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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The MGBG Guide to Homemade Huaraches

When I first started getting interested in huaraches, there was essentially one choice.  You scraped together a piece of rubber and some string and made them yourself.  You cut the rubber in the shape of your foot, poked a hole in it, and threaded the string through it and around your foot.  Instant Tarahumara!  Bazinga!  

Once you actually get in to doing it though, you find out how complicated it is to make a pair of these suckers.  What kind of rubber do you use?  Where do you get it?  I don't thing there is a Rubber R Us anywhere close to you.  And if it's by an adult bookstore, they probably don't sell what the name implies (or maybe they do sell what the name implies, depends on whether you still use a 1970s nickname for condoms).  What kind of string do you use?

The list of questions goes on.  And the answers to those questions are just as numerous.  So much so that there is a whole Google chat group dedicated to the topic. 

I certainly don't profess to be an expert at the topic.  In fact, I'm probably the last person you should ask about how to make a good pair of huaraches.  My first and only attempt at making huaraches ended up looking like a pair of foot boomerangs.  I'd show you a picture of them, but I want as little evidence of my lack of artistic ability on the interwebs as possible. 

So instead of giving you my advice on how to get started on your own homemade pair, I recruited some of my more crafty friends to do it for me.  Here's how they made theirs.  As always, my comments will be in bold.

Jeff Lisson

Jeff is a lawyer and partner at the law firm Carter, Boyd & Lisson out in San Angelo, Texas.  I've gotten to know him through my facebook page, where he is a frequent contributor.  He has run several ultra marathons in minimal shoes.  Although he would deny that he's my southern twin, I beg to differ.  He first introduced himself to me as a paleo-eating, barefoot running, sandal accumulating attorney.  Sound like anyone you know?  Anyway, he made a pair of sandals that resemble the Original Luna, and also wrote a great piece on how he did it.  Here it is!

Some runners can buy a single pair of shoes and stick with them until their toes rub through the soles. Others replace the shoes they bought last week with the newest shiny thing on the Internet.

Nothing wrong with that. 

Unfortunately, I’m one of the latter. Since I started barefoot and minimal running, I’ve accumulated more shoes and sandals than any human should own. Unfortunately, I don’t get free samples like the Maple Grove Barefoot Guy.

I got a fever!  And the only cure is more sandals!

I now own four pairs of huaraches ordered off the Internet, with one more on the way. But to top it off, I decided I wanted to make my own, and experiment with my own lacing systems. I’m pretty satisfied with the results.

Below is my materials list and directions on how to do it. But first, a few caveats:
  • Don’t expect it to cost less than the cheapest kits you can order online. For example, the $25 kits from Invisible Shoe (http://www.invisibleshoe.com/) or Luna Sandals (http://www.lunasandals.com/) end up about the same cost per pair, with less labor.
  • While it doesn’t take days to make sandals, if you include a leather footbed, it does take a couple of hours, along with some elbow grease to cut the rubber sole.
  • If you screw up, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. Free returns and no responsibility can be wonderful things.

I would note that you don't have to make your huaraches out of soling material. Anything that protects your foot from abrasion will work. I've seen them made out of baler belt, basketballs, bike tires, car tires, you name it!

But if you want to try your hand, read on.

The hardest thing about making huaraches from scratch is getting the materials. I ordered most of my stuff off the Internet. The initial investment was a little high, but it should go down was I make more pairs.

And note that you will make more pairs. Don't expect your first pair to be perfect. Like any craft, this sort of thing takes practice.

Here’s a list of materials I used and cost (without shipping):
  • Vibram 6mm Cherry soling. Look on Ebay, or go to http://www.cobblersupplies.com/. A sheet 11” by 36” (enough to make 4 pairs for average size feet) cost $47.50.
  • Suede for the footbed. Bought this at Hobby Lobby. Enough for 4 pairs cost about $10.00.
  • Glue. I used brush-on rubber cement, nothing fancy, and it worked fine. Cost less than $5.00, enough for many pairs.
  • Laces. I ended up using knit elastic from Hancock Fabrics. Cost: $2.50 for 2 pair.
  • Punch to make the holes. About $12.00.
A little detail on the materials:

The 6mm Vibram Cherry I ordered is a bit heavy and a bit stiff. My size 10 huaraches, with laces, weigh in at 5.7 ounces on my digital postal scale. That’s heavier than some huaraches, but lighter than all but the airiest shoes. The Vibram Cherry sole should last a long time, and provide great protection from the many rocks and sharp things on our local roads and trails. You likely can find lighter options on Cobbler Supplies or EBay.

Steven Sashen with Invisible Shoe has posted some great videos on how to make huaraches. If you’re really interested, you should take a look at his site. But here are the basic instructions:
  • Spread out the suede, and cut out a piece 11” long and as wide as your two feet.
  • Glue the suede to the Cherry material. I spread the rubber cement as evenly as possible on both surfaces, using the included brush. Pay special attention to where the edges will be. (Be careful to turn the suede over so you glue the BACK of the suede to the TOP of the sole material.) Smooth the material and make sure you don’t have any air bubbles.
  • Let it dry for an hour or so. I don’t know if it really needs that long, but it can’t hurt.
  • Stand on the material. Use a pen or marker to trace the outline of your foot.
  • Cut out the huaraches. Tin snips, used to cut metal, worked best for me for the 6mm Cherry material. Regular scissors took forever, were hard to use, and left a really ragged cut.
  • Mark the holes. Again, Steven Sashen’s videos are excellent on this. I find it best to put the toe hole about a quarter-inch inside of where the hole should naturally go, to prevent my big toe from slipping off the inside of the sandal.
  • Use the punch to cut the holes
I agree with Jeff's advice about using the resources on Invisible Shoes. They have great instructional material. Luna Sandals also has some great stuff on their website. Also, if you look on youtube there are hundreds of videos on how to make and tie huaraches.

