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November 16, 2009

Sockwa Review

It’s usually the simplest ideas that make the most sense.

The problem at the heart of every “barefoot” shoe is an inherent contradiction: how does any kind of footwear, even those with the most minimal structure possible, truly replicate the feeling of not wearing shoes at all?

Sockwa's answer was the simple one: They don’t make shoes - they make socks instead.

More specifically, Sockwas are reinforced socks that are durable enough to wear outdoors, but thin and light enough to feel like there’s nothing on your feet. The company then went one step further and infused its socks with color and personality, making them a true fashion accessory - complete with a wide variety of colors and patterns - for those who love to tread naturally.

Sockwa is based in Southern California, and their products were originally designed as beach wear: something you can slip over your feet before walking across the hot sand, and that stays securely in place when you decide to go play in the waves. They were quickly embraced by beach volleyball and sand soccer players, and gradually adopted by a larger variety of folks, both for athletic endeavors or everyday wear.

Although Sockwa’s design is simple, there is great attention to detail in its construction. The body of the sock is composed of very soft 2mm neoprene, with a more breathable nylon section between the top seams of the upper. All of the seams are made with sturdy flatlock stitching, and there’s a gently compressive feel to the sock. I found them extremely comfortable – so much that I began wearing them around the house as slippers, until my wife put a stop to that (I’ll explain in a second).

The best feature of Sockwas is the braided neoprene sole, a mere 2mm thick and designed for use on a variety of surfaces. It feels like you’re walking around in a pair of socks, with just a tiny measure of protection from ground hazards. For barefoot runners, this is as close as you can come to maintaining the “naked” ground feel while having something on your feet for warmth.

Warm toes after a cold autumn run

For me, that’s the true value of using Sockwas: they will allow me to continue my barefoot running routine all the way through the winter. Mornings in my area of California have been dipping into the mid 30s recently, which is lower than I want to dare venturing out barefoot. On a couple of particularly cold mornings, I wore a pair of regular running socks under the Sockwas, and had no issues with my toes feeling chilled.

Other minimalist shoes that I use provide some warmth, but they all have thicker soles than these Sockwas, which will be my footwear of choice if I want to feel as close to barefoot as possible. I’ve worn them on all sorts of terrain, from asphalt to trails to mud, and they perform wonderfully across the board.

Soles after a 5-miler on roads and dirt; notice the barefoot wear pattern

Clearly, I love using my Sockwas; they seem like one of those “Why didn’t somebody come up with this sooner?” ideas where the numerous benefits are obvious at first glance. Having said that, I’ll mention a couple of potential drawbacks:

1) If you wear them as an everyday shoe or slipper, especially on bare feet, they’ll acquire a pretty strong funk before too long. You can throw Sockwas in the wash (but air dry them) just like any other socks – but if you’re trying to stretch a couple more days of use before laundry day rolls around, and you happen to have a spouse with a particularly gifted sense of smell … let’s just say there could be some issues.

2) Although I’ve worn them for several runs, the Sockwa sole really isn’t designed for long term use over hard, abrasive surfaces (remember, they were designed for beach wear). Durability will probably be an issue at some point; I certainly don’t expect to get hundreds of miles out of a single pair.

On the durability front, however, there are two pieces of good news. First, Sockwa is definitely aware of the minimalist footwear movement, and are developing a model with a thin rubber outsole skin (likely TPR or TPU) and a venting system specifically designed for runners and other athletes. Target date for the new version is March 2010.

Until then, it’s easy to simply stock up on several pairs of Sockwas, because they’re pretty darn cheap. They retail for $20 from the company website, as well as other online vendors like SwimOutlet.com; at that price, even if they only last you three months, you could buy a whole year’s supply for 80 bucks.

Sockwa’s stated focus is to create versatile, comfortable, minimal footwear that is “Better than Barefoot” – and while that may be an impossibility in the minds of some barefoot purists, the company does an impressive job of coming about as close to barefoot as you can get.

*Product provided by Sockwa Inc
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at


justrun 11/18/09, 6:48 AM  

I like that they're affordable and not ugly- I guess that's a girl thing, but still, pretty is good!

Having just blogged about my new venture into barefoot running yesterday, I'm so in the "barefoot mood" right now. I had no idea there were so many options, obviously, but I'm glad there are.

Anne 11/18/09, 7:27 AM  

These sound perfect for those of us fortunate enough to walk or run on the beach, a lot. I think Santa's order just got a little longer.

mweston 11/20/09, 5:19 PM  

The camo was only $16, and free shipping, which made it an impulse purchase. It's the first of the minimal footwear choices I've bought.

Anonymous,  4/15/10, 5:06 PM  

These look like a copy of Sand Socks which have been used by beach volleyball players for years, except Sockwa doesn't have a left or right foot (one generic footprint) and the wrap-around neoprene doesn't breathe as well.

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