For quite a while, I’ve been trying to go barefoot or to come as close as possible. Unfortunately, rocks, thorns, rules, and dog poo have made walking and running barefoot less appealing to me. So I have relied on Mexican-made huaraches in warm weather and on Nike Frees for all-weather shoes. Both have given me something close to the barefoot experience that I am seeking.
Recently, though, I ordered a “Classic DIY Kit with Vibram Cherry soles” from what’s now called XeroShoes.com to make my own sandals for nearly-barefoot running and walking. I cannot imagine footwear that comes significantly closer to going barefoot. In essence, what I ended up with (for about $20) was very thin, flexible but hardy soles tied to my feet with a soft but strong cord. I chose the “slip on” method of tying the cord, and I have never feared that the sandals would slip off inadvertently.
I have used the Xero Shoes for about three weeks and have run in them on pavement, across grass, and on dirt trails. My muscles definitely work differently when I run in these sandals, compared to when I run in Nike Frees. I know this because I could feel different areas ‘recovering’ during the following day. At the very least, running in these shoes has strengthened my inner thighs, as I no longer feel a strain there when kicking a soccer ball.
In these sandals, I feel the contours of the ground to an extraordinary extent, and the air ventilates my feet noticeably more than when I wear my leather huaraches from Mexico. The shoes have almost no weight, so it’s easy to go fast. Running on a dirt trail or across a field elicits an elation that I do not feel in shoes, thanks to a feeling of adventure that reminds me of running through the woods as a child. Sadly, the sensation is so close to running barefoot that I yearn to feel the blades of grass pushing up between my toes!
A more consequential issue is that, while the material of the sole seems quite difficult to tear, its flexibility means that, when I run over a large seedpod, pointy stick, or rock, I feel the pain. Perhaps with time my feet will toughen. Also, probably because I have long, flat feet, my stride makes flapping sounds that definitely draws unwanted attention. They are not Inaudible Shoes.
Despite those drawbacks, I recommend that anyone who is interested in nearly-barefoot running check out Xero Shoes’ website. Crafty folks will find instructions for making their own sandals without buying anything from this company. Others might enjoy making and using their own, minimal sandals as I have.
As far as I know, I have no financial stake in Xero Shoes or its competitors and will not receive recompense for this review. Update from 2/24/12: The previous statement is no longer true. If you visit Xero Shoes using one of the links from this blog and then order one of their products, I’ll receive a percentage of the proceeds. However, I haven’t changed the substance of this review since 5/2/10. I liked my sandals enough to buy the newer and better version, as reviewed here.