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Are Huaraches Overrated?

Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 | 30 Comments

Back in the day, quite a few of us used huaraches as our primary running shoe. The other minimal options were piss-poor at best- racing flats, the first generation of Five Fingers, aqua socks, and bare feet. Racing flats were too narrow, VFFs had a peculiar fit that couldn’t accommodate swelling, aqua socks were too floppy, and bare feet suck for real trail running.

Huaraches were a revelation because they allowed a custom fit. That versatility made them invaluable. Indeed, I ran several ultras in huaraches, including the last 2/3 of the Burning River 100.

Around that same time, traditional shoe companies started offering minimalist shoes. The first few generations weren’t all that great. They slowly improved. More companies also jumped on board, which added a tremendous variety to the marketplace. Eventually shoes were developed that filled pretty much every void huaraches once filled.

Today, I only know a few people that regularly use huaraches. All either work for a huarache company, run on light trails or roads over shorter distances, or wear them for aesthetics.

I do encounter quite a few newer barefoot/minimalist runners, but they seem to be using them due to the “Born to Run” effect (read the book, believe the Tarahumara are magical running people that have developed the perfect shoe… when in reality they’re just dirt-poor.)

This topic came to the forefront because I was recently asked to review a pair of huaraches from a newer company. I agreed because I no longer had a pair (got rd of them when we downsized to move into the RV) and have been doing a lot of road running for commuting purposes. The shoes are fine; they work pretty much like any other huarache I’ve ever tried.

The issue- there’s a superior option for pretty much any situation. For causal wear, I use flip flops because they’re much easier to remove. For road running or light trail running, I either run barefoot or use one of my very minimal shoes. For gnarly trails,  use a minimal trail shoe. There may be a few specific situations where huaraches would be desirable, such as longer (half mary to 50k-ish) road running in very hot, dry weather.

Sidebar rant- huarache “improvement”, in my opinion, is fruitless. The best huaraches I’ve ever used (I’ve tried roughly ten different brands/models) has been the original Lunas and original Xero Shoes (formerly InvisibleShoes.) You know, the kind that required months to learn to tie correctly.

I’m curious what my readers think- do you feel huaraches are still relevant, or has the idea jumped the shark? Do we continue to use them for a valid reason, or are they a lifestyle statement that connects us to a contrarian movement?

I’m also curious to hear from those that jumped on the minimal bandwagon in recent years versus those of us that were around before minimalist shoes became a thing- have you ever been tempted to try them? What do you think when you see someone racing in huaraches?

Share your thoughts and leave a comment!

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30 Comments

  1. Chris
    October 4, 2013

    Apologies for all the typos!

  2. Chris
    October 4, 2013

    I think there is a lifestyle component attached to sandal running. Sort of an, “I’m such a bad ass I run ran a hundred miles in sandals!” Impression. For me, I wanted more than anything to use the trail glove. I used to do all my running is Adidas sambas but had no idea how to run in a low support shoe. I went with a number of more supportive, traditional shoes, all of which either made my feet feel like they were about to burst into flames or have me knee/back pain. I’ve always liked a simplicity approach to outdoor activities and when the trail gloves didn’t work for me I was stuck. I also developed a nerve injury just below the ankle that just about every shoe I’ve tried lands right on. The surgical approach has been I impressive. The most recent dr said he could cut the nerve or possibly reroute it. The only thing that does work really well is my luna monos. The new balance minimus trail v2 is the closest thing to a shoe that works for me. This is kind of a drag because of the ticking time bomb all the reviews seem to say they are.

    I guess the final word for me is what footwear allows me to enjoy trails w/o the electric shock of a nerve injury at every step. So far it’s the luna monos. W

  3. Phocion Timon
    October 1, 2013

    Huaraches are still relevant to me, as long as I am not running on gravel since I seem unable to keep the mini-boulders from between me and the soles. (For such ground I use my Lems (lemsshoes.com). I am loyal to sandals (currently from: http://www.earthrunners.com/products-page/product-category/circadian-earth-runners-3) because the open style allows my feet to freely breath. When the weather cools off a bit I don my Injinji original-weight toe socks. Once it gets really cold I put on medium-weight wool socks and use my Lems.

