Lately my totally barefoot runs have taken a backseat to running in my newly acquired huaraches from Invisible Shoes. Like many runners, I was introduced to the huarache shoe via Christopher McDougall’s excellent book Born to Run. The shoes worn by the Tarahumara indians are little more than pieces of leather strapped to their feet and Invisible Shoes follow in the same vein, except they are using Vibram rubber as the outsole. While best known for their funky fingered “toe shoes”, Vibram has pumped out rubber soles for all sorts of shoes for years; I have even seen the rubber being used on motorcycle boots for slip resistance, wish I had some of those last year! Anyway, back to the huaraches. Invisible Shoes produces three lines of huaraches: 4mm Connect, 6mm Contact, and the 4mm Classic DIY kit. The first two use what Invisible Shoes calls the FeelTrue rubber of their own design, while the Classic uses Vibram’s Cherry rubber outsole. For my order, I chose the 4mm Connect because it’s the same thickness (supposedly) as my Trail Gloves. After I traced my feet and sent the scans off to Steve and company, my huaraches arrived in a few days. Here’s how they look on my feet.
I have now run in them three separate times for a total of just under ten miles. My first impressions are mostly positive. As the 4mm model I selected is called Connect, I find them quite true to that moniker, I really do feel more connected to the ground than when I am wearing my Trail Gloves. And I should, I am wearing nothing more than a sliver of rubber laced to my foot, but Invisible Shoe have managed to mostly replicate the feeling of being barefoot without being barefoot. No longer am I worrying about stepping on the odd rock or shard of glass and getting injured, all I have to worry about now is getting poop stuck to the huaraches. I feel all the undulations and textures of the ground, just as I would barefoot, while I barely even notice I am wearing them for the most part. I have to say “for the most part” because I do notice them when actively running and when I stop and my feet are sliding around ever so slightly because they’re covered in sweat. I notice the shoes while I am running as I hear them flopping on every foot fall — mostly just the right foot — as I have not totally mastered tying them just yet. And this is where I think most people will find fault with huaraches of any type: strapping them to your foot.
For whatever reason, I can tie my left huarache without any issues and it stays tight the entire run but my right one always seems to loosen up ever so slightly, just enough to produce a flopping sound when my foot contacts the ground and for the laces to loosen up by perhaps just a millimeter or two the whole time. As you can see in the photo above, I am tying mine in a wrap around my ankle with slipknots. On Sunday night when I ran, I modified this to a variant of the toga style where the extra lacing wraps above my ankles and ties on top of my foo, again with slipknots. My right foot loosened up enough to be floppy and even hang off of my foot a bit, due to a combination of sweat and a poorly tied knot I was forced to re-tie the huarache mid-run. There are so many variations in tying styles that Invisible Shoes has an entire page full of videos devoted to different ways of putting these on your feet. I have yet to find a style that suits me best but so far, toga style has proven the most effective. Now, to my other qualm about the huaraches: the knot under your toes. This will be most apparent in huaraches as thin as mine since you can literally feel every rock under foot and so a giant knot right under your toe is going to noticeable and annoying. This is most problematic on my right foot, again, and so I completely melted the existing figure eight knot and flattened it out entirely so I barely notice it now. On my first run, this caused enough gait issues and annoyance that I actively finished my run wearing only my left huarache and ran barefoot on my right. The next day, my right leg was killing me so I took to getting rid of that knot as soon as possible. Do I think this would be much of a problem in huaraches thicker than mine? More than likely not. I cannot see it really being noticeable if you wear thicker huaraches such as those from Luna Sandals or even the 6mm Contact huaraches from Invisible Shoes.
My only remaining questions are those of durability. How long will the thin soles last? How well do the laces hold up after months of running? Sadly, Invisible Shoes does not have that answer. While I do think the rubber sole will hold up well into next year, I know the laces will most likely as they are made of a nylon material that will eventually rub through over time. Neither is a huge concern since the laces and kits are so cheap, with shipping my set of huaraches was just over $46USD as I opted to have Invisible Shoes make them before I tried to DIY them myself and potentially ruin an experience. Other than DIY kits, Invisible Shoes seems to market the cheapest pair I could find and I am down with saving money.
Overall, my first impressions of the Invisible Shoes huaraches are very positive. I will not discount issues that I knew about going in (floppiness, the knot under your toe) as negatives since both can be avoided with a little modification to the huaraches themselves. I absolutely love the ground feel I get in them and since they weigh almost nothing, I am starting to prefer them to going totally barefoot. Will these stop me from running barefoot? Not entirely but they will be with me on races where the course is going to be less than pristine or will be a trail. For what I paid for my Trail Gloves, I can get 3 pairs of the Invisible Shoes huaraches and that is a huge savings to me and will definitely be a deciding factor in my next pair of shoes.
Disclosure: I purchased these huaraches myself from Invisible Shoes’ web site. Neither Invisible Shoes nor Steve Sashen (CEO) provided these shoes to me for review and they are not media samples.