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April 5, 2012

SKORA BASE and SKORA FORM Review

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!

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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.


SKORA FORM

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.


SKORA BASE

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 info@runningandrambling.com.




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10 comments:

Bryan,  4/6/12, 8:07 AM  

Thank you! Finally an honest review that doesn't get so caught up on the "premium" aspect of these shoes. These shoes just don't seem worth the premium price, given that they don't do anything the Merrell Road Glove, New Balance Zero Road, Altra Instinct, etc. can't do.

RD Jim 4/6/12, 8:28 AM  

$200 for a shoe to get me closer to no shoes at all? No way. Listen up SKORA (pronounced "skora" - no shout intended)you don't need all caps to get noticed, that price tag will do it.
I just want an alternative to my basic Runamoc SMOOTHs (again with the caps) that have some bite for muddy and technical trails. And I don't want mesh uppers to let all the trail gunk in. Is that such an odd request?

I Pull 400 Watts 4/6/12, 3:51 PM  

Thanks for the review!

I know the price is a frequent area of discussion with our shoes. If you do not want to spend that much $ on a pair of shoes, than don't. The shoes have a premium price for very high quality material, that was the goal :)

@RD Jim - A trail specific shoe is likely at some point in the future.

And the shoe lace length for production shoes is much shorter ;)

Kyle Kranz
Outreach Coordinator @ Skora

RD Jim 4/6/12, 5:44 PM  

OK Kyle, now I have guilt. I hadn't had my second cup of coffee yet. While my tone may have been more, uhm, toned down, the message would be the same. I must admit that this east coast boy hasn't even used got to paying $100 for a shoe yet so it's a big leap to think of spending $200 even though they look really well designed. I think my Runamocs are the most expensive shoe I own that at includes my dress shoes. I wish you guys all the best with your new product and will look forward to seeing what you can do with a trail shoe. I'll even test a pair on the black Adirondack mud if you're not too mad at me. Don has all the fun! :)

Donald 4/6/12, 6:26 PM  

@I Pull: Thanks for the info on laces - I updated the post to reflect that.

Bryan,  4/6/12, 6:49 PM  

@I Pull: Wasnt trying to knock the shoes. It's just hard for me to justify the price. My buddy bought a pair and there is no denying the quality of the materials. I think most "average" runners are turned off by the price... but that may not be your target market.

Richard F. 4/6/12, 9:07 PM  

Wow, so basically they made zero drop shoes indistinguishable from regular weight lifting shoes. Maybe they should pivot from expensive running shoes to expensive O-lift shoes instead, they'd make a lot more money.

I Pull 400 Watts 4/7/12, 7:27 AM  

Here is my initial review, before being taken on by Skora was even a thought in my mind.
http://bit.ly/GUB00n

@ Rd Jim - No hard feelings ;) It is totally understandable about being taken back by the price. I was too when I was just a wear tester, before working for the company.

@ Bryan - Very true. I'm that way when it comes to apparel, give me the cheapest jacket I can find. Some people are willing to spend more for something different, Apple comes to mind.

@ Richard - We'll keep that market in mind ;)

Anonymous,  4/9/12, 5:37 AM  

I've been running in the Skora Base and want to explain that they are slightly different from other minimal, closed toed shoes in ways that make them work better for me:

Skora v. TP Evo: the Evo has a stiff heel cup that just killed it for me. Socks and body glide and I'd still be in danger of blisters. Still ran in them for many months but they just couldn't work.

Skora v. Merrell Road Glove: the arch support of the Road Glove made it feel like I was running with lumps of sand under my arch. Returned the shoes - very annoying.

Skora v. NB Minimus Road/Trail: Skora has wider toe box. Also, compared to the road the rounded sole of the Skora gives it a more "natural" feeling. It's hard to explain. Foot motion just feels less constricted in Skoras and more like Vibrams.

In the end, the Skora wins but they still have flaws:
1) fit is optimized for use with the insole, which I removed. (way too squishy and heavy with insole)
2) too much toe spring on the Base
3) 7.9 oz ain't bad, but I'd love to see 6.9
4) velco doesn't allow great adjustment.

I Pull 400 Watts 4/10/12, 7:44 AM  

@Anonymous - Glad they have been working for you. Thanks for the list at the end. I do not have an issue with the weight, but less would not hurt, of course :) In time it's possible we will produce a lower weight shoe.

I explained the toe spring at a review from BirthdayShoes.com. The reason for the slight amount of toe spring (I used to run in Brooks shoes, they have massive toe spring) is that during the run gait your toes are not flat. Prior to contact with the ground your entire leg tenses for impact, which includes bring the toes up. As well as at toe off and throughout most of the run gait, your toes are lifted a bit. So we designed that shape into the shoes.

I also agree about the Velco, it really depends on how the shoe fits. In my case, I like my shoes a tiny bit large, so the Velco does not do a ton for me. If the shoe was half a size smaller, than the straps would make more of a difference.

I think your #1 is recommending to remove the insole, which I generally do except for rocky terrain.

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