Having a love of Nature and an understanding of the well-being benefits of interacting with Nature, I’m always looking to review products that enhance people’s connection to Nature or even just encourage them to interact more with Nature.
When I was contacted by a new company who introduced themselves in the following way - “We create outdoor minimalist sandals that offer the closest thing to going barefoot. Our USA-made footwear allow your feet to function closest to how they’re naturally made to move by combining the barefoot benefits of earthing shoes with the functionality of minimalist running sandals.” – it naturally piqued my interest.
Would I do a product review of footwear? I needed to know more. When I looked a bit further into the company, I was intrigued by their motivation – here it is, reproduced from at Earth Runners website (with permission):
A Brief History of Earth Runners
A friend & I found ourselves at a trail-head with thong sandals & athletic tape, inspired by the minimalist footwear craze we taped on our sandals & immediately fell in love with the primal experience of running free.
With my new interest in ancient footwear I started researching and discovered our lost connection with earth due to our modern footwear and insulated lifestyles.
Out of necessity I decided to make minimalist earthing sandals to reconnect us with the earth both physically and electrically and restore this age old connection.
– Mike Dally / Founder
The Right Motivation
There’s something quite ‘Permaculture’ here with what these guys are doing I thought to myself, so thinking through from a holistic, big-picture perspective, I asked myself, what are the implications of such a product?
Well, Permaculture is about harmoniously co-existing with the Earth and living sustainably, and has three ethical principles – care for the Earth, care for the people, and the ‘Fair Share’ principle of taking only what you need to live sustainably. By being closer to Nature through exploring it, interacting with it, and being ‘connected’ to it, people develop greater respect for the planet, which changes how they treat this world of ours and how they see their relationship to planet Earth in general.
In respect to our connection to the planet, these days an increasing number of people are recognising that we’ve become disconnected from our roots and are looking to reconnect back to Nature. Modern life has a tendency to disconnect us from Nature by placing many layers of artificial abstraction between us and the natural world.
And what of our feet? When you think about it, we have evolved to be in barefoot contact with the ground beneath our feet, constantly in touch with the Earth that sustains us. To me, anyone who wants to ‘run free’ to see, feel and experience Nature as closely as possible obviously values it, otherwise you’d just go running around in urban car parks and industrial sites!
If these minimalist sandals can ‘ground and reconnect’ our bodies back to the very ground we were born to walk on, and provide a motivation to explore and experience Nature, then in my mind this is a valuable step in the right direction for our well-being and connection to the Earth without the dirty feet to worry about afterwards!
I came to the conclusion that the values and underlying philosophy of the Earth Runners company fit in well with those of Permaculture, and as such I decided a review of such a promising product was worthwhile! So, without further ado, lets look at the review.
Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals
As luck, coincidence or serendipity would have it, I was contacted by Earth Runners to review their Minimalist Outdoor Sandals a week after my old outdoor hiking sandals broke a strap and couldn’t be repaired. Very timely!
The Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals are described on the company’s website as follows:
“Custom molded minimalist Vibram® soles and trademark lacing system offering the ultimate barefoot sandal experience. Inspired by the ancient Tarahumara huarache sandals, Earth Runners combine the barefoot benefits of earthing shoes with the functionality of minimalist running sandals.”
Personally, I’ve never tried sandals such as these before so this was a whole new experience when I was asked to order which ones I wanted. Considering this is a US company and I’m on the other side of the planet here in Australia, I was concerned about getting the size and fit right as well, as you would with any international mail order of footwear with the various sizing systems that exist worldwide .
What really impressed me with Earth Runners website was that it was so easy to navigate and find the information I wanted. There I found product selection guides, size and fitting guides, templates to print out to measure your foot to get an exact fit, detailed step-by-step instructions on how to adjust the straps for a perfect custom fit, answers to almost every question I could imagine!
From the sizing page I worked out my size, in this case it was Men’s size 8.5. So far so good. Next, which product would I choose? Lots of choices, even a vegan option for people who prefer not to use animal products.
