The Most Minimalist Shoes in Existence

I had a bit of a love affair with the Vibram Five Fingers. Todd got a pair right before we headed to Tokyo on Life Nomadic 2008, and I was jealous the whole time. Near the end of the trip Vibram graciously sent me a pair (intentionally delayed until after the running of the bulls, because they didn’t want to be associated with that), and I wore them as my only shoes for a couple years afterwards.

I love how the Five Fingers feel, I love how they look, and I love supporting such an innovative company, BUT…. they smell terrible.

If you wear them as your primary shoes, you have to wash them every five to seven days or they smell really bad. When you live in an RV, this is difficult to do well, and when they’re your only set of footwear, it’s annoying to wait for them to dry. So I began searching for a replacement.

Something that has become very important to me is to have the thinnest soles possible, so that I’m walking as close to barefoot as possible. I’m convinced that it’s much better for my feet, ankles, knees, hips, and any other joints that get thrown into the mix when running or walking. Here’s an article explaining why, so that I don’t have to. The gist of it is that we evolved to walk barefoot, and half an inch or so of rubber strapped to the bottoms of our feet alters our gait. Most importantly, modern shoes move us from a ball-strike to a heel-strike, which multiplies the impact on our joints of our step. L

Less important, but also notable, is that walking close-to-barefoot is fun. You can feel the cobblestones, bricks, asphalt, tiles, or grass below your feet. I’m not one to drop hippie phrases like “feel more connected”, but you do feel more connected with what you’re walking on. It’s an extra sensory input. I remember what Oxford looks like, don’t remember what it smells like, but definitely remember what the cobblestones felt like under my feet.

Anyway, I stumbled upon a company called Invisible Shoe. They send you a rectangle of 4mm thick Vibram sole material, some rope, and you get to build your own shoes, called huaraches, according to the directions on the site.

So, one rainy afternoon about six months ago, I found myself huddled on the floor of my RV, using my Ryobi drill to bore holes in the rubber to feed the rope through. The resulting sandals looked ridiculous, and I somewhat timidly made the two block walk to Samovar. But, six months later, I now think they look pretty cool. I’m willing to concede that I might just be influenced by how enjoyable they are to wear, though.

The shoes basically fade away, and you feel like you’re barefoot all the time. Unlike regular sandals, they have rope around the heel, so they stay on well enough to run comfortably. I’ve put hundreds of miles on them, both walking and running, and have never wished for another shoe. I don’t really expect many people to give up all other shoes for these things, but they also make a great secondary shoe. They’re so small that you can easily stash them in your backpack. Or in your pocket, as I did when skiing last year. I’d walk to the Gondola in the sandals, then put on my socks and boots on the way up to the mountain, rather than robot walking the whole way there.

For now, these are the best barefoot shoes you can get, unless you have a washing machine, two pairs of five fingers, and the discipline to rotate them and wash them on a schedule. Then again, Vibram just partnered with another one of my favorite companies, Smartwool, and made a Five Finger shoe with wool instead of synthetic, which should help quite a bit with the odor problem. Maybe I’ll see about getting a pair of those to test out.



I’ve written over 600 blog posts now, as reader Michael pointed out. I didn’t even notice!

A couple weeks ago my mom pointed out, in jest, that in Life Nomadic I mention my parents only twice, and both times were me disregarding their advice. Oops! In reality I’m constantly talking about them and how lucky I am to have them as parents. We butted heads when I was in school, but now they’re both supportive to a degree that I think is hard to expect, given some of the insanity of my life. Thanks, Mom and Dad! I love you!

Photo was taken in Yoyogi park in Toyko, one of my favorite places to be.

A protip for those making huaraches: cut them larger than you actually want, wear them for a few weeks, and then trim around the wear pattern on the top. Then they look like the shadows of your feet.






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