Welcome to the Maple Grove Barefoot Guy!

For the latest in barefoot and minimalist running advice, news, and product reviews, subscribe or follow me at one of the links below! Cheers citizens!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Branca Barefoot Running Sandal Review and Giveaway!



I'm not sure when I went from the guy who hates huaraches to the equivalent of the Maple Grove Huarache Guy.  Whenever or whatever caused the conversion, I'm glad it happened.  For only being a piece of soling material and a string, huaraches are surprisingly complicated little buggers.  There's a million different materials to make them out of, a thousand different configurations for the laces.  It's pretty easy to end up with something you don't like.  I've certainly had that experience. 

Not only are the possible configurations seemingly endless, it seems there is space to improve on the design.  That is what the Branca Barefoot Running Sandal company has set out to do with their new line of running sandals.  After trying the various huaraches currently on the market, Branca identified a number of problems with their design that they could improve on.  Primarily, this sandal looks to eliminate all of the discomfort caused by the lace.  It digs into your heel.  It pinches and rubs on your feet.  And then there's that annoying knot on the bottom of the sole.  I think they do a great job.

Initial Impressions

Ordering a pair of Branca sandals is a little different than ordering other brands of huaraches.  This is because Brancas are kind of a middle ground product; somewhere between a DIY kit and a custom sandal.  With traditional custom huaraches, you send the company either your foot measurements in length and width, or a foot tracing with markings for where the toe and ankle holes should be.  Branca asks for one measurement: the distance between the heel of your foot to the space between your big toe and second toe.  They will then send you a sandal that looks like this:

  
Those aren't Spongebob Squarefeet's sandals....and they aren't your fraternity pledge paddles.  They're your new huaraches.  It's up to you to cut the soling material to properly fit your foot.

You might have noticed the awesome color combo I chose for my sandals.  Branca sandals are available in 16 different sole colors and 20 different lace colors.  There are a lot of loud (also known as "awesome") colors to choose from, like neon green, pink, orange, and turquoise.  If that's not your speed, they also have normal (also known as "lame and boring") colors like black and white.  I went for bright colors because I figure people are already going to be looking at me because I'm running in sandals.  Why not make a fashion statement?

A couple of other features to point out.  Unlike traditional huaraches, the laces on these sandals do not go around your heel.  Instead, Branca has installed an elastic band that is attached to the bottom of the sandal.  This is an effort to prevent heel discomfort from the traditional huarache lace.  The heel strap is imblazoned with the company website...giving you official bumper stickers for the company on your feet.  I hope it cuts down on the number of times I have to answer the question, "Where did you get your obnoxious sandals?"

The lacing system is also completely different.  The lace is threaded through two holes in the bottom of the sandal instead of one.  Then, it travels through two eyelets on either side of the sandal, which are attached to some extra soling material.  I call these "the wings".  The lace used is a standard athletic lace.



Since the lace is threaded through two holes in the sandal, there is no ridiculous knot on the bottom.  Of course, the knot is usually what gives the laces a bit more durability from rubbing against the ground.  To remedy that problem, Branca placed a small piece of rubber over the exposed lace to prevent wear. 

The rubber used for these sandals isn't the traditional Vibram cherry either.  Branca describes it as a styrene/butadiene mix.  The material is very light and thin.  Branca reports that their huaraches weigh in at approximately 5oz.  I would imagine this weight includes the extra soling material.  The weight of your own sandals will depend on how much sole you cut off.  Mine felt extremely light after I trimmed them down.



As you can see, the material used is very flexible.  I found it very comparable in flexibilty to the Invisible Shoes, with just a tad bit more resistence.  I also noticed that this soling material did not immediately return to its original shape after being flexed.  Rather, it slowly rolled back. 



After lacing up, it was time for cutting.  This part made me extremely nervous.  Branca recommends that you trace an outline about a centimeter or so from your foot, and then cut out the shape while the sandal is off your foot.  All I was producing doing that was a bunch of squiggly lines.  So I cut my sandals out while on my feet.  I don't recommend you try that at home. 



Well all of that worrying was for not, and I came out with two sandals that I would call "similar".  I also came away with mixed feelings on the whole half-custom, half-DIY aspect of these sandals.  I like that I can customize the amount of material around my toes, because I prefer my toes to be very close to the edge.  After testing a bunch of different huaraches, I know that different companies have different interpretations of the foot tracings that you send to them. 

