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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The MGBG Guide to Writing Shoe Reviews

Citizens, I get flack sometimes for how much I talk about shoes on this site. "Aren't you supposed to be a barefoot running blog?" Yes. Yes, I am. To that I respond with two points. First, "Aren't you supposed to be working instead of reading my posts?" Yeah...that's what I thought.

Second, I'm not stupid. I know what you all want to read. No matter how many articles I write on barefoot running basics, strength training, diet, Nintendo games, or whatever...nothing brings in as much traffic to my site as an MGBG shoe review. And I'm cool with that. I like writing reviews.

And it's not just because it spikes my stats like espresso with a meth chaser. Writing reviews has taught me more about my running, my feet, and my personal preferences for minimal shoes than anything else I've ever done. I think it's important for minimalist runners to think critically about their footwear choices, so they can develop a collection (or lack thereof) that works for their needs.

As you've all probably experienced, choosing a minimal shoe can be difficult. The ability to select the right minimal shoe for your circumstance borders on an art or skill (which by the way is why I wrote my guide to helping you select the right minimal shoe for you). Learning how to write a shoe review is a great way to better develop that skill. Plus, it's just plain fun to try new gear.

Now you don't need to have a blog to do something like this. Shoe reviewing isn't just about writing down your thoughts about a shoe. All of us reviewers have some kind of method we use to figure out what we like and dislike. Developing that method and putting your thoughts on paper can help all of us be better consumers.

Step One: Do your research

Too many people review shoes in a vacuum. They only consider what they like and dislike about a pair of shoes. Here's the problem. I don't know you. You're probably pretty cool, but I don't know that. I don't know what you like or dislike. And if you haven't done ten thousand shoe reviews (like I have) that I can read to see if you have the same opinion as me, I don't know whether your review will be helpful to me.

Although doing a shoe review can inform you as to your own tastes, it's not about you. It's about your readers and what they will like or dislike about the shoe. You need to get as objective about this process as possible.

How do you figure out what other people will like about a shoe? How about Google other reviews of the same product. Or go into internet forums and read people's comments about the shoe. Unless you're a super swag ninja, you're probably not able to acquire minimal shoes that haven't been released yet. Someone out there has probably already purchased the shoe and wrote about it somewhere.

I read every available shoe review out there before I write my own. If no reviews are available, I ask people who have tried the shoe for their opinions. If possible, I ask questions to the company itself. You don't get any points for reinventing the wheel here. "The widest net gets the most fish." That might not be an actual quote...but it's what you should do.

When you read their opinions, look for common themes. For example, if one person says the shoes give them blisters in a particular location, it's probably not that much of an issue. But if ten people say it, it might be cause for concern. That will be something to pay attention to when you test the shoe yourself.

Step Two: Develop a list of criteria

Usually what makes us like a shoe or not is a fuzzy concept that is hard to put into words. That works fine when the audience is yourself, but that makes it difficult to communicate what you like or dislike about the shoe to others. In order to do that, most reviewers develop a list of things that they will evaluate when putting a shoe through the ropes.

Here's the laundry list of things (not necessarily comprehensive) I evaluate when reviewing a shoe:

1. Weight
2. Toe box
3. Heel raise
4. Interior comfort
5. Breathability
6. Groundfeel/Protection
7. Sole Flexibility
8. Ease of adjustment
9. Tread/Grip
10. Appearance and style
11. Durability (or appearance thereof)
12. Miscellaneous wonkiness
13. Price

Note that a lot of these things might not be important to you when selecting a shoe. But you still need to evaluate those features, because it might be important to someone else. Plus, you might learn a thing or two about your own likes and dislikes.

Also note that there will be issues that crop up with a shoe that aren't on this list. Just because it's not on there doesn't mean it's not important. Every shoe review is different. You need to take everything into account. If you don't, you'll piss off readers who relied on you to make their purchase. There is no wrath like the wrath of someone who just burned $100 on your advice.

Step Three: Inspect the Shoe

Remember that for the most part, minimalist shoes are not available in stores. So if someone is considering buying the pair of shoes you are reviewing, they will not be able to hold them in their hands. They can only inspect photos of the product from the company website and your review. You need to do a once over of the product for them.

What are you looking for? Look for the features of the shoe. I read a ton of reviews that do a fine job of describing how the reviewer feels while wearing the shoe, without ever describing what the shoe is made of! Reviews are first and foremost about describing the product for those that can't see it for themselves. So what is the upper made of? What is the sole made of? Do the same with the laces, the insole (if any), the interior, and all other parts of the shoe. People want specifics.

Don't stop with just a visual inspection. Feel the shoe with your hands. Manipulate it by bending and flexing it. Do that stupid "roll into a ball" thing. Everyone's foot is different, so just wearing the shoe on your foot is not enough. You need to be familiar with every square inch of material on the shoe in order to identify possible issues.

Step Four: Actually Run in the Shoe

I know, right? But seriously. I never understood how you're supposed to get a feel for a shoe by doing the running store "out and back". I've tried on so many minimalist shoes that I can, for the most part, figure out how I will review a shoe just by standing in it. But most of you don't have that breath of experience. So you'll actually need to hit the paths to test the various features of a shoe.