  4. David Levinson
    September 27, 2013

    I just did my first ever half marathon, and I did it barefoot. It was a really rocky trail course, and I suffered through that stuff, making up some time later on when the rocks were gone. Then I did an 8k trail run on a really gentle course and it was really great barefoot.

    I’ve been on the dogmatic side of the barefoot issue, and really like being barefoot generally. But if I could do that rocky trail run again I’d like to try it with something on my feet. I’ve got a pair of Vivo Achilles that I wear for walking around.

  5. Aaron
    September 25, 2013

    I still use them as frequently as the weather allows, always with the original 1/4″ leather laces tied in slip-on mode. They’re still the best running sandal that I know of and I like not having to give up the exposure when barefoot won’t work.

    Otherwise Soft Star RunAmocs are my go-to shoe. They feel like huaraches but without the weaknesses.

  6. Angie Bee
    September 24, 2013

    I still can’t tie the fucking things. That said, I like the Brancas best so far. I like them better than flip flops but you don’t have to untie them they just slip on and off. Ted still won’t send me a pair of Lunas to review and I don’t buy shoes. I like xero shoes if Steve would tie them for me :)

    • Angie Bee
      September 24, 2013

      and I can tie a fucking knot too, lots of kinds of knots. Its like using iMovie. Its just not intuitive for me.

  7. HeadDoc
    September 24, 2013

    For just walking around, I always preferred Keens to Flip-flops. I am a bit surprised that no one is trying to make a shoe like Keens, but with a truly minimalist sole. Keen came out with their CNX line, which is a small step in the right direction, but the closest thing I have found is the Vivobarefoot Ultra, which are what I bring along as a back-up when I run barefoot: a bit more protection than huaraches, and plenty of toebox, at least for me.

  8. Kris
    September 24, 2013

    Huaraches for me are my preferred shoe because I have very asymmetrical feet. I am currently training for my first marathon (road) and was doing some of my early runs in the vapor glove which I also liked a lot but after a couple months my foot blew out the side of the vapor glove. I switch back to lunas with the traditional ribbon. I am not a fan of the buckle mechanism and thing the old way works best for me. I plan to try to do more longer races and tougher trails when I do that I will probably just opt to get a oso or mono since the venado is the thinnest sole.

    I also really enjoy the feeling having my feet out in the air.

  9. Dan Mozell
    September 24, 2013

    Well I don’t care much about ratings, but they’re a viable option. I make my own following the Bedrock Sandal design. I like them for the following reasons:

    1) I can make 4 pair for $60. Yes I can afford commercial shoes, but it’s still nice to get a great deal.
    2) The type I make slip on easily and usually don’t need any adjusting.
    3) Since I make my own, the sizing is always exactly what I want.
    4) When I run truly barefoot, I like to take along Huaraches just in case. They easily fit in a small waist pack.
    5) My feet get cold pretty easily. In winter, I can wear heavy wool socks with Huaraches and there’s no fit problem as there would be with any shoes I own.
    6) I like them for warm weather stream crossing.

    I don’t care if they’re in, or out, traditional or modern – Folks should use whatever works for them.

  10. Juha
    September 24, 2013

    Yes, I think huaraches are bit overrated. Though, they are pretty good when adjusted right. It’s just that adjusting sucks. Most shoes you can take out of box and go running, with huaraches you don’t go running, you go practising adjusting at first. There are three different adjusting points for huaraches, first there were single knot, now there’s a single buckle of some sort. Still waiting for modern sports sandal type adjusting of three velcros or something like that, until then it’s kinda poor design.

    But huaraches are not so overrated as merrells are. Back then just before gloves emerged, there was this consensus that thinner is better and wide toebox is a must. Merrell hasn’t made a single shoe with both features.

    I use mostly fivefingers, I like how they make me feel agile. Don’t happen with regular shoes, huaraches or barefoot. I think it’s about how securely they are locked to foot at toes and offer a bit of protection also. Wondering if I could get that feeling with tabistyle shoes also.

    • Aaron
      September 25, 2013

      Merrell made the Trail Glove in wide, but since then nada.

  11. Barefoot Josh
    September 23, 2013

    I think they look neat. I also hate having tan(ish) legs and pale feet.

