Category: Which shoes?

Jul 10

Why asking for the right shoes is the wrong question

Ask not which shoes are right but ask which shoes are the least wrong.

OK, that doesn’t scan but I really need a tweak in my mindset. The problem is that we live in a consumer society where whenever we have a problem, we can spend our way of it. If we get injured when we run, just spend, spend, spend until we have the shoes that sort that out for us.

We all like to think we are immune to these consumer pressures but nevertheless I seem to have been on a quest for the perfect footwear. I have been trying to find the silver bullet that will sort out all my problems.

The answer is simple. They don’t exist.

Deep down, I know that but it didn’t stop me trying to find the magic shoe that will make me injury free. I went on the hunt for the thinnest sole, the firmest sole and then the sole that shaped itself to my foot.

None of them really helped.

They altered my form to one degree or another. In fact, they all altered my form.  I know that I am never going to get a shoe that allows me to run the way I do unshod.

That has not stopped me craving them

I crave shoes for many reasons and not always sensible ones. The shoe manufacturers know that. They know that we often buy on an emotional level and if they can tap into that then they are onto a winner.

If I were selling shoes, I would do the same thing. As consumers we understand that …sort of.

I can’t be the only one. I know plenty of barefoot runners who have many more pairs of shoes now than they ever had in their conventional shod running days.

I craved huaraches because…..they were so cool and I had read Born to Run. I wanted original Lunas because of the leather and traditional feel. I couldn’t help myself. I sent to the US for a pair and they felt fast. I love them but they do alter my form a little. I now have a pair of tradional huaraches made from old tyre and leather from the Copper Canyons. They are very cool and they connect me with the Copper Canyons but they still make me run in a different way.

I craved Runamocs because ….they are mocassins and handmade. It was an emotional pull. They kindly sent me a pair to try out and I wear them all the time but not much for running. I have run in them and they are excellent, they are just such an expensive and beautiful mocassin that I couldn’t bring myself to trash them on the muddy trails near home. I wear them out and about and round the house on cold days.

I craved VFF because….they are reassuringly expensive. That must mean that they are excellent musn’t it. Well no, as it turned out. Not for me anyway. They are beautifully made and you can see where the money goes. They have such a huge following of dedicated runners that I had to have some. My form is just not good enough yet to handle big distances in them. They are not the solution to my problem and there is no point thinking that they might be.

The solution lies with me. I ran in Treksport for a while and they altered my form quite alot. Now I have some EL-X which feel like they have been sprayed onto my foot and alter my form much less. I enjoy running in them but I need to be careful not to do too much.

I craved Paleos because….they are shiny and gadget like. When Jorg sent me a pair, I found out that they were much more than that. They have the firmest footbed imaginable. It is stainless steel and they move with the contours of my feet. On rough ground, I have to slow down in them because I feel almost every stone. Maybe that is why they feel like they don’t alter my form much…but they do a little.

So…what is the right question?

How about.

Is my running form good enough to handle these shoe yet? …and…What makes me think that?
I have experimented and found that some footwear alters my form to a lesser degree but have yet to find one that doesn’t cause me a niggle now and again.

From a purely personal point of view, the ones that seem to be the least wrong for me are:

Vivobarefoot Evos – The first minimalist shoes I tried. I like mine slightly small with the insole removed. That way they hug my feet. They are like old friends.

Xeros – I find the 4mm Xeros about as good as they get. I enjoy running in mine and like the way they flex with my soles.

Sockwa – Easy to slip on and off and carry on a run.

Walsh Barefoot – When it get steep and slippy then I reach for these. I find that I hardly get any niggles when running in them. Great on the hills.

Paleobarefoot – Chain mail is cool and they are no gimmick. They are thin, firm and they work very well for me. They are the most flexible and I like the way your feet feel the wet and the cold.

Even so, if I don’t run barefoot regularly, these shoes do not solve my problem. My running form just isn’t good enough and secure enough to handle footwear too much and too often.

So…Stop looking for the shoe that will solve all your problems. Ask which shoe is least wrong and take it from there.

Before you splash the cash, ask yourself if your form is good enough to handle the shoes you are buying and then ask why you think that.

I am not against footwear. I enjoy running with something on my feet. That means that I am prey to the consumer messages out there. So long as I accept that the answer lies with me and not with a shoe designer then I reckon that is OK.
Just do it – Just don’t do it in shoes if you think that they are the thing that makes you run well. It is what is inside the shoe that counts.

ps – I have added a topic to the forum asking how many of us have more shoes now than before we began barefooting and which shoes are the least wrong for you. I would love you to join in and let us know here.  You can login in easily with facebook.

