Walking and running in Invisible Shoes: a review of the Connect
For three weeks now, I have been wearing a pair of Invisible Shoes huaraches almost exclusively when walking and running outside. I have worn them daily walking, and I have run in them on roads, on sidewalks, on grass, and in park trails.
This is a review of the 4mm sole Connect model (I might get a 6mm sole Contact later).
Here is what the shoes look like with “slip-on/slip-off” lacing:
As you can see, the sole is quite thin, just 4mm:
Here are some photos of me wearing the shoes:
Why wear such a thin shoe?
Ten years ago, in 2002, I learned about the Tarahumara Native Americans who live in Mexico and are famed for long-distance running. I was fascinated that they chose to run in minimalist huaraches. At the time, I was doing a lot of serious running, and perpetually had problems with running shoes. I figured out from trial and error that the more minimalist I got, the more I enjoyed the feel of running and the fewer injuries I received, but I didn’t know how minimalist I could really get before the cons outweighed the pros. By 2002, I had gotten as far as wearing racing flats by New Balance and Asics for races and some of my training runs, but no shoe was perfect.
I had also tried wearing a variety of ordinary sandals for walking and running, but they had all kinds of ergonomic problems that led me to give up on them. The strapping systems, the substantial (by my standards) heels, and the curved “arch support” all caused discomfort.
Fast-forward to 2009, when I bought my first pair of Vibram FiveFingers minimalist shoes. These changed my life, being sufficiently minimalist to defeat a number of problems I’ve had with traditional mono-toed shoes. As long-time readers of this blog know, I’ve been wearing them exclusively for all kinds of activities, ranging from regular everyday walking to running on roads, running on trails, hiking, kayaking, rafting.
In the past year, I have tried a little bit of barefoot running, but that is still too extreme for me to do often or for a long period of time.
So I decided that now was the time to try to get more minimalist than FiveFingers, toward the “barefoot” feel, but without the most glaring drawbacks of being barefoot. Luckily, the surprising popularity of Chris McDougall’s book “Born to Run” has resulted in a good number of people selling minimalist huaraches for running.
Barefoot Ted had long sold his version of huaraches, the Luna Sandals. I decided to try, instead, Invisible Shoes, because these are more minimalist than the Luna, which in its classic form has a 6mm sole as well as a foot bed. I may well try the Luna at some point, but my goal for now is to approximate the barefoot feel, rather than pick the best huaraches for serious rugged use, and work up from there. So I went for the 4mm Connect version of the Invisible Shoes.
For now, instead of buying a DIY kit, I decided that the simplest hassle-free way to break into huaraches was to buy a custom-made shoe that had the soles cut and punched and laced up, ready to immediately wear. I traced my foot, scanned the trace, and emailed it, and quickly received my pair in the mail.
If you are interested in trying out huaraches, I recommend following this route if the thought of DIY problems might otherwise discourage you. I may go DIY in the future, now that I see the final product.
The question of how to tie laces always pops up. For now, I have not experimented with different methods in order to evaluate what works best for me for secureness and comfort. I have been using the slip-on/slip-off system that came with the shoe, adjusting it as needed when my foot feels too tight or too loose.
Before I got Invisible Shoes, my regular walking shoes were my Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes. But once I got the Invisible Shoes, I completely stopped wearing the KSO for everyday walking.
My toes have real freedom. Toe shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers compartmentalize the toes, so although they solve my wide-foot problem, they do not give me total freedom of the whole front of the foot that I like.
Good ventilation, like being barefoot. FiveFingers get hot in summer, resulting in sweat and sometimes blisters. I don’t get blisters walking in Invisible Shoes.
With the slip-on/slip-off system, I really can slip on and off easily. Since I like going barefoot indoors, it’s a plus to be able to slip on and off the shoes so easily.
There is some rubbing at key points on the foot: the knot in the lacing system on top of the foot, and the lacing that passes between the big toe and the second toe. In practice, none of this has been a real problem except when it’s raining and my feet get wet, in which case I get chafed.
The soles, being so thin, flop around a bit. Occasionally a sole will fold under and cause me to trip, but this happens very rarely. The main problem is mostly social: the flopping sound draws attention; I prefer to walk very silently (which I can do in most closed shoes).
The thinness of the soles also result in my feet getting very hot when I’m just standing for a period of time on hot asphalt or concrete (this is the same problem as I have when going barefoot). So standing at a street intersection waiting for a long light or in a parking lot while putting stuff into a car is not so pleasant.
The thinness of the soles means walking over rough terrain is not always pleasant.
Note that all the problems with the thinness of the soles might not be present if I had the 6mm sole rather than the 4mm sole.
Disclaimer: I have run only four or five times in these shoes so far, so I will accumulate more experience as I continue to run in them.
Running in these shoes on the roads and sidewalks is predictable and pleasant, very much like running barefoot. I am considering doing more tests to determine whether to run a road race 5K or 10K in these shoes! I have not run at race pace in these shoes yet. I may need to adjust lacing systems in order to feel confident about running at maximum speed without a flopping or lace-loosening problem.
There is sole flopping when running. Actually there is less flopping than when walking, though.
Running in the trails has not worked too smoothly. The 4mm sole really is quite thin for trail running. I noticed this when running in Frick Park, where some of the trails are more rocky than others. I also noticed this even when running in Schenley Park on the Pretty Good Race course, where the downhill section had me periodically hitting rocks harder than comfortable.
There is also the annoyance of stuff getting between the foot and the sole when running in the trails. Since I don’t like stopping, I’ve tried to simply flex my foot to let the material slide back out during the next couple of strides, and this mostly works. But I got one blister during a run on the trails, possibly because of loose material that got between my foot and the sole that I didn’t bother completely shaking out.
The 4mm Connect model of Invisible Shoes is great for walking around in. For running, I need to do more tests to find out how they hold up in more demanding conditions of speed and terrain. I would also like to compare the 4mm Connect model with the 6mm Contact model.comments powered by Disqus