This review has been a long time in coming. I first spoke to Steven Sashen at Invisible Shoe way back in November, and was so intrigued with the paradoxical high-tech sandals (or huaraches – pronounced ‘wa-ra-chays’) that he was making that I grabbed a pair to review as soon as I could. There are several options available, but I went with the DIY 4mm Connect kit, which allows you to build your own shoes that are customised to the shape ansd size of your feet.
Since they arrived, I’ve been trying to run as much as possible in them, and wear them around when I go shopping, etc. After over a month of playing with different tying techniques, running styles, weather conditions, etc, I’ve finally put together a review (and here it is!).
- Great soles
If you’re looking to reduce the amount of weight strapped to your feet, but don’t want to go barefoot for whatever reason, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a lighter option than these sandals. The soles are a bit of a miracle, as they are very flexible, yet rigid enough to hold their form as you run.
When I went for my first run, I expected them to be flopping all over the place, but they stayed firm yet still contoured to my feet. It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort has gone into selecting the best material for the soles of these huaraches, and for me, they were a pleasant surprise.
- Excellent airflow
One of the major benefits of running in sandals is airflow. Living in Australia, running around in very hot weather is par for the course. Though I don’t mind running on hot asphalt in bare feet, it can be nice to give the soles a rest every now and then. One of the big problems with other minimalist shoes is that even though they’re lightweight, they can still hold in heat around your feet, which after several kilometers can get very uncomfortable.
Invisible Shoes are great for this as the airflow is nearly as good as if you had nothing on at all. Surprisingly, this includes the air between your feet and the sandals. I had expected my feet to sweat and slip on the rubber soles, but because they stay cool, this has never been a problem.
- Low price
Even if you’re the biggest skeptic, it’s hard to say no to a $24.95 pricetag. With most minimal shoes in Australia costing hundreds of dollars (I’m looking at you, Vibram), being able to grab a great pair of shoes for so little is awesome.
An interesting side note to this is that after reading the Invisible Shoes forums, it appears that these shoes are nearly indestructable. So not only do you pay next to nothing up front, but you have a pair of shoes that will last for years. If there was ever a recession-proof shoe, it’s these.
Another great advantage that Invisible Shoes have over their competitors is the ability to customise them. Most other brands have a set tying or strapping method that can’t be changed, but with the simple nylon cord used for attaching Invisible Shoes to your feet, the options are endless.
Even if you make a mistake and cut a bit too much off, the cords are inexpensive to replace. Add to all this the fact that you can choose from an assortment of colours and even add beads, etc to them, you’ve got some great options for tarting up your sandals.
One of my main reservations about wearing huaraches was that the main strap tends to thread between your first two toes (though there are alternative tying methods to avoid this). I expected this to be a problem as I’ve never found flip-flops, which use a similar design, very comfortable. It turns out that because the shoes are well-balanced and attached at a number of points around your foot, there is minimal slipping, which means very little rubbing between your toes. After dozens of runs I’ve yet to have a problem in this area.
- Change of running style
One thing that I found, even after my first run, was that I needed to adjust my running style in order to run in Invisible Shoes. This may be because I’m really used to not wearing shoes anymore, but I think it also has to do with having a slightly different landing in sandals. For the first couple of weeks, I found that I had a couple niggles in my calves and ankles, which I haven’t felt since starting running in minimal shoes 2 years ago.
It didn’t end up being a problem, as I just adjusted accordibgly, but it’s something that new wearers should be aware of. As with transitioning to barefoot or minimal running generally, if you take it slow and listen to your body, this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.
- Reduced Proprioception
The one big thing that brought me over the the barefoot camp in the first place was the ability to feel the ground beneath my feet. Even with only 4mm underfoot, I found that proprioception was reduced, to the point that I felt like I had a few pairs of socks on.
That being said, a lot more can be felt through the Invisible Shoe soles than can through regular running soes, and any increased sensation is a big plus. In truth, I don’t think that there will ever be a shoe that offeres full proprioception, and with this being the case, I would find it hard to find a better option than the Connect kit’s 4mm soles.
Reduced sensation will always be a problem (and in many ways is actually the point) for any sort of shoes, and certainly isn’t an issue unique to Invisible Shoes. This is the only real area that I would find fault with, and would assume that it would be more pronounced in the 6mm Contact style.
- No protection against the elements
As would be expected, since huaraches are really just sandals, there is basically no protection against the elements. I did find that my feet slipped around a little bit when they got wet, and that I needed to tie them down a little bit more in this scenario. Being able to adjust the tying to suit the conditions ended up being a lifesaver here, and reduced this from a potentially dangerous issue to one of only minor annoyance.
Ok I added this section in for the sole reason that my wife isn’t a big fan of how the shoes look. She calls them “The Sandals that Fashion Forgot”. Personally, I think this is a little harsh, and really like how they look, but I’m used to running in bare feet or wearing shoes with toes, so maybe I’m not the best person to ask. At least with these huaraches, you have good degree of customisablilty, so they can be dressed up or down to a degree, and don’t need to be worn centurion-style (which is what prompted my wife’s comment in the first place!).
All in all, I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed wearing Invisible Shoes, and I’m glad I went with the 4mm Connect kit. Running in sandals definitely takes some getting used to, but I’ve found personally that the pros far outweigh the cons, and I’ll likely continue wearing my pair for training and in at least a couple of races this year.