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Barefoot Ted’s Luna Huaraches: A Review

Posted by on Aug 27, 2010 | 6 Comments
For a barefoot runner, I spend an inordinate amount of time testing shoes.  Even though I prefer to run barefoot, there are times when the protection of shoes is a welcome luxury.  Sometimes shoes are an absolute necessity.  My philosophy of shoe use is simple- run barefoot when you can. If you need the protection of shoes, use the most minimal shoe for the job.  The only way to assess the best shoe for any given situation is to test all options repeatedly. 
Over time, huaraches have proven to be a great catch-all solution for almost every situation requiring shoes.  The genius of the huarache sandal is the simplicity of function.  It is a piece of material suspended below your foot with a piece of binding material, usually leather or twine.
With every other minimalist shoe, some element of the shoe design interferes with foot function.  Vibrams unnaturally separate your toes and fit can be an issue as your foot must conform to the predetermined shape.  EVOs are snug around the ankles which limits some movement.  Racing flats tend to prevent your toes from splaying.  Reduced shoes like the Nike Free raise the heel.  Newtons have a very thick sole that prevents good ground feel.  Huaraches suffer none of these problems.  In essence, it is the perfect minimalist shoe.
I’ve been using huaraches for about three years.  The first pair were homemade.  They were complete garbage.  I used them about once a month just for variety, but I did not enjoy the fit or feel.
Earlier this year, I reviewed a pair of huaraches from another manufacturer.  The quality was improved over my home made version, which made a huge difference in function.  I used these huaraches for a series of long runs with great success.
About six weeks ago, Barefoot Ted McDonald started selling the production model of his latest huarache sandal- the Luna.  I have been following Ted’s fascinating adventures since his days of training for a triathlon using 1890’s era equipment and setting a world record for skateboarding distances over a 24 hour period.  He has been producing huaraches for years.  Ted learned the craft from the Tarahumara themselves (as told in Born to Run), and has been diligently working for years to improve the design.  The Luna is the culmination of these efforts.
The Lunas have several available options.  They can be ordered with or without a suede foot bed.  They can be ordered with leather laces of various colors, or with hemp laces.  The sandals are sold in standard US sizes and customizable for sizes smaller than 6 or larger than 14 (men’s sizing).  The sandals can also be custom-made if you provide an outline of your foot.  I opted for the suede top with both sets of laces.  Shelly also ordered a pair with the same options.

Yeah… they’re kinda sexy, too.

They arrived after only three days.  My first impression was positive.  The craftsmanship was far better than I expected.  The Vibram sole material was meticulously cut.  The suede foot bed was securely bonded to the rubber sole material.  The lacing holes were perfectly cut and symmetrical.  The sandals were laced with the leather cord, so I tested that first.  I laced them on my feet using a slip-off method and wore them around the house.
A Note About Tying
Tying Huaraches is an art.  It took a fair amount of experimentation to find the exact amount of tension needed on the various parts of the sandal.  One loop expends from between your first and second toes to the medial side of your foot.  Another loop extends from the medial side, around your ankle to the lateral side of your ankle.  The final loop extends from the lateral side of the ankle and around the original loop.  In essence, the three loops form a triangle that suspends the sandal below your foot.
If the tying is too tight, the cord will cut into the skin between your toes.  If it is too loose, the sandal will fall off.  It takes practice and experimentation to find the perfect fit.  Once discovered, the sandals are easily and quickly tied.  Unfortunately some people do not take the time to find the ideal tying tension and prematurely abandon huaraches as a minimalist shoe option. 

Ted provides directions to tie here (slip on method- more or less what I use) and here (traditional- what Shelly uses above).

Back to the Review
My early tests around my house and yard was pleasant.  The suede foot bed felt great, the laces worked well, and the sole material provided a good combination of protection and ground feel.  My first attempts at tying were a bit too loose.  After some reooling, I found the sweet spot. 
Since I was recovering from the Burning River 100 Miler (where I ran 2/3 of the race in huaraches- read my novel-length race report), I had to wait a few days to take them for a run.  I was curious about the leather laces; my other huaraches have nylon lacing.  My first attempt at running was not too successful.  The slip-on knot I used was not tight enough to keep the sandals on my feet.  I tried re-tying, but I was running with a group.  I didn’t want to hold them up longer than necessary while I experimented with various tying methods.  I finally took them off and ran the rest of the route barefoot.
My second attempt was much more successful.  I swapped the leather laces for the hemp laces.  Not only did the hemp remain snug, but it did not rub quite as much as the leather lacing.  The huaraches performed exactly as expected.  The sole material was pliable and allowed for exceptional ground feel. Foot proprioception was excellent. 

