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Monday, November 21, 2011

Invisible Shoe Connect and Contact Huarache Review

Invisible Shoes - Barefoot Running Shoes

Steve Sashen over at Invisible Shoe does a lot of things right with his company.  He has top-notch products and customer service.  He provides tons of great how-to information on huaraches.  He has luxurious long man-hair of which I am immensely jealous. 

Doesn't this photo make you want to watch video of him running in slow motion?  Maybe even give someone a slow-motion jump hug at the end?  My hair by contrast looks like the bottom end of a corn broom.

He also makes a kick-ass sandal.  The original Invisible Shoe huarache provides wearers with an experience that is as close to barefoot running as you can get.  It's the only product that I will voluntarily put on my feet for road running.  Everything else makes my feet fall asleep from boredom.

I also had a few minor issues with the original Invisible Shoe that made me hesitate to annoint them the greatest huarache of all time.  I found the greatest strength of the sandal to also be a weakness.  The incredible flexibility of the sandal also gave the sandal a bit of a wonky fit unless it was tied correctly.  Therefore I opined that it was not necessarily a good choice for those new to huaraches.

Well Steve has a lot of brains under that mane of his.  And it shows in his second generation of huaraches: the Connect and Contact sandal. 

I was going to take my normal sub-par quality pictures for this review, but then I found this video on the Invisible Shoe website.  It does a lot better job showing off the sandals than I ever could.  My only criticism is that I wished he did more "hairography".  Or at least tell us what kind of "product" you use.  So shiney!

So as Steve explained in the video, the sole of most huaraches are just a piece of rubber cut in the shape of your foot.  Most companies nowadays use some kind of Vibram product.  Most, including the original Invisible Shoe, use Vibram Cherry which is prized for its flexbility and durability.  Luna Sandals uses a stiffer kind of rubber known as Vibram Neoprene. 

All of those products have their strengths and weaknesses.  The Vibram Cherry provides excellent groundfeel, but at the same time is a bit too flexible.  The Vibram Neoprene has the opposite problem.  It has more rigidity (and more comfort when it molds to your feet) at the expense of groundfeel. 

In my opinion, the FeelTrue sole on the Connect and Contact gives you the best of both worlds.  It is flexible enough to still provide great groundfeel, and just stiff enough to make it easier to tie and more comfortable to wear.  I found it very difficult to tell the difference between the groundfeel of the Connect and the original Invisible Shoe.  That difference was a little more pronounced in the Contact sandal, but that was to be expected.  The Contact sandal is a 6mm sole, whereas the Connect is a 4mm.

Another improvement comes in terms of fit.  One thing I like about Luna Sandals is that after a while the neoprene sole molds to the shape of your foot, which is very comfortable.  The original Invisible Shoe does this too if you tie them tight enough.  But in that case the sandal has a tendancy to fold over on itself so that the footbed comes in contact with the ground.  That's a major sandal felony. 

The FeelTrue sole doesn't conform exactly to your feet as would the Luna Sandal.  All FeelTrue soles of the same size are identical, and the top part is cut to the shape of your feet.  But the FeelTrue is molded in the shape of a typical foot, making it more comfortable than if it were completely flat.

Stealing another picture from the Invisible Shoe website.  Sorry Steve.  I hope you don't think I'm phoning this review in. 

The FeelTrue sole also is a significant upgrade in the grip department.  The sole of the original Invisible Shoe was really only good on dry roads and light trails.  I always felt a little unsure of my footing in wet conditions.  And I wouldn't even think of taking them on a muddy trail.  I found that the improved grip on the FeelTrue performed well on all but the most sloppy trail conditions. 

With all of these improvements, I feel like Invisible Shoes are no longer just pieces of rubber with shoelaces attached (albeit a very effective piece of rubber)....something that you could make yourself.  In fact, they had a DIY kit so that you COULD make it yourself.  These sandals are a cut above...a very professional product. 

