Many of you will remember my craft project last year, when I made my own running sandals, or huaraches, which I dubbed "hippy shoes." For about $10, I purchased all the supplies I needed and then used Steven Sashen's Invisible Shoes site as a guide to make my own minimalist running shoes.
To date, I've run a little more than 50 miles in my homemade huaraches. I found that the industrial rubber sheeting I used as the sole was a bit heavy and tended to flap too much and kick up dirt and rocks when I ran. Therefore, they've been relegated to minimal use. In fact, I'm not even sure where they are right now.
Last month, a publicity representative from Invisible Shoes contacted me about trying a pair of the company's newly revamped huaraches (thanks to Ian at Half-Fast for the referral).
When I first came across Sashen's site, he was selling huaraches made from Vibram material for the sole. Now he's offering what he calls "FeelTrue" outsoles available in two thicknesses, the 4-millimeter "Connect" and the 6-millimeter "Contact."
Invisible Shoes sent me a pair of each, the Connects with orange laces and Contacts with black laces). Upon trying on each pair, I immediately knew that I wouldn't be running much in the 6-millimeter Contact soles -- too thick. In fact, the farthest I've run in the Contacts is down to the end of my neighborhood block and back. However, they're nice for walking around, and with black laces they actually look almost somewhat fashionable.
The thinner Connect soles are much closer to what I look for in a minimalist shoe: flat, flexible and lots of ground feel (the three F's, we'll call them and immediately trademark the phrase). I have now run in these Invisible Shoes five times for 33 miles, including a 10-miler and over asphalt, crushed limestone and trails.
By now, I feel I've adapted to the huaraches and can run very close to how I would barefoot, but that doesn't mean this trial has been without its tribulations.
My first couple of runs resulted in some painful abrasions from the lacing. First, during their debut run, I got a nasty cut over the top of my right foot, which has since been solved by loosening the laces. The scab kept me from wearing these huaraches or my flip-flops for a few days. The second was between my big and second toes during that 10-miler. A pebble lodged itself between the lacing and my toe webbing and I didn't stop to remove it. I was fine the next day.
Overall, the Invisible Shoes are comfortable and very light weight (especially compared to my homemade version). The sole material holds a bit of shape and cups my foot, which I think helps prevent it from flapping. At any rate, I don't kick up nearly as much debris, unless I'm walking.
The Invisible Shoes have already become my first choice when I decide to use some foot protection. (I just banned my Vibram KSO's until winter.) They are especially nice for running on the Towpath, but are a bit thin for me when running on trails. However, I blame that on my lack of barefoot trail experience. The huaraches made me feel like I was wearing enough shoe to blast through difficult terrain, but that was not the case. I need more practice on trails.
You can either buy a custom-made pair of Invisible shoes, on sale now for $39.95 (Connect) or $44.95 (Contact), or you can get a do-it-yourself kit for $24.95 or $29.95. (The Vibram outsole is still available as the "Classic" kit for $21.95.)
I don't think I would actually buy a pair of the custom-made Invisible Shoes for that price, but I got them since they were offering them for free and I'd already made a pair in the past. However, the kits are a decent deal and making your own shoes is pretty fun.
I've been impressed with Sashen's commitment to customer service; just check out his response to my comment over at Barefoot Josh's site. That kind of personal touch is nice to see. It's also nice to see a minimal shoe for a much more minimal price than what Vibram, Merrell, New Balance and the rest are offering.
[Drunkard's note: Invisible Shoes provided the products reviewed above. The opinions expressed in this blog are my own.]