Performance on hills was better than expected.  The soles do not provide tremendous traction, but the design allows you to recognize if your foot begins to slip  going uphill.  This allows you to subtly shift your weight to maximize traction and energy expenditure. 

I have been using a slightly different downhill technique lately, which involves bending my knees slightly more than my previous method.  The Lunas performed well on down hills, also. 

Some people have commented about the suede foot bed would become too slippery when wet.  I purposely chose a route that would take me through a stream and mud.  Much to my surprise, the sandal performed much better than reported.  The foot bed did become more slippery, but it did not dramatically hinder performance.  Even hills were easily traversed with the wet, muddy foot bed.
If I were using the Lunas for an ultra, I would probably use Injinji toe socks to reduce the chances of irritation from lacing.  I have previously used this combination for very long runs with great success.  I think the design of the Lunas may allow me to abandon the socks, but I haven’t had the opportunity to test this yet. 
Conclusion
It is immediately apparent that Ted designed the Lunas as a performance sandal.  Being a barefoot and minimalist shoe ultrarunner himself, his sandals MUST be built to withstand the rigors of prolonged running over difficult terrain.  His craftsmanship is readily apparent.  The Lunas are both aesthetically-pleasing and designed to be rugged workhorses. 
I am often asked for minimalist shoe recommendations.  This is somewhat difficult as each runner will have specific preferences.  Having said that, the Lunas are as close to the ultimate barefoot alternative as I have found.  Simply put- they are my minimalist shoe Nirvana.  The Lunas simply give you some protection in exchange for a minimal reduction in ground feel.  Foot function is not affected.  Every other shoe on the market today will provide some protection in exchange for a loss in ground feel, but they also interfere with the foot in some way. 
Compared to other huaraches, the Lunas stand alone.  Their quality of materials, craftsmanship, and aesthetics are superior to every other huarache available today.  I have been using this sandal as my primary casual shoe since they arrived.  The best part- they felt great in the beginning, but get more comfortable as they conform to your feet.  When I begin the school year (I’m a teacher), this will be my footwear of choice until winter arrives.  When I require the protection of a shoe for running, the Luna is my current leading choice.

Ted has developed a more rugged version- the Leadville.   The Vibram sole is thicker (10mm) and has a more aggressive tread pattern.  Ted wore these for this year’s Leadville 100 Miler.  They also feature a 10mm wide specialty lace.  I will be testing these in the coming weeks.  I am very excited as these may prove to be an excellent winter running option.  Stay tuned.


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6 Comments

  1. Nickname unavailable
    August 28, 2010

    Thank you, LPJ! I've been itching to pull the trigger on some Lunas, but I didn't know what to go with in terms of hemp/leather or suede/plain. Your review gives me a much better idea now. Thanks! (66)

  2. Jason
    August 27, 2010

    Thanks for the in-depth review Jason.

    You wrote: "Every other shoe on the market today will provide some protection in exchange for a loss in ground feel, but they also interfere with the foot in some way."

    I've been running barefoot and in the SoftStar RunAmocs since they came out. Have you tried the RunAmocs? I don't see how you could make that statement if you have. The sole is similare to Ted's huaraches, but instead of holding the shoes on with laces, you hold them on with a soft leather cover and a string around the ankle. I've found them to be a terrific minimal running shoe.

  3. jbmfc
    August 27, 2010

    Did you go with the 6mm neoprene sole? If so, would you contrast that with the 4mm Cherry sole? Is the material softer to compensate for the thickness?

  4. idreamicanfly
    August 27, 2010

    I have a custom pair of Ted's huaraches (from before the Lunas came out), and I love them. They're pretty much the only shoes my feet will tolerate. Now I just need to figure out what to do in the winter…

  5. Blaine Moore
    August 27, 2010

    I'm a huge fan of my huaraches. I made them myself using the videos from invisible shoe.com and managed to get the left foot right on the first try and only had to retie my right foot once in order to get that sweet spot. I also use the slip on knot…the classic knot is too much work to take them off or put them on.

    I still use my five fingers as my every day wear around walking shoe, but rarely run in them anymore. If I'm going barefoot/minimalist, I'd rather actually be barefoot or wearing my huaraches.

  6. chickpastor
    August 27, 2010

    Thanks Jason! Mine are on the way. Hoping they are a solution to the issues I've had with VFFs lately.

    Are you using the leather at all? Does it need some "break in" time?

    Shelly looks great but I am wondering about wrapping the laces around; how does that affect the wear?

    Thanks and peace,
    Beth (Chickpastor)