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Branca Leather Sandal Review

Posted by on Aug 30, 2011 | 2 Comments

By Jesse Scott

BRU Staff Writer

Running is a simple activity. Throw on some shorts(or not), some shoes(or not), and head out the door. In recent years, people have begun to re-question the merits of cushioned running shoes and expensive gadgets. Ironically, this paradigm shift toward the basics has brought about a myriad of choices to sift through. Vibram Fivefingers, NB’s minimus, Merrell’s Barefoot line, and countless other styles of footwear have surfaced to cater to those who want to take the simple route. Folks are doing this for a multitude of reasons, but but we’ve all heard our share of anecdotal evidence in favor of stripping it down.

So, what’sthe most basic shoe of all? For that answer, one could probably thumb through the pages of the bestselling book Born to Run. The story of the Raramuri and their simplistic yet effective approach to running has inspired the masses to run in less and cure what ails them. People read about the Mexican natives building their own shoes from old tire treads and want their own. Since our society has access to more manageable materials, companies started producing their own huaraches or DIY kits for those interested in a little help in getting back to basics.

Enter Branca Running. Though not the first small company to capitalize on the simplistic nature of the latest fitness movement, they have taken extra steps to improve on a trusted design. If you’re like many of us in pursuit of the ideal minimalist shoe, you’ve become a bit leary of the word “improvement.” Rest easy folks. The design of the Brancas makes it more simple. I’ll explain why.

The author chillin’ in the Brancas before the Pikes Peak press conference.Manitou Springs, CO

Huaraches are as basic a design as you can get. It’s a piece of rubber, leather or both tied to the foot with a string. Companies and individuals use different materials, but its basically the same. The incredibly simple design meets the most basic demands of a shoe- a consistent buffer between bare skin and the ground. The simplest solution is often the most effective, but that doesn’t mean that there arent some setbacks to using huaraches as a method of foot protection. In my experience, I’ve had these problems:

- laces rubbing on foot creating hot spots

- inconsistent tying(trouble finding correct snugness of laces)

- stepping on the knot between the 1st and 2nd toes(many don’t complain about this- call me finicky)

The Branca Runnng design team makes has made strides to address these setbacks in the world of primitive footwear. The issue of rubbing laces is sometimes caused by them being too tight or too loose. Since the sole method of securing them is a rope(as opposed to the upper materials of a shoe), there’s not much “give” once the laces are tied. If only there was a way to add a little stretch to the lacing system…

The heel strap on the Branca sandals makes for a snugly fitting shoe that chafes less.

And there you have it. An elastic band across the heel. Rather than a rope that doesn’t stretch, the elastic band allows for a little movement, alleviating a great deal of chafing. This takes a significant amount of the guesswork out of securing the sandals to the feet.

When walking in the shoes, I found a bit of discomfort between my 1st and 2nd toes. This is probably due to me never havng worn any type of thong sandal in my life- not even flip flops. The great part of the elastic strap as that if I noticed discomfort when, say, waiting for my Pabst at the bar, all I had to do was push back on the heel strap for a second, which alleviated any pressure. Though this occasionally happened when walking or hiking(I summitted Green Mountain here in Boulder in my Brancas), I never noticed it while running. Landing properly in the sandals utilizes them the way they’re meant to be used- as a surface for the foot to land squarely on and nothing more. No shearing or chafing of the foot was noticed.

Brancas have proven to be great shoes for gravel roads and flatter trails.

Another unique and innovative feature on the Brancas is the laminate on the bottom that eliminates the knot under the foot. Some are like me and complain that the knot between the toes is uncomfortable, other simply don’t like that it wears rather quickly when rubbing on the ground. The Brancas sandwich the laces in between two peices of rubber, allowing for a smooth surface to touch the ground.

Other admirable features include the leather footbed. This proved to be exceedingly comfortable for both running and casual wear. It made them much more aesthetically pleasing when out and about and gave them a more “natural” feel.

Any downsides?

Any setbacks I found while wearing the Brancas were not specific to this brand, but to running sandals in general. On trails with loose gravel, there isn’t much keeping rocks between the sole and my foot. This hasn’t been an ongoing issue- a quick shake of the foot and the rocks fall out. If you love running in huaraches, then its a minor issue.

Traction on this particular model was less than stellar. The soling material looks like the conveyor belt from the checkout aisle at Safeway. I’ve been told that by the time this model is released, other soling options will be available.

Speaking of other available options, the guys at Branca offer a few choices when you build your sandals. The elastic heel straps, despite their benefits, lead to a little unwanted heel slippage on hilly trails. To remedy that issue, a leather heel strap is availble for a more solid, rugged fit to keep the foot in place. Colors are also available so they can be customized.

Fit

The shoes are made custom to the runner’s foot according to the measurement from the heel to the area between the 1st and 2nd toes. They come with extra length so that the runner can cut them to fit their toes. When I recieved my brancas, I trimmed them closely, but allowed some room to move around. Once my toes left little impressions from the hike, I trimmed again to make them fit better. The closer they’re trimmed the less likely they are to fold over while running or walking. It’s totally up the the wearer to detirmine the fit, which is great for making them fit and perform better.

I cut the sandals large at first, then trimmed again based on the wear pattern.

Are they the ultimate minimalist shoe?

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t a fan of huaraches for running prior to testing out my brancas. After giving them a fair shake down,  retract that preconceived notion. They’re comfortable, light, flexible, and fun to wear. On non-technical trails, dirt roads, and bike paths, I love wearing my Brancas. I used them extensively on easy trail runs and road tempo runs this summer.

All praise aside, they aren’t perfect. For technical trails, steep hills, rocky terrain, or long runs, I prefer a shoe with a more modern upper. For these types of runs, I stick by my old standby shoes like inov-8s and Merrell’s barefoot line (midwest trails) and NB’s latest installment of the MT series (mountain trails). For those that love the novelty of running in a primitive, tarahumara inspired footwear and need a little protection in their mostly-bare training regimen, These shoes are great. I have a little over 100 miles on my pair of pre-production models and have yet to have any durability issues. I’ve been assured that the quality will only go up.

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2 Comments

  1. The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy
    August 30, 2011

    Jesse, the new leather Brancas have a Vibram Newflex sole, so they no longer look like the bottom of a conveyor belt. They have pretty decent traction actually.

  2. Gustavo
    August 30, 2011

    Thanks for the review.

    Cheers!