There is a great range of sole and strap options to choose from:
Choices for Vibram® Sole:
- Grip Tread w/ Vegan Rubber Top – 8mm
- Grip Tread w/ Leather Bedding – 9mm
- Cushion Tread w/ Leather Bedding – 12mm
Choices for Strap Color:
- Black Nylon Lace / Black Trim (Vegan)
- Black Nylon Lace / Grey Trim (Vegan)
- Black Nylon Lace / Brown Trim (Vegan)
- Brown Leather Lace / Black Trim
- Brown Leather Lace / Brown Trim
I was having trouble deciding and once again referred to the helpful online guides, this time I looked at the recommended uses of each product, which outlined the type of terrain, activity, whether walking or running, and the grip levels of each. I was able to quickly decide I wanted “Cushion Tread w/ Leather Bedding – 12mm, Black Nylon Lace / Black Trim (Vegan)”, as this combination gave me the least minimalist footwear which could handle the roughest terrain (and the best cushioning for my flat feet!) with long-wearing durable straps.
I sent my order through to Mike from Earth Runners, the process was super easy and all communications were a real pleasure. I then waited to receive the order in the mail.
It didn’t take long before I received a parcel in the mail which I couldn’t recognise as anything I ordered recently until I read the shipping label! I had ordered the thickest and heaviest of the Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals and I was astounded at how light they were!
As far as aesthetics go, they look great. I really like the style. On closer inspection of the construction, they’re very well put together, a real quality product.
The particular construction I chose was a 1mm Suede Leather Top over a 10mm Vibram®Cushion Tread.
Here is a closer look at the cushion tread soles. Nice grip!
I reckon I picked the right ones for me, the Sandal Comparison Chart of the Earth Runners website describes these as the choice for “New to minimal footwear or looking to go the extra mile? Featuring a wicking suede leather top.” This model has the highest level of cushioning, while the other two options are a lot more versatile outdoors as they have better traction, ground feel and water handling.
The description of the lighter, thinner models are as follows and these may be more suited to your specific requirements.
- 8mm Vibram®Grip Tread sole - “Quick drying vegan rubber sole great for wet applications. Thinnest sole offering most ground feel.”
- 1mm Suede Leather Top with 8mm Vibram®Grip Tread sole - “The ultimate barefoot feel with a wicking suede leather top and aggressive traction.”
Looking at the construction, the toe straps go through the sole, where they’re attached to a recessed copper grounding stud. Being recessed, it will contact the ground when you walk outside, but it doesn’t scratch polished wooden floors if you wear them inside – I tried and they’re fine.
These minimalist footwear folk don’t mess around when it comes to minimalism! My sandals have the thickest sole option, and you can see below from side view the thickness of the soles. Keep in mind I have very large hands, so using my hands as a reference may not have been the best idea, but as the specifications earlier described, the sole is approximately 11-12mm thick all up.
Now we’re done looking, lets do some testing!
Tests and Measures!
The first thing that minimalist outdoor sandals would need to be is minimal, light enough so you barely feel like you’re wearing them.
So how light are they? I put them on the scales, and was suitably impressed with the weight.
In case your eyesight isn’t excellent, here’s the close-up of the scales. A mere 275g for both shoes together, that’s only 9.7 oz for the pair, and keep in mind these are their heaviest soles, the other options are even lighter.
The product description also states that the Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals are also meant to be electrically grounding, that is they will conduct electricity from your body into the ground, much like a grounding strap on cars or an anti-static strap used by computer repair technicians – it puts your body at the same ‘voltage’ as the earth to put it in oversimplified terms (technically the potential difference between you and the ground is zero) .
Having qualifications in electronics amongst many other things, this was easy to test. I used my trusty multimeter, set it to measure electrical resistance in the low Ohms scale (measuring how much the circuit resists the flow of electricity – the lower the value, the less resistance, the better it conducts electricity).
One probe was poked through the toe strap hole so it touched the copper grounding stud that’s visible at the bottom of the sole, and I pressed the other probe on the strap. I believe that the stitching in the nylon straps is the conductive part from what I could make out. The result – only 15.8 ohms resistance, which is very low, meaning it doesn’t resist the flow of electricity much at all, in other words, it is truly electrically conductive as the maker claims.
