Monday, November 14, 2011

Invisible Shoes - 4mm Connect Huarache Review

Invisble Shoes - the shoes for barefoot running, walking, hiking and... FUN

Ever since first hearing about huaraches I have wanted to try a pair.  What the heck are huaraches you say?  According to the Beach Boys, they are the footwear of choice for surfers.

Basically, a huarache (pronounced in my Spanglish as "whar AH gee") is a thin soled sandal that you tie on your feet to protect them from rough terrain.  Huarache translates directly to English as sandal, so there you go.  A quick Google search reveals all different types and styles of huarache sandals so I guess some further definition is in order.  To a runner, a huarache is a very thin, flat, flexible sole that is is lashed to the foot.  Historically they are leather, but now you see rubber as the more common soling material.  Laces are typically made out of leather or nylon.

Interestingly, there is a traditional Japanese sandal called a waraji that is constructed out of rope and lashed to the foot.  WarajiHuarache.  I don't speak Japanese, but it sure looks like the Japanese "waraji" is pronounced a lot like the Spanish "huarache".  I consider this definitive proof that aliens initially populated our planet allowing each specific culture to progress independently but maintaining a common language throughout the ancient peoples.  I eagerly await the return of our alien overlords through the Stargate.  Somebody better call Kurt Russell.  Whoa!  Went off on a tangent there!  Anyhow...

We're looking for James Spader.  Have you guys seen him?
(Note the sandals on the aliens!  Huaraches! Or, Waraji!)

Stephen Sashen from Invisible Shoes contacted me in a blog post and asked if I would like to try out a pair of his huaraches.  I never look a gift-Steven in the mouth so I jumped on the opportunity.  He gave me the option of a custom built pair or a do-it-yourself kit.  I chose the 4mm Connect sole made from Invisible Shoes' Feel True rubber, and of course I picked a DIY kit!

Invisible Shoes has been in business since November 2009 and up until very recently were using a 4 mm soling material from Vibram called Vibram Cherry.  They now offer their very own Feel True rubber in either 4 mm or 6 mm.  The DIY kits with Vibram Cherry soles come with a square sheet of soling material and laces, requiring you you cut out the soles and punch all the holes.  The Feel True kits are a little easier to make, since they come pre-cut in standard sizes.  All you have to do is measure your foot, send them the measurement, and they get you the correct sole along with your choice of lace color.  There is a video on the Invisible Shoes website that shows you how to measure your foot correctly.

I should also mention that there is a TON of other videos on the site that show you how to cut, punch, lace, and tie your Invisible Shoes.  Customer service is second to none with these folks. The Feel True soles have both ankle holes pre-punched and the ankle area is reinforced to prevent tearing.  You will need to punch the toe hole.

I resisted the urge to take a picture of the floor and try to convince you that the shoes were really invisible, so here they are from the top.  Yes, they really are that flat and thin!

Here is a picture of the tread pattern on the bottom.  The new Feel True soles were created along with two designers that were formerly with Nike and Reebok.  The tread pattern will help prevent slipping in less than perfect conditions.

Here are the laces that came with my kit.  I chose a stately and classy lime green.  If you are going to have crazy sandals to run in, you may as well have crazy colored laces to go with them.  You can also just barely see one of the legs of the bobby pin they include in the kits to help you lace them.  The pin makes them very easy to lace since the holes are just a bit smaller than the laces to help keep them in place.  You just stick the end of the cord in the pin, stick the pin in the lace hole, and pull through with a pliers.  Easy-peasy.

These babies are flexible!  I made a Shoe Roll-up to prove it.  I could have rolled it up tighter, but you get the idea.

Bottom of the sandals after lacing.

Close up shot of the figure-8 knot that anchors the lace.  It looks like it would constantly push on your foot but because of the position, it lies between your toes and you don't really feel it.

The basic lacing pattern.  From the toe hole, down through the outside ankle hole, back up and around to anchor the lace and create the heel strap, down through the inside ankle hole and back up inside the heel strap.

First attempt at tying.  Kind of messy, but I've refined it to be easier and distribute the extra lace more evenly.
Here's a post on my tying style.

I got them in the mail on a Thursday, laced them on Friday and played around with them a bit running a couple hundred yards outside my office, causing my new assistant to question her career choices.  I then wore them around most of the day on Saturday.

The first time tying them took about 10 minutes each.  Second time about three minutes each.  After just a few tries I can have them both on in under two minutes, just as fast as I can put on my Trail Gloves.  That is tying them toga style, not just slipping on.  From what I hear there is a "correct" way that huarache purists tie them on, but it pretty much just comes down to lashing them onto your feet snugly but not so tight that they irritate your skin.  End of story.

On my first run I did 1.8 miles at a 9:55 pace.  I really expected to get some hot spots between my toes, but no problems at all!  There wasn't even a line of redness between my toes.  I hope that says something about my form.  I did almost trip once stepping up onto a curb when the outside edge of my left huarache caught the concrete.

Running Overview
These are really nice to run in and I've put a lot of miles on them so far.  Since it is getting dark so early now and I don't really like going barefoot in the dark yet, all of my weekday runs have been using the sandals.  My Trail Gloves are getting lonely.  I like running in the Invisible Shoes way more than just wearing them around.  When I'm just walking around in them, the laces tend to be uncomfortable between my toes.  I think it's because I have the laces primed for running form, so when I start walking and landing on my heels, the laces pull funny between my toes.  They aren't showing any major signs of wear yet even though the rubber seems so soft.

