In my quest for the perfect travel shoe, I have done plenty of shoe research. Comfort is key, but in my packing philosophy weight plays a big part. As I have combed the landscape for lightweight shoes, I have found a whole shoe movement that I didn’t know existed, barefoot shoes.
If only we could be barefoot on a beach with a Mojito in hand every day. I grew up in southern California, in a town where the daily temperature was rarely above 80 and rarely below 65. As I kid, I was barefoot pretty much all the time. As an adult, even if I live in a place with terrible weather that doesn’t allow for bare feet, I miss the feeling of free feet and am usually barefoot in my house. When I discovered that there were shoe makers that loved being barefoot as much as I do, I was delighted.
As it turns out, running with barefoot shoes has become pretty popular. I hate running, but I do it anyway and have seen many people out on the trail in those silly Vibram shoes that look like feet. While I quietly laugh at them as they pass me, there is an urge to try it. Running barefoot is reminiscent of good times, being a kid, running around the block with my dog.
Barefoot runners and walkers will tell you all about the health benefits. Going barefoot requires you to run and land on your forefoot rather than your heel, which can avert injury. Walking with heels that are level to toes is better for your posture. It’s a little controversial depending on who you ask, but I see what they are saying- your body was made to be used in a certain way, and modern shoes keep us from walking that way. I know, I know, this would not work for some people. Speaking only for myself, I feel like I have more control over my body without shoes on because that is how I grew up.
All of this is to say that I have become very curious about this barefoot shoe thing. I tried a pair of Brooks runners that were supposed to be minimalist style, but, while comfortable, were not at all a barefoot experience. They were too padded and didn’t allow my toes to spread and grip. A year or two ago, while writing a post about travel shoes, I happened to come upon the website for Xero Shoes. They had a fascinating product, kits to make ultralight sandals, DIY. I mentioned it on my blog as an interesting strategy for light shoes.
A few months ago, I was again looking for the perfect pair of light, packable sandals and happened to see them come up again. I got in contact with Steven Sashen, the CEO, and he was kind enough to send me some pairs to try out and report back on. To be clear: I never get paid to write reviews, I contacted him and these are my own, unbiased opinions.
Steven and his wife Lena opened the company a few years ago and run it themselves. Steven began a sprinting career at 45 (!) and was getting injured, so he tried running barefoot and saw a big improvement in his health. He took that idea and they created shoes to protect the feet of barefoot runners and walkers. When I emailed, he got back to me personally, and I really appreciated his enthusiasm. They are driven by producing a good product that they believe in. They are particular about making sure the shoe fits, and even have online templates you can use to make sure the fit will work. Cool idea.
I road tested three of their shoe styles. While very different, all three pass muster on the lightweight shoe scale.
Coming in at an ultralight 5 oz, these are about as slim and trim as you will get in a sandal. I am always looking for ways to lighten my bag and have a compact pair of spare shoes, and these fit the bill. The fit takes a little getting used to, it’s like having a layer of skin on the bottom of your feet. These run a little wide, so would be good for wider or awkwardly shaped feet. The straps are adjustable for a comfy fit. I found them a little floppy and a little too wide for my feet, but it turned out (as it often does) to be user error, see photo below. Once the straps were adjusted properly, the fit was fine.
Walking on gravel or other uneven surfaces felt like a massage. As they point out on their website, your feet are second only to your hands and lips in sensitivity, feeling the ground under your feet is a pleasant sensation.
These shoes are cute, and a nice, natural shape. I’ve never understood why tennis shoes always have a pointy tip in the middle, that’s certainly not how my foot is shaped. These shoes are actually shaped like a real foot and don’t unnaturally confine the toes. The tread on the bottom is nice and rugged, I felt secure using them on a trail, something I can’t say about many athletic shoes. Weight-wise, they come in close to my Asics Metrolytes, at just under 9 oz.
While they may look like an athletic shoe, the sole is minimal for the barefoot feel and is not cushioned. If you are a person who needs supportive orthotics, these would actually work, they are roomy enough to insert insoles like Superfeet.
I’d love to tell you more about these from my perspective, but my son stole them and won’t give them back. He’s 12 and has had some measure of trouble at school because he doesn’t wear shoes that are “cool”. He doesn’t care about shoes normally, he can’t be bothered with shallow things like fashion, but he just adores these. He’s given them a real road test, the true life hard wear of a middle school boy. They are his gym shoes, walking shoes, climbing shoes. He took them camping with the Boy Scouts, soaked them in mud and grime on trails, then tossed them in the wash when he got home. They came out looking good as new. Xero makes the claim that their shoes last 5000 miles and somehow don’t stink, and so far it’s true, quite a feat when you consider middle school feet.
My son wants me to tell you that they are the most comfortable shoes he’s ever worn, and that the kids at school don’t make fun of him anymore. And that he’s never giving them back. Guess I’ll be buying myself another pair.
I wasn’t very interested in these when they first arrived. They looked like Tevas and I hate Tevas. They seemed unremarkable, although they are lightweight at a mere 6 oz. and pack totally flat. I tried them on with dresses and they work well enough. They tread on the bottom is nice and grippy, I could see them as useful in the Cinque Terre this summer, for hiking and swimming in. Light and versatile, durable too. Not a bad shoe but I wasn’t impressed. Until last week.
I was moving the wash in the basement and tripped over the exercise bike, snapping my middle two toes. They swelled up and turned black and blue. I could not find a shoe that didn’t feel awful, so I was going around without shoes. Barefoot, that’s the answer… I strapped these babies on my feet and they were heavenly. They kept my toes from moving too much, but gave them plenty of room to spread out. You may not believe it, I was able to go RUNNING in them with broken toes! It really does feel like wearing no shoes at all, and they have nice little bumpers on the side and heel to keep your foot from sliding around. I like them so much that I’ll even wear them around the house, which is really weird if you know me, I never wear shoes in the house. I think these will be my travel partners for some time, they pack totally flat and weigh little. I like them so much I may even consider the socks and sandals look…then again…no. Nope. Never mind. Can’t do it.
One other thing that is worth mentioning, they can make custom shoes for a reasonable price if you have an oddly shaped foot.
You know how picky I am about shoes that I take traveling. I think any of these would be a good choice if you want an ultralight travel shoe and don’t mind the barefoot feel. I particularly recommend the Z-Trek, they will be going with me to Europe in a few weeks for the summer–hiking trails, floating in the Mediterranean and strolling the streets of Paris.
Xero shoes are available at xeroshoes.com and Amazon, more styles available.