  12. Damien Tougas
    September 23, 2013

    I think all products are overrated, that is the point of marketing after all. Once you realize that, the thing to do is figure out what works best for you. For some, huaraches may be the preferred choice, even if it is just for aesthetic reasons.

  13. Brooklyn Frank D
    September 23, 2013

    Surprisingly, it’s the trial-and-error quality of huaraches that makes me such a fan. I never actually had much luck with off-the-shelf running shoes anyway, possibly because of a combination of my quirky running form and “slight, sinewy frame.” I had to do this “shoe surgery” to minimize the motion [mis]control “features” shoe companies kept trying to cram into their products. In fact, I used to spend so much time modifying my traditional running training shoes that for me they ended up as much a Do It Yourself project as making huaraches.

    For the record, my Xero Shoes have become my go-to running shoes (except maybe in the dead of winter). I have embraced the trial-and-error process, and the relative inexpensiveness of the Xero kits has encouraged me to experiment with sole design and tying methods. And once one perfects the customization of one’s footwear, it’s hard to go back to anything mass-market.

    My bullet points: true minimalist huaraches (such as the Xero 4mm Connect) are very close to barefoot. I can take them off (and regularly do) and my running form is essentially the same (btw I mostly run on paved surfaces). Other less-minimal, hybridized “barefoot” footwear, sporting a beefier “stack height,” if worn habitually, is going to have a weakening effect on the foot and lower leg and will distort the running form as well.

    With the slip-on tying method, once you’re past the trial and error phase, the huaraches are “permanently” tied; you no longer have to tie/untie your shoes everytime you put them on or take them off.

    Huarache ventilation is unbeatable.

    No more worries about getting black toenails & blisters from a too-confining toebox.

    No more having to deal with shoe companies messing up your favorite shoe year after year with sizing variations, reconfigured cosmetic overlays, or feature additions/revisions that somehow create previously unimagined ways to mess up your natural running form.

  14. Jacob
    September 23, 2013

    There is just a simple joy I feel running in my Lunas that doesn’t compare to the experience in any of my minimalist shoes. There are days when I choose to run in something other than my Lunas — but not too many.

  15. Jimmy
    September 23, 2013

    Oh, one other benefit – when it’s raining I way prefer the Luna’s to any other shoe, which would just get soaked.

  16. Jimmy
    September 23, 2013

    Oh, one other benefit – when it’s raining I way prefer the Luna’s to any other shoe, which would just get soaked.

  17. Joe Balsamo
    September 23, 2013

    When I do race, which isn’t much lately, I wear my Lunas. I am still trying to work on my form to prevent blisters. I think I just need to come to the realization that they are not meant for me, and stick with the Merrel Trail Gloves.

    I do like the fact the Lunas are really quick to put on. I don’t have the tie version, I have the ATS Laces. Since I really don’t like flip flops, the Lunas fill that role.

    I had a pair of Xero Shoes I made myself. They worked great until I thought I needed to trim the size for a better fit, that made things worse. My heel, where I did the trimming, would touch the ground when running.

  18. Jimmy
    September 23, 2013

    My original Luna’s give me much more of a barefoot-like feel than any minimalist shoe I’ve worn. I did some experiments where I’d wear a Luna on one foot and a VFF on the other and then jog around the block, and I was shocked at how constricting the VFF felt, and how little I could feel the ground. I never felt this when I had them on both feet, you really need to do the “side by side” comparison.

    Also, as I’ve been transitioning to barefoot running I will often start off barefoot but carry my shoes with me for when my feet start to wear down. (Yes, I know, I SHOULD be using my soles as a guide and stop running when they are too scraped up. But I’m too impatient to do that). So anyways, the Luna’s are way lighter and easier to carry than any shoe, I can even strap them around my waist pack strap and not have to hold them.

    Finally, the ventilation is of course superior to any minimalist shoe, which is really nice in the summer months for us not-quite-ready-to-go-barefoot folks.

  19. kai
    September 23, 2013

    they definitely still have a place for people with wide feet, bunions or other foot deformities that traditional shoe companies can’t profitably accomodate.