I am definitely not silent in my Invisible Shoes, but when shortening my stride the noise diminished. The "sandal slap" isn't too bothersome though.  I'm left wondering if it is a problem with my form, a problem with the way I'm tying them, or if some amount of noise is inevitable.

While running on asphalt trails and sidewalks I went out of my way to step on some things and the groundfeel of the shoes is awesome!  They certainly diminish the intensity, but you can readily feel even small objects.  More on off-road groundfeel below.

Trail Running

I'm not yet an avid trail runner but to do a full review I felt the need to do some off-roading in these bad boys.  I went out to a park that is built on the site of an old limestone quarry, strangely enough called Quarry Hill Nature Center.  I've done some hiking here (pre-barefoot days, so wearing boots) and I knew the trails would be a good test for the Invisible Shoes.  Like I said above, groundfeel is superb with the thin soles.  Here's what I was running on:
This is the first hill off of the asphalt path, up to the quarry trail.  It looks like a nice dirt path covered in leaves.

It actually consists of large pointy rocks, covered in leaves!

These trails were a whole new experience as far as my running goes.  The little bit of gravel I encountered during the Warrior Dash doesn't compare.  These were big rocks and they were everywhere.  This was an awesome test for the Invisible Shoes, and they passed with flying colors.  Their job is to protect my feet and that is what they did.  I'm not going to tell you that they made this path comfortable because they didn't, and that isn't really the point.  They allowed me to run over the rocks and uneven ground without an undue amount of pain.  I couldn't attack these trails with abandon, but I could go at them with gusto and not worry quite as much.  I did hit a couple of pointy hidden stones that made me yelp with pain but no cuts or bruises.
This is the path at the top of the hill.  The bigger stones are about fist-sized, but are a little flatter in this area compared with the uphill trail.  You can see that there is no avoiding the rocks though!

The path eventually leads to this wall.  No trouble scaling it in my sandals!  The trails continue at the top.

I headed out of the quarry into the wooded trails for a while too.  The dirt/rock trail runs right up the middle of this photo along the creek bed, then off to the right.  The leaf covered trails were sometimes tricky but the outstanding groundfeel kept me stable and upright.  I also found that wearing the sandals made me concentrate a little more on where I was putting my feet and the flexibility made it easy to find a good grip on logs and rocks.
Final Thoughts
Since this is my first pair of huraches, I don't have a rating system or anything to compare them to.  I will say that I like them a lot.  They are super thin and are as close to barefoot as you can get without just taking them off.  Groundfeel is superb (better than my trail gloves), and you can pick laces in 10 different colors.  They will protect your feet under extreme conditions, including the cold day runs.  They are a conversation starter too!  People give you a confused and interested look as you run by!

They are quick to get on and off.  The Feel True DIY kits are easy to finish up and require little in the way of tools.  Don't be afraid to trail run in them either.  They will take the punishment and shouldn't let you down.  There was a couple hidden rocks that I expected did some physical damage to the soles, but they were just fine.  I did get some gravel bits between my feet and the sandal on the downhills, but nothing huge will get in there because the sole stays well in contact with your foot.

In the "cons" category, I've spent a bunch of time trying to get the laces to the right tension.  Too tight and they will rub, too loose and I've had the heel strap literally come off while running.  I've got them set now, so just take a little time to fiddle with them before you start running and don't expect to get it right the first time.  One other con is that just like any other foot covering, they do decrease some feedback and can cover up issues with form until it is too late.  I developed blood blisters at the ball of my foot on both sides when I went out for a run in a worn out state and my form was suffering.

There are any number of ways to tie huaraches.  In regards to tying my Invisible Shoes, I think I'm going to stick with the "Toga style" for now.  I just figure that you are already running in something that is going to blow most people's minds, why not use a bunch of lime green cord too? Anything that makes you feel like Maximus stepping into the Colosseum has to be a good thing, right?
"Why won't anyone give me a hug?"

Run on, Runners!


  1. Great review! As you know, I've been running in the 6mm contacts for a few months. I really like the slip on/slip off tying style on the website. Once I have them adjusted right, I don't have to mess with them.

    Also, I get the slap slap sound too, and shortly figure out that it was my form (after getting the fit right). I really like the feedback from the sandals as it helps me correct my form and run more lightly/smoothly. There are some good discussions around this topic on the Invisible Shoe forum on the site.

    I hate to give up running in my sandals over the winter, so I am experimenting with socks. Check out my blog post today for a review on Injinji toe socks.

    Finally, I think you are totally on to something with the alien theory... the similar words... the fact that the aliens were wearing huaraches!! Mind boggling... wait.. where was I?


  2. Thanks Jeff! I'll check out your blog. My wife even suggested a couple days ago that I try the Injinjis. It's 34* F tonight and my feet didn't get cold at all on the run I just finished, but it's going to get a lot colder!

  3. Nice review. I've reviewed the I/S Contacts on my blog as well. I'm totally sold on them, and have 3 pair now. Just got the "Moca Earth" colored ones. Actually won them on Jeff Gallup's site. Anyway, mine's if you'd like to take a look at it. Thanks!