Updated: May, 2016.
In 2011, right before my first long trip abroad, I started to develop a special interest in footwear. It was then when I became aware of the horrible drawbacks of modern shoes. I wasn’t very surprised though, considering how foreign they are to the evolution of our bodies.
The human foot is the beautiful result of millions of years of walking, running, climbing and jumping almost entirely barefoot on the African savannah. Our feet are biomechanically designed for the harsh environment of Mother Nature. And Adidas or Nike ain’t gonna change that.
And so, right before my seven-month trip to South East Asia, I went on the search for the perfect pair of minimalist shoes, the best barefoot sandals out there. Something that’ll suit both the human body and the philosophy of my minimalist travel gear.
I wanted them to be lightweight enough so that they don’t encumber my movement. I wanted them to provide a healthy, natural grip. And I also wanted them to look great, and to be easy to slip on and off in the airports. And if I could also run with them, the better. Anyway, after some heavy research, I found the holy grail. They were called the Invisible Shoes Huaraches, and were later renamed to XeroShoes.
The moment I put them on, I fell in love.
Xero Shoes Review
The original InvisibleShoe Huaraches sandals were a modern take by Steven Sashen on the traditional running sandals of the Tarahumara people of the Mexican Copper Canyon. Those folks run for a longer distance than what we call marathons on a regular basis, and practically barefoot. Practically, because their terrain is rocky, so they wear those thin sandals they call Huaraches, sandals that keep their movement natural and barefoot-like while still protecting them from their rocky terrain.
Here’s Steven introducing the original Xero Shoes (InvisibleShoes) Huaraches in NBC:
But Why Exactly is Barefoot Better Than Modern Shoes ?
The problem is this: Modern heeled shoes cause your body to land on its heels instead of its forefoot. When you land on your heels, the impact of your body-weight puts a lot of strain on your posterior chain, setting the stage for later health issues, especially lower-back and knee problems.
Our muscles, tendons and ligaments function at their best when confined to their evolutionary design, and that means barefoot. All throughout our history we humans have wandered Planet Earth without modern shoes, overcoming the obstacles of a harsh environment by perfecting every little nuance of our feet’s biomechanics. Dr. Silverman explains it visually:
The Xero Shoes Barefoot Sandals: My Thoughts
I started wearing the Xero Shoes in 2011, on my first trip to Asia:
Back then, I absolutely fell in love with them. I loved them so much that I took them with me to more than 40 countries. But wait, now it’s 2016, and they’re even better. WAY better. In fact, I just returned from a trip to the Danakil Dessert in Ethiopia, and guess what shoe I was wearing most of the time? That’s right, the Xero Shoes. More specifically, the Umara Z-Trail Xero Shoes.
The Umara Z-Trail, in my humble opinion, is the best version Xero Shoes has ever come up with. They protect your feet better than the original Xero Shoes, their straps are much more comfortable than the original lacing system, and they feel sturdier.
Long hiking, trekking, running, walking, basically anything you can think of, the Umara Xero Shoes are perfect for. They are the best invention since Seinfeld. They’re super-comfortable, giving you a barefoot feeling while still protecting you from modern hazards like broken glass and the like.
When you wear them, your toes naturally spread out the way they’re supposed to. This reminds me of the time I spent with the rural barefoot Pounongs in the northeastern mountains of Cambodia. They had that super-strong grip their feet held with the earth, with toes spread out apart from each other.
What About the Connect/Contact Do-It-Yourself Xero Shoes Kits?
The Connect/Contact kits came when Steven made a major upgrade to his then-tiny company and changed the sole of the original huaraches from Vibram to FeelTrue, something completely new that they came up with specifically for the huaraches.
Immediately, I got myself a new pair. The difference was noticeable. The new sole had more traction and had a much better grip than the original ones. That’s when InvisibleShoe turned into XeroShoes that you know today. Steven still uses the FeelTrue soles for his newest models.
