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Friday, April 15, 2011
Unshoe Wokova Sandal Review and Giveaway!
I've been looking forward to testing this sandal for a long time (enough that I created a whole post about it). I haven't been this excited about a product since Krispy Kreme opened a store in St. Paul. Who can blame me for being excited really. When I last wrote about these sandals, I had spent over a year struggling with what I felt was a sub-par product, all the while trying to like it because it was supposed to be the best of what's out there. When something comes along that seems to fix all of the issues that you've had with prior versions of a product, you pay attention. That was the promise of Unshoe brand huaraches for me.
So I was pretty excited when Unshoes agreed to provide me with a test pair to review. You should be excited too, because they also agreed to provide a pair to one lucky blog reader. Read this review to find out how to enter!
Introduction to Unshoes
First, a little background on the product. Although I plan on using this shoe for running, specifically running the Superior Sawtooth 50 Mile race this September, that is not the intended purpose of the product. Unshoes were actually created as a minimalist hiking sandal. As many innovative products are born, the owner of the company could not find a sandal on the market that both provided the ruggedness and stability required for hiking combined with the minimalism of a huarache. Thus the Unshoe Wokova sandal was born.
The resulting product resembles the traditional huarache, with a few hiking inspired changes. First, in order to secure the sandal to your foot, Unshoes use an 9/16" tubular climbing webbing. The soling material is also more aggressive. Not only is it thicker (to be more puncture and abrasion resistent), but it has a tread that allows more traction on the trail. The Unshoe sandal comes in three different thicknesses, depending on your desired level of protection. They have 4mm, 6mm, and 10mm soles. The webbing comes in either black, blue, or red.
Despite this being a hiking sandal, I will be reviewing it as if it were a huarache. Normally I have objections to using things that are designed for other purposes when there are better tools for the job. In the case of Unshoes though, as you'll see in the review, I think these sandals would do well as a multi-purpose huarache. In fact, it's a better all-around huarache than anything else out there.
After consulting with the owner of Unshoes, we determined that the 6mm sandal would be best suited for my ultramarathon. I wanted sufficient abrasion protection without sacrificing too much ground feel or weight. I received my Unshoes about a week after they informed me they began work on them. Since these things are a bit more labor intensive than your standard custom huarache, I consider that to be excellent turnaround.
I decided on the black webbing because I figured it would look pretty sweet. It does, but it also doesn't photograph well. Color choice fail. So to show you the features of the sandal, you'll have to look at my hairy hobbit feet.
Here is a view of the top of the sandal. Although on my foot it looks like there are two separate pieces of webbing holding my foot in, there is actually only one. The webbing is threaded through several points along the length of the sandal, and stops between your feet. There is a toggle that goes across the top of your foot allowing you to adjust the tightness of the sandal. The webbing is oriented so that it holds flat to your feet, except at your toes, where it is doubled over and fastened together for comfort.
Like traditional huaraches, the lacing material is secured to the sandal at a point near your ankle. The difference is that the lace doesn't pass through the bottom of the sandal. It's secured to the sole by a small loop of the same webbing material.
Here's the view of the outside of the sandal. Here again, the strap is secured to the sole with a small loop of webbing by the ankle. The adjustable portion is fastened to the sole by a small, flexible cord. In my experience, the cord prevents the webbing from coming loose from the sole material if you yank on the adjustment toggle too hard.
All of the contact points I just mentioned pass through to the bottom of the sandal. Then, instead of leaving that material exposed like most huaraches, Unshoe sandals have a special glaze over these points to prevent excessive wear.
This picture also shows the tread pattern of the soling material. It's more aggressive than other huaraches on the market, but nothing crazy.
Comfort and Feel
I got into these sandals and adjusted the toggle to the appropriate tightness. Adjusting the toggle was not difficult after I figured out how to do it. I will admit that I fumbled around with it like a babboon at first for a good 10 minutes though. The tubular webbing was very soft against my skin. Even when I adjusted the sandals as tight as I could get them, I didn't feel the webbing pinch me or rub against my skin anywhere. This webbing is far superior in comfort to any lacing system out there that I've yet tried.
The overall feeling of these sandals is much different than a traditional huarache. I wouldn't really even put them in the same category. These sandals felt more like an ultra-lightweight version of a hiking sandal like a Keen or a Teva. That was mostly because of the width of the straps, which are more similar to those on a hiking sandal than a huarache. It's also due to the extra point of contact between the webbing and the sole on the outside of the sandal. It made my foot feel more contained and secure than a huarache.
I like that more secure feeling for the application I have in mind with these sandals. But those same aspects took away from that "I feel free!"/"This is the closest thing to barefoot since barefoot!" feeling that you usually get from huaraches. You will definitely feel like you have more on your foot, and some may be turned off by that.
As you'll notice from the above picture, there is a about a fourth-inch of extra material around the top and sides of the sandal. I asked Unshoes about the extra material, and they informed me that the reason for it is that they would rather make a sandal a bit too big rather than a bit too small. I can respect that position, since making custom sandals like this seems to be a bit of a crapshoot as it is. Unshoes has also informed me that if you want less material on your sandal, you can request that. Some extra material is needed to attach the ankle straps to the shoe.
