Earth Runners sandal review: A nearly perfect shoe.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I'm a big fan of natural foot health. As a result, I have spent most of the last 5 1/2 years either barefoot or in minimal, non- structured footwear.

Several months ago, my friend Heidi over at Barefoot and Paleo connected me with Mike from Earth Runner sandals so that I could try a pair of Earth Runners and give them a review... Lucky Me!

My initial impressions of the sandals were quite positive, but I wanted to put in a few miles before writing a review.

 

It's now safe to say, I've put in far more than just "a few miles". Actually, since these shoes arrived in late January, I've hardly worn anything else on my feet! 

Since early in 2010, my poor sweet wife has had to put up with me in Vibram Fivefingers (whenever shoes were actually on my feet). A funny thing has happened thanks to the Earth Runners... I hardly EVER wear Vibram FIve Fingers anymore. This makes her quite happy. In comparison to Vibrams, these sandals are almost "normal" looking! 

 

Anyways... On to the review:

It started with the ordering process. Following instructions on the website was easy, and the nice folks who run this small company are quick to answer email questions. I was assured that custom orders are available if none of the size templates seem right for my foot. I printed a size template from the website and was pleased to see a size 11 actually fits my VERY wide feet! In just a few days, my sandals arrived "fresh" from California where they are made. Below are a few photos of the day my Earth Runners arrived. These were the 6mm thick "Circadian" model. (The most minimal option they make, which is plenty thick for me.)

 

At first glance, they look like a typical huarache style sandal. If you aren't familiar with huarache style sandals, these are based on the sandals worn by the Tarahumara (aka Raramuri) people in the Copper Canyon area of Mexico, made famous by Chris McDougall's book "Born to Run".

A few common features of huarache sandals:

  • "zero drop" construction (no difference in sole thickness of the heel and forefoot) 
  • strap between the first and second toes
  • no arch support (no need in a natural, healthy foot)
  • some way for the strap to wrap the ankle and hold the sole to your foot (unlike a flip flop, huaraches don't require toe scrunching to keep them on)

The Earth Runners have a few noticeable differences from most other huaraches. The cam-lock buckle and the copper grounding inserts were the first things that caught my eye. The cam-lock buckle and wide, soft leather straps were a huge improvement over any huarache I have worn so far. If you have never worn huaraches before, there is a little learning curve involved in getting them tied just right. Fortunately, with the Earth Runners design, this is much more simple. (see short video below)

Another nice feature of the Earth Runners is their knobby Vibram sole which offers surprisingly good traction on all kinds of surfaces (Including snow and ice). Unlike some huaraches, these soles have been curved up just a little at the edges which makes them less likely to snag on stuff and flap when running like some huaraches do. This 6mm sole offers more than ample protection for every kind of hiking and running that I do. Fortunately, the ground feel is still quite good (for a shoe). These soles are still flexible enough to allow the foot to function as a foot. Other thicker options are available, but I personally like the thinnest option.

When I first tried these sandals on, I immediately noticed the softness of the leather straps and the suede lined footbed. However, (to my surprise) I did NOT notice the sensation of the copper inserts under my feet. The copper inserts are there to offer electrical conductivity. (stay tuned for more on the surprising effects of "Earthing" in a later post) I was concerned that these copper inserts might also conduct cold in the winter and heat in the summer. So far, the only time I noticed a temperature difference was while running and hiking in wet snow. 

Admittedly, This is a pretty extreme (and probably unintended) use of the shoe, and even then, the cold wasn't so bad as to be unpleasant.  Mike also sent me a nice pair of wool "mitten- like" tabi socks to wear with the sandals during really cold days. Perhaps next winter I will put them to use when things get really cold out again. On rare occasion, when running on really jagged rocks I will step just right so the point of a rock makes a copper insert push up into my big toe just a tiny bit. This isn't enough to be unpleasant, but it's really the only time (other than wet snow) that I even notice the inserts are there.

 Here are a few photos from today after numerous miles of hiking and running (I never actually count miles). As one might expect with any natural leather product, they continue to get even more comfortable with time, and conform more to my feet with more use. As the leather straps have formed nicely to my feet they stretched a little so I just trimmed off the extra strap at the ends. On the suede tops are signs of the shoes molding to the shape of my feet. Also, a few water stains are visible on the straps and soles from wet and snowy use. I have very little doubt that these sandals will last a long time. As you can see from the photos below, the soles are just beginning to show signs of very minimal wear after 4 months of daily use walking, hiking, and running on streets and trails around Asheville, NC. At this rate, (as almost the only shoes I wear) they might need replaced in about 5 years... I can live with that.

The copper inserts are just one option for grounding (aka "Earthing") that are offered by Earth Runners. They also offer conductive nylon or leather straps. Initially, I wasn't really convinced that the whole grounding thing was that big of a deal. In a future post, I'll explain how and why my opinion has changed. Suffice to say... I'm into it.

I'm trying to think of anything negative to say about the Earth Runners. Really, I have no complaints! Normally there is something about any product that I would change. (Seriously, ask my family, I modify everything!) OK, maybe the price could be a potential complaint. Admittedly, these aren't the cheapest shoe. However, this is a top quality, durable, handmade product from a small US company with excellent customer service and a truly ethical production model. Without complaint, I will gladly pay full price for my next pair. (That will actually be pretty soon, because my wife wants some now!)

I can certainly say, I give the Earth Runners TEN TOES UP! 

OK... now go outside and play! 

                                                                                  Much love, Mo the Human

June 2nd update: Mike just offered a discount to Mo the Human customers/friends/blog followers, etc... Enter the coupon code "Mog10" for 10% off your entire order!

Of course, I always recommend anyone new to minimal footwear make a slow and careful transition. In my opinion, it's best to take the time (and possibly some coaching) to learn a true barefoot stride before attempting to run in any minimal shoe.