Monday, December 3, 2012

Huarache Review: Xeros vs. Lunas

I’ve now spent enough time with two (actually three) new huaraches that I know which ones I prefer for which situations. In brief, I’m recommending the Xeros (formerly Invisible Shoes) over Lunas for ‘regular’ runs, including pavement and mild/smooth trails, and for the best minimal feel for walking and hiking. For more rougher and/or longer trails and gravel roads, I’m recommending either the new ‘original’ Lunas, or the Leadvilles. The rest of the review will be a more in depth explanation of why.

First of all, I recommend running barefoot. It feels better, whether on pavement/cement, or most mellow trails. I love being able to feel what I’m running on, and doing so makes each run a unique experience. And it made my plantar fasciitis go away. I basically wouldn’t be running any more if I hadn’t run barefoot.

Still, there are times when a little added layer on the bottom of the feet really helps out, when my feet get a little raw from longer runs, either from the ‘sandpaper’ effect on pavement, or the ‘poking’ effect from trails. I have worn both Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) and Merrill minimalist shoes but I, and I think most minimalist runners, prefer the feel of huaraches, where the feet are open to the air. Exceptions in the past have been longer runs (50Ks, 50Ms, and a DNF 100M with my VFFs) and snow (a Fat Ass Marathon in the snow with my Merrills), when I just needed a bit more protection than what my huaraches at the time offered.

Those huaraches were Luna’s, from back when Barefoot Ted’s company was a “one monkey operation” and were custom cut for my feet.

I used these huaraches, with the leather lace option, for almost three years, and loved them. The rubber sole was very thin, almost flimsy, giving me the ‘closest to barefoot’ feel I could get. I ran a few half-marathons in them, but mostly they were for when my feet felt raw from longer runs, and/or sometimes for night runs, when I just wasn’t too sure about whether I could see what I’d be running on. Their thinness/flimsiness also made them fairly easily carryable, either by hand, or tucked in the back of a water bottle pouch.

I would probably still be using them if I hadn’t abused them so badly on a hiking trip down in Kentucky, where I was on wet, muddy, hills. When wet, the leather laces stretch, and the rubber soles get slippery, so that I finally put too much weight on one of the side holes and it tore open. Lesson learned: muddy and hilly are the worst conditions for most huaraches.

After that experience, and because I moved out to the ‘Pacific NorthWet’, to Portland, Oregon, I wanted to try a pair of huaraches with hemp laces, which shrink when wet.

Also, I’d been interested in the Luna Leadvilles, with much thicker soles, ever since I’d attempted a 100 Mile Ultramarathon, and completed two 50 Milers, all three of which left my VFF-wearing feet feeling pounded. I didn’t want cushion so much as a thicker barrier for the long-term rock and root contact. So I indulged in buying a pair of both kinds.

Full disclosure: I received a 30% discount from both Luna and Xero in exchange for writing this review. That said, and I’ll repeat this later, the price of the Lunas just seems too much. The ‘original’ Lunas start at $50. The Leadvilles at $95! Not even including the ATS laces, which are another $15. Part of the pleasure of switching to barefoot running was the idea of not having to pay for running shoes anymore, yet now minimal footwear, and sandals, which are essentially a slab of rubber, cost as much as shoes. At the time, I didn’t know how much less the Xeros cost, otherwise I might have decided to just not review the Lunas at all.

Also, I’ll say here, again, that the concept of a sandal, a huarache, is pretty basic. All you need is some slabs of rubber, or rubber-like material, or just hard leather, a whole punch, and some laces. My excuse has always been that I don’t have a workshop, nor any tools to cut rubber, and that at least for the first pair I just wanted to see how they were made before I tried it on my own. But, those are excuses. It’s totally possible to make your own pair. My friend Mark made some for under $20 out of an doormat, which he bought new at Home Depot. Check out his post about it here:

The ‘Original’ Lunas

I was disappointed with my new ‘Original’ Lunas. They’re now cut cookie-cutter style (though you can request a custom fitting, for more money) and though that would seem to cut down on actual time spent making them, the price has gone up since I bought my old pair.

Also: they’re thicker.
Old Lunas vs. new Lunas

Gone is the thin flimsy feel. I don’t know the technicalities, but the new soles are made from a different material, not only thicker, but sort of ‘foamier.’ Some people may not mind this, and in fact may not even know that Lunas used to be thinner (in fact, maybe the company was just responding to consumer demand for a slightly thicker sandal). When I got them in the mail, I had just arrived in Portland, still in dry season, and was exploring the trails of Forest Park: lots of rocks, pebbles, and roots. The ‘Original Lunas’ handled all of these well, in the sense that I felt little discomfort, though could still feel the bumps. The older thinner versions would have still felt a little rough over certain rocky areas (which is not necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion).

I did, and do, like the hemp laces. They do tighten up when wet, though to be honest I haven’t actually worn them in a complete downpour, nor in the super muddy conditions, just because I really like running barefoot in the mud! If anything, they tend to loosen/stretch when dry. I also like the look, which is even more primitive-looking than the leather laces, especially in the traditional ‘gladiator style’ wrap around the ankles, which seems to freak out people even more than the leather, which is always a good thing.

