By Jesse Scott, BRU Staff Writer
I was approached to review the Somnio Nada. I had only known of Somnio for their array of customizable running shoes I saw advertised in triathlon media. I always thought the idea was interesting, but it kind of goes against my views on complicated footwear. Nevertheless, the company seemed to be truly searching to make a high quality product to help their customers.
Disclaimer: I tested this shoe during a 12 hour ultra. I didn’t wear it before the race at all. This has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that it will magnify troublesome areas like blisters, critical wear areas, durability, and how forgiving it is when subject to sloppy form. The disadvantage is that a 12 hour run may cause issues that others may never encounter. If you intend to use this shoe as a supplemental training tool(the intended purpose), then take my gripes with a grain of salt
The Nada is a real departure for Somnio. The shoe has every characteristic that I feel a true minimalist shoe should have:
- zero drop heel/toe- the shoe has a true zero drop, a rarity in most offerings
- as little cushioning as possible- the foam is just a little squishy, but managable for me
- thin sole – 6mm is better thinner than most others in this category
- upper that allows for sockless wear- very thin and seamless
- wide toe box- my toes had plenty of wiggle room
- lightweight- 3.5 ounces? that’s 2x lighter than my Vibram KSOs!
- no arch support-Somnio REALLY nailed this one. Other companies- follow this example! flat means flat!
One thing I gathered from the product description is that the shoes are being sold as a training tool, not an every day trainer. The minimalist shoe running starter kit includes a DVD with form and strengthening exercises. Though this is a wonderful idea in my opinion, I wouldn’t be testing the shoe as a way to guide me into minimalist shoe running. For those of us who already run in minimalist shoes, the main concern isn’t how well it teaches us running technique. I think the shoe’s traits could make it an ideal road shoe when going totally bare isn’t possible or favored. There’s a certain combination of features that makes a good shoe for a barefoot runner. It gets a little tiring to be searching for shoes that allow barefoot feel without some of the drawbacks, but companies are releasing more and more products that are closer to our ideal. This may be why the topic of minimalist shoes is so popular as well – everyone’s list of demands is slightly different.
Due to the timing of this review, I saw a great testing opportunity for this shoe. I’ve tested several other shoes during races, so why not this one? I ran the Woodstock 50 while wearing the NB Minimus Trails for the first time, and the North Country 50 in the Minimus Road. The “racing flat” characteristics of the Nada made me inclined to think it would be the perfect race shoe for a barefoot runner who wants to leave nothing to chance. The course was fast, flat and paved.
Long story short- I was mostly right. The shoe performed beautifully. The featherlight slippers never weighed me down, the paper thin upper drained water exceptionally well(even though it rained most of the day), and there was just enough to keep the pebbles and sticks on the course from becoming a nuisance. The upper, with its super flexible overlays, moved with my foot and didn’t alter my gait. I felt fast wearing a shoe that looked like some sort of disco-era racing flat.
Now that I’m done gushing over the shoes, it’s time to get down to the gritty stuff. There were a few areas where I felt that the shoe fell short.
The upper had a spot that rubbed my right foot. Blisters formed on two of my toes. When my toes flexed, the upper would make contact and produce a little friction. Even on a run up to 2 hours or so, this may not be an issue, but over a 12 hour race, it resulted in some missing skin. In the world of ultras, these blisters are relatively minute, so I’ll let Somnio slide. I liberally applied Aquaphor to my left foot when I felt a hot spot early on in the race. This may be all it would take to solve that problem.
Lightweight and high performance often come with the cost of longevity. This is certainly the case with the Nada. I did not put the shoe on one time prior to the 12 hour race. At the end of the day, the sole had been nearly ground all the way down. Once again, I can’t blame Somnio for this if the shoe was indeed designed for supplemental use and not consistent mileage, then I put on more miles in a day than the equipment was intended for. If I were to use the Nada as a tool for strengthening my feet and reinforcing good form, then it would take me quite some time to rack up nearly 80 miles on them.
Somnio’s first take on a minimalist shoe is spot on. There are a few shifts that could be made away from being lightweight and toward durability, but that may have a negative effect on the shoe as an occasional training tool. A slightly more durable verson of the shoe would easily be my preferred footwear on paved surfaces or gravel bike paths. When compared to other recent minimal shoes (NB Minimus line, Saucony Kinvara, Merrell’s barefoot line), the Nada by Somnio is far less structured. The earlier models of Vibram Five Fingers and the VIVOBAREFOOT line offer comparable levels of structure and flexibility.
Follow Jesse’s adventures in Boulder, Colorado here: In Search of Solid Ground