So why would you want to buy the original Invisible Shoe?  I would say you should buy them if you want a more custom fit.  The only problem I have with these sandals is that even the custom-made option is somewhat of a stock product.  Regardless of your foot shape, a majority of your FeelTrue sandal will be the same shape as everyone elses.  That's because in order to make it fit correctly, you only lop off material at the top end.  See photo that I stole from my friend Chad's blog Unshod and Unashamed (very good shoe reviews over there by the way...he is my finest swag ninja pupil...*single tear* I'm sooooo proud!).

This affects two things.  First, some people will have more extra material around the edges of their sandals than others.  Some might not care about this, but I prefer a very close-cut huarache.  Close-cut sandals is something that Steve does very well with his original model. 

Second, the lace holes don't necessarily line up with your ankles.  I think that ankle-hole placement is the most critical part of getting a good fit in a pair of huaraches.  When I get a sandal with bad hole placement, it's almost impossible to tie them so that they stay on my feet.  Instead, they usually torque off your foot one way or the other.  Sandal felony #2.  Since the ankle holes in the original models are custom-placed, this sort of thing doesn't happen.

But overall, these sandals have replaced the original model for me as my favorite road sandals.  They are a definite upgrade in terms of comfort and performance.  I suggest you check them out


  1. I can almost hear the epic music behind the slo-mo hair flowing picture up there.. Great review too... I love my Contacts... first only minimalist shoe I've ran in.. afraid I may be disappointed in anything else..

  2. Clearly the biggest question is .... not which to get Contact or Connect... but which colour lace to order!

    Or am I ignoring the obvious here (ie pink)?

    ps I used to have a flowing mane like that...until gravity and genetics ganged up on me.

  3. Finally. What took you so long. It's not like there are a million new minimalist shoes out there to review now...oh, wait.

    Great review.

    I have both the 4mm and the 6mm. The 6mm have been my go-to "shoe" for every running surface wet or dry for the past few months. Running in them has been pure joy.

    I used the stock laces at first, but didn't really like them. They just didn't feel as secure as I wanted, so I retro-fitted them with 1/2 flat climbing webbing and a buckle. Now, they are Feel True soles set-up like Bedrock sandals. Bedrock has lots of videos, if you are interested in making the switch. It is really easy and you don't have to alter anything on the sole. You just have to make sure to get the right type and size buckle so that the strap won't slip. Mine feel rock solid on my feet now, which, for me, makes running that much better.

    Now that the weather is turning, I am wearing Injinji socks with my sandals, and they work great to cut the chill during runs.

    I also retrofitted my 4mm FeelTrue soles with straps, but I also added a suede top I got from Luna. The process of gluing the leather was easy, and they feel great underfoot. They run great too, but I am using them more as walking/casual sandals so as not to trash the leather top.

    MGBG: if you are interested, I'd be happy to cobble together a pair for you. Just let me know. Or, I can provide more details on the process of adding straps/buckles/leather, including where to by the right supplies. I think the straps/buckles was about $8.

    I have to say that Steven's friendliness, customer service, and enthusiasm make the whole Invisible Shoe experience all the better. Of course, the hair helps too :)

    I think Steven has totally hit a home run with the Feel True soles, and I can't recommend them highly enough.

    1. I am interested in learning more about putting these straps on the invisible shoes contact soles. Can you tell me where you got the straps, and how you did it without altering the sole? Seems like you would have to cut bigger slits for the webbing on the sides. Perhaps you also enlarge the toe hole and then melt the webbing? Any additional info would be appreaciated.

      thanks, Matt

  4. Hey, MGBG, please review UnShoes' Pah Tempe sandal when you have a chance. I don't think I'll ever run in sandals, but I would like to trade in my Target-brand rubber clunkers next summer for something with better groundfeel, for casual us. Besides being slightly offended by Invisible Shoes' slogan that they're better than barefoot, I'd like something I can slip on quickly, without monkeying around with tying cords.

  5. Will do! I was going to review them this year, but didn't have enough time.

  6. I think Steven has a decent product, but I have come across numerous sites where he has been less than honest in his comparisons to other products. This has completely turned me off to his company. I understand you have to market your product, I get it, but I don't believe in the dishonesty thing. For me this makes me never want to order another product from him, no matter how good it is.