    • Jimmy
      September 23, 2013

      Also Morton’s toe (where your second toe is longer than your big toe) – a somewhat common condition that precludes VFF’s and most minimalist shoes.

  20. The Pooch
    September 23, 2013

    I’ve enjoyed running in both the Luna Mono and the Unshoes Wokova, both have the strap-and-buckle arrangement rather than laces that are tied.

    Funny thing is, I can’t _walk_ in either one of them–the front lip of the sole always gets caught on the ground while walking. Problem is solved by going completely barefoot or by wearing a minimalist shoe with a little toe spring.

  21. Corey
    September 23, 2013

    I still do the majority of my running in Huaraches. And I’ve tried a lot of varieties. My feet are a full size different though, so the custom fit/cut I can get on most huaraches is more important to me than to most people. You are right though, in that they haven’t really changed much. I have the current Lunas w/ the Ribbon lacing as primary right now, but I preferred the Equus version. And every huaraches with a buckle system I have tried didn’t work for me.

    I would like to buy some minimal shoes, but I don’t want to have to buy 2 pairs, just so they fit :(

  22. Rob Y
    September 23, 2013

    I tried the original Lunas and they were fine but I really couldn’t get over the very feminine look most huaraches have and I don’t like the between the toe lacing system. In fact I’m not a fan of flip flops for this reason as well. I’ve always been more of a Tevas/Chacos kind of sandal wearer so when the Unshoes Pah Tempe was suggested to me I immediately jumped on board and got a pair; love them! The look is much more like a Teva/Chaco but at it’s roots it’s still a huarache but with very different enclosure system and nothing between you toes!

    But, I didn’t get them to run in. Just casual use mostly though I have run some miles in them. No, for any serious running I wear more traditional though low drop shoes. I do far too many miles to get away with running barefoot or in very minimal footwear. Just won’t happen.

    So if you’re a sandal lover but are unsatisfied with the look of traditional huaraches check out the Unshoes Pah Tempe. I’m frankly surprised that more huarache makers haven’t already adopted this design to market towards folks like me who like the Chaco/Teva sandal look…

    • Dave
      September 24, 2013

      I second Rob’s comments on the Pah Tempe, though I do actually run in mine. These are the only minimal running sandals on the market (that I know of) that do not have a strap between the toes (which I can’t stand).

      Following the shoes-as-tools theory, I reserve these sandals for medium/short runs, especially when it’s hot out. If I were living in a trailer, they might not make the cut (I’d probably just have a pair of Trail Gloves), but I have a 3-car garage. I.e. I can park 2 cars and still have room for my non-minimal mountain of minimal shoes.

  23. Kate
    September 23, 2013

    A huaraches is an huaraches. It’s basically a piece of rubber with a shoelace. No matter how fancy you make it, that is essentially what it is.

    I have the old Lunas, the Luna Equis (which were a waste of time and money). I also have the First version of Xero (invisible shoes). The IS we’re the cheapest and frankly worked.

    Do I wear them now? Not really. I wear them because I can’t be arsed to buy sandals for the three weeks of summer we have.

    I don’t wear them for running – because I run Xcountry now and I can’t see them working past compacted trail.

    Sorry, this comment was meant to be witty. Need wine.

  24. Jeff Gallup
    September 23, 2013

    My preference would be to run in them all the time, but I’ve found there are times when I just prefer a shoe. To me, the appeal of the huarache is not getting that occasional toe scrunch/black toenail issue.. but the trade off can be a blister or hot spot between the toes. I think the appeal is that huaraches are more unusual or unique versus a minimalist shoe now, and they seem to be (at least based on appearance), much closer to barefooting… I think they will continue to be popular… but probably not the best time for a new company to jump in, as there are a lot of great ones on the market (in a wide variety of prices), and I don’t think there is a lot of innovation left.. I’m kind of partial to them since they were my first minimalist shoes.. Xero Shoes.. which I purchased immediately after reading Born to Run on the advice of my DR

  25. Chris
    September 23, 2013

    I think they still have a place. Especially for people who have very wide feet and not many shoes accomodate them.

    Plus, I think they feel great to run in and make you more aware of your environment when your feet are exposed to the elements.

    I also find they encourage better form, as its easier to tell if you’re doing something wrong when the sandal slips under your feet.