After less than three months though, my new ‘original’ Lunas blew out: The knot on the bottom, where the lace comes up between the big toe and the long-skinny toe, began to tear up through the sole. I’m not exactly sure why/how, because I never had this problem in my older Lunas. I suspect that the hemp rope is thicker, and doesn’t squish down as much as leather, but I also feel like it had something to do with the material of the sole—the foaminess of it, so that, despite the thickness, it’s actually less durable than the earlier rubber.

In any case, I will say that the guys at Luna Sandals were very nice, and quick, about replacing my blown out Lunas, though I haven’t worn the new pair at all, because in the meantime, I had received my Xeros.

The Xeros (formerly Invisible Shoes) have the thinner and flimsier-feeling soles of my old Lunas, that feeling I love of being the thinnest they can be besides barefoot.
Xeros vs. Old Lunas

They too are cut cookie-cutter style, and are actually a little wider all around, with two ‘flaps’ that hang out on either side towards the back, for the holes. I don’t mind the extra wideness at all, though I’m not sure it adds any sort of protection.

The thing I really had doubts about with the Xeros is the laces, which are simple nylon shoe strings. They seem to have neither the ruggedness nor the thickness of leather or hemp. Yet, they actually work well. They don’t stretch out when wet, like with leather, nor are they at all bulky like the hemp, but they stay in place, and they’re easy to tie. In fact, they add to the flimsiness/lightness of the whole feel, while keeping the rubber sole tight against the feet. You can now even get soles in colors like pink and blue, along with various colors of laces, though I am not at all interested in this feature. I also liked that with every order, the company includes a rubber hole punch, allowing the buyer to make the hole between the toes, and to customize their sandals, for example adding more holes on the sides for an ‘across the toes’ lace design, for those folks who don’t like the lace coming up between their toes. They even offer free videos on their website on how to do their alternative tying methods.

Best of all with the Xeros is the cost: Around $25 for a pair. I don’t know why anyone would still go with Lunas at this point (with the exception, maybe, of the Leadvilles: see below). Even if you didn’t like the nylon lace, you could buy a pair of hemp or leather laces, and they’d still be cheaper.


As I stated before, I was curious about the thicker-soled Leadvilles, for possible use on longer ultramarathons. I had no desire for thicker soles for any of my ‘regular’ minimalist use, and as a general rule, I still feel the thinner the better. But I have to confess that I did like my Leadvilles at first purely for their look: Rather than the longer gladiator-style laces, I opted for the new ATS laces ($15) which do a great job of holding the soles tight to the foot, without any extra length needing to wrap around the ankles. Because of that, they actually look more ‘normal’, like for example Tevas (which I can’t wear anymore—too cushion-y, hurts my feet), so that, during the summer at least, one could fit right in with all the other outdoorsy-types. For a while there, I felt like women might not think I was too weird, though apparently I guess sandals, at least on guys, are just not cool anymore.

The problem with the thickness of the soles is that, for general walking around, they tend to hurt my feet. The added cushion, and/or my inabilty to feel what I was walking on, made my walking stride a little longer. I think. I’m not sure. But if I wear them a lot, just for walking around, my heels start to ache, almost that plantar fasciitis feel.

That said, I did run in them, and they provide smooth sailing over rocky trails. I never would have considered running on pavement with them, that just sounds painful. But I did try them out for the Forest Park Marathon. As I said, Forest Park can have some gnarly rocky and rooty parts, enough that there was no way I was going to run that race barefoot. I’ve learned my lesson on that with trail marathons. There’s a point where the pain just slows my way down, and running becomes not fun. My new ‘Original’ Lunas could have handled that, but there’s also a gravel road to end all gravel roads called Leif Erickson that part of the rout was on, and I just didn’t want to have to worry about it. The Leadvilles handled the gnarly gravel without problem. I almost felt guilty somehow, that since I was a minimalist runner, I should have at least a little suffering while running on gravel. But no. For contrast: My friend Katherine ran the race in her VFFs, and was definitely uncomfortable during the gravel road section.

But after that marathon, I have not worn the Leadvilles at all. No need. I will only bring them out when I do an ultra, and maybe for the night section of the Hood To Coast, if I end up on the gravel roads section again. If I didn’t have them, I’d just adapt and overcome with either the new Original Lunas, or maybe my VFFs. But, since I have them, I’ll use them.

To summarize
First I’ll recommend running barefoot. Unless you start getting up into the marathon range, most runners are probably ok with mostly running all barefoot. Still, for those times when some extra protection is needed, I recommend the Xeros over the Lunas, more than anything because of the price, but also for the thinner soles of the Xeros. For super gnarly trails or roads, the Leadvilles will provide excellent protection, though the new ‘Original’ Lunas are almost as thick and might do just as well, though the Leadvilles seem made of more durable material.

Please click over to my latest review of Xero Shoes, 2014, here.

Xero Shoes Website:

Luna Sandals Website: