid and feel like they will last forever.   Both models are open-topped shoes, which was nice for warm weather wear.  I had the chance to get them in some colder temps with a pair of toe socks, and my feet were nice and toasty, so they could be a year-round shoe. 

The sole is where this shoe really sets itself apart from its five-toed competitors.  The heel measures in at 15mm, midfoot 7mm, and forefoot 6mm.  The drop from heel to toe is comfortable and not constantly noticeable.  I did feel at times that it felt somewhat unnatural and think a 12mm heel thickness would make this shoe ideal with its current forefoot thickness but that is just me splitting hairs.  The soles are made of a durable rubber that is extremely flexible.  I think the flexibility of the sole is the most important part of this shoe.  I have long been a supporter of functional shoes, and this shoe is very functional.  The foot is free to flex and move in any direction that it wants, and that is extremely important in the development of strong feet.  Conventional shoes typically inhibit foot movement and function, and they weaken the feet.  ANK has created a shoe that fits in the conventional shoe mold of having a thicker sole but still gives the foot an opportunity to move naturally.  The sole is not bouncy or over-cushioned, which allows you to still feel the ground when wearing them.  It’s also a very neutral sole that has no arch support, which allows the arch to flex and work for itself, helping to create strong feet while still wearing shoes.  The combination of ground feel and foot flexibility make this shoe an ideal option for those who are looking for something like what they are used to but want foot freedom that is commonly found in minimal shoes. 

I found them very comfortable as an everyday shoe.  I really enjoy them for walking, weight lifting, casual wear, as well as staying comfortable while getting me through a long day at work.  As a running shoe, they hold their own really well.  I was initially concerned that the thicker heel would hinder my ability to maintain my forefoot striking form, but those concerns were unfounded.  I found it very easy to maintain my form and run the way I wanted to with little effort or extra focus.  I found it very interesting considering my Saucony racing flats have a thinner heel, but I have a much tougher time keeping my form correct in them.  I point to the sole materials for this reason.  My flats are foam so they take away ground feel through the extra cushioning, while the Kiso’s don’t have all the extra cushioning, and my feet can feel the ground easier.  Overall this is a very comfortable shoe to wear for just about any activity. 

In terms of appearance, I have mixed feelings about the current lineup from ANK.  The shoe looks really nice with three different color patterns for each model.  The cut of the toes is really nice, as it is shaped more like a conventional shoe so the toes don’t stand out very much.  I was able to go through whole days without anyone pointing out my shoes or asking me questions.  When I got questions about them, people could tell they were different from the ones I typically wear, and the responses about the shoes were positive.  They were positive except for one part of the shoe, which is the patent leather.  I had my reservations about the use of this material before I received the shoes but found myself pleasantly surprised when I got them.  You notice it for sure, but it didn’t stand out as much as I thought it would.  I did, however, get the most comments from onlookers about this aspect of the shoe.  Most people were not fond of the shiny leather, but everything else about the shoe was received with a lot of praise.  The good people at ANK knew the patent leather might not go over as well as they would like, and they were prepared for that.  They have also decided to release a new version of the shoes that uses different materials in response to customer feedback.  As much as I like this version, I am very much looking forward to what they do with these shoes in the future.

Before the appearance of minimal shoes on the market in the past few years, I searched long and hard for shoes I could wear as well as recommend for my clients.  I have preached the need for strong functional feet for nearly a decade, and finding shoes to allow that was always difficult.  ANK has provided me what I was looking for all those years.  Not everyone is ready to dive into a shoe with a three millimeter sole, and they need something to wear that will strengthen their feet but not put them at risk of an overuse injury.  If you are one of those people, then you will find the ANKs to be what you are looking for.  They are a perfect blend of conventional shoe feel with minimal-type functionality, and they definitely have my stamp of approval. 

For more information or to purchase a pair you can visit their site here

Also while supplies last the price of the original shoe has been dropped and every purchase gets a free pair of toe socks!


4 responses »

  1. C. Beth says:

    Very interesting! Sounds like a good thing to suggest to someone who is interested in Vibrams but not ready to put in the “work” to transition to something so minimal. Thanks for the detailed review.

  2. C. Beth says:

    P.S. Great price on their toe socks too (although they’re currently out of stock.) Have you tried their brand of toe socks? I’d be interested to know how the quality compares to Ininji.

    • Yes I have tried the socks and I like them very much. Slightly different fit than Injinji but not in a bad way. Mostly they seem longer in the actual foot and possibly a little shorter in the toes. I’ll have to confirm that though. They are great quality and seem like they will hold up nicely.

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