But I also think that for the intended price of these sandals (which I'll talk about later), they should come finished.  Otherwise, the cost of a screw up is just too high.  And for folks like me who can't cut a straight line to save their lives, they end up looking a bit ratty.  I also think that this feature isn't great for huarache noobs, who probably don't know how much toe room they prefer.  You can't add material back after you cut it...and if folks cut too short the first time, they'll end up with sandals they don't like.  Why not let someone who does this for a living cut your sandals.  If he screws up, he has more soling material in the back of his workshop.  You have to order a whole new pair. 

Comfort and Feel



Once you lace up your sandals, you realize how different they are from traditional huaraches.  Instead of wrapping around your foot any number of times, the laces only touch the top of your foot as well as the sides in front of the ankle.  Rather than the elaborate system of loops and pulleys used to anchor the sole to your foot, these huaraches tie on top of your foot the same as a normal pair of trainers.



The sandal is secured in the rear by that ankle strap, which you can move to the height you prefer.  The wings that hold the laces against your foot on the sides bend upwards and off the ground so that they won't rub and wear down. 

All of these features make the Branca sandal extremely comfortable.  The laces did not irritate my feet at all, either between my toes or around the top of my foot.  I find the comfort of the laces comparable to Unshoes, but since the laces are smaller I get more of that "barely there" feeling I prefer in a huarache.  The heel strap is not noticable on the back of your foot. 

The only fit issue that was a little wonky deals with those wings.  The tighter you tie your sandals, the more the wings will come up, causing the soling material to curve inward.  But tie them too loose and the wings stick out, it causes other issues as you'll see later. 

Running

The number one positive of these sandals while running is comfort, comfort, comfort.  They are a step above anything else for comfort around your big and second toes.  A lot of folks say that the bottom knot on huaraches doesn't bother them.  I say you really don't understand how annoying those bottom knots in traditional huaraches are until they're gone.  It's a whole new level of comfort.  That Branca got rid of this feature makes them that much more enjoyable to run in.  And the laces between your toes are so light and small they do not irritate your foot.  If this is your biggest problem, these sandals are the ones to pick.

Similarly, getting rid of all of that lace wrapping around your foot does wonders for both comfort and fit.  These sandals are very comfortable between the toes and on the top and heel of your feet.  Like I said before, they are comparable in top of foot comfort to Unshoes.  The difference is that they feel less substantial on top of your foot. 

And tying them is a breeze!  It literally took me 10 seconds to find the right tightness.  And all of the other problems you can have with laces also didn't happen.  No extra lace to stuff somewhere on the sandal, only to come loose later.  No heel lace falling down your heel where you step on it.  These sandals are great for newcomers to huaraches, or folks that are fed up with trying to find the best tying method.  I certainly include myself among that group.

Like I mentioned above, the tighter you tie these sandals, the more the soles will curve.  The curve didn't affect my performance while running or walking, and I couldn't feel the curve under my feet at all.  The bigger issue with that curve are those wings.  If you take a look at them again, you'll notice that each wing ends in a sharp point.  If the wings touch your foot, that point is going into your foot.  For me, this meant some of the nastiest wounds I've ever received on my instep. 

After a 5 mile run I had two vicious open wounds.  I can't imagine what that point would do to my foot on a longer run.  When I told Branca about my problem, they informed me that I was tying them too tight.  The top of the wings should not make contact with your foot people!  However, tying the shoes looser for me has meant a fit that makes the sandals wobble around too much for my liking.  Not to mention the occasional scrape of the opposite leg by those stinkin wings.  I have since cut the tips off, which has cut down on cuts and scrapes, but they still happen occasionally.   

NOTE: Also, since I informed Branca about my problem with these wings, they informed me that they would be rounded the edges of the wings so that it doesn't happen to folks in the future.  I think it's great that a company is willing to listen to feedback and respond appropriately!

Besides the comfort, I also immediately noticed the noise.  I sounded like a horse galloping down the street.  It echoed between the houses in my neighborhood.  Huaraches are usually loud, but this was a new level of noisy.  I was able to tone down the sound by tying the sandals looser, but not eliminate it completely.  I imagine the sound comes from a combination of the unique soling material used, and the fact that it curves around your foot.  Branca reports that not everyone will experience this noise, but depending on your running style it might happen. 

Groundfeel-wise, these sandals performed very well.  I felt they were a step below Invisible Shoes in terms of ground feel, but not by a whole lot.  I think this had a lot to do with the soling material.  Although this fact also had a positive side.  Since these sandals do not immediately return to their original shape, they weren't as floppy as the Invisible Shoes, especially in the toe.  The sandal was rigid enough to maintain their shape while not sacrificing groundfeel too much.  In that aspect, I think they occupy a nice middle ground between the very flexible Invisible Shoe and the much stiffer Original Luna Sandal. 

