*Admin note: we’re in the homestretch! One final product review here, and a farewell post before 2012 expires. Thanks to everyone who has been sending well-wishes over the past couple of weeks – they mean more to me than you can possibly imagine.
It’s no coincidence that my final product review for Running and Rambling features Soft Star Shoes. Among all the companies I’ve partnered with over the span of this website, there are none I appreciate more, and none - for better or worse – with whom I’ve been more closely identified.
|Just because it seems so long ago ... Team Soft Star at Tahoe|
That last point is one I’ve taken fairly seriously, especially as the company started increasing their sponsorship support and I started doing crazier ultra adventures over the past couple of years. I’ve always had this low-grade but generally constant anxiety about making the company look bad at one event or another, either by some sort of gear malfunction, or losing traction on some gnarly hill and injuring myself, or simply not being able to finish a race. Thankfully, none of that ever happened, which is as much a testament to Soft Star’s willingness to work with me and come up with solutions to every obstacle I encountered as it is to my own accomplishment.
But I’m digressing somewhat, because today’s reviews don’t have anything to do with athletic performance. Rather, they are focused on two new casual styles the company introduced this fall – one a brand new model, the other a more formal styling of a classic model they released last year.
|Soft Star Rogue, in Aged Walnut|
The new model is the Rogue men’s shoe, which I think of as a hybrid between the company’s flagship Rambler outdoor moccasin and the innovative Moc3 running model that’s probably the most comfortable athletic shoe I’ve ever owned. It comes in two colors, both curiously starting with “Aged”: the Aged Walnut color I tested, and an Aged Oak that is a lighter shade.
Both colors feature full-grain leather on the outer surface of the upper; the leather is highly flexible and pretty much conforms to the shape of your foot almost like a sock would. The uppers are secured to the outsole by external stitching, and if your feet are wider than average, you’ll probably notice the upper stretches over the top of this external seam, further contributing to the general slipper appearance.
This overall slipper vibe is great from a comfort standpoint, but the functional effect is that the Rogue looks much more like a house shoe than a dress or work shoe. When I saw photos of the Rogue, I thought it would be a great work option, but now that I’ve worn them I’d say they’re definitely more of an after work or Casual Friday shoe.
|Moc3 on left, Rogue on right|
Another contributor to the cozy upper fit is an internal layer of Breathe-O-Prene, the same odor-resistant, breatheable neoprene material that lines the interior of the Moc3 and wraps around your foot. This material is visible around the ankle area on both models, and lines the entire interior surface of the Rogue as it does on the Moc3. The Breathe-O-Prene lining is one reason that the Rogues are highly comfortable without socks …
… and the second reason is a super-soft genuine sheepskin footbed. This sheepskin is different than the type Soft Star uses on other models like their Roo slippers; it seems to have finer fibers and feels softer against bare skin than the regular sheepskin. I typically wear my Rogues with socks, but that’s my own aesthetic preference; there’s certainly no reason why the Rogues can’t be worn sockless.
The outsole of the Rogue features a Vibram Geo outsole that is among the thickest in the Soft Star catalog at 8mm (compared, for example, to my 5mm RunAmocs). However, the rubber material in this outsole is quite lightweight and very pliable …
… which, like all Soft Star shoes, allows complete barefoot-style flexibility and movement. The outsole is also somewhat soft, so ground feel isn’t compromised nearly as much as a firm material would be.
|RunAmoc on top, Rogue on bottom|
From a traction and durability standpoint, the outsole is outstanding. How do I know this? It just so happens that I’ve been testing the exact same outsole on a pair of RunAmocs, so I’ve used it on steep hills and loose gravel and slippery mud. By appearances, this outsole pattern doesn’t seem very aggressive, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised in my testing to find that it’s virtually the equivalent of the original RunAmoc trail outsole.
While it’s not the formal shoe I was anticipating, the Soft Star Rogue is an attractive casual option that is equally home with a pair of jeans or long pajamas. It retails for $125 from the Soft Star website.
Our second review is the women’s Metro, which is a formalized update to the very popular Merry Jane mocs that the female Running and Rambling crew loved testing last year. It comes in a stock burgundy color, but can be made in custom colors such as the chocolate brown pair my wife has been wearing this fall.
|Soft Star Metro|
The updated Metro features an interior seam between the front and rear portion of the shoe, giving it a cleaner – or as the website describes it, a more “elegant” – appearance. The natural leather uppers certainly have a dressier look than the Merry Janes, and (unlike the Rogues) could definitely pass for formal wear.
Another classy upgrade is a true strap and buckle fastener on the side of the shoe. On the Merry Janes, the buckle is a Velcro attachment, which is perfect for kids racing out the door to school, but maybe not so much for an elegant night on the town.
The Metro’s insole is made of the same soft leather that lines RunAmocs, but is also available in a sheepskin option if that’s your preference. And this is going to sound like déjà vu, but speaking of RunAmocs …
… the outsole of the Metro is made of a 4mm Vibram Cherry sole that I’ve also tested on a different pair of prototype RunAmocs. It’s more than adequate for trail running, and is a significant improvement in traction and durability compared to the outsole on the regular Merry Jane model.
And do I even need to say this part anymore? As natural as natural movement can be.
The elegant-ization of the Merry Jane doesn’t come cheap, as the Metro is priced 40 dollars higher than the more casual option – but if you’re looking for something that is truly formal, the looks of the updated version is probably worth it. The Metro retails for $125 from the Soft Star website.
Finally, although I try to be objective with these reviews, there’s no question that I’m completely biased when it comes to the Soft Star company. Whether it’s the charming Mom and Pop backstory (they literally lived and worked in a school bus), the barefoot ethos, their 100% Made in America commitment, or their willingness to partner with a complete idiot in developing the ideal moccasin for running crazy mountain trails, I pretty much love everything about this company. Soft Star absolutely deserves your business – if not for the models described here, then perhaps a rugged RunAmoc or super-comfy Roo slipper – and even though my website is closing its doors, I’m still going to do everything in my power to make sure people know about them. These are the kinds of things you can say when it’s time for goodbye.
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