On this product I tested there are three electrical grounding point on each sole:
- one point at the copper stud near the toe end which the straps all connect to
- two points at the slots where the straps pass through
These contact points would be sufficient to ground you electrically, especially if we’re talking in terms of static electricity, which is an imbalance of electrical charge that can occur in an object when it is insulated from the ground. An object carrying a static charge will remain that way until it can be electrically discharged (usually into the ground).
That’s about as much as I can test by measuring, which leaves the most important part, using the product to see how it performs in the real world.
How do you performance test footwear? By wearing it and walking around in it of course!
Fitting the Sandals
Before you can walk around in these sandals, you need to adjust the straps to fit your foot. The straps are highly adjustable so you can achieve a perfect customized fit.
I was initially expecting this was going to be tricky, but thankfully the sandals come with a full-colour printed guide (which is also available online along with videos) which takes you through the steps of adjusting the straps to fit. Once I figured out what I was doing with the first sandal, I was able to adjust the second one quite easily. I reckon it took me about 10 minutes to get the adjustment comfortable so the straps weren’t biting in anywhere, and my foot was sitting nicely centred on the sole.
What I found excellent was the very well written troubleshooting guides for adjusting the straps. Every time II thought I messed it up, I looked at the troubleshooting steps, and there was my answer, such as ‘foot sitting too far forward’, for example. There’s an answer to every conceivable fitting issue. The impression I get is that a lot of thought has gone into the products, supporting documentation and website of Earth Runners. I really like and appreciate that level of thoroughness.
Performance and Feel
With the straps adjusted, Earth Runner’s Minimalist Outdoor Sandals are really very secure. Carrying out testing in the backyard (because I live in an urban area!) I was able to do a reasonably fast (for my age) 10m (30’) sprint and jump a short flight of steps about 50cm high while continuing running. Doing a run and jumping over the steps and down off them in the other direction I was able to assess the impact I felt and how secure the shoes felt.
They certainly do absorb some of the shock of the running leap onto concrete thankfully, while still providing a very good feel of the ground beneath your feet. I noticed as I was running that I could feel precisely how my feet were contacting the ground at every step, something I have never felt with running shoes. I must admit, it’s very close to running barefoot, and the sandals I’m testing provide more cushioning than the rest of the range which are even more minimal.
The combination of really secure straps and a Vibram®sole work well to give a stable grip on ledges where only the front half of my foot has something to step on. I was even able to scale a 1.8m (6’) timber fence by stepping and standing on the horizontal fence rails, something I would normally only do with shoes. I was testing to see if my foot would slide back in the sandal but my feet stayed put and my grip felt safe and reassuring throughout the tests.
Since my foot neither slid forward or backward under these more extreme tests, I would reasonably assume that these sandals would handle both uphill and downhill walks or runs with ease.
I tried walking across various surfaces from concrete to rough natural surfaces to lawn to asses the feel, and as you would expect and you get better feel on harder surfaces with the more cushioned sandal model I’m testing.
Walking across loose dirt strewn with hard and/or sharp debris such as rocks and twigs, I could sense accurately what type of surface I was walking on without bearing the pain of crossing it.
What about water?
This sandal isn’t the one in the range best suited for water, but I was curious how it would fare. It was just curiosity, as I didn’t have the intention to test water handling but it happened of its own accord. While outside carrying out the earlier tests I couldn’t help myself and did a few quick but messy garden tasks, and I managed to get my sandals dirty as expected. Well, just one actually and my foot, which is why you don’t garden in sandals!
I decided to wash the front half of the dirty sandal (and my foot) under the tap to give them both a wash. I dabbed the sandal’s leather lining dry with a paper towel and put it down to dry fully. Within a few minutes it no longer looked wet. The lining does have the ability to wick away water as claimed.
It’s hard to test durability in a day, so I can’t comment reasonably on how well they will wear and how long they will last. Being well-made quality products I would expect that Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals would last a while.
