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Thursday, May 5, 2011
Softstar Runamoc LITE Review and Dash Preview
I'm in love with a pair of elf shoes.
That pretty much sums up what I've been thinking over and over from the very minute I put my new pair of Softstar Runamocs on. My first thought is, "Oh my god, these are the most comfortable minimal shoes I've ever worn!" That thought is quickly followed by, "Oh my god, these are by far the ugliest shoes I've ever worn!"
I've been wanting to try a pair of the Runamoc moccasin from Softstar for a while now. For those unfamiliar with the company, they have been making minimal, eco-friendly moccasins in all shapes, sizes, and colors for the last 25 years. A lot of folks know about them because they provide a great alternative to brands like Robeez for folks looking for podiatrist-recommended baby and toddler footwear. I actually have a super cute, and very well-made pair of Softstar shoes that I bought for my daughter that she just loves.
Everyone say, "Awwwwwwwwwww". She calls them "Flower Shoes", which in two-year old speak sounds like "Flow Shouss".
I first heard about the Runamoc moccasin through several of my minimalist running friends. One of those friends, Donald Buraglio, blogs for the website Running and Rambling and was one of the runners actively involved in its design (as you can see from his blog post on the topic). Much of Donald's feedback about what makes a good minimal running shoe has been incorporated into the current Runamoc model. So I knew that these moccasins were made with folks like me in mind.
SIDE NOTE: Yes, that is my cat's paw in this picture. My cat wouldn't leave me alone while I had these on. I think she thought there would be catnip inside.
I hesistated to buy them for one reason, which should be clear from the above picture: they are butt, stinkin', ugly. I'm surprised shoes this ugly didn't come with a free bowl of soup. If I purchased a pair of these things, I was worried the local hospital would show up at my door to ask for their slippers back.
But on the other hand, I've heard nothing but good things about them since they came out. And really, since I've switched over to barefoot running I've probably put weirder things on my feet. I could get over obvious vanity issues to provide accurate information to you...my ever-so loyal readers (a free test pair helped as well). And I'm glad I did, because these things are incredible.
I think that most of the time, the most elegant solution is also the simplest. That certainly holds true for these moccasins. They are probably only a small step above huaraches in terms of complexity.
Note I'm using the term "mocassins" instead of shoes to describe them. I really think that is a better descriptor, because these are unlike any other shoe I've ever tried. They're really more like a slipper that you can run in than a shoe.
The moccasin's upper consists of a single piece of perforated leather. The perforations help with ventilation. The upper is then secured to your foot with a standard athletic shoe lace that tightens the upper around your ankle.
The only other semblance of structure in these mocassins is a small heel plate sewn into the back of the shoe. This prevents your heel from stepping off the back of the shoe, and adds just enough rigidity to the shoe to make stable for running without making it feel to much like an actual shoe.
There are two different soles available in the Runamoc: either a "Street" or a "Trail" sole. I went with the Street model, which is equip with a 2mm Vibram sole. The only tread on the bottom of the street sole is the word "Vibram" in very small font. The Trail model has a 5mm Vibram nubby sole, which provides considerably more grip for trail running. I've been told that the Trail sole doesn't sacrifice too much in the way of groundfeel and flexibility.
The sole of the moccasin is just one aspect that you can customize on your Runamoc. One of the cool things about all Softstar shoes is that you can customize the color, style, and fit in any way you like. So although they advertise the Runamoc in red and black, you can get a pair with any color they have in stock. They also make custom sizes from foot tracings for folks with very large or wide feet. I was given a red pair...because when your shoes are free you take what you get. This has opened me up to a lot of insults involving the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, or questions about whether I started working for the Keebler elves.
When testing the moccasin for flexibility, I expected a 2mm Vibram sole to be extremely bendy. But the sole of the Runamoc was more rigid than expected. That's not to say that these things weren't flexible. On the contrary. They were second only to my Vibram KSOs during the bendy test.
I think this picture illustrates the likely culprit for any unexpected stiffness; the upper. Here I am flexing the shoe in the opposite direction as in the previous picture. As you'll see in a bit, the upper on these shoes isn't particularly spacious. I imagine that this lack of material limits the flexibility of the sole.
Comfort and Feel
OMG....these things are so comfortable! End of review.
Just kidding...you know I need to talk more than that. Here are the particulars. The leather upper felt amazing on my feet. Very soft. The soling material has a cream-colored footbed that adds comfort without reducing ground feel. Even when tied tightly, the laces did not cut into my ankle.
The only negative are those bumps you see on top of the mocassin. Those are my toes. There isn't a lot of space for my feet within my moccasins. So even though the toe box in these things is more than ample, my toes were always in contact with the upper. This was annoying during walking, but not during running.
Note: For folks who experience this same problem, the company recommends that you put a wet towel inside the shoes to stretch them out. My shoes have stretched a bit naturally through normal wear. But if you're interested in a quick fix, that should work.
