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May 31, 2011

Soft Star RunAmoc Dash Review

Before today’s review, a disclaimer is in order: there shouldn’t be any misunderstanding around these parts about my level of affection for the Soft Star company.

I first developed a crush on them after testing their Roo slippers, then fell head over heels in love when they introduced the RunAmoc last spring. Best of all, those feelings were reciprocated, as the company invited me into their product development process, provided prototype moccasins for me to test, and incorporated my feedback into what would eventually become my favorite minimalist running shoe. This spring I even started calling myself Team Soft Star, and wearing their logo on my shirt like a smitten schoolgirl wearing her boyfriend’s football jersey. You could say we had a thing.

Imagine then – if I can continue my tortured analogy – if you were that girl, and one day your boyfriend showed up with goth makeup, a terrible new haircut, about 6 crazy facial piercings, and said he was thinking of quitting the football team. You’d be a little bit concerned, wouldn’t you? That’s sort of how I felt when I first laid eyes on the new RunAmoc Dash. The shoe was ugly, way too metallic-looking, and had significant performance limitations. Even worse, the initial plan was to for it replace the RunAmoc I fell in love with; it makes sense now that I felt like a scorned lover, right? (Um … right?)

Soft Star RunAmoc Dash

Fortunately, as I described in this preview post, Soft Star never lost its ability to listen, and it never gave up caring about me (and by “me”, I really mean runners in general … but it’s much more romantic if I just say me.) They were agreeable to some makeover advice, and the revamped moccasin that I once considered a goth freak slacker version of its earlier self is now a very respectable partner that you’d be proud to be seen with in public – and in some ways, it’s actually a nice improvement over the original. I felt secure enough in our relationship to wear them through 53 muddy miles at Woodside in March, but I’d still rank them one notch below my first love, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

Fun in the mud at Woodside

The good news is that instead of replacing its predecessor, the Dash is now simply an addition to the existing Soft Star catalog, so there should be a style of RunAmoc to satisfy just about anybody.

So how is the Dash different? Most folks will describe it in four words: A RunAmoc With Laces. However, the addition of laces to an old-school moccasin design has some significant ramifications, both from an aesthetic and functional perspective.

2mm street outsole

From a spec standpoint, the Dash is pretty much identical to the previous model, which for clarity is now referred to as the Original RunAmoc. Its weight is roughly 6oz, slightly variable depending on the size and outsole thickness. They are available in non-perforated leather – called the Dash Smooth – or in perforated leather, called the Dash Lite. Suede uppers or custom colors are available for an additional charge. All styles are available with either a 2mm Vibram street outsole or a 5mm Vibram trail outsole, and 100% of the ground feel and flexibility of the Originals are preserved in the Dash. Retail price is slightly more expensive, at $97 for the Dash compared to $87 for the Original.

Perhaps the addition of a simple set of laces, which give the Dash a more shoe-like appearance, shouldn’t be such a big deal to me, but I have to say that I dwelt on this aspect for a long time. Part of what I loved so much about the Original was its primitive simplicity: a rubber slab, two pieces of leather, and a string around the ankle holding everything in place. This might sound corny, but there’s a very native, ancestral vibe about wearing Original RunAmocs that’s lacking with the Dash. If I want minimalist footwear that looks like a regular shoe, I have plenty of choices out there – but if I want an old-school moccasin, there’s only one option. In that regard, I felt like Soft Star was moving away from its identity just a bit by adding laces.

However, I fully concede that I’m in the minority with this opinion, and that the addition of the laces addresses two important points of feedback from many RunAmoc users. The most frequent comments Soft Star received were either that 1) they wanted a moc that looked slightly more formal in hopes of wearing them to work or social gatherings without attracting attention, or 2) they reported that the midfoot and forefoot areas of the moc were too loose and floppy for running. With one design change, both of these concerns are fully resolved in the Dash.

Yes, they look more like shoes – I guess whether that’s good news or not is up to you. If you get a black leather version, they could certainly pass in most work settings without people thinking you’re an elf or a Hobbit. And when the laces are tightened across the midfoot, the upper of the Dash stays nice and snug against the foot, even when swinging it forward during the running stride. You no longer have to trust that the upper will stay correctly in place with each footfall; thanks to the dialed-in fit, you’re much more confident of this in the Dash.

There are subtle construction details that further improve the fit of the Dash through the midfoot and forefoot. The last is slightly narrower than it was on the Original RunAmoc, although there is still plenty of room in the toebox for natural toe splay. There’s also a lateral overlay of leather that’s continuous with the eyelet panel, so when you tighten the laces, the tension on either side of the upper increases as well. When tightened properly, the Dash actually curves to the contour of your foot, especially through the arch; this enhanced fit is a significant upgrade from both a comfort and performance standpoint.

