I wasn’t going to post this review just yet, but Steven Sashen of Xero Shoes has invited all NoXS Minimal Blog readers to take advantage of their 20% off sale that ends Friday June 7, 2013! So I have published this review now so you can see my take on them. Then, if you are keen, you can get over to Xero Shoes and use the coupon code TANK to get 20% off their DIY 4mm Connect & 6mm Contact shoes – then feel the world for yourself. Make sure you mention that you came via NoXS Minimal Blog in the order notes at the checkout.
I first fell in love with running barefoot in 2006. An article by Chris McDougall about the now famous Tarahumara published by Men’s Health in June of that year talked about how minimal running can help stave off injuries by promoting good running form. I bit, chewed, and loved what I tasted. But what most people tried was either running completely barefoot; or in the only commercially available mimimalist(!) shoe at that time, (in Australia at least) the Nike Free. Nothing else was freely available.
What eluded most of us though was that the Tarahumara lived and ran in the harsh, rocky and treacherous Copper Canyons. And to manage that, they wore a sandal that in recent times they made out of used car tyre: the Huarache. For a long time, people made their own at home. Today though, huaraches are available commercially. And the three pair I tried for this review are by far my favourites on the road, on the trail and for casual wear…
Xero Shoes were launched in 2009 by Steven Sashen and Lena Phoenix. Then known as Invisible Shoes, the company sold a make your own huarache kit; or for a little more, you could trace your foot and have a custom shoe made. It wasn’t long (six months to be exact) before business was booming. But Steven knew that what the rapidly increasing barefoot running community was looking for was something that would feel as close to barefoot as possible, but give a little protection. This needed – nay deserved – something a little less generic.
With the help of two recruits who were formally with Nike and Reebok, a brand new huarache was released and the FeelTrue(r) sole was born. Xero Shoes were now something that was specifically designed to give the best possible barefoot feel with enough protection for either roads or trails. Very soon, not only were Xero’s appearing on runners and walkers, but also on yoga enthusiasts, CrossFitters, hikers, paddle sports enthusiasts, coffee drinkers in cafes, Moms picking up the kids at school – people were wearing them everywhere!
I bought my first pair of Xero’s about a year ago now; and now own three pair of them. Xero come in two types – the 4mm Connect and the 6mm Contact. The former I wear for road running and casual; the latter for trails. Here, I will review how they perform in each of these environments.
Let’s start with road running. This is the initial reason why I bought my Xero’s, and they did not disappoint. As a long time barefoot runner, I was looking for a little more protection as I began to experiment with longer distances (I now run ultra’s). Obviously, I needed something that gave all the feel and freedom of barefoot. I had tried toe shoes, but for me, the felt far too built up in the sole; and the foot just did not feel natural.
On the other hand, the Xero acts like a thin piece of rubber that is stuck to the bottom of my foot, but allows my foot to completely move and flex as normal through my gait. The rubber is thin enough too that I have amazing feel; and flexes with my foot so it doesn’t stop my foot changing it’s shape when I stand on uneven or round objects.
I decided to lace traditionally and was a little nervous that the lace wrapping around my ankle would be a bother, rub or limit my gait somehow. What I found was completely the opposite and quite comfortable. As my distances got longer, I did note a rubbing on top of my foot, but I experimented with some tying methods and develop my own which not only removed the rub but gives me full confidence in the shoe’s security on my foot. I even set my 16k PB in Xero’s.
Wearing them for running, I realised that the authentic barefoot feel was going to work for me casually. I ordered a pair of 6mm Contact and laced them in a slip on/slip off style. Most people don’t even blink when I wear them as they look like a sandal. I wear my casual pair everywhere I can when I’m not completely bare foot or at work or some place that demands something more formal. And when I say everywhere I mean it: park, cafe’s, shopping, planes, conferences, pool, camping, anywhere! My only beef with the Contacts was that at 6mm and designed for rocky trails, they didn’t have the same feel for general wear. So I recently ordered another pair of 4mm Connects for this and finally took the Contacts where they were built to go – the trails!