Finally, these aren't a multi-surface running sandal.  Nor do they work well in incliment weather.  They worked fine for me on dry roads, but in the rain I was a little more unsure of my footing.  With absolutely no tread, I wouldn't even attempt to take them out on a trail.  They remind me a lot of the Vibram KSO in that respect.

Price

This is where Branca loses me.  Right now it appears that they are having a sale where you can purchase a pair of sandals for $30.  The normal advertised price is $60.  I would pay $30 for these sandals, and I think this is an appropriate price for what you are getting.  Other companies will sell you a DIY kit for that amount.  Branca sandals seem more DIY than a finished product.

I would not buy them for $60.  At that price point, the competition is the Luna Sandal.  The Luna would win out because it is factory cut, and has higher quality materials. 

Conclusion

Overall, I like these sandals a lot!  This sandal does a lot to innovate over custom huaraches on the market that came before them.  I find their laces superior in terms of comfort and ease of tying.  The soling material has both positives and negatives.  It is more rigid to provide a more solid ride, but gives up a bit of ground feel to do so.  I have a love/hate thing going on with the wings on the sides of the sandal.  The good of them doesn't outweigh the bad enough that these things just blow me away.  They come close though.   

My biggest issue, as you may have gathered, is the price.  Way too high for something you still have to cut up yourself.  But if you have $60 to pony up for some sandals, this is a solid choice.  I would give them an 8 out of 10.  I would give them a 9 if they lowered their price.  Those dang wings prevent me from giving them a perfect score.  I think rounding the edges off of future orders will help, but only time will tell if this is an appropriate fix.  If it is, these sandals are near perfect for me. 

Giveaway!

Now you too can get your hands on some of these badboys, and be the first on your block to sport a pair.  I will be giving away a free pair of these sandals to one winner chosen at random.  Here are the giveaway rules.  In order to enter, you must do at least one of the following:

1. "Like" The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy on facebook
2. Follow my blog by clicking on the "Follow" button on the right side of this blog
3. Follow me on twitter @mgbarefootguy
4. Share the link for this post on your facebook page
5. Tweet (or Retweet...I don't know twitter lingo) this link on your twitter account

After doing one or all of those things, comment on this post to tell me what you've done.  You get one entry per item completed.  Entries will be received until May 23rd, 2011.  Bribes are always encouraged, and threats will be ignored.  I will then choose a winner at random using the random list generator at Random.org.   

Happy contest entering folks!  Cheers!

42 comments:

  1. I liked your site! Very intrigued about these sandals...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great review. I want those sandals!!! i"liked" your facebook page, am following you on twitter, "retweeted" or whatever this blog link, and am now following this blog! pick me!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I liked you on facebook. I would love to try these sandals. Also awesome choice in color. Gotta love the orange!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am following your site. Very interested in trying out some running sandals.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Interesting running sandal. I hadn't heard of it before. I hope you can review the new Unshoes Feather. I put a link to your post on my FB page.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey Aaron. I will be reviewing the Feather. I've had a lot of requests for that one. Look for it in June sometime.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi there! I've been following your blog and I have already liked The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy on FB....so today i shared your blog on my FB page...I find this barefoot running interesting and yet to try it...Just found a whole on the inside of my running shoes this weekend..and I just bought them in March! suffering from crazy itband issues also..I'm thinking about it...but I'm not sure I can go bare...I'm a bit of a whimp :) Great Blog!!! so much info!

    ReplyDelete
  8. All FIVE for me..."Like" on FB, follow here, follow Twitter, tweet, share....

    ReplyDelete
  9. Jonelle, the way I recommend starting is to find a path that feels comfortable underfoot. I teach folks to find a concrete sidewalk, because it is very smooth, yet hard enough to help you correct form problems. Take a spin around the block, more if you feel up to it. Don't go more than around a 1/4 mile! See how you like it. If you do, increase your distance. Continue on until you're running like you normally would. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  10. 1. I "Like"d The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy on Facebook
    2. I followed your blog by clicking on the "Follow" button on the right side of this blog
    3. I shared the link for this post on my facebook page
    (I don't tweet yet.)
    I have a son in high-school who would LOVE to be the first kid in school with these sandals. (Wish me luck, baby needs new shoes!)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Loved the review as usual, Chris....but why oh why is an ad for 5" heels on your website???!!! My brain snapped....