That’s it for the soles.

I decided to experiment with the lacing system. I really like the elasticized leather laces sold by Luna Sandals, but I wanted something a little lighter. I looked around, and on the advice of my secretary (who knows everything), I got some ½-inch braided elastic from Hancock Fabrics. (And yes, I was the only male in the store.)

I like the way the elastic allows me to tie the sandals once, using the slip-on method, and never have to tie them again. I don’t have to untie them to take them off. By using the elastic, the laces stay tight no matter how far I run. And, the elastic doesn’t irritate my skin.

Here are the steps for the laces:
  • Thread the elastic. Go through the holes, and tie a knot in the bottom. I cut the elastic in half lengthwise, and then tied a granny knot. Be sure to leave enough elastic on top to sew the loops. Once you’re happy with your laces, you can cover the knot with some Shoe Goo or rubber cement to make the knot last longer.
  • Sew loops in the elastic, with the ragged end away from your foot. (I even stapled my first pair, to see if I’d like the system.) Then, thread enough elastic through the loops so it wraps around your foot. I have mine wrap twice, for a little extra security.
  • Put the sandals on, and tie the elastic as tight as you want it.
I’m pretty satisfied with the finished product. I plan to add some goo or something on the bottom to protect the knots under the sole. That’s to minimize the downside of these huaraches: If the knot under the sole wears out, you have to fashion a fix on the run.

Incidentally, if you want to try a lighter sole, http://www.cobblersupplies.com/ sells other Vibram materials, including NewFlex, which seems to be all the rage right now.

I’m not giving my legal career to sell huaraches. But as time goes on, I may make more pairs, and further experiment with laces and lacing systems.

Questions? Post comments below. But I may or may not reply.

Very cool! Thanks for the great information Jeff!

William Garabrant

I've known William for about two years from talking to him on internet forums like Runner's World and Barefoot Runners Society. He has been a barefoot runner for several years in the city of Kulmbach, Germany. I asked William if I could post a little about his various attempts at huaraches. He's made several pair. Even after three years of seeing everyone's attempt at homemade sandals I still like his the best. He's a master craftsman, and the two huaraches that he's developed I think shows that if you're handy enough, you can really make something great.

First Homemade Huaraches
Here's a pic of my first huaraches. The sole material is from an orthopedic shoe shop in town, 3.5mm.

Apparently if you walk into a cobbler in Germany and ask for some soling material, they'll just give some to you.  This hasn't been my experience in the States.

To make my template, I wet my feet in the tub and pressed them down on a piece of cardboard, then used a pen to trace around the actual profile. I left some extra room where I thought it made sense, but after my test run, I realize that I need a little more in front of the toes and on the outside of the heels. But, for a first attempt, I think they came out pretty good. They're a lot narrower than others I've seen here an on the web.

These are held to my feet with "shock cord", which is the same as bungee cord, 4mm.

By the way,when making these things the most crucial aspect is the placement of the holes(!).

I totally agree with this.  If you get the holes wrong on a pair of huaraches, they will never stay on your feet properly. 

His newest pair are the grandmasters of all homemade huaraches.  These things give Luna Sandals a run for their money.

Here are a couple shots of my latest Raramuri Sandal development. They're 3-ply with Vibram Trekking outer sole, a rubberized cork midsection and calf leather suede top.

I bought the Vibram and the cork from a leather supply house nearby and the leather from an Ebay dealer. I bought a 1 liter can of glue, but probably not a brand that any of you have heard of: Patex Kraftkleber. It's absolutely amazing stuff, low fume, you just smear it on both surfaces evenly, let sit 15 minutes then press them together firmly (I use an old fashioned rolling pin) and that's it. No drying time at all. Indestructible. Awesome.

These sandals are for the roughest terrain, highest protection. They're overkill for most everything I run on, but also very comfortable as walking shoes. They look pretty cool, too.

I've made another development that isn't on the photos. I cut out the rubber outer sole extra large where the lace (in these pics, 4mm pp rope) is, so that the cord is actually deepset, protected by the outer sole. It can't wear off until the out sole wears completely out, or so goes the theory anyway...

Super cool!  Thanks Willie!

If you think you have the chops to make a pair of huaraches yourself, have at it.  I hope you found the information from these two sources helpful.  If you have more questions, probably the best place to ask is that Google group.  You can also ask your questions on this post and see if you get a response. 

Happy sandal making citizens!  Cheers!


  1. I can't see the pic of Jeff's sandals. This has happened on a few of my posts. Probably a blogger issue. Just letting you know.

  2. The three ply sandals are awesome, though is it necessary? What benefit do each of the layers add? I'll post a pic of my huarache development on the facebook page.

  3. That 3-ply shoe looks incredible! I am totally digging my Invisible Shoes, brother, that I just got a couple weeks ago. I can't believe how great they are and that it took me so long to discover the wonder that is huaraches.

    Fantastic post, Christian!

  4. Christian, I question the title to your post. It's really not "The MGBG Guide to Homemade Huaraches," but "The MGBG Guide to Getting Other People to Post How They Made Homemade Huaraches."

  5. I dunno Jeff. I think "how to make people do stuff for you" is a completely different post.



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