"Saw her running barefoot but the ground there never touched her feet"
-Nine Days, End Up Alone
You have heard me say it before, but there is a revolution afoot (pun intended). The Ancestral Health movement and books like Born To Run(a must-read for anyhuman being) have proven to us that walking and running barefoot has amazing health benefits, but many people are reluctant to hop on the band wagon because... well lets just face it, 'toe shoes' are ugly.
Luckily, there is another option for those of us who want to look good and keep our feet and bodies strong, happy, and healthy.
Welcome to the world of Minimalist Sandals.
There are 2 main styles of minimalist sandals - the toe-strap sandal and the open toe. Each of these types of sandals can be bought OR made at home. An example of each is shown below. Feel free to skip ahead to 'My Ultimate Minimalist Sandal' to see my own recommendations for the best possible all-around minimalist sandal if you don't care for the specifics!
This sandal is the most common version of the minimalist sandal. The advantage to this sandal is that they tend to stay in place on your foot more easily than the open-toe sandal. However, there is a bit of getting used to involved in wearing these sandals, especially if you are not used to having a strap between your toes as it can grow uncomfortable.
This sandal tends to be a more comfortable style for casual to moderate hiking, water sports (or river trips!), and generally chillin'. Problems with it include that on steep terrain, your foot can slide too far forward; however, it compensates by actually providing more lateral support since the toe-strap sandal can put all lateral force on the inside of the toe (which can hurt!).
Currently, the only people selling a open-toe minimalist sandal are the folks over at Unshoes (who are a pleasure to work with from my experience!), the sandal being the Pah Tempe. This is my go-to sandal for any sorts of water sports, and I enjoy them for most activities other than running.
Beyond just choosing the sandal style that works best for you and your lifestyle, there are 4 other options to consider:
A) Leather top or not?
-You can choose to add a leather top to your sandal, which helps to make the sandal much more comfortable (in my opinion) and keep the foot from sweating too much (a problem for me). However, the leather top adds weight (for those of you gram-counters out there) and is more slippery in rain or water sports.
*UPDATE: After testing out Luna's new MGT Footbed, I am a BIG fan of it for running and hiking. It is sticky yet comfortable and works well in wet conditions. Surprisingly, sweat is not an issue with it, either! The best of both worlds.
B) Type of Straps
There are several options for straps. I will suggest 2 options I do not like first: Paracord (I used this to make my first pair and it is rather uncomfortable) and Braided hemp (it is so soft that it breaks easily and quickly).
Here are 5 options I DO recommend:
1. Webbing like that found on the Shamma Warrior and Luna's Oso. This webbing does not have an elastic strap on the back like the typical Luna ATS straps - for running and technical terrain, this is the way to go.
2. Luna Sandal's ATS laces. I personally do not like the stretch band on the back of the ATS laces for trail-running and technical terrain, as it allows the foot to move around too much (even when tightened to the point of hurting). However, this system makes for GREAT chillin' / casual walking sandals, road runners, or even good flat-ish trail running.
3. Bedrock Sandals straps. These are versatile and I enjoyed them on many pairs of sandals, but the webbing mentioned above is softer and more comfortable.
4. Xero Shoe laces - these are soft like braided hemp, but much stronger. This may be a good option for anyone wanting the softer feel, but upgrading to the Webbing will probably follow.
5. Exodus Sandals makes a unique strap design. I haven't tried them out yet but will update you when I do!
6. Leather - I like these for the authentic feel. They just feel right when paired with a leather top. Shamma Sandals makes the best thick leather straps. They are comfy and even classy-looking - you can wear them to casual backyard after-work BBQ's.
C) Sole Type
The type of sole is extremely important given your activity. If you plan on casually walking or doing road running in the sole, the 'stickiness' of the sandal doesn't make much of a difference and a slicker sole like the Luna Venado will do just fine (I have a pair with this sole for exactly those purposes). However, if you plan on hiking on slick rock or participating in watersports, you will want a much stickier sole. The sport utility rubber on Unshoes and Shamma Sandals is very sticky while still very thin, and the Luna Leadville is much stickier and is thick. THE stickiest I have found is 5.10 Stealth Rubber (read my article specifically on making sandals with Five Ten rubber). I alternate with pairs of all of the sandals mentioned above when approaching climbing routes that have slick rocks on route.
*Update: The Luna Oso and Shamma Mountain Goat (coming out soon) soles are REALLY freaking sticky. (both sandals are as close to perfect as you can get for minimalist approach shoes for technical terrain).
D) Sole Thickness
The sole thickness can vary from as little as 5mm (very thin) to 12mm. The 12mm sole maintains a minimalist feel but is capable of running on the toughest of terrains.
If you are new to minimalist shoes, go with a thicker option and make sure to do LOTS of walking and hiking before setting off on a run. If you are a weathered minimalist shoe person and plan to be on terrain where you can handle feeling the ground beneath your feet, go thinner. One consideration to keep in mind, though, is that the thinner the sole the floppier it may be (adding leather will greatly reduce flop, though!)
A final consideration is do you want to Do It Yourself (make the sandal) or buy it from a retailer?
I have made several sandals myself, and I find it satisfying to have actually made the entire thing myself. I have made them out of 5.10 rubber (super sticky, but very thin!) old mountain bike tires (also thin), and vibram soles I have found online. I typically trace my foot into the sole, cut it out with scissors, and then glue leather scraps (which I buy at a trading post in town) to the top of the soles using BARGE cement. I trim the leather to fit the sandal after gluing and letting it sit overnight with a heavy book on top of it. Once you have done all of that, you can punch holes where the strap will go through using a Leather Punch and following Barefoot Ted's instructions.
Conversely, I also own several pairs of retail sandals, which are much more comfortable and more professionally done. Ultimately, the choice is up to you, but I suggest having a couple pairs for different occasions!
OK, Here are My Top Picks:
Road/Moderate Trail Runners Award: The Shamma Warriors
Casual Sandal Award: Luna Venado ATS / Unshoes Pah Tempe
Classy Sandal Award: Shamma Jerusalem Cruisers
The greatest footwear in the world: Your own feet. Don't forget to train them by themselves sometimes, too!
Or, listen to my interview with Barefoot Ted to hear more about the joys of running in Sandals.