If you want a Do-It-Yourself kit, Xero Shoes still sell the Connect/Contact models. I had a bunch of people asking about the differences between them so I emailed Steven and here’s what he says:
People use both the Connect and Contact for everything from walking to running ultra-marathons. I know some ultra-runners who use the 4mm for running and the 6mm for walking around. And I know some people who do the exact opposite. So, it’s not a matter of one style for a particular use. Really, the question is simple: do you want the closest thing to a barefoot feel? If so, get the 4mm Connect. If you want a bit of extra protection, then get the 6mm Contact.
The only problem, at least for me, with the original Xero Shoes, including the Connect and the Contact, was that every few weeks one of the knots would snap out of its hole due to wear and tear. At the beginning, I was fixing it myself by tying a new loop, but I ended up getting sick of it. That’s when Steven introduced the XeroShoes Sensori Venture, beautiful huarache sandals that solved this issue.
Xero Shoes Sensori Venture Review (Model Discontinued, Scroll Down)
Update: This model is discontinued, I now use the Xero Shoes Umara Z-Trail, which are much better than every other model. And i’ve tried them all.
If I had to describe the Sensori Venture in three words, that would be: PRACTICE BREEDS PERFECTION. It looks like Steven learned a lot from the last few years and fine-tuned every aspect of the already-great Xero Shoes of last year. The Sensori Venture huaraches are more comfortable, more visually-pleasing and most importantly: THE KNOTS ARE MUCH MORE DURABLE.
This is huge.
No more knots tearing apart in the middle of the street. No more worrying and wasting time and energy re-tying and melting those knots. The Sensori Venture uses a countersunk rubber toe post that’s extremely durable, much more than the previous lace knots that used to tear apart frequently. This thing alone made me get myself a pair and re-wear the XeroShoes as a primary travel footwear.
As you can see, the same great FeelTrue material is used on the Sensori Venture shoes and that’s great. The Sensori Venture doesn’t come in two sole thicknesses like the previous XeroShoes (the 6mm contact and 4mm connect), but in one 5.5mm thickness sole.
I think that’s the better option for the vast majority of people anyway so that’s probably a great choice for what seems to be an attempt by Steven to create an awesome and durable pair of XeroShoes that just works outside the box. The 5.5mm sole provides a great balance between ‘barefoot feel’ and protection.
Previous Do-It-Yourself XeroShoes required you to watch some tying youtube videos – but the Sensori Venture sandals come pre-tied which is a great business move from Steven. Humans are lazy and not everyone has the time to watch a 10 minute video. We’re talking about double-corded laces here with special adjusters on each site to make them just right for you individually.
Another GREAT addition to the Sensori Venture is the achilles silicon strap. It’s awesome and keeps the strap from slipping while also offering some protection against redness and chafing to your achilles. I don’t like the heel cup though, I never had any issues with my heel slipping out of the shoe so it’s completely unnecessary for me.
The side support holes have been also revamped and moved up from the sole to prevent the laces from rubbing against the ground. I predict that will greatly improve the durability of those laces.
So overall, Xero Shoes really kept the great parts about their huaraches – the awesome sole, the design, the flexibility, even the price point – but fixed a few minor issues and a major one – the durability of the laces. That alone is worth the upgrade. If I had to buy another pair of Xero Shoes, there’s no doubt in my mind that would be the Sensori Venture. The rubber toe post is just priceless.
Update 2016: I now wear the Xero Shoes Umara Z-Trail exclusively. Skip the rest and get this one. It is truly amazing. They have all the benefits of the previous huarache Xero Shoes, but they protect your feet much better. They feature a 3-layer FeelLite sole: FeelTrue rubber for abrasion resistance and grip, TrailFoam midsole for force dispersion, and BareFoam upper layer for comfort. And they FLOAT. No more losing your shoes in the ocean.
If you’re looking for a pair of healthy minimalist barefoot shoes, look no further than XeroShoes. The new Umara Z-Trail are a huge improvement over previous models and are my chosen pair of ‘shoes’ for my travels. Send me love letters later. Those sandals are the most comfortable thing you’ll ever wear.
BONUS SIDE EFFECT: many curious people will stop you in the street to ask where you got those shoes, so not only will they make make your back and knees healthy – they’ll also strike conversations, win friends and get some ladiez for ya.