Model: Invisible Shoe Huarache Sandal
weight: 3.6 oz (contact model)
Recommended For: Runners looking for a simple and true barefoot experience.
By Tom Caughlan
Let me preface this review by stating that I am not a minimalist or barefoot runner. I enjoy a wide cadre of shoes that include clunky trail boots with thick treads all the way down to 4 oz racing flats. I am not blessed with perfect form. In fact, I’m a late stage pronator on my left foot which has given me problems in the past. Sure, just like everyone else I have been slightly influenced by the trend towards minimalist running shoes, but being cautious of fads, crazes, and group think, I tend to shy away.
That being said I’m probably not the person to review homemade huarache sandals from Boulder, CO , the hippie hamlet where footwear is optional and trust fund, didgeridoo playing college students feign homelessness for street credibility (I was a former student). Or, maybe I’m the perfect person to review these “shoes” in a brutally honest way that will crush the hopes and dreams of would-be barefooters forever who are hoping to cure their plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, or shin splints with utter simplicity. There is one problem…I really enjoy running in these huaraches.
I sent Invisible Shoe an outline of my foot by fax to their office in Boulder to have them custom make me two pairs of huaraches. One pair has a 6mm Vibram sole called the “Contact” model, the other at 4mm thickness is the “Connect” model. Within a few short days the package arrived at my door revealing four floppy peices of Vibram rubber with some nylon cord knotted underneath the toe of the shoe and elaborately tied. I purposely untied the sandals completely and got online to this page to figure out if I can master the art of sandal tying. It should be noted that I was kicked out of boy scouts after receiving only one badge, and I failed my knot tying test. Steven Sashen, founder of Invisible Shoe has some very easy to follow videos on the site which allowed me to follow along quite easily. After some basic adjustments, voila, I was ready to run…..or make hemp necklaces and curry. Whichever came first. I wore them around for a few hours in my house before venturing out for my first run.
I drove to a crushed gravel path to avoid having to run on the road in these huaraches. I had tied the sandals in the slip-on method rather than the gladiator style of the Tarahumara which just felt better to me and facilitated having only to tie the sandals once and then being able to take them off and on. For this maiden voyage I wore the 6mm Contact model for the little bit of added protection. I started running and immediately noticed how much I enjoyed the air flow around my entire foot. I didn’t notice any discomfort or sensation from the knot underneath and between my two big toes. Gradually I got more and more confident on this smooth trail and hit sections of pavement just to see what the impact would be like. Sure, a little more jarring but certainly enough protection for short stretches of paved running for me. My cadence continued to quicken and before I knew it I had run four miles in the huaraches and was back at my car. Upon removing the sandals I noticed a little bit of irritation at the top of my feet where the nylon cord intersected. Other than that, no issues, no soreness, no problems to speak of.
Over the next several days I found myself wearing the 4mm sandals all day long and the 6mm sandals for short runs in the evening to supplement my morning runs. I felt the sensation of my cadence picking up on these easy runs out of the shear joy of unencumbered feet. Finishing he runs with dry and dusty feet I would walk into the river for a nice cooling session feeling protected on the river rocks.
I have flicked sand and rocks onto the footbed underneath my feet but have been pleasantly surprised at how little this occurs. I have also stepped on a sharp rock and had a sore foot for a day or two. However, the Vibram sole is so flexible that it seems to bend around most smooth rocks and tree roots. I developed a small callus on the top of both feet quickly where the nylon cord overlaps and I don’t have any discomfort any longer. I also think that I was able to run with a cord between my first two toes because I am used to wearing thong style sandals daily.
I still have not gained the confidence to run in these sandals on burly trails, and I probably never will. I think that they are a valuable and fun training tool for those who want to strengthen their feet and get a sense of real primitive footwear. Swap out the Vibram rubber with rawhide leather and you probably have something very akin to what most of our ancestors wore on their feet in snow free months. Very dedicated barefooters could probably make these into daily trainers on any surface.
I have read other accounts of runners buying the do it yourself kits from Invisible Shoe and posting photos of their own huaraches that look vastly different from my own. The company cut me perfect fitting sandals that are smooth and rounded, without any extra material flopping about. I would recommend sending them individual outlines of your feet and letting them be the experts. Just follow the very simple steps on Invisible Shoe.
I still continue to run in my huaraches and I especially enjoy wearing them around because they feel so freeing yet secure. I still have not run in the 4mm model simply because I do not wish to have less protection on my feet personally than 6mm of rubber. I think they have been a valuable training tool to strengthen my feet and they brought a sense of child-like fun back into short runs. From a durability standpoint my huaraches show very little wear and if the cord breaks I can order new cord from the company or simply buy some locally. Plus, if I can figure out how to effectively tie these huaraches, anybody can.
I have tried and reviewed numerous minimalist shoes in the past several years since this movement began. Some were fantastic and others left much to be desired. All of them retail for quite a bit more money than this simple huarache sandal which feels more authentically barefoot and fun to run in than all the others. The other big positive of buying huaraches from Invisible Shoe is that they donate 10% of their profits to Norawas de Raramuri , the only company I can find that gives anything back to the Tarahumara Indians responsible for the barefoot/ minimalist craze.