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Patagonia Advocate Review

Posted by on Apr 18, 2011 | One Comment

[The following review was written by BRU writer Christian Peterson.  The shoes were provided by our friends at Planet Shoes, which offers an incredible selection of eco-friendly and minimalist shoes.  If you’re shopping for new shoes, check them out!  If you want to read more of Christian’s stuff, check out his blog The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy.]

Hello again BRU students.  For those who don’t remember me, what the hell is wrong with you!  I am the Maple Grove Barefoot Guy, also known as MGBG, also known as the guy who looks better in a cape than you.  I’m an associate professor here at BRU, specializing in the field of awesomeness studies.

Today’s lesson is on a subject that I struggle with quite a bit: incorporating my barefoot and minimalist running into my daily life.  Now I’m a self-proclaimed shoe geek.  One of the greatest things about having a wildly successful blog (which I will shamelessly plug throughout this post whether you like it or not) is that I get to own a ton of minimalist shoes.  I can see why shoe stores are like crack dealerships for chicks.  If getting a new pair of shoes rivals the Christmas holiday, it’s December at my house all year round.

And I couldn’t be living during a better period of time to have such an obsession.  By the end of this year, there will be more releases of new minimalist shoes than during any other time in history.  I doubt we’ll see anything like this ever again.  Thank you Grilled Cheesus!

Here’s the problem.  This year we’ve seen an explosion in the availability of new minimalist running shoes.  The market for minimalist dress or casual shoes on the other hand is still pretty nonexistent.   Off the top of my head, I can only name four or five companies with product lines that I would qualify as “minimal”.  Even then, if I wanted to replace my entire shoe fleet with more minimal stock, I’d practically need to give them the cape off my back (not going to happen!).

Shoes like this one make me hopeful for the future though.  The Advocate by Patagonia is the first casual shoe that I’ve tried on that has transferred everything that I look for in a minimal running shoe.  Here’s what I mean.  When I look for a minimal running shoe, I judge it by a specific set of criteria.  In order to be MGBG-worthy, a shoe needs to have the following: flexibility, ground feel, light weight, comfort, and good design, all at a decent price.  So how does the Advocate stack up?  Let’s begin the lesson shall we?

Initial Impressions

So I selected and received a test pair of the Sable Brown shoes to review.  The shoes also come in the colors of Blueblack (which is probably more aptly named “Grey”), Dark Burlap (i.e. “Also Grey”), Seagrass (i.e. “Elf Shoe Green”), and Golden Maple (hey…I don’t have something witty to say about every color).   When I first received these shoes, I commented to Jason that I felt like I needed a smoking jacket to go along with them.  They look like a combination of the slippers men used to wear in the 50s to get the paper in, and those shoes that all the hippie kids used to wear in high school while they played hackie sack.   Not that this is a bad thing.  I like hackie sack.  And just looking at these shoes made me want to relax.

Actually what I first noticed when I received these shoes was the weight.  They are the lightest closed-toe shoes I own, coming in at a whopping 4 oz.  The weight almost made me want to go for a run in these bad-boys.  Almost…  I run in kilts, not smoking jackets.

Here’s a side profile of the shoes.  They don’t look dissimilar from any other casual slip-ons I’ve ever seen.  Kind of like a slipper you wouldn’t mind wearing outside.  The upper is synthetic leather, with elastic connecting the tongue to the heel collar.

As you can see from the limp heel collar in this picture, there isn’t much stiffness to these shoes.  The entire shoe is about as rigid as the heel.  You can bend the fabric of these shoes just about any which way.  In fact, these shoes are marketed on the Patagonia website as “the perfect travel shoe” that you can “smash into your glove box, backpack, or carry-on”.  Since I’m barefoot most of the time, I appreciate the ability to cram a pair of shoes somewhere in case they are needed.  Lack of structure is a barefooter’s best friend.

Like a lot of minimal shoes nowadays, the Advocate has a removable 2mm EVA insole.  I tested the shoe with and without the insole, and ended up opting to take it out for good.  The feel was a bit too squishy for my liking.  It also reduced the shoes flexibility a bit.  Although the benefit of the insole is that it prevents the shoe from flopping around on your foot quite so much.  As you’ll see, a tighter fit might be a good thing with these shoes.

Here is a view of the bottom of the shoes.  The outsole of the shoe is incredibly thin.  Although I have nothing to measure it with, I would estimate its thickness somewhere between 2mm and 4mm.  There is also a good bit of “armadillo” tread on the bottom to provide traction on most surfaces.

As you can see in the picture above and below, this shoe has great flexibility.  It bends in every direction easily.  I could have practically rolled these shoes up and put them in my pocket.  Then again, who puts their shoes in their pocket?

Comfort and Feel

Normally when I test shoes for a review, I wear them both walking and running.  Since these are casual shoes, I wore them for walking as well normal everyday activities.  I think these shoes would look strange when worn with socks, so I opted to go without.

When I first put the shoes on, I noticed that they were very loose around the heel collar and wide throughout the length of the shoe.  These shoes would work well for my fellow barefooters, who are known to develop stumps for feet after years of unshod activity.  The fabric of the shoes was soft and comfortable on my skin, but very hot.  I felt my feet start sweating even though I wasn’t moving around.  I went outside to see if the heat was just from wearing shoes indoors, and it didn’t get any better.  The synthetic leather upper is not breathable.

The toe box in these shoes is decent.  The shoe is the same width across the entire shoe, and that width is more than ample.  My feet did not touch the top of the shoe while standing.

While walking the loose fit of these shoes became apparent.  My feet moved all over the place inside these things.  I ended up rubbing against the edges of the shoes quite a bit.  The fabric of the shoes is so flexible that this wasn’t much of an issue.  Even after walking significant distances, the loose fit didn’t cause an irritation.  The seams and fabric on the inside of these shoes aren’t abrasive.

Ground feel with these shoes is superb.  I would compare the ground feel to a Vibram KSO.  Sole flexibility in these things is fantastic.

Again, my biggest issue with these shoes is the lack of breathability.  I tested these shoes in temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees F, and my feet were baking.  Hopefully that means that they will be excellent cold weather casual shoes.  I doubt I will be wearing them much in the spring and summer though.

Price

The Advocate retails for $55 on the Patagonia website and Planet Shoes.Considering I’ve bought more expensive, less quality shoes at Target, I like that price point.

Conclusion

Again, these shoes have everything that I love in a minimalist running shoe with a more casual look.  I can imagine wearing this shoe for pretty much any everyday activity.   Besides breathability, I have no complaints.  They are worth checking out.

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1 Comment

  1. Zephyr
    April 21, 2011

    In my opinion the main drawback of this model is that you don’t have the option to adapt the fitting around your ankles. Something like VFFs’ instep strap with Velcro would have increased their potential uses.
    I usually walk more than an hour every day at a pace of about 4 miles per hour, I can’t see how I can comfortably accomplish that routine in shoes that fit so loosely.
    As they are I could only wear them as slippers, however, now I’m always barefoot while at home so I couldn’t use them for that purpose either.