Saturday, October 10, 2015

Minimalist Running and Hiking Sandals


Every once in a while I'll come across a product that I like so much (other than Gstrings and Pocket Rocks! :-) that I just have to plug. Earth Runner Sandals are one such item.

Several years ago I got into minimalist running shoes. However, I wasn't sure what to do about sandals. Before I got into minimalist running shoes I had worn Tevas, and Chacos. Chacos are heavy duty and well suited for hiking but they're the polar opposite of the minimalist approach. They're heavy, sculpted, huge arch, thick, and a big heel-toe drop - in short clunky! And also for me, the straps just never worked well - they always tightened around my big toes and strangled them. I finally gave up on them. For hiking I wore my minimalist trail runners and for around town I went back to good 'ol flip flops, which (except for the arch) is about as minimal as you can get. However, they're called "flip flops" for a reason. The loose fit and the constant slapping against my foot is annoying. Quick on and off - but horrible for anything other than casual walking.

After I had gotten into minimalist running shoes, I read the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and became intrigued by the Tarahumara who run ultra-marathons either barefoot or with minimalist Huarache type sandals made out of car tires and inner tubes. It's an incredible book and the feats (pun intended) accomplished by the Tarahumara and others who have learned from them, are mind-boggling. Interest in the Tarahumara and their sandals has gradually spawned a small cottage industry that's developed different versions of the Tarahumara sandal made from modern materials. As I started searching for the "perfect" minimalist sandal, I found a number of small companies making high quality versions of them.

I studied the different nuances and implementations before making a choice. Good design is one of my most important values, whether designing rock climbing training products or desiring the most functional sandal. I chose what I thought was the best design. Oops! The real proof is in the actual use of the sandals. While they were good, the heel strap and helping sleeve just did not work well in keeping the strap on my heel. It was a bit clunky looking and performing. I readjusted them ad infinitum as per their instructions and videos, but the heel straps always felt as though they were about to slip off - and sometimes did.

I went back to researching how other minimalist sandals implemented the heel/ankle strap. Somehow in my original search I either didn't see or glossed over Earth Runner sandals. They looked to have a subtle and unique implementation of the heel/ankle strap. I tried readjusting my current minimalist sandals to approximate, as closely as possible, the Earth Runners. However because of the short length of the straps and the Velcro (yuck!), it wasn't possible to exactly duplicate them. But it definitely helped with the heel problem. This showed me the superiority of the Earth Runner design and I decided to go ahead and get a second pair of sandals: The Alpha X model from Earth Runners. I wasn’t disappointed.

Here's what I like about Earth Runners. The other top three brands have some of these characteristics, but not all of them which is what makes Earth Runners special:
  • Shaped-molded footbed/sole: Most minimalist sandals of the Tarahumara ilk, are thin enough they will gradually mold to your feet. Earth Runners come pre-molded with a slight curve up around the edge of your feet, which gives them a head start molding to your feet. This especially helps on the slightly thicker soled models and also helps from catching your toe, which is easy to do on a totally flat-soled sandal at the end of the day when you're tired.
  • Choice of soles: Two different Vibram soles offer a range of sole material, tread types, and thicknesses (see photos above). One a bit thinner (8mm) and more of a barefoot feel and one that is slightly thicker (11mm) with a bit more cushion but still minimalist.
  • Leather foot bed or bareback: Leather is comfy and stylish but bareback is much better for trails if it will be wet or muddy.
  • Leather or nylon webbing for straps: For running and hiking.nylon rules - little stretch and it wears like iron. For around town - leather is comfy and fashionable (if you're not vegan).
  • Custom foot outlines: Optional personal custom foot outlines. Good if you have unusually shaped feet (Mortenson toe, etc). I've also suggested to Michael that he offer an option to have different right and left foot tracings, which would be helpful to those with different sized feet. I know in climbing shoes, those with different sized feet often have to buy two pairs of shoes in order to get a good fit for both feet.
  • Light weight: You hardly know they're on you're feet.
  • Cam-buckle quick release for the ankle strap and ease of getting them on and off or adjusting. Others have Velcro, elastic, non-quick-release buckles, or are simply tied. It also allows you to easily tighten for a run/hike or loosen for casual walking.
  • Overall design and attention to detail: This is the big one and why I think they're the cream of the crop. Simple, aesthetic, high quality construction and materials. The cross-ankle strap secures your foot without extra straps, leather/elastic sleeves, or rubber liners that others use. The geometry is nuanced and unique to the Earth Runners and the adjustability, comfort and security of the ankle/heel straps is near perfect.
  • Comfort - I've already said it, but these are the most comfortable sandals I've ever worn.
Finally, as climbers, we often carry a pair of shoes up the climb clipped to our harness or in a climbing pack for hiking back down. Shoes are bulky and add weight. Earth runners are a great solution to that. They are light, slim and clip easily to your harness or stow easily in your climbing pack. They're also great for hiking to the crag. Wouldn't it be great if they made them with an option of 5.10 Stealth dot rubber!

Check them out - I think you'll find they're a great product: http://www.earthrunners.com/

P.S. I haven't touched on the optional earthing aspect that is offered in Earth Runners. Earthing is a controversial topic but I personally think there is something to it. However, since I spend most of my time in the office, workshop or house compared to hiking/running/climbing, the earthing aspect wouldn't offer me much. An earthing foot mat, or earthing sheets for the bed would be more efficient than relying on the amount of time my sandals would be in contact with the earth. YMMV. For more info on earthing see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/ and http://www.earthrunners.com/pages/earthing

1 comment: