Okay, so the big question is, “WHY use huarache, the Tarahumara running sandals?”
The answer is pretty obvious, but there are some important-yet-surprising pieces to the puzzle.
The obvious answer about huarache is: It’s the closest thing there is to barefoot running, without some of the hazards of barefoot running. Namely, you’re adding a layer of protection to your feet that bare skin simply can’t give you, no matter how well conditioned your feet are.
Especially with the 4mm Vibram Cherry sole material we use in our huarache kits and custom huaraches, you get what I like to call “better-than-barefoot.” The soles are so flexible it’s like having nothing on, so light, you barely notice them… except it’s blissfully clear that you’re not getting scraped up, cut up, scratched up and dirty like you would if it was just your tootsies on the ground.
That said, I’m not going to say “Don’t run barefoot and run with huarache running sandals instead!”
Well, because running barefoot gives you more feedback than running with ANYTHING on your feet.
If you want to know how efficient your form is, go barefoot and you’ll know (that is, if it hurts, you need to change something!).
If you want to know if you could be running lighter or easier, go barefoot and you’ll find out (did I mention: if it hurts, you need to change something?).
Conversely, putting ANYTHING on your feet, including huarache sandals, can mask some improper technique, give you the illusion that you’re better than you are and, possibly, lead to overtraining. Especially at first.
That said, since it takes awhile to develop that new barefoot running technique, and since it takes a while for your feet to get conditioned (btw, they do NOT get calloused), I recommend a mix of barefoot and huarache running.
In fact, what I often do is carry my huaraches with me when I go out barefooting. And if my feet start to get a bit sore, and I’m still a ways away from home, I’ll slip on my huaraches for the 2nd half of the run.
Or, I’ll warm up in my huaraches, and then slip ‘em off (using the method of how to tie huarache sandals here), and take off from there.
Oh, if I’m on serious trails — and by serious, I mean a lot of rocks, twigs, etc. — then it’s all huarache, all the time.
Did you see the episode of Seinfeld where everyone couldn’t stop eating the “fat-free frozen yogurt,” only to discover — after they put on weight — that the frozen yogurt wasn’t actually fat-free, but was just advertised that way?
Well, something similar is happening with “minimalist shoes.”
Why minimalist running shoes?
To answer that question, we need to go back in time. In 2009, Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run, and research published by Dr. Daniel Lieberman from Harvard, inspired the barefoot running movement. In large part, the idea to get back to the basics came from a few fundamental ideas:
Despite decades of “technological advances” in running shoes, and promises that the latest and greatest in padding and motion control would eliminate runners’ injuries, there was not one study — and not even anecdotal evidence — that the big shoe companies could deliver on their promise. Even with insoles made from baby seals, trampoline outsoles, and laces made from the hair of Nepalese princesses, 50% of runners and 80% of marathoners were getting injured every year.
As Lieberman showed, when you have a big, padded shoe at the end of your leg, you’ll use the padding, land with an outstretched, straight leg, and seemingly paradoxically, send a giant spike of force through your joints — up your ankle, knee, hip, and back.
Instead, Liberman and others showed, if remove your shoes and run BARE FOOTED, you tend to adjust your gait, land with flexed joints, and use your muscles, ligaments, and tendons, as the natural shock absorbers they are, sparing your joints.
The foot is made to flex, to bend, to feel the ground. And the brain is expecting information about the ground from the feet (which it then uses in a feedback loop to adjust how you move across the ground). Remove the sensations by wrapping your foot up in a shoe, and you’re short-circuiting this natural feedback loop, and depriving yourself of the pleasant sensations that come from walking or running across varied surfaces.
Put all that together, and vast numbers of runners ditched their shoes to try running barefoot. In fact, many people who were unable to run at all gave barefooting a try. I was surprised we weren’t seeing bonfires made up of old, thick, heavy running shoes.
So, at this moment, you had 2 choices: your old running shoe, or barefoot (or Xero Shoes, which are as close as you’ll get to barefoot, but with some protection).
Not surprisingly, the big running shoe companies saw this situation and had to respond.
At first, they merely put out press releases and claimed that running barefoot would hurt you, that only gifted athletes could do it, and that if you even contemplated running without shoes, you were in destined for unhappiness.
Meanwhile, they were working on a response:
Examples of minimalist footwear
What are minimalist running shoes?
In short, they’re the big shoe companies’ way of capitalizing on the barefoot running craze by offering the only thing they know how to make — SHOES — and promoting them as “barefoot” or “natural.”
To do this, they made shoes that were lighter, more flexible, and with less of a heel-lift.
Do minimalist running shoes live up to the claims?
Ah, here’s where things get interesting.
Shoe companies are claiming that minimalist shoes will help you change your gait to a more natural, barefoot-style, way of moving. That their new shoes encourage a mid-foot strike. That wearing their shoes will reduce injuries.
They’re making all the claims that barefoot runners made about removing your shoes completely.
But there is no evidence whatsoever that minimalist shoes will do any such thing.