This brings up what I think is a critical issue in your enjoyment of these mocassins: sizing. Be sure to measure your feet if you're thinking of getting a pair of these badboys, and check out the size chart on their website. The sizing doesn't equate to the standard US or European equation. I learned that lesson when I bought my daughter's shoes, which make her look like she has Franken-feet. Every time she trips on the tops of her shoes, I mentally kick myself in the ass.
I point this out because a lot of folks have reported that these shoes are "floppy", in that people's feet move around a lot within the shoe. They blame this on the fact that the shoe is essentially a leather bag tied onto your foot. I blame it on shoe size. You bought your shoes too big. But I think the alternative is equally annoying...buy a smaller size and the uppers stick to your feet as is my situation.
I'd rather have the latter issue. In my opinion, you should buy this shoe in the smallest size you possibly can without them being too small. That will prevent most of this flopping business. But it seems to be a delicate balance. I may have just gotten lucky in that my feet are only 1/8 inch shorter than the size 10A Runamoc. But if you're overly worried about these fit issues, get a custom pair made...or check out their new Dash model (described below).
In my opinion, there's a reason for that fit issue I just mentioned. The tight fit secures your foot within the mocassin while running. Or at least it did for me. Once I began running I no longer noticed the leather upper against my feet. The upper flexed easily, while still holding my feet very securely within the mocassin. Even though the only thing holding the mocassin to your foot is an ankle strap, your feet do not move around within it much at all. I did feel the occasional "flop" described by other customers, which made the shoes feel a bit like a very loose fitting huarache. But for the most part, they stayed on my feet very well.
Groundfeel on these things is fantastic. It is comparable to my Invisible Shoe huaraches or my Vibram KSOs. The weight of these mocassins is also top notch. My size 10A Runamocs clock in at a slender 5oz. That's the same as my Vibram KSOs, making them among the lightest running shoes in my arsenal.
What puts the Runamoc above all other minimalist running shoes for me is the comfort. They are...by far...the most comfortable running shoes I've ever owned. Ever. EVER. My feet felt encased in softness, while at the same time still very much in touch with their surroundings. That's a feeling that I haven't gotten since the first time I tried on a pair of Vibrams. Those who switched from clunky trainers to Vibrams probably know what I'm talking about. It's a feeling that you have trouble putting into words. Just trust me...they are super comfortable to run in. You will not be disappointed.
I have to stretch to talk about negatives with these shoes. This is really all I came up with:
These are my feet after a run in my Runamocs. The red on my foot is color transfer from the leather upper. These things transfer mad color onto your feet and socks because they do not tan the leather used to make the mocassin in an effort to keep it fomeldahide free. I've actually given up wearing socks with them because I can't wash the red stain out, and it's turning my socks pink. I've been informed that this is an issue with all Softstar shoes. The staining of your feet goes away naturally after a few days, but it is annoying.
I actually think these shoes are more comfortable to run in without socks anyway, which I don't say about a lot of shoes. Even if the leather rubs on your feet, it stretches enough that it doesn't seem to cause hot spots or blisters. And wearing them without socks gives your feet better ventilation from the perforated upper.
The price of your Runamocs will depend on their size, but most will cost $87. Custom Runamocs start at $102. Both of these prices are comparable to other minimal shoes on the market. Given the quality of materials used, I think this price point is a bargain.
If I had to improve on only one aspect of the Runamoc, it would definitely be their appearance. That's pretty much what Softstar has done with their new Dash model, which the company will begin selling later this month. This shoe is still in the design phase, but here's a sneak peek from the company's blog:
I asked Softstar what the difference was between the current Runamoc and the Dash. The answer? Not much. The company reports that the Dash has the same great minimal running features as the current Runamoc, but with more of a "shoe" appearance. It looks like a shoe all right...a bowling shoe. I'm still not a fan of the look, but it's an improvement.
Anyway, the final design for the shoe isn't set yet, but currently the "shoe" appearance comes from adding a more substantial leather band around the heel collar and tongue. They are also looking to add several eyelets for the laces to give it more of a traditional lacing system. This is an effort by the company to address the "flopping" issue, and will better allow you to adjust the width of the shoe as well as secure the mocassin to your foot. I think most of the changes in this model are aesthetic. If you are worried about the possibility of a floppy mocassin, or are looking for the perfect elven bowling shoe, wait for the Dash. But in my opinion the model you will prefer depends only on which shoe you think is less ugly.
Also, keep this in mind when deciding what model to purchase. The Dash has substantially more shoe-like qualities and materials than the current Runamoc model. In my opinion, what makes the Runamoc so great is that it's NOT a shoe, it's a moccassin. All of that material around the collar and tongue of the shoe will substantially decrease the flexibility and breathability of the upper material.
So I think the more you try to make this product like a shoe, the more you take away from what is so great about it. I've made a lot of jokes about the appearance of these shoes, but in reality I really don't think you could make them any other way.
I love these "shoes". They are my new favorite closed-toe minimal shoes. I can't recommend them enough. Despite being butt-ugly, they get my first 10 out of 10 ever. I might even buy the trail version I like them so much. They are that good. Although I'm not much for purchasing shoes...
Anyway, check these out folks. You won't be disappointed. Cheers!