How much should you run? It depends on what kind of review you're trying to write, and the features you intend to cover. Folks like Donald at Running and Rambling spend hundreds of miles in a shoe before writing a review. I assume he does that to address issues of wear and durability. Others, like myself, spend considerably less. In doing that I can't really comment on wear and durability, but on the plus side I can turn out a more timely review for folks who want that information before or immediately after a shoe's release.

I try to spend an average of 50 miles in a shoe before I even consider writing a review. That's just a standard that I've developed so that I cover all my bases. And it's not a hard and fast number. Sometimes, I can write one after 2 miles if everything just clicks. Sometimes it takes a lot longer. It really depends on the shoe. I suggest that you start out spending at least two weeks in the shoes and develop your own guidelines.

And it's not just how much you run. It's more how you run that matters. So if you're primarily a road runner, it's not time to explore trail running. If you never run more than 10 miles, it's not time to get a new distance record. You need to run in your test shoes the way you run normally. For me, that means I take my test shoes on at least one long run of 10+ miles, as well as a shorter run and a speedwork session.

Step Five: Go down your list

Since you'll be putting at least 50 miles on your test shoes, that should give you plenty of time to go down the list of criteria you've developed and iron out your thoughts on each. How you do this is more of an art than a science. When I review a shoe, I kind of let my mind go blank and let the issues of a shoe come to me. Some of you don't do that zen bullshit and need to be more methodical. As you do more of these reviews, you will develop some kind of a system (or in my case, a lack of system).

What you are doing when you go down the list is issue spotting. What do you like about a particular feature? What don't you like? In either case, is this the way you think everyone will feel? If you can't project that issue into someone else's experience, it's not worth reporting on. For example, if you have triple-E feet, and you find a shoe snug, it's not something to write about. I don't care if your log-feet don't fit. I want to know how someone who isn't a yeti is going to fare. Remember, it's not about you.

Step Six: Write down your thoughts

I can't tell you how to be a good review writer or what goes into a good review. For one, I don't really know. I just write a review and hope people like it. So far, my method of word vomiting with little to no editing or proofreading seems to be something people enjoy.

The best way to learn how to write good reviews is to read what you consider to be good reviews. What did you find helpful about them? What did you think was wasted space? Again, review writing doesn't occur in a vacuum. You can take style points from others. There's nothing wrong with writing your first couple reviews using the same format as another reviewer.

That is...so long as it works. We all have our own style of writing. So don't force yourself into a review format just because a more popular reviewer does it that way. People can tell when you're not being yourself. So if you're not MGBG, don't try to force a stripper joke into a review. Only I know how to blend g-strings and shoe-strings seamlessly into a post. See what I did there? They both have the word "string" in them. So it works. That's Pulitzer shit right there.

The biggest piece of review writing advice I have is this. A good review is one that is helpful to the most people. So it's not about your likes and dislikes. It's about their likes and dislikes. So speak more about others and less about yourself. The more people that can read your review and find it useful, the better that review will be.

Happy review writing citizens!


  1. Good points about shoe reviews (and I enjoy reading your reviews)...but you miss the most important point--be independent. That translates into not accepting any free models, not working for the company, and not accepting any advertising. Evaluation 101. That's why you can trust Consumer Reports, but not most other reviewers.

  2. Wow, that's very scientific.

    I take a different route: it's always all about me. In my little fictional-autobiographical foot story thing I got going on at barefootjosh.com, the shoe companies who send me their wares are working day and night trying to make a shoe that I, me personally, like. My "review" is telling them how close they are.

    But no one gets angry with me, because if they want useful information they probably don't read my blog anyway.

  3. I have my own system and style but it's Different being a chic doing reviews without a whole lot of other chic reviewers out there. So I pave my own way, of which I like very much over at barefootangiebee.com....:)

  4. I'm not the sort of blogger who receives shoes in advance or gratis. By the time I've decided which shoes I'm going to purchase, I've likely read many such reviews as described here (Thank you!) Consequently, writing a review in the manner suggested is likely an exercise in redundancy. Instead, my reviews reflect my experiences, tastes, quirks, and point of view - and, as such, may provide my reader a different perspective or new info to supplement the stuff they've read several times over everywhere else.

  5. I think your type of review is needed but so is an individual type review. I try to link to pros like you but then tell how I personally felt about the shoe. I did that with the MT 110s and I like to look at all kinds of reviews before choosing a new shoe in the rare event I want to buy one.

  6. Thank you so much for these great tips! I've written several reviews now but without much structure or direction. This post pretty much has all the information I've been looking for. Thanks again, I can't wait to try it out!


  7. The clarity in your post is simply great. My own point of view, "DR MARTENS 1461 3 EYE GIBSON LACE UP" shoes are awesome! The rubber is thin so they are very sensitive in both the toe and heel. The lacing system is extensive so there is a very powerful fit on your foot. The drawback to this is that they hard hard to get off of your foot, especially when you are pumped. I feel that the heel is the stand out feature to these shoes. Thank you...

  8. Keep posting the good work. Some really helpful information in there. Bookmarked. Nice to see your site..led lights for shoes

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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