In fact Vibram, the company that makes the FiveFingers shoe — arguably the original minimalist running shoe — was sued for making similar claims without having the scientific backing to make them.
Let me say it again. There are no studies to back up the claims made by (or, rather, borrowed by) the big shoe companies.
Why aren’t minimalist shoes and barefoot (or Xero Shoes) the same?
One of my favorite things to do is meet someone who’s been wearing a minimalist shoe, including the Five Fingers, and have them put on ONE Xero Shoe and take a walk.
Within two steps they’ll turn around, eyes wide open, and say something like, “Oh! That’s a WHOLE different feeling!”
What’s the difference? The amount of sensation you feel from the ground. I don’t care how much someone in a Nike Free says, “I can really feel the ground in these.” They’re comparing their current experience to wearing ultra-thick running shoes.
But some minimalist shoes still have 1/2″ or more of padding between you and the ground.
And even the newest, lightest, most flexible shoes aren’t as light and flexible as your bare feet.. or a pair of Xeros.
Minimal and barefoot are simply not the same.
And, frankly (and I’ve said this often), even Xero Shoes aren’t identical to barefoot. People wearing them tend to move identically to when they’re barefoot, but since you’re always stepping on the same thing — a thin bit of rubber — when you wear Xeros, it’s not the same as feeling the myriad and varied sensations with every step that you get when barefoot.
But doctors and other experts are recommending minimalist shoes
Yup, they are.
Check this out, though… in the WSJ article, it says:
The American College of Sports Medicine… recommends shoes with a heel-to-toe height differential, or drop, of no more than 6 millimeters, or about a quarter of an inch… buying shoes that are neutral, meaning without extra arch support or rigid motion-control components. The shoes should have enough forefoot room that runners can wiggle their toes easily and shouldn’t have excessive cushioning, the guide says.
But when you go look at the shoes that are marketed as fitting that prescription, you’ll usually find arch support, narrow forefoot areas, thick soles, toe spring, and all manner of other non-minimal design components.
More, I’ve been on panels with a lot of the experts that recommend minimal over barefoot. A surprising number have quite a few anti-barefoot opinions without the experience — personal or from research — to back them up. They’ll say things like, “If you’ve been in running shoes for a long time, you need to spend months, if not years, letting your Achilles tendons stretch out.”
Frankly, I’ve never met a formerly shod runner whose Achilles were “too short” to run barefoot.
I’ve met a lot of doctors (and runners) who think that getting Achilles pain when you switch to barefoot is because of “too short” tendons, without knowing that the real cause is simply USING your Achilles more than is necessary, and that by relaxing and improving your form, you don’t need to stretch — or strengthen, for that matter — anything.
Aren’t you just whining?
Okay, maybe I am
The WSJ article isn’t as anti-barefoot or hyperbolic as many pieces about barefoot/minimalist/maximalist are.
In fact, it promotes everything we stand for here at Xero Shoes — natural movement, lightweight, freedom, feeling.
And, maybe, getting people to switch to something minimalist might make them more likely to go the whole way and try Xero Shoes or barefoot.
But given the experience of tens of thousands of our customers, many who’ve switched from something they were told by shoe salesman was “minimalist”, I wish that what people are offered can really live up to the marketing promises. And I don’t see that happening with “the latest trend in footwear.”
Here’s another Barefoot Running Q&A video, where I take an email I’ve received and give an answer on video.
In this video we look at the relationship between barefoot and minimalist shoes, foot and calf pain during the transition to barefoot, how minimalist shoes fit in with the transition to bare feet, and how to handle the cold.
“Barefoot Ted” sells a running sandal he calls the Luna Sandal. It’s similar to our custom-made Xero Shoes, but with a few key differences:
1) Did you know there are 18 different types of “size 9″? Rather than pick just one of those and pre-make our sandals, the custom-made Xero Shoes are, actually, custom-made for your unique foot. We use a tracing of your foot to make sure the length and width are correct for your specific foot — and if your feet are different sizes, you get sandals that match. We make sure that the toe and ankle holes are placed correctly based on the size and length of your toes and heel. With Xero Shoes, you’re getting a product made just for you.
2) We use the 4mm Vibram Cherry sole material or our exclusive FeelTrue rubber to give you the optimal barefoot feel, and for your convenience. Aside from really being able to connect with the ground with our soles, you can roll up Xero Shoes and keep them in your pack or pocket — go out barefoot, and come back with some protection on your feet. The thicker sole in the Luna is comparatively rigid and over 60% heavier… add some glue and a leather upper and you’re further minimizing the minimalist feel.
3) We use soft, durable polyester laces that don’t stretch or contract when they get wet and dry out, unlike leather or hemp. Our laces are round, meaning that there are no edges to rub on your skin. Polyester is a very strong material — I’m still using the original laces in my 12-month old huaraches that I wear every day — and after getting wet, nylon laces dry really fast. And with round laces, you don’t have to worry about “which side is up” or getting them twisted when you use the different tying styles (some of the clever tying variations people have developed require round laces. Plus, you can get our laces in a bunch of fun colors. And if you ever want to replace your laces or get other colors, they’re inexpensive.
