Quick announcement before today's post: you've got one more day to enter the New Balance Minimus Zero Road giveaway contest; winners will be announced Saturday. Get going!
It not much of an exaggeration to say that one of the most long-awaited minimalist shoes to be released comes from SKORA.
Company founder and CEO David Sypniewski was an early inhabitant of barefoot running forums in the post-Born to Run craze, and by that time he had already been a proponent of natural running – what he refers to as “running real” - for several years. He started spreading word that he was developing a revolutionary minimalist running shoe that would be on the market in the near future.
As sometimes happens, the near future turned into the following year, and then another year … and ultimately to Spring of 2012. But SKORA shoes are finally available for purchase – at least, they are for men with a shoe size from 8 to 12. A wider range of men’s sizes as well as women’s styles will be forthcoming later this year, but in the meantime, SKORA offers two models that are both designed to promote Running Real – which, not coincidentally, happens to be the new company’s slogan.
One of those models, the FORM – apparently SKORA has chosen the somewhat-irritating convention of writing their company name and shoe models in all caps – comes with a pretty hefty $195 price tag as well, mainly due to material construction of the uppers; more on that in a minute. The BASE is a more affordable $125 option with a different upper – but from a construction standpoint, SKORA shoes have far more similarities than differences, so my review will consider them collectively before getting to the distinctions between models.
As detailed on the SKORA website, the company approaches shoe design and construction with the belief that the best shoe is one that allows the foot, and by extension the entire body, to perform naturally. Many of their design precepts are familiar to minimalist footwear users: anatomic last, zero-drop platform, wide toe box, no heel counter, minimal cushioning, and seamless interior construction for sockless use. They also include a few unique tweaks to optimize mechanics, fit, or comfort – some of these are helpful, others maybe not so much.
The underside of the BASE and FORM are essentially the same, and feature a combination of EVA (the white stuff in the photos) and high-abrasion rubber (the black or blue stuff). One novel element here is that the offset color in the forefoot area is actually slightly concave for enhanced ground feel on foot strike.
Outsole traction is great for roads, even in wet conditions. Of course, I test everything on trails whether they were designed for it or not, and both SKORA models actually do quite well going from road to trail. Rubber in the heel area is convex, which isn’t super effective when running down dirt hills …
… but the forefoot area has enough grip to handle gravel or going uphill on fire roads. Unless you’re tackling extremely technical trails, the SKORA outsole is very nice for hybrid road/trail use.
One of the design tweaks I mentioned earlier is a curvature of the heel, which is intended to encourage a medial to lateral roll of the foot in stance phase. Unfortunately, since I tend to contact the ground pretty far on the medial side of my heels to begin with, this construction created a somewhat unstable feeling underfoot in my testing.
Both SKORA models have the same midsole platform, with a stack height of 13mm off the ground …
… unless you take out the 4mm removable insole, in which case your standing height is a pretty low-riding 9mm. However, I ended up leaving the insole in when testing both models – which leads us to a discussion of the uppers.
The BASE model weighs 7.9 oz, and uses a high tensile stretch mesh material with thin polyurethane overlays for increased durability. The mesh ventilates quite well, and the interior surface gently hugs the foot and feels comfortable against bare skin.
Instead of traditional laces, the BASE uses a nylon X-strap for securing the upper, which I found to be rather problematic. The Velcro attachment square is fairly small, which doesn’t give you a lot of room for tightening.
This is also the reason why I needed the insole: when I removed it, I couldn’t tighten the upper enough to keep my foot from coming out of it, even when the elastic heel strap was tightened.
It’s worth noting that the SKORA website states that the BASE “fits roomy”, and to consider a half-size smaller. The pair I tested was a pre-release version, so I wasn’t aware of that sizing caveat beforehand. You should definitely size down on these, though – especially if you want to remove the insole for lower height and improved ground feel.
According to the website, the FORM reportedly runs true to size, but I found this version to be a little bit roomy as well, so my suspicion is that the SKORA last is just a shade large compared to conventional shoe sizes. Unlike the BASE, the FORM has a lacing system that makes it easier to cinch the upper in place around the foot, but I still found the fit much better with the insole in place. If I were buying a pair of FORMs to start over, I’d still size down one-half size and remove the insole for everyday use.
The FORM weighs 8.2 ounces, and is distinctive mainly for its deluxe upper made of Pittards armor-tan goat skin leather. This is the primary justification for the high price tag on this model, and it’s reminiscent of ECCO’s yak leather upper on their BIOM model a few years back. Having tested both of those shoes, I tend to be a believer in the value of high-quality leather uppers; they’re super soft and comfortable, extraordinarily durable compared to standard mesh, and breathe much better than you’d guess.
In the case of the FORM, interior comfort is further enhanced with a Pittards WR100X sheepskin lining, which is very soft against bare skin, and provides a combination of breathability and water resistance.
Another design tweak for comfort is the burrito-wrap tongue system, which eliminates an entire seam on top of the midfoot. As I mentioned in my New Balance Minimus Zero Road review, this design sometimes compromises forefoot stability, and I did find myself having to cinch down the asymmetric laces fairly tight, especially when running on steep hills. This led to one more quirky issue …
Namely, the laces are WAY too long. When I tied them tightly, even with double knots, the loops of my laces were flopping all over the place and dragging on the ground quite often. This wasn’t really a deal breaker for me, as the solution was fairly simple:
|Original shoelace on top, chopped shoelace on bottom|
I cut about 6 inches of length out of them, and the laces fit just fine. Like I said, this wasn’t a major issue – but I suspect I would have been a little more irritated if I had spent 200 bucks on my pair. For that kind of money, you shouldn’t have to perform surgery on your shoes to make them fit well.
[*UPDATED: Apparently the production laces are much shorter than the pre-production pair I tested, so this whole lace issue should be moot.]
If I were buying SKORA shoes for myself, I’d definitely choose the FORM over the BASE, because from the standpoints of fit, durability and comfort, the difference is quite significant. Of course, the upgrades come at a price, which brings us to the big question: are SKORA shoes worth 200 dollars?
From a performance standpoint, it would be hard to recommend the FORM over other high quality zero-drop shoes currently on the market; while it’s a great all-purpose running shoe, it’s probably not 85 dollars better then Merrell’s Road Glove or Altra’s Instinct. However, there is a certain luxury feel to the soft leather FORM that you don’t really have with a standard running shoe upper.
In that regard, it comes down to the same decision-making process you go through to justify purchasing a luxury car over a reliable Toyota or Honda: your overall mileage will probably end up the same, but some folks are willing to pay a little more to enjoy those miles in style.
SKORA shoes retail at Amazon.com at the following links ...
Men's Form for $185
Men's Base for $110
*Products provided by SKORA. Affiliate sales support Running and Rambling.
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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