I'm used to having a bit less material around my toes, so I found walking around a bit awkward at first. If you are uncomfortable with the extra material, you can always cut it off. Since I think it will actually aid in my trail running, I'm electing to keep it on there.
The biggest reason I'm a fan of these huaraches is the fit. I usually have to crank the laces on my huaraches on as tight as they'll go in order to feel comfortable during a run. This means I end up getting blisters or abrasions on my feet. I found with Unshoes that I can wear the webbing a lot looser without the sandals flopping around. I tried multiple tightness settings during my runs, and the sandal always stayed firmly against my foot. The toggle actually did more to adjust the fit around my ankle. I suppose that only makes sense. The loops holding the webbing in place stay the same length regardless of the tightness of the sandal.
The only thing that would make the sandal feel better would be if I could make the loops a bit smaller to hold the sandal more firmly to my foot. Regardless, you won't have to mess with the fit of these sandals much at all, and I really like that. Upgrade!
Since these sandals are designed primarily for trail use, you are going to make some trade-offs in terms of ground feel. Although my sandals only had a 6mm thickness, I felt they had less ground feel than my 6mm Luna Sandals. I attribute this to the sandal's lack of flexibility. However, it was still better than any other trail shoe I've yet tried. I found the balance of ground feel to protection to be the best that I've found yet. In my opinion shoes like the Trail Glove and Minimus to have favored protection over ground feel a little too much. This balance was just right. Since I intend to use these primarily on the trail, I don't mind the loss of ground feel. But if that is your main concern, there are better options.
My biggest negative with this sandal is the weight. These sandals weighed in at between 5-6oz. on my incredibly accurate kitchen scale. That's just a hair lighter than my KSOs. Now it's hard to complain about a running shoe that is only 5-6 oz. And the weight of these shoes didn't have much, if any, effect on my performance. It's only a negative in comparison to my other sandal options. My other huaraches weight 3.5 oz (Lunas) and 2.5 oz (Invisible Shoe). It seems a little crazy to me that a minimal sandal would approach the weight of a closed-toe minimal shoe. Since they are lighter than all of my trail shoes, they will still be my go-to option on the trails. But on roads, I will stick with my Invisible Shoes.
SIDE NOTE: Unshoe has announced on their website that they have a model designed specifically for runners. This option uses a 5mm Newflex sole that should be half the weight of the 6mm model. This sole will likely provide less protection on the trail. But for those who are looking at making this sandal their primary huarache, I think this soling material is the way to go.
On the trail, these sandals performed superbly. As I mentioned before, I always feel a little awkward in most huaraches while trail running. This is due not only to poor traction, but also because their laces are so thin and flimsy that I slide around a lot on uneven ground. That makes me worry about tripping or rolling an ankle when changing directions or stepping on debris. But the webbing on this sandal holds my foot firmly in place. And the extra sandal material provided adequate protection against debris. I'm still going to break my toe if I kick something, but having that extra material will help a little.
Traction was a bit of an issue on wet, muddy, or icy surfaces, but I expected that from a sandal. They are certainly better than my other huaraches in those situations, but if I really need traction I will wear something with cleats.
There has been concern expressed by some customers about whether the seal over the webbing will hold up over time. Even in only a few runs, I saw some wear and tear to the sealant. But even if the seal wears off I'm not worried about the webbing material. Climbing webbing is made to very strict wear tolerances, so that it doesn't break causing you to plummet to your death. If anything, I'm less concerned about this webbing breaking than I am about other huarache laces.
When I put these sandals on, my wife actually asked me if I had gotten a pair of Keens. They really look a lot like normal sandals. I put a big premium on that when wearing minimal shoes in public. I like them to look like normal footwear. I will definitely be wearing these for casually in the summer as well.
I think I chose the perfect sandal for my 50 miler this summer. This is definitely a product designed specifically for use on the trail. So I'm not surprised that I consider other huaraches better options on the road. As with all trail shoes, you are going to make trade-offs in weight and ground feel in exchange for protection. That being said, I think they are balanced enough to be a good all-around sandal. I can't really say that about any other huarache on the market.
As a road shoe, I would give them a 7 out of 10. I still prefer my Invisible Shoes on the road because of their weight and ground feel. I also just prefer having less on my feet on the road. However, on the trail I would give them a 9 out of 10. I really enjoyed them on the trail. I like that they offer protection, but not too much protection. Although they won't work for aggressive trail runs, they will work great in normal conditions. I highly recommend them for trail runners looking for less shoe.
For both road and trail, I give these shoes a 9 out of 10 as well. I think if you are looking for a huarache that does it all, this is the one.
Like I mentioned above, the good folks at Unshoes have agreed to give away a pair of their sandals to one lucky MGBG reader. In order to enter, you will need to do the following:
1. Follow my blog by clicking the "Follow" button on the right-hand side
2. "Like" my facebook fan page
3. "Like" the Unshoe facebook fan page
4. Subscribe to the Unshoe blog
You will get one entry for each thing on that list that you do. Leave a comment at the end of this post to let me know what you've done. No cheating! I check! A winner will be picked at random from all entries.
Entries will be received until April 24th, and a winner will be announced on April 25th! Cheers to new sandals citizens!