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January 31, 2010

Invisible Shoe Huarache Review

An interesting irony regarding the popularity of barefoot running and the Tarahumara Indians - who have become patron saints of sorts for the whole barefoot movement – is that very few people actually use the Tarahumara's typical footwear. We either embrace the natural aspect and go completely barefoot, or spend a lot of money on highly-engineered minimalist shoes that strive to be “better than barefoot” by offering some basic protection to complement all the biomechanical benefits of going shoeless.

But what if you really want to get in touch with your inner Tarahumara? Or what if you want wear something that mimics the native footwear of these indigenous people more authentically? That’s when you get yourself a pair of Invisible Shoes.

Invisible shoes!

Invisible Shoes are a 21st-Century spin on the traditional sandal worn by various tribes all over the world for thousands of years. They use modern materials to reproduce the look and feel of old-school huaraches, and they are so small and lightweight that it often seems like you’re not wearing anything at all.

The company was founded by Steven Sashen, a member of the very popular Boulder Barefoot Running Club (led by these guys), who started making his own huaraches with a Vibram outsole and thin rope cords. He set up shop on sidewalks near the University of Colorado (if you’ve ever been to Boulder, you know this is nothing unusual), and got a great response. Eventually most of the BBRC regulars were wearing Steven’s huaraches, and the business idea was born.

There’s a philanthropic side to the company as well: Invisible Shoes donates 10% of the profits from their custom made shoes to Norawas de Raramuri, a non-profit organization that was developed shortly after Caballo Blanco’s Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, whose origin was the centerpiece of Christopher McDougall’s best-selling Born to Run. Think of it as a way of paying tribute to the folks who inspired this whole craze, and of helping to support their culture’s long-term survivability.

Invisible Shoes are created by two methods: for $19.95, you can order a do-it-yourself kit consisting of a rectangular outsole and two 6’ laces, then follow the website instructions for assembly. You can also pay $49.95 to have Steven custom-make a pair for you. If you’re like me and are 1) way too busy, and 2) way too error-prone to try making your own huaraches, you should probably choose the custom-made option.

Initial blueprint for a custom-made huarache

Here’s how the process works: you draw an outline of your foot, then round out the contour lines and add a few hashmarks for strap placement. Fax the paper to Invisible Shoes, or scan it into your computer and send it attached to an e-mail. (There are very easy-to-follow video instructions for this step, as well as every other part of the process, on the Invisible Shoes website.) Choose the color of laces you want, and your order is complete.

A few days later, your sandals come in the mail with the outsole cut and the laces threaded through the toe and ankle holes. Next comes the trickiest step: figuring out how to lace the sandals up. The video instructional on the website makes this part easy to learn as well, and it now only takes me a few seconds to lace my sandals in a couple of different styles.

The start position for lacing

There are two primary methods of lacing: toga style that goes high around the ankle - my daughter calls this Jesus-style - or huarache style that stays low around the foot. The advantage of the huarache style is that it can be knotted and then used as a slip-on/off, so you don’t have to re-lace it every time. The disadvantage is that you don’t look like Jesus.

The outsole is a 4mm Vibram Cherry professional-grade rubber. It is smooth on the foot side, and patterned on the bottom for traction. They provide great traction on roads, concrete, and gentle trails. Running in them, I initially found that the section underneath my outer toes would sometimes drag along the ground, causing me to have an exaggerated foot-lift during my first few runs. As I’ve logged more miles in them, the outsole sticks to the bottom of my toes a bit better, so this isn’t much of an issue anymore on roads – but it’s enough of a question mark that I haven’t tried my huaraches on technical trails yet.

Each sandal weighs only about 4.5 oz, so it barely feels like there’s anything on your feet at all. The biggest comfort issue comes from the center strap between your first two toes, which takes a few lacing trials to find the ideal position and tightness. Once I figured out my ideal lacing, the center strap was noticeable for the first mile or two, but then I forgot all about it. I haven’t had any irritation between my toes, but this is a potential hazard if the shoes aren’t built properly (another reason I’d recommend the custom-made method).

Running like a Tarahumara! Well, sort of ...

Overall, running in my Invisible Shoes is really enjoyable – they maintain almost all of the fun barefoot feel, and give me enough protection to take on more challenging terrain than I might try with naked feet. I don’t think they’ll replace my Vibrams for long-distance minimalist running – especially on rugged trails – but I’ve found them a great accessory to maintain my barefoot running form on easy neighborhood runs of 4-5 miles.

Besides, anything that makes me look a little more like a Tarahumara is going to score pretty high marks in my book.

*Product provided by Invisible Shoes.
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.


Anonymous,  2/2/10, 7:07 AM  

Can you get them with orthotics? :)

My Life and Running 2/2/10, 8:11 AM  

Interesting shoe. Does the knot on the ball of your foot not irritate?

