Xero / Luna Huaraches: A Review (Updated Xero Review)

View from Eisenhower Tower 1
View from tower at Eisenhower Park

Last year I wrote the review (below) on the Zero huaraches I fell in love with. Unfortunately,

the Xero’s had a problem that make running on trails in the hot, humid Texas summer difficult: they lack surface texture necessary for keeping feet from slipping around in them. I like the Xero’s, I really do; however, I just cannot run well in them with my sweaty wet feet sliding around as I run. I turned to Barefoot Ted’s Lunas, the Leadville Pacer, which are made the monkey grip technology. The surface of these huaraches are textured for better traction. These huaraches are make running with wet feet much more manageable. I’ve been running trails in these sandals since last October and haven’t had one problem with my feet slipping around on the sandal’s footbed. For people who run in climates that don’t generate a lot of perspiration glow when they run, the Xeros may work just fine. For the rest of us, however, the Lunas’ monkey grip technology is necessary to prevent the slippage of sweaty glowing feet!

If my toes could sing, they would have been singing with joy when I wore my new custom-made Zero huaraches on an inaugural run on the unpaved trails at Eisenhower Park. Since that day seven years ago when I took off my running shoes and threw them away (well, actually I donated them to Good Will) to finally liberate my toes and feet from their culturally-imposed imprisonment, I’ve worn nothing at all on my feet when I run on paved surfaces. My feet are always joyful when they move me, unshod and unfettered, along streets and sidewalks. I do love to run unpaved trails, as well, and my trail running makes my feet, and thus my trail runs, a little sad. These trails in Texas are technical, with rocks, sticks, tree roots jutting up everywhere from the dirt. Running these trails barefoot is hazardous (although I know a barefoot woman in Boerne, TX, who does run some of them without any foot covering at all). I have run some trails in mountains in states other than Texas and because of the more gentle nature of those trails, I can run them with bare feet very easily. Here in Texas, however, I simply have to wear a little something on my feet when I run unpaved, technical trails.

Inaugural Xero Huarache Run

Tower Trail Eisenhower Park
Tower Trail Eisenhower Park

When I first returned to natural, barefoot running, the way I ran when I was a child, I tried Vibram Five Fingers. Finding a pair of these toed shoes was IMG_1285fairly difficult, since at that time the book Born to Run had yet to be published and the Five Fingers had yet to be discovered. The minimalist craze hadn’t quite taken off, so no running or outdoors stores in San Antonio stocked them. I didn’t want to order a pair online without having tried them on and checked them out thoroughly. I finally located a pair at the Whole Earth Provision off Westgate Blvd in Austin. I was pleased with the Vibrams at first. They allowed me to run unpaved trails with more comfort than a traditional running shoe. The longer the run, however, the more discomfort these shoes caused. Although they lack the support that traditional running shoes have, and they’re lighter than traditional running shoes, their soles are stiff and the design entraps my toes so that they don’t move the way the naturally move unshod. By the time I hit about eight miles on a run – eight miles seemed to be the magic number for some reason – my toes would hurt and my feet would be uncomfortable. Moreover, wearing Five Fingers changed my form, probably because of the way they prevent the toes from moving naturally. I actually took them off mid-way through a Hell’s Hills 25k one year, and ran the rest of the way barefoot. It’s a rough course out there in Smithville, but some parts of the trails are smooth enough so that I managed. Running barefoot on the trails was less uncomfortable than keeping those Five Fingers on my feet at the time.

IMG_1282A week later, I was standing in a corral at the Capitol 10k in Austin, when man standing behind me noticed I had bare feet and asked me about barefoot running. He was wearing a pair of cheap water shoes but was in transition to running barefoot. I asked him about his water shoes; he said they allowed his feet to move more naturally than other shoes he had tried so he was wearing them as a way to move toward barefoot running. The next day, I went to Academy Sports and bought a pair of water shoes for $4.99. I bought a man’s size, so that I had more room in them. These shoes are a huge improvement over Vibrams. The toe box is roomy enough that my toes move and spread naturally as if they’re without shoes. The soles are more flexible than the Vibram soles; this flexibility allows me to better keep my natural running form. The problem with the water shoes, however, is that my toes are still enclosed and after a number of miles, my feet feel uncomfortable and I start to change my form. The problem isn’t as pronounced with the water shoes as with the Five Fingers, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

Since my goal is to run more, and longer, trail races, I had to figure something out about footwear. I enjoy my running best when I have nothing on my feet, so I finally decided to try a pair of huaraches: free toes, minimal cushioning. After reading some favorable review of Xero huaraches, I decided to order a custom-made pair. Xero sells do-it-yourself huarache kits, but I decided to spend the extra and let the experts make huaraches for me. The process is easy. I ordered the color material and style I wanted for the soles (black and 4mm) and the color of laces (also black), then placed my order. After I placed my order, I received an email with an instruction video that illustrates how to trace my feet on paper. I chose to send my tracings to Xero by snail-mail, but one has the option to fax or email the tracings. I soon received an email telling me that the Xero company had received my tracings. My huaraches were mailed to me within about 48 hours later. When I received my sandals, I watched the website’s video several times to make sure I was tying them just right. These huaraches can be tied several ways, and they come tied the traditional slip on way from Xero Shoes, but I retied them several ways to see which way I preferred. I decided upon the traditional slip-on tying method after all.

I can’t believe how easy these huaraches make trail running. I ran the unpaved outside tower trail at Eisenhower Park the first time I wore them, and I was able to run the parts that I usually walk. Now that I’m running trails in footwear that truly is as near to barefoot as one can get without actually being barefoot, I can see how labored my trail running was in the other minimalist footwear I tried. I was worried that the 4mm thickness may not be enough protection from the rocks but they seem to offer more protection from rocks and sticks.

IMG_1287

I pondered this observation while I was running that inaugural run, and I think the reason these this sandals seem more comfortable on the rocks is that the soles are so flexible: much more so than the Vibrams. They give when I run in them, so I move over the rocks differently. Another reason may be that these huaraches don’t cause the subtle form change the other minimalist shoes cause when I wear them. I am perhaps hitting the rocks more lightly in these huaraches than I do in Vibrams or water shoes.

The real test for these huaraches will come next week, when Phillip and I run Capt’n Karl’s night trail race (the 30k distance) at Reveille Ranch. I’m planning to wear these huaraches when we run the Flagstaff Trail Marathon next month, so I hope they hold up to the test of distance!

San Antonio, Texas, United States

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