Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Simple Moccasin: A Review

This winter I haven't been as hardcore about my barefoot running, for a couple reasons. One, I've moved to Jackson, which isn't as good as keeping their sidewalks clear. Also, the temps have been chillier, for a longer period. I can take the cold, as long as I'm not actually placing my feet in snow/slush at every step. That hasn't been possible. So, I have needed to go minimalist. I do have my VFF KSOs, but they are not good for holding heat at all. Ditto my huaraches. So, I decided to experiment with my moccasins. I'd originally bought them just to walk in, and as acceptable footwear at work. But, in line with the concept of huaraches as the traditional footwear for natives in the the desert, the moccasin is native to the Great Lakes region. Seems reasonable to try the footwear used here before white folks were even around.

The kind I have were made by Minnetonka, a Native-American owned company from Minnesota. They have many different models, but mine have a double layer of leather on the bottom. I also have a more dressier model with a regular plastic (I think, it's not rubber anyways) sole, that I wear to work, and which would not be conducive to running. But the leather sole is super comfortable. They actually put a thin foam cushion layer between the leather soles, which I didn't want, but after wearing them, it basically squished down quickly. Their basic model has only one layer of leather, but I suspected it would wear through too quick. This model, just with occasional walking, had lasted me about a year and a half, and had just started to from a hole in the outer sole. It was actually the fact that they were starting to wear down that made me feel ok with trying them out for running: I wouldn't be ruining a fresh pair.

My first try was on a particularly cold day, single digits, with a few inches of snow on the ground. I wouldn't have run barefoot, even if the nearby bike path was dry. But, with the moccasins, I could even add a sock layer. After layering up my body, I set out, heading for the trails in the nearby park, leery of running on pavement, thinking the leather would wear out pretty quickly, and also figuring that the woods would be the natural terrain for moccasins. And, I was correct.

The trails had snow, but it was too cold for the snow to even melt and get the leather wet. And, the leather held the heat surprisingly well. I was very warm. Not the best traction, but that was true of the KSOs and huaraches as well.

I have since that first day worn the moccasins for the colder days, which lately in Michigan has been most of the days, unfortunately. If the air get a little warmer, around freezing or above, the snow can clot in the holes in the soles (kind of like with cross country skis), so I switch to my KSOs, with Injinji socks. I do use the moccasins on pavement, though mostly the bike trail where I go still has a think layer of ice/snow.

Around New Year's, we had a stretch of above freezing weather, up into the 40s, and all the snow melted off. Then I went back, gleefully, to barefoot running, though unfortunately I'd lost my hobbit calluses, so that I wore them raw quickly.

My moccasins have gotten some wear. They get a little wet, and get poked, and maybe scrape on patches of pavement, but they're very comfortable, and warm. The best thing about them is the toes aren't separated like with VFFs, which I've never thought really added anything to my running experience. Ideally, there would be a version of the moccasin with a rubber sole, but I don't think Minnetonka expects anyone to run in them anymore. Price-wise, they're about $60. Less than the new minimalist footwear out there, but will wear out sooner. I wouldn't recommend them for running in warm weather (I'd rather be bare, or at least in huaraches), but for up north, during the winter months, they're actually kind of ideal. Also, very comfy for walking, if needed, and acceptable for work.

Here's the Minnetonka website. I don't think you can order direct, they seem to go through dealers only, but here in Michigan they're available lots of places. There are also other companies, and I've even found vegan moccasins.

John Yohe