Jan 13

Paleobarefoot Paws – A barefoot review by Ian Hicks

Jörg from GoSt Barefoots very kindly sent me a pair of Pronativ just before Christmas, but this was no ordinary pair! This pair has been fitted with “Paws”! For an additional cost this new option is now available for the existing ULTRA range. The “Paws” are resin spots that are bonded to the underside of the mesh soles. The idea behind this is, to give them good grip on smooth surfaces.

The fit is better with the “Paws” fitted. The spots give the ULTRAS a bit of structure, creating a more shoe-like shape, although these are still more akin to a sock (performance sock) than a shoe. Anybody who has read issue 9 of Barefoot Running UK Magazine, would have seen my long term review of the Pronativ. In the review I talk about a slack feeling over the toes, this is now much less noticeable.

The barefoot feel is not as good with the spots fitted. The mesh is now raised very slightly off the ground. As my preferred option is barefoot, I probably notice this more than a minimalist runner would. Having said this, the barefoot stimulation is far better than the majority of minimalist shoes on the market.

Performance however has definitely improved. The grip now on hard surfaces is much better with the “Paws” over the standard Pronativ. I am able to run on roads now, which was not really possible without the spots. They are great for running on roads in the rain. Water just drains straight through them. Unlike closed shoes where they can hold so much water, it’s like running with a pair of sodden sponges strapped to your feet!

Overall, the “Paws” are definitely an improvement on the standard model. Having run in a standard pair and a pair with the “Paws” fitted, I would choose the “Paws” option. Their ability to grip on smooth surfaces far out weights the slight loss of ground feel. Thanks Jörg, I thought you had made the ultimate minimal shoe with the Pronativ, but I was wrong. Now with the “Paws” option, barefoot running just got even better!

Dec 11

Paleo Barefoot video – Chainmail running shoes – First impressions

I always seem to be trying out one pair of minimalist shoes or another and I must admit that my family are in a sort of barefoot running fatigue.

Trying to stir up a bit of interest can be tricky.

……that was until they heard that I was expecting a pair of chainmail shoes.

I had been chatting with Jorg from GoSt Barefoot about the PaleoBarefoot shoes for a while and was fascinated when Ian Hicks reviewed a pair for Barefoot Running Magazine.

Gost-Barefoot Ltd
Gost-Barefoot Ltd

I have lots of shoe boxes all over the house but the Paleos arrived in a shoe ‘tin’. They were sparkly and new and the whole family could not wait to get their hands on them.

They are light and flexible and feel incredibly smooth. Jorg included the winter kit which includes a selection of fabric and neoprene that sits on top of the foot but leaves the underside bare.

I went out for a couple of miles in conditions that were wet and just above zero. For my first run, I left the winter kit at home and went barefoot to metal. They did well and I was surprised at how much I could feel the ground. I got a swish at first with each step as the chainmail flicked forward from my toes but that sort of settled down after a while.

It is nice to feel the elements and you get wet, muddy feet if you run in wet muddy conditions.

Next was a 7 mile run early one morning wearing my headtorch. After about 3 miles, the light came up enough to make a quick video of my first impressions. You can see the neoprene winter kit holding in some of the warmth.


They are extremely comfortable and hug the feet. I like that feeling although my running friend Anne thought that they looked too tight. She was worried that my toes would not be able to spread. I don’t find that a problem. The liner is clever. It makes them extra comfortable and does seem to hold some of the warmth in.

On muddy slopes they performed well and I was secure and didn’t slide around. I will get them up of the fells at some point soon. I think that they will do well.

My next run after the video was a group run with the Northwest Barefooters. We did about 5 and a half miles and again they were excellent. I can see why Ian was making a fuss.

These shoes are the real deal and not a gimmick.

  • Although not feather light, they are not heavy.
  • They are the most flexible shoes I have.
  • They give excellent grip off road.
  • Ground feel is good and they still expose the feet to the elements.
  • They are surprisingly comfortable – My second run in them was 7 miles and there was hint of abrasion anywhere.

I will keep you informed.
We have a facebook page for you to like and a Barefoot Beginner facebook group which is growing all the time. Come and join in, you will be made very welcome.

Dec 02

Norman Walsh Footwear – Why do I care about these running shoes so much?

So…..why is it that I care so much about Walsh fell running shoes and the well being of Walsh as a shoe manufacturer?

 They are great shoes but why on earth does it seem to matter so much to me. The answer seems to lie in the West Pennine Moors, a little part of the running world with a distinguished history. When it comes to running shoes, Bolton has a tale to tell.

4585574700_255x206In 1890 J.W. Foster and Sons of Holcombe Brooke (just north of Bolton) made some of the first known running shoes with spikes. By 1895, the little family firm were making shoes for some of the most distinguished athletes of the day. The film ‘Chariots of Fire’ told the story of athletes during the 1924 Summer games. They were mostly wearing J.W. Foster and Sons shoes.

