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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Walmart Aqua Socks- Do They Live Up To The Hype?

Walmart Aqua Socks (a.k.a. water shoes, water socks, aqua shoes, calzado acuático, or whatever you want to call them) are an often-recommended minimalist shoe for new and experienced barefoot/minimalist shoe runners.  Do they live up to the hype?  

To find out, I requested a pair from Walmart for this review.  After months of cutting through the bureaucratic red tape, I was on the verge of procuring a pair when their background check on me revealed that I am a pseudo-officer in my professional trade union.  Instead of receiving a pair of aqua socks, I received a letter warning me that Walmart would eliminate all "Barefoot Runner" positions in stores world-wide if I continued my subversive organized labor tactics.


Well, it appeared as though I would have to buy them myself.  I returned a garbage bag full of beer bottles (the benefit of Michigan's $.10 deposit on recyclable cans and bottles) to afford the steep $8 price tag.  We'll see how the 2010 incarnation of the Walmart Aqua Socks fare.






My History with Walmart Aqua Socks


I'm very familiar with Walmart aqua socks.  When I began my barefoot journey, I stumbled on the idea of using these on terrain that was too rough for barefoot running.  I bought about 10 pair of aqua socks from various stores, including four pair from Walmart.  


Those early versions (circa 2006) weren't very good.  They lasted about 150-200 miles, didn't fit well, and were butt-ass ugly.  Their single redeeming value- they were cheap.  At only $5, I could afford to buy A LOT.  As soon as one pair wore out, I could replace them with minimal expense.  


I even ran a 50 mile trail ultra in these shoes.  It was during this experience that I fully realized the benefits and shortcomings of Walmart aqua socks.


The 2010 Version

The 2010 version isn't significantly different than the earlier version.  They now have a single velcro tab that does nothing to modify the fit of the shoe.  It appears to have been added for aesthetics and differentiate the shoe from a slipper.  Like the old version, this model consists of a rubber sole with fairly aggressive traction and a stretchy fabric upper.  

Sizing is tricky.  They are sold in a S,M,L, and XL version, each with an approximate size.  I normally wear a size 11, so I chose the "L" (11/12 according to the tag on the shoe.)  This size is too large, but the "M" is too small.  A good rule of thumb with any minimalist shoe- go with the larger size.


As I do with all minimalist shoes, I removed the insoles for testing.  I tried the shoe with socks and without.  I ran on asphalt, technical trails, non-technical trails, hills, an indoor track, on snow, and through a grassy field.  This testing period confirmed that the Walmart aqua sock has not changed in regards to function since my first experiences a few years ago.  


Positives


Ground feel- This shoe ranks among the best I've tested in regards to ground feel.  Without the insole, it ranks slightly better than Vibram's KSO.  If ground feel is important, this would be an excellent shoe.  If you are looking for a shoe that offers superior protection, this shoe would be a poor choice.  I could easily feel every rock on the gravel roads.


Price- They cost $8.  Do I need to say more?


Potential for Cold Weather Running- As of right now, I have not reviewed a shoe that works very well in snow.  This shoe has fairly aggressive traction.  When paired with a thermal sock, it is one of the better winter shoes I've tried.  Prior to finding KSOs and now Terra Plana's EVO, this was my preferred winter running shoe.

Weight- Surprisingly, these are the lightest aqua socks I have found to date.


Negatives


Quality- They cost $8.  Do I need to say more?  


Actually, I will make a few comments.  I averaged about 160 miles from my previous Walmart aqua socks.  The sole would wear through after about 200 miles on asphalt, but the upper had a tendency to fall apart earlier.  The 2010 version suffers from the same lack of craftsmanship.  This is a poorly made product that is worth about $8.  


Fit- Unless you happen to have feet that fit perfectly in one of Walmart's four sizes, this will be problematic.  Aqua socks are good minimalist shoes because they are light and flexible.  They allow your foot to move in a natural way by clinging like a glove.  These particular aqua socks work more like huaraches- they are loosely held to your foot.  Your foot will move around inside the shoe.  The inner lining may cause significant friction (i.e. blisters) as a result.  