    I had the 4mm Connect and it would have been great I think, but way back when I had ordered them they did not say in big bold letters that they upped the size a half size from what you ordered, so I upped size on my own. Big problem for me as I had to not only cut away material from front but also from the side and back.

    I also had a problem with the Connect making flapping noises against the bottom of my foot unless I had them tied painfully tight. I was shocked by this as they do curve up in the front just a touch.

    I also had to get rid of their laces because they really irritated my skin and would rub me raw. I use a round shoe lace I picked up at Payless now and they are much more comfortable now. It may not last as long but it sure is more comfortable.

  7. I agree with you Nick. The company's exageration of the dangers of going barefoot without some form of 'protection' is also dishonest advertising, in my book, and may discourage people from even trying going barefoot, whether running, walking, or whatever, before convincing themselves of the marketer's our-product-as-solution-to-the-problem-created ruse.

  8. I disagree with you folks on this point. Steve does more to promote proper barefoot running education than most minimal shoe manufacturers. He's certainly not in it to make a quick buck off of the barefoot movement under any sort of ruse.

    Also, call him up if you're having these problems you mentioned. He's more than happy to help you out.

    But seriously people, out of every company you could accuse of making a buck off of barefoot you chose a sandal maker? Spare me...

  9. Thanks for the shout out, Sensei! And great review. I am 100% with you regarding Steven and co. They really believe in what they are doing, and you won't find a more helpful minimalist advocate in all the running world. The improvement in their product line from start until now has been dramatic; it makes your really interested in what they'll come up with next. If I had to suggest one thing to Sashen, it would be a way to work in a nylon "strap" ala Unshoes or Bedrock sandals for comfort.

  10. From my conversations with Steve, I can tell you that a lot of straps have been tried and none have worked as well as the standard lace. Though he will be sending his newest evil creations soon, so we'll see what is in store for the future. But if he doesnt make something you like, someone else will. Lots of room for innovation in this market.

  11. MGBG & ChadisBarefoot, I think you underestimate the impact of someone stumbling across Invisible Shoes' website and reading that "[t]he biggest problem with barefoot running, not surprisingly, is all the stuff on the ground that can hurt and cut your feet...." You guys probably filter that out because you already know what BFR is all about, and/or have had positive interactions with Steve. What about someone looking into BFR/minimalism for the first time? The most common reaction I get when someone finds out I run BF is the ol' "What about all the broken glass everywhere" silliness. The Invisible Shoes' blurb plays on this misconception. Granted, minimalist running is better than running in over-engineered running shoes, and is necessary under a lot of conditions (I'm probably just a week or two from having to run in my Moc3s at least part of the time now that temps are dropping), but it’s a shame when a leading proponent either unwittingly or dishonestly discourages actual barefoot running.

  12. Here's the thing. The biggest problem with barefoot running IS injury from the running surface. There aren't really any other problems with it. So how is it a misconception? He's telling you the truth!

    Whether or not he's exaggerating the risk is a different issue. And that all depends on where you're at in the process. The perceived risk is greater for beginners, and he's offering a solution. Just because his description of the perceived risk is different from yours doesn't make him dishonest. It makes just makes his opinion different. Different people need shoes for different purposes.

    Again...these aren't the droits you're looking for dude...

  13. I guess I side with Chris McDougall on this one. In a YouTube video I saw about a year ago, he talks with a reporter in Central Park and replies to the 'glass is everywhere' myth. I think it's this one: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/10/04/health/1247464987589/barefoot-running.html. But my opinion is really just based on personal experience (many decades of spending a lot of time barefoot). If you, as someone who's out there with barefoot runners on a quasi-professional basis (I run alone), are finding that a lot of people are stepping on stuff and getting hurt, I can hardly disagree with your observation. All I can say is that in Osaka, Chicago, and St. Paul, as well as in less urban places, having eyes has been all that's necessary to keep my soles whole (I did get hookworm in Africa once though). And that seems to work for most of the people on the BF forums I've visited. There, the biggest problem seems to be either TMTS, or transitioning with minimalist shoes instead going straight to barefoot. Still, your defense has convinced me that I was rash in my charge of dishonesty, and for that I apologize, dude. Peace.