Two of the founders grandsons went on to start the firm ‘Reebok’ in Bolton in 1958. My first pair of running shoes were a pair of Reebok Royals. They were dreadful. I have never worn a pair of Reeboks again.

In 1948, J.W. Fosters and Sons were asked to make shoes for the athletes preparing for the London Olympics. They put their best shoe maker on the job. A young man by the name of Norman Walsh. Soon after, Norman went it alone and set up Norman Walsh Footwear. He produced shoes for all manner of top athletes. The northwest of England is a hotbed of fell running talent and in the early 1980s, Norman introduced the now famous PB sole. You can recognise a Walsh footprint on a hillside in twilight with the mist coming down.

imagesIf my first pair of shoes were a disaster, my second were anything but. My dad took me and I knocked on a door in the side of the factory. I selected two similar shoes from a pile of seconds and carried them home. I was in my teens and getting those shoes was like a rite of passage. They felt serious. No more messing about. They were quick and I was in business. I did a lot of miles in those shoes. They saw mud, blood, sweat and a lot of laughter.

I have watched and been part of the move to a more minimalist form of running. I watch the other shoe companies churning out shoes for this and that. My beloved Walsh have just carried on making the same ever popular shoe. As they say, ‘We keep making ’em and they keep buying ’em.’

Walsh have such a loyal following. Their shoes are not made in China. They are made right here in Bolton. They are the antithesis of turning up at Sports Direct for pair of whatever they have on offer.

So…why am I worried and why does it matter?

I am worried because nothing lasts forever. I don’t want to pick up the paper to hear about yet another quality British brand vanishing or even worse becoming like Karrimor (Don’t get me started).

…and secondly and most important. They are superb. A class act for those wanting a pair of minimalist shoes to take on to the fells. I would happily travel the land telling people about them. For the moment, they are making each pair to order with a delivery time of 8 weeks. I would love enough people to take them up so that they just became one of their normal lines.

Here are a couple of videos I made about their shoes over on our store page.

You will see how flexible they are in comparison with their traditional fell shoe and also how I fared in them in the rain and mud up on the West Pennine Moors. Have a look.

Nov 19

Xero Sensori Venture – First thoughts video

The new Xero Sensori Venture has long been anticipated and I was delighted to get a pair to try out. I have had them about 10 days and have run in them a couple of times. In my video, I wanted to let you know my first impressions and compare them against my original 4mm Xeros and my original Lunas.

The sole is noticeably thicker than the 4mm version and is stiffer because of that. I ran with a group of barefooters last weekend and for part of the run a couple were in their 4mm Xeros. They were silent and they looked so secure on their feet. I was in the Sensori Venture and was loud and flappy in comaprison. I know that I didn’t have the tension in the lacing right but it was like elves against dwarves.

They certainly look good and my first thoughts are that Xero have produces a really good shoe that is going to be enormously successful. They are right about the price point. There isn’t anything sitting in the middle of the Xero kit and the Luna for those wanting a huarache style sandal.

Xero Shoes Sensori Venture barefoot sandal

I love the lightness and flexibility of my original Xeros and the Lunas although much stiffer are a joy to run in. The Xero Sensori Venture does sit right in the middle in terms of sole and flexibility and will be perfect for some runners but the first thought of those running with me in the 4mm version was whether there was going to be a 4mm version of the Sensori Venture. Not at the moment. The recess for the underside of the toepost means that there wouldn’t be much left if the sole was only 4mm thick.

They love the look but I guess that is just honest feedback from committed Xero wearers.

My first impressions are that it is going to take a little time to get the lacing right but when I do then they are going to suit me well.

Find out more from Xero at their website. Some useful videos on there.

I will keep you posted.

Nov 09

Paleo Barefoot review – Ian Hicks

I asked Chris if I could write this post about the Paleo Barefoots. My motive behind this is to talk about a minimal shoe that I think has been mis-understood and has a real future.

I will try and dismiss some of the myths about the Paleos.

Price: Yes, these are pricey, but they will last far longer than any minimal shoe on the market by a very long way.

Noise: Yes, on smooth, hard, man-made surfaces there is noticeable noise, but these have been designed to be worn on natural terrain. Worn on these surfaces there is no noise.

Weight: Yes, they are heavier than most minimal shoes. Once running this weight is not noticeable. Also, as they are far more flexible than minimal shoes, they allow the foot to move how it is designed to move.

Cold: Yes, you will feel the cold but is that not all part of the barefoot running experience?

Now that winter is coming on, the trails are becoming very muddy around my home. With bare feet on this type of terrain I end up slipping and sliding all the time. The Paleos provide me with the grip that I need to be able to actually run these trails.

I love these two photos of after a run in the Paleos. Looking at my feet you would automatically think I had just got back from a barefoot trail run. I had in fact worn the Paleos – that is how barefoot the run was, just with added grip, protection, confidence and pleasure.