With a traditional lacing system in place, the Dash lacks the lace through the ankle collar that was employed on the Original RunAmoc – and for me, this has been a source of some frustration, in part because I’m something of an oddball. During prototype testing, the fit of the heel cup was the last piece to fall into place; early versions were too loose, or too floppy, or just didn’t sit right on or around the ankle. On the final version, the fit of the heelcup is very comfortable around the ankle, and generally stays in place very well, unless you happen to have a strange stride like me.

Here’s what I mean: I tend to land on the inside of my heels - even with my practiced midfoot strike – especially on the right side. With an ankle strap to hold the heel section in place, I could secure the Original RunAmoc well enough that I landed consistently on the middle of the outsole – but with that heel strap removed, I tend to roll inward on the Dash.

As you can see in the photo above, the Dash does have a heel cup that should keep most users properly aligned, but for me, my right heel lands about a half-inch to the inside. I did all kinds of experimentation with the front lacing in an attempt to make the rear area more stable, but there wasn’t much carryover from lace tension to heel stability.

Consequently, I slide off the inside of the designated landing area - so after about 100 total miles, I start riding directly on the leather to the inside of the heel rather than on the outsole. This causes some comfort issues on multi-hour training runs, and ultimately limits the life span of the moccasin.

Right heel rolling inward after 53 miles at Woodside

Between the aesthetic preference and the heel issue, the Dash isn’t ready to overtake the Original RunAmoc as the love of my life, but it certainly has some compelling aspects that other users might prefer. If you found the Original too loose or unpredictable through the forefoot, or if you’re interested in a moccasin that can pass for an everyday shoe, the Dash was made for you. If you have heel alignment issues or prefer the tribal style of the Original, you’re better off sticking with that one.

So here are your shopping links for both the Dash and the Original models:

Soft Star Original RunAmoc Lite with perforated leather

Soft Star Original RunAmoc Smooth with chocolate suede

Soft Star RunAmoc Dash Lite with perforated leather

Soft Star RunAmoc Dash Smooth with black leather

Remember that custom colors and materials are available for all of the options above. Pick a style and color, and get your elf on!

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

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Charissa 6/1/11, 10:52 AM  

Wow, I've never seen running shoes like that before, that' interesting. Have you tried the barefoot running shoes? What do you think of them?

Der Scott 6/1/11, 11:40 AM  

I'm with you Donald. I'm torn about the Dash. Love my original RunAmoc Lites (I have no issues with forefoot slop) but I will probably buy the Dash as a work/casual shoe.

jamesbg,  6/3/11, 9:59 AM  

Interesting to see from the photos of the sole, that as a zealous barefooter/minimalist, you are a major heel-striker. There's virtually no wear on the midfoot or forefoot of your shoe. I thought barefooting/minimalism encourages correct biomechanics (ie, forefoot/midfoot strike).

Donald 6/3/11, 12:38 PM  

Jamesbg: you're quite wrong about my mechanics. Check the photo again - the forefoot area is as worn as the heels. I land on my midfoot (almost flat-footed, actually), but that doesn't mean my heel never touches the ground, especially when going down steep descents. Thanks for your concern, though.

MONOTONE MARY 6/4/11, 8:59 AM  

What rotten comments! Don't these folks know you at all? ... Anyway thanks for the review! I know I couldn't make up my mind about the DASH until I heard from you, the SoftStar guru. I think I may stick to my beloved originals, as I'm rather fond of my ankle string & the super-loose feel that many folks complain about. Keep runnin, _Mary

Eric 6/6/11, 6:02 AM  

I love my originals, but laces do sound very appealing. Your review of the originals helped me decide on that first pair. I do wish they would have picked an all black Lite as a standard option instead of putting silver on it. Silver just looks strange to me.

Jeff Lisson 7/18/11, 3:01 PM  

I've run 2 50Ks, one in the RunAmocs and one in the Dash. Both were fabulous. Frankly, I found the Dash a little better, mainly because they let in fewer large rocks. But either one works great!

J. Mijares 10/10/11, 10:17 AM  

Great review, Donald!

I had the original RunAmoc but had the same issues you do with landing on the inside of my heel and rolling over on to the perforate leather. SoftStar was awesome in that they did the repair free of charge, but it seemed that the floppiness of the original RunAmoc made it way too loose on my foot. I ended up wearing a hole in the leather yet again. I'd really like to get the Dash because my mutant wide feet feel the most comfortable in RunAmocs vs VFFs.

Now that you've been using them for a few more months, is the heel cup continuing to help keep your heel aligned?

Anonymous,  1/8/12, 10:26 AM  

Do you wear socks with them?

Do they start to smell?



Donald 1/9/12, 8:01 PM  

@anon: I typically wear socks with them (not always, though). They do start to smell, but no worse than any other pair of shoes.

Anonymous,  1/10/12, 12:58 PM  

But not bad like five fingers?
(in regard to smell)



Donald 1/10/12, 7:35 PM  

@Anon: correct - not nearly as bad as FiveFingers.

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