Huaraches... so simple but yet so complex. For some barefoot runners, they are the perfect shoe. For others, they are a source of endless frustration. I've tried making my own pair, which put me in the latter category. I had given up on huaraches... until I met Steven Sashen of invisibleshoe.com. After testing his custom-made huaraches, I'm firmly ensconced in the former category.
Steven's huaraches, like all huaraches, are very simple. They consist of a piece of flat 4mm Vibram "Cherry" rubber attached to the foot with polypropylene and nylon lace. I was somewhat skeptical of the use of non-leather cord for the lacing, but it turned out to be a great idea. It's softer than leather and doesn't change when it gets wet. As a result, Steven's huaraches work better than leather-laced huaraches in wet weather.
Steven provides a video on his site instructing customers on methods used to tie huaraches. He uses two methods- the traditional "toga" method I was familiar with, and a "slip-on" method I was not familiar with. Steven sells kits along with custom-made huaraches; I opted for the custom-made variety. He pre-ties them in the slip-on method. Upon receiving them, the method looked pretty complex. After watching the video and actually doing the method, I found it to be deceptively simple.
I've put these huaraches through my normal battery of tests. I've worn them for long runs at slow speeds and short runs at high speeds. I've worn them on asphalt roads, gravel roads, technical trails, grass, and sand. I've run through water and mud. The result- this huaraches work.
The advantage of huaraches is inherent in the design. The sole material "floats" under your sole. The sandal allows your foot to work as if barefoot but still offers some protection. Every other minimalist shoe will somehow encase your foot which leads to some degree of interference. The very design of huaraches is different. It is as if someone is perpetually throwing a thin mat in your path. There's a reason this shoe is used by the Tarahumara... the design is simple, cheap, and effective.
Huaraches have some very distinct advantages. The cost is great. Steven sells do-it-yourself kits for $19.95 or $24.95 depending on foot size, or he will make a pair for $49.95. He does great work if you choose to have him make a pair, but anyone would be able to make their own using the kit. They are marginally more expensive than aqua socks, but have the potential to last for thousands of miles (aqua socks will usually last about 100-300 miles under normal use.)
Huaraches are feather-light. I don't have a scale handy, but they seem to weigh about 3-4 ounces each. The lack of weight adds to the feeling of being barefoot.
Huaraches do not interfere with foot function. If tied properly, the shoe will float on the sole of your foot. There is nothing to interfere with toes splaying, the arch functioning as it should, or any other sort of motion control.
Huaraches are ultra-portable. When rolled, they can easily fit anywhere. As a result, these shoes are going with me on my very long barefoot runs. If I encounter problems and need shoes, these will be perfect as they will not take up valuable space in my hydration pack. I'm also planning on carrying these with me for all my barefoot ultras for the same reason.
Huaraches do have some disadvantages. The greatest disadvantage- tying. It is very easy to tie huaraches. It is more difficult to learn to tie them so they work well for you. The biggest problem tends to be the cord between the first and second toe. When many people first use huaraches, they tie them too tight and the cord cuts into the skin. Once you do some experimenting with fit, tying becomes second-nature. There is a learning curve, though.
Huaraches are not good winter shoes. The basic design is best used without socks. The addition of socks (I tried Injinjis) really interfered with the function of the huaraches. I suspect this occurred as a function of improper tying. Still, i would not recommend these shoes for winter running.
Lastly, huaraches require pretty good form. If running on trails or gravel, huaraches requires the foot to land vertically without any forward shearing force. Otherwise, gravel or other debris may be scooped up between the rubber and your foot. I like to think of this as a great training tool, but many would consider it to be a disadvantage.
My recommendation- If you are a barefoot runner or plan on running barefoot, you need a pair of huaraches! I think the vast majority of people that try them will love them. In the event you are in that minority that just doesn't dig the huarache feel, it will only have set you back $20. If you do fall in love with them, you'll have found a dirt-cheap shoe solution that will last for years. I would place Steven's huaraches behind Terra Plana's EVO and Vibram's KSO as far as my favorites, but the cost makes this a must-have tool to keep in everyone's stable of minimalist shoes.
What are your experiences with huaraches?