Not long ago, I tried a minimal trail shoe that had no rock plate on the same trail I tested the 6mm Xero. This particular trail was a fire trail strewn with up to fist sized loose rocks. What I found in the shoe was that it was bearable to a point, but at the end of a 20k run, your feet felt a little battered. It was enough to convince me to buy a pair of minimal shoes with a rock plate for a 25k race on that trail.
So you can appreciate that I was nervous taking the Xero’s out there. Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised that they pretty much felt the same as the shoe, except with the benefits of an open top sandal that allowed my foot to move as if it were bare. Obviously, with an open top, you do need to take care not to stub a toe. But the warning from some shoe wearers that “You’ll hate it if a rock gets between that rubber and your foot” were unfounded. Sure it happened, but the most steps I took before the rock flicked out was three steps. Try having that happen next time a rock flicks into your shoe!
I will be totally honest and say that on that particular trail, I would never wear the 4mm – just not enough protection. But the 6mm did the trick well enough that if I knew a trail race had some rocky areas but was a bit smoother generally, I would seriously contemplate wearing the 6mm Contacts for the race. And they now replace my hiking sandals as my trail walking shoe of choice too.
Xero shoes are not only the most comfortable shoes in my closet and the most versatile, but they are also the most compact shoe as well! Travelling with my running shoes is no problem – they lay completely flat and take up no room at all in my bag. So packing road, trail and causal shoes is an absolute breeze and takes up less than one shoe pocket in my suitcase! Unbelievable! And on a run, if I take them off they can roll up into my pack or pocket.
And the products from Xero just keep getting better! For example, take a look at the pic of the underneath of my three pair of Xero Shoes – (L-R) 6mm Contact for Trail; 4mm Connect that I run in and my new blue Connects that I will wear for casual. Note the knot on the brown and black ones. Now, this is not a problem and once used to it you really don’t feel the knot, however some wearers complain about it.
But Xero have changed the lace material and so note the small little “bead” on the blue pair! The new lace material allows you to melt it into a mini plug. Totally undetectable! Awesome!! This is just another modification (the first being the development of the FeelTrue sole; and the option of a 4mm or 6mm sole) that shows Xero is still thinking about how to make their products even better. I can’t wait to see what surprises come next.
Xero’s come in 5 sole colours and 17 lace colours which means they are completely customised. While you purchase in sizes closest to your foot length (full instructions on the website), you place the toe hole with a tool that comes in your kit; and the sole can be trimmed for a perfect customised fit every time! Xero is with you every step of the way with truckloads of video tutorials on everything from getting started with your Xero’s and basic lacing, to various lacing patterns and styles to experiment with. Ladies, being male this doesn’t appeal to me – but the tying style variety means that various patterns, beads and trinkets can be added to truly personalise your Xero Shoes. A full range can be seen at their website.
If you have read my posts here and at Facebook, you will know that I believe being NoXS Minimal is a complete lifestyle. In that sense, I prefer living barefoot. But in times when I can’t or need that bit of protection, you cannot go past Xero shoes. They do the job, are so amazingly versatile, can be used for just about every occasion, can be personalised beautifully, travel easily and come at an incredibly cheap price. Oh, and did I mention the 5000 mile (8000km) warranty? (Not kidding – see the website)!
There is so much going for these shoes, I give them a 10 out of 10. But don’t just take my word for it…
As mentioned, Steven Sashen of Xero Shoes has invited all NoXS Minimal Blog readers to take advantage of their 20% off sale that ends Friday June 7, 2013! Get over to Xero Shoes and use the coupon code TANK to get 20% off their DIY 4mm Connect & 6mm Contact shoes – then feel the world for yourself. Make sure you mention that you came via NoXS Minimal Blog in the order notes at the checkout.
If you are not sure and want to ask me a question about Xero’s for your situation, drop me a message here or on the NoXS Minimal Facebook Page.
Live Simply & Simply Live,