Earth Runner Minimalist Sandals

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Okay, so I am a “barefoot” guy. I’ve been doing the “barefoot” thing for a little over 3 years now and cannot imagine re-joining the ranks of the shod. As such, I am always eager to try out new products aimed at my demographic.

Enter Earth Runners–one of the latest entries into the huarache-style sandal market (based on the design made popular in the book Born to Run).

Earth Runners takes a unique approach. Rather than just mimicking the traditional design, they have integrated the concept of “Earthing” into the sandals. I’m not going to comment on this topic. So, let’s talk about the sandal itself. The model I was sent for testing is the Bio Earth Runners with conductive laces…

Sole

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It is a flat piece of rubber with 3 holes cut into it: one between the big and second toes (and the copper plug anchor for the lace) and two slits on either side of the ankle (to allow the strap to weave). The rubber has a nice grippy feel to it. The dot pattern (called “Mitosis Tread”) on the bottom has the most surface area of any sandal I’ve worn.

Bedding

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The bedding material is called “BioTac” and is made of recycled car tires. It is welded seamlessly to the sole, and is totally unnoticeable.

Straps

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The strap on these is a flat, thin length of nylon webbing. Contrast that a traditional leather cord, or tubular webbing, used on sandals from other vendors. As I mentioned before, the model I was sent has the “conductive” laces. You will notice a silvery threading at the front end of the lace, and the anchor is a copper disk. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical of the look and feel when I first unboxed them.

Field Testing

Now on to the actual field testing. I’d like to come clean–I abuse gear. I do my very best to see if the manufacturer’s stated specs are true. Michael stated a couple of “challenges” on the product page for these sandals, so I will confirm (or deny) these, as well as some torture tests of my own. He says they are a “comfortable long distance ride” and provide ”great traction over most any terrain”.

I did both GORUCK Ascent and ITS Tactical Muster in sandals (as well as an embarrassing number of 14ers and some assorted Bar-a-thons). Suffice to say I can do some distance. My earliest pair of sandals (not Earth Runners) had crappy traction on the footbed (and sole) when wet (resulting in a gnarly soft tissue injury between my big and second toe while hiking in the rain).

The Test

1. I will wear them for day-to-day activities for at least 2 weeks as a break-in before further tests
2. I will do a 10 mile hike (5 up, 5 down) with a 12% grade with around 30 lbs of weight (both liquid and actual bricks). I’ve found 30 lbs to be a reasonable limit for minimalist sandals.
3. I will do a 2 mile trail run (with my running partner, Twinkie)

The Criteria

  1. I am looking for traction of sole connected to the ground
  2. I am looking for my foot to stay connected to the bedding
  3. I am looking for discomfort at friction points from the lacing (toe junction, straps across skin, buckle placement, etc)
  4. I am looking for soft tissue injury (blisters, etc) at the ball of foot or heels
  5. I am looking for fatigue from wearing them

The Review

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I gave the sandals a two week break in period so I could adjust to them and they could adjust to me. During that period I wore them exclusively, in both good weather and bad. I did not initially wear them with socks (at any point; that is a major faux pas in my household). I did do all of my normal day-to-day activities, including weekend fun. Test 1 completed.

Straight out of the box, after the initial adjustments, they felt great. They are light. The footbed was tacky. The straps are not noticeable (they are so slight as to be non-existent). My biggest issue was with the buckle and rear heel strap. I had a ton of problems getting it to stay in place and stay snug. I think the biggest problem is that the buckle has the tendency to ride underneath the outer cross strap (the one that goes through the body of the sole on the outside edge of the sandal).

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After fighting with it for a couple of days, I went back online to the Earth Runners site and watched Michael’s video on strap adjustment. I completely undid the straps (all the way to the front pin) and reworked the weave while my foot was on the bed. That seemed to help for “walking around” activities.

On my second week with them, we had some “winter” weather. What better way to try them out, right? The sandals performed remarkably well in the wet and cold weather. My foot stayed connected to the footbed with no slipping at all. And the soles were super grippy. I tried to get them to slide on asphalt and concrete. Tried. I also found some large rocks on the landscaping. I had to get to about 40 degrees before I started feeling a little nervous (anyone who has been on wet rock will understand). Criteria 1 and 2 passed!