Aesthetics- These are the ugliest of the aqua socks I have found.  They look very similar to bedroom slippers.


Hills- This is related to fit, but deserves it's own section.  Running uphill in this shoe is not necessarily troublesome.  Running down hill is.  The poor fit of this shoe allows your foot to slide forward inside the shoe.  This causes the top of your toes to strike the inside of the toe box.  Even though the shoe is constructed of a thin, flexible fabric, it causes enough impact force to cause blackeded toenails.  This was the primary reason I switched to the better quality minimalist shoes (VFFS and EVO.)  

Performance in wet conditions- This shoe performs about the same as my KSOs.  If they get wet, they drain quickly and will dry within about 30 minutes if no socks are worn.  Wet weather performance is good, but a few other aqua socks perform better.  Some have drainage holes in the sole, which dramatically improve wet weather performance.  The Walmart aqua socks could benefit from that feature.


My recommendation


This is not a good shoe.  However, the price makes it desirable to a few groups.  Brand new barefoot or minimalist shoe runners that are not running significant mileage could use these instead of making an investment in the pricier options.  Road runners could use these if they do not encounter many hills.  Trail runners should avoid this particular aqua sock unless the fit is perfect.  


Aqua socks can be a very good option.  I will be reviewing another aqua sock in the near future (produced by Wave Runner.)  It is only $2.00 more than the Walmart version, but offers many significant improvements.  If you decide to try aqua socks, shop around.  The Walmart version should be a last resort. 

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. Confirmed what we probably already knew: Never buy $8 shoes from WalMart. I understand people have different conceptions of what it is to run minimalist. I have a pair of KSOs that were around $100, which I think will last me for awhile. Though just as expensive as shoes from the big shoe companies it seems like a good investment to me. They just won't end up in the landfill in a few weeks.

    Buying poorly-made, cheap products from WalMart might make sense for some people. Maybe the sloppy fit works for architecture of someone's foot. More people probably have access to WalMart than the Internet or a vendor of other minimalist shoes. Others cannot run barefoot in winter weather that dips below freezing for months. For me, I would never buy a "shoe" that was made in poor labor conditions that will end up being thrown away within a few weeks or months.

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  2. I also agree that these shoes eem pretty wasteful. The generation of trash is one of the main issues I have with the shoes I wear...these seem like extreme waste.

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  4. Funny, I just bought a pair to test out myself. But they only cost $6 here in Spokane. I went with the women's medium because it's between the men's small and medium. Both styles are butt ugly so it doesn't matter. I figure for six bucks it's no great loss of the test doesn't pan out.

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  5. I bought a pair of these, also for $6. I've yet to wear them as I wear an 11 and I also bought the XL.

    Kohl's has some by Speedo for about $15 that come in actual fitted sizes. However, I have found out that they run big and I would have to buy a 10.

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  6. Hey, my favorite shoes!

    Mine have lasted for a few hundred miles of trail running and a marathon up Grandfather Mountain. I do prefer the five fingers, but only slightly.

    Put on a pair of warm socks, they're great in the cold.

    barefootjosh.com

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  7. I should say that I haven't tried any of the more expensive shoes, so maybe I don't know what I'm missing out on.

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  8. I have been running in aqua shoes from Academy Sports. One pair is by Body Glove for $10, and the other pair iscalled tredz, for $5. So far I like the body glove shoes better, they come in actual sizes, they're attractive enough to wear for everyday, and they're pretty durable. I've been running about 20-30 miles per week in them since January, and I've run 2 5ks in them.

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  9. This seems to be great site for Footwear for kids Aqua water shoes,aqua shoes women, aqua shoes men and much more. I had been relying on http://www.togga.co.uk/ earlier and they too offered good stuff.

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  10. I love the Body Glove aqua socks, I've run numerous marathons, an ultra, and many many many training miles in them. Only I got them from Academy on clearance for $4.99 I'll go through about 4 pair of aqua socks a year.

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  11. Great read, will subscribe to post check out our shoe store

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  12. I've been running in these for two seasons now, and my only complaint it blisters - the shoes move around more on my feet more than a typical running shoe, so I'm getting blisters on my forefoot. Any tips on preventing this?

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