I recently wrote about my intrigue into running in huaraches like the Tarahumara people of Mexico and about my experiences in the Achilles sandals from Vivobarefoot.
I commented that while the Achilles are robust enough to let you run with confidence in largely the same terrain as you would in regular shoes, I was a little surprised that they didn’t feel as ‘barefoot’ as I was expecting.
If it really is the feel of true barefooting that you’re after then these huaraches from Xero Shoes are the best I’ve come across and I would recommend them to anyone.
About the brand
Xero Shoes are a specialist brand of ultimate minimalist footwear from the USA. They were developed to emulate the huaraches worn by the Tarahumara.
True to form the Xero Shoes comprise a thin rubber sole and a lace. Nothing more than that. And the best thing about them is that you make them yourself. So not only do you get the most basic and minimalist sandal you’ll ever wear, you also get to build them by hand. All in all a very wholesome experience.
Only available via their websites www.xeroshoes.com and www.xeroshoes.co.uk (the UK site allows for sales in Europe without the added cost of shipping from the US), plus other online resellers, you get a number of options at the point of sale:
- Colour of sole;
- Thickness of sole (4mm or 6mm);
- Size of sole (based on the actual length of your feet rather than conventional sizes);
- Colour of string.
About the sandals
They come packaged with a hole punch and a hair clip (to help thread the lace). You will need a hammer to punch the hole, scissors to cut the string and to trim the sole if you want to, and a lighter to seal the end of the lace. All very Boy Scout, but if you can cope without the DIY satisfaction you can pay a little extra to have them assembled on your behalf.
Threading and tying the lace is good fun but will take a little time to perfect the tension. There is a very helpful video on the website to show you how best to do this. It took mine a couple of full days of wear for the lace to ‘bed in’.
Needless to say I chose the 4mm soles. This is a comparable thickness to several other ‘barefoot’ shoes I have reviewed, yet somehow with your foot open to the elements the sole seems thinner, and without the structure of a shoe’s upper, the sole is more flexible.
They really do feel like you’re actually barefooted. The lace string is soft and supple so you’re generally unaware of it between your toes and around your foot, and the sole is thin and flexible so you can feel the texture of the ground unlike any other footwear I’ve tried.
With the lace anchored at three points, crossing over your foot and around your heel, these sandals stay true to your foot, although there is more scope for foot slippage in the wet than there is with the stiffer, more structured Vivobarefoot Achilles.
The sole is treaded and made from a durable rubber compound which comes with a 5000mile guarantee. The sole might last that long but before then the knot you tied in the lace, which lies under the hole next to your big toe, will have worn away. Replacement laces are cheap to buy.
Wearing these sandals, your foot is more vulnerable to stabs and spikes from ground level foliage than they are in the Achilles. For that reason I’d say choose your running terrain carefully. Also be careful with your foot placement. With the 4mm sole being as flexible as it is, if you don’t lift your feet properly it is easy for the front of the sole to fold under. Not a major problem but it does throw you off your balance momentarily if you’re not anticipating it.
Running in them is just as pure and unaffected as running barefooted. The sole offers protection from whatever’s underfoot but nothing more. The sheer lack of cushioning forces you to run naturally; more so than any ‘barefoot’ shoe I’ve run in.
There are some barefoot runners who will tell a newcomer to do away with any form of ‘barefoot’ shoe, and that the only sensible way to transition is by introducing real barefoot running into their training. I say that these Xero Shoes are the same as barefoot running but these add a layer of protection to your own sole. They have just enough thickness to protect without compromising your foot’s proprioception with too much cushioning.
If it’s true barefooting you want but you’re not prepared to put skin to earth, for the cost of less than £20 these sandals are a must.
Seven months later, read my latest post about pushing these to their limits…