XeroShoes Umara Z-Trail Preview!

Video

Stop the Press! XeroShoes have just announced the release of the new Umara Z-Trail sandal. I was lucky enough to get a preview pair and OMG, they’re awesome.

As a special treat for Beginning Barefoot fans, I’ve put together a short review video so you can see what they’re all about.

In a nutshell:

  • They’re very lightweight
  • The new soles are durable, comfortable, and flexible!
  • They Float!
  • They’re the best sandals XeroShoes yet!

The Z-Trails launch officially on March 11th, but if you’re quick, you can take a sneak peek and enter to win a pair of your own!

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What Ever Happened to Invisible Shoes?

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Invisible ShoesjpgOne of my first ever shoe reviews on this site was for the ultra-minimal running sandal “Invisible Shoes“. Back in the day, this start-up was trying to change the world, one shoe at a time, by selling DIY sandal kits with incredibly thin soles. What ever happened to these guys?

A Brief History

Back in 2009, sprinter Steven Sashen and his wife Lena had the crazy idea of bringing a high-tech version of the centuries-old running sandal, the huarache, to market. Steven had become a recent barefoot convert, and was looking for a way to help people find out about and begin to enjoy it as well. Having heard about the Tarahumara in Mexico, and their amazing sandals, made of old tyres and rope,  he found a terrific vehicle to do this.

Xero-Shoes - Promo

Not long afterwards, with a lot of R&D, and testing, the Invisible Shoe was born. It featured a simple nylon rope tying system atop a very thin, very flexible, and very durable Vibram sole. They were inexpensive, comfortable, and soon became a favourite within the barefoot running community. One of the big reasons for their popularity was the availability of a DIY kit that let you build your own shoes for a few bucks (you can still get them!)

XeroShoesLogo

Fast-forward a couple years, and Invisible Shoes took a major step forward. Due to the ever-growing popularity of the DIY huaraches, Invisible Shoe as a company decided to expand. They changed their name to Xero Shoes and began to update their existing line and launch new products, such as coloured soles and accessories. This culminated in the February 2013 appearance of Steven and Lena on the television series The Shark Tank.

Though they didn’t get the funding they were after, the exposure from appearing on the show was a turning point for the company. It wasn’t long before they announced a new product, the Sensori Venture, which has turned this small company into an up-and-coming competitor of even the big shoe companies.

So Why Am I Telling You This?

The minimal shoe revolution, which has in many ways boosted the barefoot running revolution, was largely started as a backlash to shoe companies selling us over-engineered, over-priced shoes. The original idea was to go back to basics and wear less shoe, allowing your feet to move as they were designed.

There are some incredible new shoes on the market, and I’ve reviewed many of them, but on average, these shoes are over a hundred dollars a pair, and here in Australia, finding a decent pair for less than $200 is getting harder and harder.

sensori-venture-4-colors

Xero Shoes, in contrast, have always done the right thing by barefooters. Of the truly viable and durable minimal shoes out there, theirs are by far the cheapest, with their priciest shoes coming in at less than $40! I still run in my original 4mm Connects that I paid $20 for 2 years ago.

On top of this, Xero Shoes have always been big supporters of the barefoot running community. This year, they’ll be sponsoring the Barefoot Runners Society’s International Barefoot Running Day (May 4th, 2014).

Full Disclosure

Invisible Shoes/Xero Shoes have been a favourite of Beginning Barefoot since the beginning. Steven was the first prominent barefooter I ever interviewed, and we have collaborated several times in the past with giveaways and contests.

We have been a part of their affiliate program for years, and yes, we do get a small commission on sales referred from this site. Despite this, I still think that Xero Shoes are the perfect first shoe for anyone interested in trying minimal shoes/running sandals out for the first time. Our affiliate status is merely a reflection of this.

More To Come

Xero Shoes is an exciting, young company that is doing great things for barefoot/minimal running. We’ll be reviewing many of their products in detail this year, so if you’re interested in finding out more about Xero Shoes, be sure to click the follow button, or find us on Facebook and Twitter!

Review: Luna Sandals Leadville Huaraches

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Luna Sandals LeadvilleIf you’ve read Born To Run, you probably remember the story about how Barefoot Ted met Manuel Luna of the Raramuri, and learned how to make huaraches from salvaged car tyres. What you may or may not realise, however, is that Ted later used this knowledge to create a line of hand-made sandals, named in honour of his mentor – Luna Sandals.

Luna Sandals started out relatively simply, featuring leather straps and a Vibram sole, that mimicked the construction of the car tyre version, but using lighter, high-tech rubber. I’m sure that if he had wanted, Ted could have just ridden the tide of Born To Run and sold his simple sandals, but what he did next is what sets Luna Sandals apart.