I took the “opportunity” to do a short hike across rough terrain with them. My biggest annoyance with all minimalist sandals is the propensity to pick up gravel and grit on the footbed while walking (EarthRoamers were not any better or worse at this). It is probably related to my foot movement and not always picking my feet up rather than a factor of the sandal itself. Due to this, one of the skills I have picked up is flipping the heel portion of the sandal to knock out any detritus that has accumulated which is something I can do while moving. This is where I started having a little bit of a problem. As I would knock the rubber, the heel strap would come loose, necessitating a stop to reseat the webbing. I played around a bit with the straps and buckle and found that I really had to crank it down to prevent it from sliding off of my heel. Also, as I was going uphill, prior to tightening the strap, i had a problem with the strap coming loose. Downhill was not a problem. I did have to pull the straps almost to the point of discomfort to lock them down (though not so tight as to cause any friction issues). Test 2 completed.

The next thing I wanted to test out was running in the sandals. I have a two-mile varied-terrain loop near my house. I was a little worried about having to stop and adjust the sandals like I did on the hike. I pre-tightened the straps in hopes of eliminating that problem. The run went pretty well (aside from, you know, running). The shoes stayed on my feet and I really didn’t feel the sharpness of rocks. I did cross a gravelly patch and did not slip–the soles were sticky enough. After the run, I noticed that the buckles on both sides had slid forward (toward my toes) almost underneath the cross strap, and were actually putting a little bit of pressure on the underside of my ankle. I’m pretty sure this was just from the foot movement taking up some of the slack from the “over foot” strap. Test 3 completed.

I finally tried the individual toe socks with the sandals. I rarely wear socks, so this wasn’t a true test of the way I would do things–but Earth Runners included a pair for the review. I didn’t notice the buckle positioning once I was wearing the socks. But I did feel like my feet did not have the same connection to the foot bed and slid a little bit (basically the skin of my foot shifting against the wool of the sock).

During the entire course of the review I did not get a single hotspot. The only friction point was what I discussed before in relation to the buckle. Normally during the breaking-in period of new footwear, I expect some sort of frictioning. But these sandals did great. Criteria 3 passed. And technically 4 since I did not get any soft tissue injuries.

I did not notice any “grounding” effect from the sandals, which is one of the big differences (and marketing pushes) of this brand. That said, I’m not really sure what I would/should have noticed. I did not hook myself up to a voltmeter to see if there was any difference. I was neither more nor less fatigued than normal. Criteria 5 received a “Meh”–but it was a highly subjective one in any case.

At the end of the day, I’m not a fan of the buckles on the outside (lateral) strap. They did tend to shift no matter what I did. I ended up making a small modification by wrapping a small piece of electrical tape around the webbing to stop the buckle from sliding back, and that seemed to do the trick when I did not wear the socks. Overall I like the sandals. I think the rubber has some of the best traction between foot and footbed and sole and ground. Both of the “challenges” I found on his site passed. They were comfortable and had far superior traction to anything I’ve been on before. Seriously, I wish my boots in Iraq had soles with that “Mitosis Tread”.

Pros

* Rubber is super sticky. Even on wet rock.
* No slippage/shifting of foot on footbed (except for while wearing the socks)
* Sandals are super lightweight. I hardly noticed them on my feet.

Cons

* Buckle and strap setup is problematic. If you can stop the buckle from sliding they work pretty well.

Editor’s Note

tom_iraqPlease join me in welcoming Tom Rader as a guest contributor to Brian’s Backpacking Blog. Tom Rader is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14ers in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes [medical software] and [builds websites and mobile apps]. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.

Disclaimer: Brian’s Backpacking Blog was provided with a complimentary pair of Earth Runner Bio Sandals for this review.

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  • Me too

    They look like another rip off of Luna Sandals

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      They are very similar I’ll admit, but they also have some innovative features that Luna Sandals do not. What about Xero Shoes, are they a rip off of Luna Sandals too? Aren’t Luna Sandals just a rip off of the Tarahumara Huarache running shoes anyway..?

    • Doc Rader

      I would say they do have some improvements over Lunas in terms of the tread. But Luna has a much better buckle system.

      Brian is right, though. The “original” sandals are a piece of tire with a leather thong routed through the material and around the foot.

      Barefoot Ted has done a great job of being a voice for minimalist sandals–that doesn’t mean he has the only take on the sandals. Michael has integrated the “earthing” concept into his sandals.

      At the end of the day, as long as they keep stickers out of my feet and weigh a lot less than boots, I will support any of the sandal makers… :)

  • Hendrik Van Roon

    They look super comfortable, the Über sticky sole would work on wet rocks is a real plus if your walking along coastal shoreline or creeks and rivers, however the thing I hate the most in the world, is having something stuck between your toes, its a pity they don’t come with a strap across the foot.