|Running sandals from Adventure Girl's perspective|
Invisible Shoe Huaraches
MSRP $19.95 - $44.95
The Emerging RunnerEarlier this year I was contacted by Invisible Shoe to test their brand of running sandals. These shoes are designed in a similar way to the huaraches that are worn by the Tarahumara people in Mexico's Copper Canyon. Being fans of the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Adventure Girl and I thought it would be interesting to try this ultra-minimal running experience.
Since I already run in Saucony Hattori's, I'd expected that I'd do well with this minimal platform. On the other hand, I thought Adventure Girl might find these thin sandals a little lacking when she negotiated the rough Montana wilds that she currently calls home.
|Out of the envelope|
I needed to locate a spot at the top of the form, where I would punch a hole and thread the lace between my toes. The form had two pre-punched holes near the ankles that were based on my measurements. I followed the instructional video on the Invisible Shoe website and laced up my sandals. The knot at the bottom, below my big toe, presented a problem with comfort but I thought I'd be okay running on grass. I wasn't.
|Doing it yourself|
For the first time ever, I failed to complete a full test of a supplied product. I just couldn't do it. I'll admit that I really don't like sandals and I can't wear flip-flops, so I probably should have anticipated the problems I had. I wrapped the laces around my feet and ankles, per the website instructions, and went out in the yard to try them out.
Almost immediately I knew this wasn't for me. I got why this could be good for some people, but I found the experience painful. I tried three times to run with the sandals, but the feel of the lace between my toes and the knotted end above my forefoot were too much to bear.
I really like the concept and I think Invisible Shoe offers a very interesting product for people who can handle the feel of a sandal. I can't speak to the value proposition because I cannot use the shoes, but they are priced almost half of what you'd pay for a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. Read on for a real sense of the experience.
I read Born to Run a little over a year ago and I enjoyed it immensely. However, I wasn't necessarily motivated to pare down my own footwear in reaction to what I read. Several months ago Invisible Shoe approached Runner’s Tech Review about testing their huaraches designed for running. After some pondering about whether this was a good idea, given that the majority of my running occurs on rough, gravel roads, we gave our consent to Invisible Shoe.
A few days later I felt a bit silly standing barefoot on a sheet of 8 ½ by 11 white paper in the company bathroom tracing my foot with a Sharpie in order to produce a template for the Invisible Shoe folks to use in making my huaraches. There are two methods of sandal preparation offered. You can either have your huaraches custom-made and prepared for you ($39.95 - $44.95 a pair) or you can cut and prepare your own huaraches from a DIY kit ($19.95 - $29.95 a pair). The Emerging Runner opted for the latter option and I chose the former, which was why I ended up barefoot on a piece of a paper in the bathroom.
My custom-sized and prepared huaraches arrived via mail in a Tyvek envelope, not many days after we emailed my foot tracing to Invisible Shoe. I chose black laces (what I thought was a classic and discrete choice). To my surprise the sandals arrived pre-tied in the slip-on/slip-off style. True to the style’s name all I had to do was slip them on, wrap the excess lace ends around my ankles, and tie the loose lace end off. Then it was a matter of seeing how they ran!
My skepticism about the comfort of sandals for running was dispelled almost immediately. Running in the huaraches made me realize how much my feet sweat running in traditional socks and sneakers. Especially in the summer months! Having my feet exposed meant for a cooler, overall less sweaty run. Score one for the huaraches.
I've always been fairly weight sensitive when it comes to footwear. If I wear heavy boots on a long hike I usually end up tripping over roots and rocks towards the end of the day. The lightweight nature of the Invisible Shoe huaraches is practically unbeatable. I opted for the 6mm sole because I do a lot of running on rock surfaces. Though there is a lighter weight version (4mm sole), I still felt liberated and swift with the 6mm thickness.
I was initially concerned about the lump that the tied laces present on the underside of the sole between your first and second toes. It was clear that Invisible Shoe took efforts to flatten this knot as much as possible before sending the huaraches my way. When I walked across the linoleum kitchen floor on my way out of the house for the first test run the knot was a noticeable peculiarity. I was pleased then, to find that the knot was not apparent while running, although the Emerging Runner felt it in his pair.
I've been happy enough with the classic tying method that the sandals had in place when delivered to me, so I haven’t tried any of the other tying methods. There are a lot of options, almost all with how-to videos, available on the Invisible Shoe website.
Chafing wasn't a problem for the first half dozen runs. Shortly after that, I did have one lace that rubbed considerably on the top left of my left foot during a short run. This was because I didn't tie the lace securely before beginning my run. On the next run I adjusted the tautness of the lace and the chafing issue disappeared. That said, I wear flip flops a lot in the summer and that may have given me an advantage to adjusting to the huaraches.
Running in the huaraches made me feel light, cool, and unencumbered. I also was surprised at how nice they look. I was tempted to wear them merely walking around town.
As I anticipated, running on gravel in the huaraches can be problematic. The gravel roads I travel have variable size rocks and it’s not uncommon for some of the stones to be greater than an inch in diameter. Stepping on sharp rocks of this size in the huaraches hurts. Knowing this, I have to be diligent in watching my running surface to make sure to avoid the sharp, large rocks. Unfortunately, having to pay this much attention to where I place my feet means that I have less opportunity to look around and appreciate my surroundings. Since taking in the scenery is important to me, this is a drawback that gives me pause. Perhaps my feet will eventually toughen up enough to take on rocks of all sizes, but I have yet to reach that point.
What about winter? Where I live, snow comes early and leaves late. In fact, the high peaks around me were dusted with their first new snow just yesterday (September 16th). Very soon it’s going to be too cold to run barefoot. So, I anticipate that my Invisible Shoe huaraches will be retired for the cold season along with my tank tops and bathing suits, a duration that is about six months long. [Disclaimer: The flip side of this is that it hardly ever rains in the summer, which means I haven’t had the opportunity to try the sandals in wet conditions. I’m not sure that they would perform especially well.]
I try to run with my lab / chow mix as often as I can. Unfortunately, she occasionally gets distracted looking at a bird, squirrel, or neighbor’s pigs while we run and ends up stepping on my foot. This can be quite painful without the protection of a sneaker’s upper.
I’m having lots of fun with the Invisible Shoe huaraches and I've actually considered buying a pair for several running friends who I think might also enjoy the experience. If you’re a Five Fingers fan, I encourage you to take the next leap and try Invisible Shoe. I think you’ll experience yet another level of freedom and feel. I’m glad that this opportunity came my way because it revitalized my running when I was in a bit of a slump.
Running with the huaraches is fun, liberating, and occasionally, wince inducing (damn gravel!). The price tag is a bit steep if you go the custom-fit route, which I highly recommend over the DIY option, but if you can stomach it, I highly recommend giving them a try.
Here’s hoping next summer I've moved to a place with smooth dirt trails and warm, dry weather. You can guarantee I’ll be wearing the Invisible Shoe huaraches.
This review by Adventure Girl and The Emerging Runner
This review by Adventure Girl and The Emerging Runner