Since the first version of Luna Sandals, Ted and his ‘Luna Monkeys’ (as his staff call themselves) have proceeded down a track of innovation and experimentation that has transformed the simple huarache into an incredible piece of footwear.

Luna SandalsI have recently been lucky enough to try out the latest pinnacle of this process – the Leadville.

Featuring a thick Vibram sole with a no-slip MGT footbed and the clever ATS Lacing system, the Leadville really looks like a high-tech huarache. What’s most exciting about this sandal though is that it’s been race-tested by Ted himself at the 2010 Leadville 100 ultramarathon. If this isn’t enough to make you want to try a pair, I’m not sure what will.

Construction

As mentioned, the Leadville comes standard with an MGT footbed. MGT stands for Monkey Grip Technology, and refers to the thin layer of textured rubber that your foot sits on. This seemingly simple feature is actually a marvel for trail runners, as it’s waterproof, comfortable, and as advertised, non-slip.

The sole of the Leadville is made of 10mm thick Neoprene rubber and has a great zig-zag tread on it to help grab onto those rough trails.

Luna ATS LacingArguably my favourite part of the Leadville is the ATS lacing system. At its simplest, it’s a nylon cord with a plastic buckle for adjustment. However, it’s clear that a lot of tweaking has gone on, as beyond being a simple cord, it includes elasticised sections to make it easy to take them on and remove them, while also keeping them very comfortable.

The toe attachment point is hidden using a plug made of similar material to the sole, so there’s no problem with wearing down the knot on the underside.

Performance

I’m not quite ready to test out these sandals on terrain as harsh as Leadville, but I have had a great time tramping around the local trails in them.

When I got them, I spent a couple minutes getting acquainted with the ATS laces. They are a bit different to anything I’ve tried before, but they definitely simplify the huarache tying process immensely. Getting the initial tension just right is a bit finicky since the laces are threaded through a couple holes and wrapped around each other, but this is par for the course for any huarache.

Once I got them adjusted just-so, the top buckle made any final tensioning quite easy. What I really love though is the elasticated heel strap. This is a great feature as once you’ve got your sandals set up how you like them, you can easily slip them on and off. The elastic also reduces rubbing on your heels, and I haven’t had any issues with chafing at all.

Once the Lunas were fitted, it was time to hit the trails. As luck would have it, I got caught in a rain storm on my first excursion. This was actually quite a lucky eventuality as I got to see first-hand how my Lunas performed in the wet.

The first half of the hike was great. The Leadvilles are quite light, despite their sturdy construction, and my feet were cool and comfortable the whole time. With 10mm of sole underfoot, there was minimal ground-feel, but since I was hiking on some pretty rocky terrain, this didn’t really bother me. I was at least able to get a full range of motion, and my toes could wiggle.

Vibram LogoI really like the treads on these sandals. They’re very grippy, yet don’t use lugs. Instead, they have a great zig-zag pattern that seems to shed dirt and mud very well. If I had one complaint, it would be that there are Vibram logos peppered among the treads. These logos tend to fill up with dirt and are tricky to clean. It’s not a deal-breaker, but a mild annoyance. Given the choice, I’d just have the zig-zags.

When the rains arrived, I turned back and headed home. As I walked, it was great to notice all the dust and dirt just wash away from my feet and shoes, leaving them looking brand-new again. I did, however find that my feet slipped a little bit on that first outing, though tightening up the laces helped out considerably. (EDIT: After wearing my Lunas daily for over a month, I’ve found that they slip less as my feet are making impressions, helping my feet to stay put).

Again, the treads behaved remarkably and shed mud just as easily as dirt. When I got home, I left them out on the porch, and found they were dry shortly thereafter.

Impressions

Overall, I loved testing out the Luna Leadvilles. It’s always a treat to wear shoes built and tested by the people that wear them. The quality and thought put into these sandals are reason enough to buy a pair, but their performance has secured them as part of my regular go-to rotation.

I’m planning on racing the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km race next year, and up until I tried Lunas, I never considered wearing sandals for it. Now, however, I think I’ve found my main footwear for the race. Yes, they’re that good.

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank Luna Sandals for providing a pair of Leadville huaraches for testing. If you enjoyed this review, why not visit (and Like!) the Luna Sandals Facebook page, or better yet, buy a pair for yourself (or a loved one!).

Review: Invisible Shoes Huaraches – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

InvisibleShoes (before trimming)

InvisibleShoes (before trimming)

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!).

The Good

  • 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.

  • Customisable

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.

  • Comfortable

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.

The Bad

  • 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.

The Ugly

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.