4) Our product is “vegan friendly”. So is Ted’s basic Luna Sandal if you get the hemp laces instead of leather.
5) Luna Sandals have an optional leather footbed. Ted is making a fine product… some people like the leather upper — which, over time, molds somewhat to your foot. Any material upper, though, will wear and collect dirt. And, for those who are sensitive to these kinds of things: natural materials are not anti-microbial. While we don’t currently offer a material upper, we have heard from a couple customers who bought some leather and glue and added those to their Xero Shoes for only a couple of dollars.
Ron Hill ran the 10k in the Mexico City Olympics barefoot.
When asked why, he responded, “They were the lightest shoes I could find.”
At Xero Shoes, we believe the best running shoes are, well, your feet. Bare feet.
You don’t need pronation control. You don’t need a bunch of padding.
You need to be able to move your feet naturally. To flex, to bend, to stretch, to feel the world.
Now, that said, barefoot isn’t always practical or ideal.
Ron Hill was on a track — even, basically smooth, no obstacles or rocks or uneven patches. That’s the best place for his barefoot running shoes — his feet.
But what about you, on a road or a trail.
There are a lot of times where you’ll want some protection, but with as close to a barefoot experience as possible.
That’s why we developed Xero Shoes.
When you’re looking at footwear that simulates being barefoot, please be careful.
Almost all of the shoes sold by big companies that call themselves “barefoot” or “minimalist” are about as close to barefoot as a pair of stilts. I’ve seen shoes with an INCH of padding that still advertise themselves as “just like being barefoot.”
The next wave of “barefoot shoes”?
The Running Clinic Rates the Best Barefoot Shoes
Canada’s The Running Clinic devised a rating system to evaluate the best barefoot running shoes.
I’m happy to say that Xero Shoes came out on top. The next closest competitors are not shoes that you want to run in, frankly… unless you like replacing your footwear every few miles. And most of those cost way more than a pair of Xero Shoes.
Our 4mm Connect DIY sandal kit is the closest thing you’ll find to barefoot. The Amuri Cloud is next, though with the addition of a tiny bit (3mm) of BareFoam, it feels like even more protection. The 6mm Contact DIY kit and Amuri Venture give a great barefoot feel with a bit more protection.
Dr. Daniel Lieberman is one of the fathers of the barefoot running movement. His study showing how barefoot runners strike the ground with less force than shod runners, combined with Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run, catalyzed the growth of barefoot and minimalist running.
Well, it’s as if Dr. Lieberman had a child with BTR, since his new study looks at how the Tarahumara run. And, more, it compares Tarahumara runners in huaraches to younger Tarahumara who run in padded running shoes.
Big news today in the barefoot world: Vibram settled a class action lawsuit that claimed the company deceived customers when it claimed that VFFs would decrease foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles.
There are LOTS of reason you'll want to get out of your regular shoes and go barefoot or wear Xero Shoes. But the "barefoot world" is full of mythology, contradiction and, frankly, lies told to you by giant shoe companies. Even ones that sell minimalist shoes.
How do you discover the truth? How do you find the fastest and easiest way to start enjoying being barefoot or minimalist, whether you're a walker, hiker, paddle boarder, or runner? Simple. By signing up and receiving our free 7-part series: "Feel The World: How to enjoy the fun and benefits of being barefoot"
“An almost-barefoot feel, but with some protection... provides barefoot-like balance. It's so light you hardly feel it...” -Los Angeles Times
“Winner 2011 "Best Huarache" A powerhouse of a sandal that has no apparent weaknesses.” -Christian Peterson
“I was extremely surprised and delighted by how well the Invisible Shoes fit my feet... the closest to going barefoot without actually going barefoot...” -Jessica Lee
“It wasn’t until Steven made me my first pair that I understood how much fun they are to run in. My feet feel like they’re completely bare...” -Scott McLean
“If you are a barefoot runner or plan on running barefoot, you need a pair of huaraches!...”
“Xero Shoes for kids make an awesome summer sandal. They can be tricked out with beads and charms to make them even more fun. My daughter's daycare teachers always want to know where to get them!” -Justin Owings
“These are soooo cool!! It really is like running barefoot, but with a little protective mat under your feet. Your foot is completely free, unlike the Vibram FiveFingers...” -Joy Frantz
“Running in my Xero Shoes is really enjoyable – they maintain almost all of the fun barefoot feel, and give me enough protection to take on more challenging terrain..." -Donald Buraglio
“These are pretty much the only shoes I wear now. It makes sense that being barefoot (or close to it) is the way to walk..." -Tracy Jones
“Xero Shoes are the closest thing to actual barefoot running. Putting them on made me feel like a Native American warrior! They're great for my strength training workouts as well as running..." -Al Kavadlo