  14. MGBG, I myself am not saying anything about the barefoot or minimalist thing. I'm talking about the companies flat out dishonesty when comparing their product to "another venders". They flat out tell you a direct lie to make you think something incorrect. I will gladly pay more from this other vender because I have never once seen any of this type of dishonesty. Like I said, I understand he has to market his product and he has a decent product. I just refuse to deal with a company if I don't have to when they lie to the public and don't compare apples to apples. I don't have to support dishonesty in this case and I refuse to.

  15. MGBG, here’s an analogy to help make my point. You go into footlocker or someplace, the salesperson looks at the wear on your shoes’ soles, or asks you to bend your knees, and discovers you over-pronate or something. The salesman may or may not believe this—that is, they may be either unwitting or dishonest--but in either case the solution is to recommend a shoe that will correct the problem. But the shoe actually may end up creating or worsening the very problem it’s supposed to solve. Accumulating research has shown this often to be the case. OK, now back to barefoot running. A lot of people have reported problems transitioning from over-engineered shoes to minimalist shoes, because they don’t, apparently, gain enough in proprioception to adopt good form. Some people even heel-strike. I think this is pretty well-attested on sites like BRS. More and more people (I’m too lazy to look up the references) seem to be coming to the conclusion that it’s best to go straight to barefoot running, and THEN use minimalist shoes when the terrain or temps require them. So, when someone is selling a sandal as a transitional or perhaps permanent solution to the ‘problem’ of running barefoot unprotected, they may also be inducing people to injure themselves. That’s why I don’t think my criticism of Invisible Shoe’s blurb is trivial. And, because you have a certain amount of influence in these matters, it would be nice if you were less dismissive of this possibility. In any case, I enjoy your blog a lot, keep up the great work!

  16. I've been having problems with my Huaraches. They seen to bother my heel. When I losen them so my ankles feel fine, the ankle then flops around. I would like them to be tight and snug without pain in the heel.I've been using the slip on slip off meathod

  17. I've been wearing the original invisible shoes for about a year. They slowly became more and more optimized. I've trimmed them so that the toes almost hang over the front edge and the heel has no extra space behind. For me, the slip on slip off method is a bit of a myth. If you are not constantly slipping them on and off it's better to take a few minutes and tie them right. I've tried the classic way in the beginning but that didn't work either, so I just kept experimenting with variations of the classic until I got a method that worked. I also found that as my feet got more used to being barefoot, they relax more and are't bothered by snugness.

  18. WOW... someone JUST pointed me to this thread (I read the review when it came out but, being busy running a company, I don't always have the time to check in and follow up).

    I guess it's a good sign when you become popular enough to elicit a conversation like this one ;-)

    Let me address a few of the points raised. Pardon me if I miss any.

    a) Regarding "slapping" sounds... please see www.invisibleshoe.com/slap. In short, there are 3 causes: heel striking, overstriding, or landing with an inflexible "spring" (if you keep your ankle, knee, or hip too stiff, you're slamming your foot into the ground.

    b) Regarding my "false claims" about the perils of barefoot (which I don't believe is perilous)... you may want to read my entire site rather than focus on one sentence on one page. Are things that you might step on "the biggest" possible problem with barefoot? Perhaps not. Depends on who you are and where you're running. I'm glad I didn't write "Getting your feet dirty is the biggest problem with being barefoot." ;-)

    c) Regarding my "false claims" about other products... well, I don't know what you're referring to, so I can't comment specifically. Keep in mind that some people will read a comment I wrote TWO YEARS AGO about a product that existed TWO YEARS AGO and think I'm talking about a current product. And when that comment is on some other forum where I have no ability to edit it... well, one problem with the Internet ("the biggest problem with the Internet"? ;-) ) is that everything lasts forever.

    Suffice it to say, if you disagree with something I've written, you can actually contact ME directly so that I can address it (obviously, there's nothing I can do if I don't know about it).

    d) Regarding tying... some people get the "sweet spot" of lacing just right on the first try. Others take a few days to find a tension (or lacing style -- there are many of them at www.invisibleshoe.com/tying) just right. I know that I use the slip-on style at the top of the Tying page and haven't re-tied my sandals in over 6 months.

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