Since moving to the mountains, I’ve been more inclined to go out on trail runs and hikes. Coupled with the unfortunate loss of my hand crafted huaraches from Invisibleshoe.com while floating the river this summer, and recently finishing the book Born to Run, my interest in minimal footwear has been reignited. I tried going on a few barefoot runs, and they were somewhat successful, but this rocky mountainous terrain left them pretty tender afterwards. That, and some parts were so rough that I had to carefully navigate them, slowing me way down. It just wasn’t as much fun as floating on by. So, I began my search for the next minimal shoe I could use for really rough trail runs/hikes.
I could have just bought a new pair of huaraches from invisibleshoe for $20 and shipping. I actually went back to their site and was surprised to see they have a new sole material that is designed specifically for barefoot running. It comes in a pre-cut size with pre-punched holes around the ankles so all you have to do is locate the front toe hole and lace them up. The classic huarache kit is still available, but you will have to cut your own soles and punch your own holes. Also, while I liked my old huaraches a lot, I was always annoyed by the flapping. The vibram cherry soles are meant to be glued to other parts of the shoe for rigidity. On their own, yeah, they will work, but a lot of people complained about them flopping too much, myself included. The new soles should solve this problem. They also come in 6mm Contact version in addition to the 4mm version for a little extra protection. I would go this route if I were primarily a trail runner.
I also spent a lot of time considering the huaraches from Luna Sandals, the brainchild of barefoot ultrarunner, Barefoot Ted. These shoes are also based on the Tarahumara huaraches as well, except much more refined. Most models come with a layer of leather or suede glued to the rubber sole for extra comfort. Instead of 5/32″ poly laces, these come with your choice of a wider elasticized leather, traditional leather, or braided hemp. They have also found a way to recess the front toe knot into the shoe, not only so you don’t feel the knot while running, but keeping the knot protected from the running surface (a problem with invisibleshoe). They have sandals designed purely for road running, purely for trail running, and also some for everyday use. Additionally, you can buy a DIY kit and get a custom fit and save some dough. The pre-made shoes are more expensive than the kits from invisibleshoe, but generally less than a shoe like Vibram or Vivobarefoot. They won’t develop a stench problem like most slipper type shoes, and they also won’t hold debris (it just slips right out if anything does get between your foot and the sandal).
Ever since it came out, I’ve always thought the Merrell barefoot collection was a really cool product line. I don’t personally own a pair, but have wanted to. The trail glove just seems like the most minimal a trail shoe can get while still maintaining the look of a normal shoe as well as the protection of a trail shoe. There are quite a few retailers of this shoe here in Durango. I stopped in one day to finally try on a pair. I was expecting it to be too narrow since my feet run wide, or maybe too heavy since it still looks like a regular shoe, but to my surprise it fit amazingly well and was reasonably light. In fact, the pair is much lighter than my tire huaraches I mention below. I walked and jumped around in them (while the sales lady looked at me funny) and there was just something right about these shoes. Had I the means to purchase them that day (most of them run around $110) , I would have. Of course, a fitting in a shoe store is no substitute for real world application, but Merrell has an outstanding reputation and the feedback coming in from other users seems to be very positive. Just wanted to bring these up in case you have been looking at them too.
Lastly, if you are strapped for cash like me, just make your own huaraches from an old tire and some kind of lacing that will hold up. For now, this is the route I’m going. There just so happened to be lots of old tires sitting around at the place I live. I found one with a tall sidewall (the key to a good tire shoe), put my feet on it, traced it, cut it out with sharp blade, punched some holes, and laced them up with a pair of shoe laces I stole from an old pair of shoes until I could find something a little stronger (I bought some leather lacing, it should hold up a little better) Eventually, I would like to have a pair of Luna Leadcats for warmer trail running and a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves for cold weather running, but for now my hobo tire shoes will have to do.
Feel free to browse the Minimal footwear page to learn more about other products that are available.