    ReplyDelete
  12. sorry...I think it was a fluke that those shoes were on right as I was finished with reading your blog entry...freaked me out a bit. no worries Chris.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I did everything but the FaceBook one. So that's like 4 entries for me :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. just tweeted you as 7n7mafia PICK ME

    ReplyDelete
  15. I "liked" your Facebook page.

    I'm a regular reader and I always enjoy your posts. Keep it up.

    Sam

    ReplyDelete
  16. 1. I `like` you on facebook.
    2. I am following your blog.
    3. I am following you on twitter (@AkmensSuns).
    4. I have retweeted this link on twitter.

    ReplyDelete
  17. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 done!I'm wondering how the "toe flop" is on these? I'm guessing that would depend on how close you cut the material? I've got a pair of Unshoes that I've had to resort to an alternate tying method for due to the damn rubbing between the toes. seems like it's always a tradeoff between rubbing or so loose it flops around. Great review as always!

    ReplyDelete
  18. @Kim: The heels probably came from Google Adsense, which are the ads at the bottom of every post. I don't always agree with the ad content. And since I make a whopping $0.05 off the program every month, I'll probably take the ads down.

    @Chris: I don't have problems with the toe flop in these shoes. The sole material is very different from traditional Vibram Cherry, so it essentially maintains its shape unless flexed manually. I don't think you'll have toe flop issues. And the lace on these is the least irritating between my toes that I've yet found, so you should be good to go without an alternate tying method.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I'm very interested in trying these out. I went ahead and "liked" your facebook page so count me in for the drawing. Thank you for your review!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I followed you on Twitter @vanessaruns

    ReplyDelete
  21. I have done all of the above!!!!! I currently run in a mixture of vff (bikila/treksports) and trail gloves when not barefoot, looking to make the move to huaraches/sandals Fingers crossed p.s. I also ALWAYS direct people to your blog when people ask about barefoot/minimalist running (surely thats got to help?????)

    ReplyDelete
  22. It might help to also have a $20 bill in my hand jock80 ;)

    Thanks for recommending me to your friends. I'm glad you find the site helpful. I created it as an altar to my massive ego, but having useful information has been a nice side effect :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Interesting review, I am looking into huaraches as the ground here is getting way too hot for barefoot, I was really close to buying Luna Sandals but now I dont know, would like to try these out...btw, I "liked" your page on FB

    ReplyDelete
  24. This is a great post, I have been tossing around ideas on which sandal to get for some time now. I settled on shoes (New Balance Minimus roads for the Madison Crazylegs, improved my time year to year by 7 minutes!). Now that thats out of the way I was leaning towards lunas? or more of the true DIY types that you mention. HHmmmm? not sure now.

    ReplyDelete
  25. paleoworld: I also have a huarache guide so that you can get even more information overload about these types of sandals. That will either help you in your decision, or make you more confused ;)

    There's a link in my Resources tab as well as in my Popular Posts section.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I am following you on Twitter (@zoekyklos)

    ReplyDelete
  27. I retweeted the giveaway https://twitter.com/#!/zoekyklos/status/71418969436856320

    ReplyDelete
  28. I'm good for four entries.

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. Yes (@aboutapopoff)
    4. No
    5. Yes

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Daily Tweet

    https://twitter.com/#!/zoekyklos/status/71595751997837312

    ReplyDelete
  30. I liked you on Facebook

    Zoe Kyklos

    ReplyDelete
  31. I shared your blog on Facebook with a tag back to your page

    ReplyDelete
  32. I did all of the above 1-5 things. I'm a barefoot child of the Earth and sometimes just need a perfect pair of sandals to wear casually, that aren't too over bearing. These seem amazing and would love the pleasure of advertising these unique sandals while still making a statement. TREK LIGHTLY <3 B.Waide

    ReplyDelete
  33. Don't buy. Leather barely glued to sole. Had to spend extra $10, time. and effort to glue correctly myself. Stitching at laces fell apart in 5 seconds. No response from "customer service". No mention of $6 s&h until after credit card given. Do yourself a favor and buy xero kit for $18. Branca, learn to glue something together or just stop selling shoddy workmanship. Piss poor

    ReplyDelete
  34. Women's sandals are a favorite and with good reason. It's because of the huge selection of the different styles of sandals that are now offered and are very popular.I find this website for Sandals with Good Arch Support you can visit this site.

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...