Notleh,  2/2/10, 9:06 AM  

I run barefoot and with VFF, but I have not taken the plunge with these yet. I keep having flashbacks to cheap flip=flops from when I was a kid and the pain in between my toes. I might give them a try though. Nice article.

RD Jim 2/2/10, 9:11 AM  

Talk about regression. How long before that little knot on the bottom wears off? I'll pass on these for anything but beach wear. I think I might try coating the bottoms of my feet in GE Silicone before each run.

Donald 2/2/10, 9:20 AM  

Taryn and Jim - You really can't feel the little knot underneath. As to how long it lasts before becoming frayed, I'll keep testing and let you know.

Evan 2/2/10, 10:18 AM  

Hey! no mention of Barefoot Ted's nearly identical enterprise?!


He offers a few other sole materials and lacing options.

Donald 2/2/10, 3:16 PM  

Evan - thanks for the reminder! I was aware of BF Ted's shop, but I haven't tried them myself, so I can't really comment one way or the other about them. Perhaps a future review ...

shel 2/2/10, 3:34 PM  

i just got a pair of custom huarches made by ted with the 4mm vibram sole and a leather strap. mighty nice looking and comfy but won't be able to tell you how they work for running until the snow melts...

Steven Sashen 2/2/10, 6:07 PM  

The knot at the bottom doesn't get a lot of wear, since it's between your toes and since the rubber is flexible... but even when/if it does wear out, there's enough lacing material to just pull an inch-or-so through the sole and make a new knot.

Gretchen 2/2/10, 7:24 PM  

Look more like a Tarahumara? That's funny, I thought you were going to say "look more like Jesus." Either one adds some definite cool-factor.

And did you really pick that color? It's so un-Donald bright! I like it though. Looks like fun!

wadaye 2/3/10, 3:16 AM  

have you tried using climbers tape? I use it through two holes at the front and then lace a 5-10cm loop of thin rope or strong lace through two holes on either side (one loop per side) and then thread the climbers tape (15mm strapping) through the shoelace loops.

John 2/3/10, 11:29 AM  

Thanks for this post. I think I'm going to try out some Huaraches. They look like the next best thing to being fully barefoot. The open top will allow my feet to breathe much more than some of the other minimal footwear options.

triguyjt 2/7/10, 12:21 PM  

You are the coolest runner around!!!

Darrell 2/8/10, 9:35 PM  

I love the whole barefoot idea, but those are really true to the spirit of Tarahumara running. The whole Jesus sandal thing has pretty cool factor as well.

Katherine 6/5/10, 4:15 PM  

I was unsure about these as well, so I watched the free instructions and made myself an experimental pair with some suede scraps I had lying around. I have spent the afternoon in them and, now that I know what adjustments I would make to the placement of the holes - I am SOLD. Buying the Do-It-Yourself kit now!

Thaddeus 12/28/10, 9:04 PM  

I've ran in the Invisible Shoe for almost a year now, and I'm just now starting to deal with the knot fraying and breaking. Once a year? Not bad, not bad at all. I normally do about 1000mi/year. The vibram shows little wear, and will easily make it through 2011. Best $20 I spent in a long time, I tell you. I'm in SoCal, so I get to run all the time...yahoo!!

BF Tad

Mark Keeler 1/31/11, 8:02 PM  

Thanks for this posting about Invible shoes. I ordered 1 pair for myself and 1 for each of my young boys. We will be one of the first running up Mission Peak in Fremont, CA.


Kris,  3/5/11, 10:06 PM  

I drew the outline of my foot just like invisibleshoe shows you, but I just took it into a local shoe repair shop and asked if he'd cut the pattern out of some vibram and punch the holes for me. Charged me $15, and I bought some lace for $3 so I guess it ended up costing about the same but I had them in one day. I've been running 3 times in them, and this is my first time running 'barefoot'. I could feel the knot beneath the ball of my foot the first time out, but then it flattened out and I can't feel it at all. If you're new to barefoot running, take it slow at first - your calf muscles will have to adapt. Overall, I love the new footwear - and there's a bit of a pride factor in taking part in making them.

Nate 6/13/11, 9:11 AM  

The knot hasn't worn out, but the hole between my toes wears out the lace until it breaks it's happened twice with mine, but it's probably because the hole is jagged.

adrianpino 7/31/12, 6:27 AM  

I have been using my invisible shoes for a month, being my first minimalist shoe. They are very comfortable, I haven't been able to wear another shoe since then, and WAY cheaper than luna sandals. The new FeelTrue soles are extremely durable, guaranteeing you 5000 miles, whereas the luna gives a poorer durability (around 500 miles is said in the luna webpage) at 3 or 4 times the price of the Invisible Shoes.

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