Value for Money
Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals cost USD $69-$84 depending on the model, so they’re priced much lower than the competition.
That’s an great price for a product made with a Vibram® sole, one of the key features that sets Earth Runners apart from the rest.
To put this into perspective, most modern hiking shoes and boots have outsoles (the outermost sole that makes contact with the ground) that are made of polyurethane or some other kind of synthetic rubber. Vibram® soles are proprietary soles that are used by many leading hiking footwear brands as outsoles because they provide better traction and are more durable. The soles on Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals are made of the same material as is used on the soles of premium top-of-the line hiking footwear.
If we look at competing products, we see that regular outdoor sandals cost around USD$100-$130 on average, which is more expensive, and they’re basically a thick moulded polyurethane sole (an inferior material) with conventional style sandals traps, usually fastened with Velcro. You might think - what’s the problem with polyurethane soles if they’re so common? One of the main issues with polyurethane soles used in competitor’s products is a phenomenon called ‘hydrolysis’, where the material self-disintegrates over time regardless of whether you wear the footwear or not!
To quote the Metropolis article “The Case of the Crumbling Shoes” (November 17, 2011) by Patricia McLaughlin
“Molded polyurethane foam soles can be amazingly comfortable but, unlike leather soles, they have a limited shelf life. According to footwear industry consultant Phillip Nutt, the shelf life of a direct-injected polyurethane sole should be in the range of four to five years. He says the material tends to "crumble into a sticky mess" when stored for "periods longer than four years or so." Disuse apparently increases the risk that polyurethane soles will degrade–and that probably increases the indignation of consumers whose barely worn shoes disintegrate. If you wear your shoes every day and walk miles in them, you expect the soles to show wear. You don’t expect shoes to be destroyed by months or years of sitting unworn in their box in your closet. But that is what happens.”
Also from the iconic Australia footwear manufacturer Blundstone:
“Polyurethane & Hydrolysis – Since the early 1980’s, the use of polyurethane (PU) compounds as footwear soling materials has increased dramatically. The range of technologies employed with these materials has developed and been refined to a point at which PU now accounts for a significant percentage of soling in use across the range of sporting, fashion and industrial footwear. It has been recognised since the earliest days that PU can be subject to deterioration in its physical properties over a period of time. This deterioration generally takes the form of a progressive reduction it its abrasion resistance, softening and in extreme cases, can result in the material disintegrating through crumbling. This is called Hydrolysis. From data collected over the years it became apparent that footwear with a PU outsole as well as a PU midsole provided the highest risk to hydrolysis and footwear which had PU midsole and used a compound other than PU for the outsole had a much reduced risk. Blundstone has largely eliminated the problem by using different outsole materials without compromising on other important qualities of the boots. It is important that the phenomenon of hydrolysis failure is kept in perspective. It has not been sufficiently widespread to prevent PU from becoming the preferred soling material for a large proportion of the world’s footwear manufacturers.”
Basically, with Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals you’re getting a higher quality product that will last a lot longer than competing products made of inferior materials, and they’re definitely worth the money – heck, they’re actually cheaper!
Yes, that’s a local critter sharing the ‘Earth connection’ with me and my new Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals!
I must admit I am thoroughly satisfied and very impressed with Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals, they’re a quality product made out of premium materials, made by people who believe in what they do and who have a passion for restoring our connection back to Nature. I’m proud to own a pair of these sandals!
From these tests I found the sandals performed brilliantly at specific tasks across various surfaces. Admittedly I didn’t go for hour long hikes across a mountain range or anything like that, so I can’t say how comfortable they are over a long hike or run. For me, what was important was the security and stability of the footwear under extremes, the relative cushioning of impact and protection from sharp debris, while still delivering that ‘walking almost barefoot’ feeling. In all these areas these sandals performed brilliantly.
Earth Runners have nailed it in creating excellent footwear that lets you run free while feeling connected to the earth and sensing the ground beneath your feet. From what I’ve seen so far, and in the short time I’ve been using these I definitely recommend this product.
Deep Green rating for Earth Runners Minimalist Outdoor Sandals is 5 stars!
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