With summer seemingly here in Ireland, it’s time to break out the old sandals. Sandals are the perfect footwear at this time of year in Ireland; firstly to let our tootsies enjoy the whole 2 weeks of summer we get, and secondly for wading through the ample puddles and burst rivers that occur for the other 50 weeks.
Now for lovers of the barefoot feel, the obvious choice is to go, well, barefoot. Great for the beach, but less than great around the rocky paths here at home. Bare feet are also frowned upon when entering the likes of Starbucks, etc. For some reason sticking 4mm of rubber to the underside of your naked feet is totally okay though. So what is a barefoot/shoe enthusiast to do?
Barefoot sandals. Obvs!
So what the hell is a barefoot sandal? Basically, it is a sandal that follows all of the criteria that we mentioned in our first shoe post. Critically, for sandals we need the heel of the sole to stay in contact and move with the heel of the foot. So flip-flops are most definitely out. Other than the annoying slapping sound, they require our toes to clench, to grip, in order to keep the shoes on our feet. This is not a natural way to walk. Instead of allowing your toes to splay, they clamp up tighter.
A shoe that ticks all the boxes is the Huaraches of the Tarahumara. The Tarahumara or Ramámuri are a group of Indigenous peoples of the Americas living in the Copper Canyon region of Mexico. Brought to the limelight through books such as ‘Born To Run’, the Tarahumara are well known for their Ultra-marathon running wearing footwear cut from old tyres and held on with leather thongs.
Ever since the running world learnt of their exploits and footwear, a number of companies have tried to bring the huaraches to the lycra-clad, high-tech running world.
The 2 companies that stand out the most for this are Luna Sandals and Xero Shoes. They have applied modern high-tech material and innovative design to classic, time proven indigenous knowledge. And they look great.
However, having grown up in the 80s wearing market bought flip-flops (you know the ones; where the toe thong pop out every third step) and classic Jelly Bean sandals (the hard plastic ones that cut into your skin and act like a magnet for small, annoying stones), I initially baulked at the cost of what is basically a thin sheet of rubber attached to the underside of my foot
So I was delighted when I saw that Xero Shoes offered a DIY option.
Now, you can obviously go the full DIY route, but if you have ever tried to cut up an old car tyre you’ll know why I bought a DIY kit. The kits come in a number of different options. You can get a 4mm sole and a 6mm sole, in black or brown. You then have the cord for securing the sandal to your foot, and this comes in a huge array of colours. You simply measure your feet, select the appropriate sized sole, pick the colours you want and wait excitedly at your letterbox for the arrival.
When it arrives you get a pair of soles, cord for the straps, and a 4mm hole punch to create the hole for the toe cord. This gives you the ability to craft your sandal specifically for your foot shape. Their handy booklet and website explains the whole process, from marking out the toe hole to the seemingly esoteric art of tying the damn things.
I opted for a simple wrap style where the excess cord is wrapped around the side strap. This acts like a bit of a ‘spare tyre’ should the straps break. The reality is that I can never remember how to tie them without following the instructions, so this doesn’t really help me when I am walking in them.
The classic way to secure them to the sole is with a figure 8 knot that is melted and squeezed flat. This looks huge and I was convinced it would feel uncomfortable beneath my foot. But due to it’s placement, between the toes and in front of the webbing, you don’t notice it. The knot is obviously taking a bashing with every foot fall but it lasts a surprisingly long time.
I also tried the no knot technique where you simply fray the end of the cord, melt and squeeze it flat. This was even less intrusive but also less resistant to wearing out. That said, it has lasted a long time, and I eventually cut it off to fit the new system.
So, whilst perusing the Xero Shoes website I noticed that they now have Toe Loops that attach up through the toe hole and are secured by a hard plastic disc, similar to old school flip-flops. I then spotted the new Back Strap that makes the sandal more comfortable and far more easily adjustable.
Fitting the new toe loop was not as easy as the video led me to believe. Full bodyweight pushing and every swear word in my extensive lexicon still wouldn’t force the loop throught the 4mm hole. It was like a mouse birthing an elephant. Finally, I resorted to feeding a smaller loop of cord through to pull the toe loop into place. More exotic expletives occurred, but I finally managed it.
Fitting the back strap and lacing is much easier to do than the toe loop, and the original style of lacing. There are a seemingly inexhaustible number of ways to lace your huaraches, but I like to keep it simple. I also added some fancy lace ends to finish it off. These aren’t necessary but I’m a fancy kind of guy.
The little button on the underside seems very big but again, is barely noticeable when you are wearing them.
The back strap makes them even more comfortable and dead easy to adjust the tension.
These sandals are surprisingly comfortable, and with both the cord and the upgraded version coming in at under £20 and £25 for the 4mm and 6mm respectively, they are worth a punt.
The ground feel in the 4mm is pretty good, but for rougher ground I opt for the 6mm.
I have run in them for short distances and they work really well and make me feel like some sort of heroic Spartan of old. I would be a little weary running over different gradients, especially with wet or sweaty feet, as there may be a bit of foot slippage within the sandal, but that is just an assumption.
Sadly on researching this post I found out that the UK supplier of Xero Shoes are not currently selling the kits, but they are still available from the States. The next best, cheapest option is the Genesis model for 40 quid, which seems to be a pre-made version of the above. You could also make your own kit using sole material sheets such as the Vibram Cherry sheets, rather than old tyres. There are plenty of tutorials on these out there too.
The Xero Shoes Huaraches are a great minimalist shoe; about as minimal as you can get without being actually barefoot. Cheap, comfy and taking up virtually no room in your luggage, they are a perfect holiday shoe, ideal for the beach, hikes or holiday runs (providing you are adapted to barefoot running).
They definitely get the Wild Life stamp of approval.
P.s. Glenn is still available for all foot modelling jobs.