Invisible Shoes (which are in essence tarahumara huaraches) are presented as a minimalist alternative to running and walking completely unshod (barefoot). After spending many hours and running hundreds of miles in Xero Shoes (the classic DIY kit that comes with a square of soling material as well as nylon-propylene lacing) I’ve seen them at their best and worse. Here’s a comprehensive review on everything from the sole material to the laces and how they handle terrain, weather, etc. I’ll start with the website and purchasing, and then discuss each aspect of the huarache and how it holds up.
Xero Shoes DIY Kit
Xero Shoes has a very straightforward and simple way of navigating, and purchasing your own DIY kit. Be sure to select the right size Vibram square, long and wide enough to fit both your feet on. There are three different sizes (from smallest to largest, these are the prices as of 8/11):
- Kids 7.5’’ by 9’’ ($16.95)
- Standard 9’’ by 11’’ ($21.95)
- Large 11’’ by 12” ($27.95)
Each kit allows you to choose the color of the laces, including- black, royal blue, deep purple, red, neon green, coral orange and white. Shipping, depending on your location, usually runs between 5-8 bucks. The website has excellent how-to videos for making your personal, fitted sandals once they arrive. If you are concerned about messing up the process, Invisible Shoes.com also has a video on how to measure your foot and have a custom made pair. The price range for the custom-made pair runs between $39.95-44.95 (as of 8/11). You will also need a leather punch, which is about $8 at Lowes.
At the heart of the Invisible Shoe is the sole (see what I did there?). Made from 4 or 6mm Vibram Cherry material, the sole is a very hardy, yet flexible material. (You can bend the stuff in half!). I’ve run over plenty of sharp rocks, broken bottles and tree roots without any kind of punctures or tears in the material. That said, I’ve found that the nylon-propylene lacing will slowly wear through the two holes on the sides of the sandals (usually the one on the outside of your foot). After 6 months, depending on the use, the constant pull and rubbing of the lacing on the sandal will eventually tear through the side of the Invisible Shoe. While this isn’t the end of the world as you can simply punch a new hole, it can be incredibly frustrating if the sandals break halfway into an 8-mile run. If you have already bought a DIY kit I would highly recommend leaving a little extra material around the outside of the side holes just to reinforce them. Overall the sole is a very durable material that allows you to feel a great deal of the ground beneath you without tearing up your feet. After running many miles, my outsoles have barely compressed at all, and overall are still as sturdy as the day I bought them.
Every DIY kit comes with a pair of 6inch long, 5/32 thick, nylon-propylene chord in a variety of colors. As advertised on the website, this chord has no break-in period, isn’t greatly affected by wet conditions, makes a small toe knot and doesn’t bleed color. However, I have found that despite the strength of lace, the toe knot will wear out and break with some regularity so it is best to keep some extra length when first lacing the sandal to replace the toe know when it breaks. Again, the frequency of the knot wearing out is largely dependent on the amount of stress you put on the sandal. While Invisible Shoes claims that there are no edges on the lacing, and therefore no skin irritation, I have to disagree. The knot on the top of my foot was a cause of frequent irritation, and over long distances it often caused bleeding. Keeping the sandal looser can alleviate this, but one tends to slide around a lot more in the sandal, which can be very frustrating during a run as well as put even more stress on the outer holes. The rope also initially rubbed the area in between my toes (sometimes raw), but an adjustment in strap tension took care of that.
Running in Invisible Shoes
There is simply a slow learning curve for learning to run in huaraches, so taking it slow is essential to avoid injury. It cause some soreness of feet as well as lower leg muscles that may have been previously unused if you're used to running in shoes. For more on running in huaraches click here.
Whether you’re walking or running, your new Invisible Shoes will offer a very different experience. You will feel every little bump and curve in the ground, which for many people is a wondrous, free feeling, reminiscent of childhood. As I’ve said before, the Vibram is nearly impenetrable, so you need not fear broken glass or rocks. That said, your feet will definitely let you know if you are coming down too hard. My advice is to take it slow and adapt your gait towards this new feel. I struggled with my feet blistering early on because the sandal will shift and move slightly, and I still have trouble with the sandal staying directly underneath my foot. You can adjust the strap lengths to accommodate most of this, but truth is, if it rains or your feet sweat heavily, you’ll be sliding around a fair bit.
Summing it Up
Here are my ratings, 1 being poor and 5 being excellent:
Purchasing and Assembly 5 of 5
The website is very easy to use and the construction of your own personal huaraches footwear is both exciting and invigorating. The level of customization and ways to lace the Invisible Shoe are excellent given the price.
Materials 4.5 of 5
Vibram Cherry outsoles are incredibly durable, reliable material. The outside holes have a tendency to break after prolonged use, which can be helped by leaving some extra material around them. The lacing is sturdy by a little hard on the feet, and the toe knot will break with frequent use so be sure to leave some extra lacing to replace it.
Ride 4 of 5
Invisible shoes offer an incredible running/walking experience, albeit a nearly barefoot one with worrying about cutting your feet on the terrain. That said, it takes some getting used to, and you may struggle with blistering and some discomfort early in the process.
Overall 4.5 of 5 (not an average)
Invisible shoes offer a unique, personal footwear experience, one that is not available anywhere else. Very inexpensive footwear, if treated right will last for hundreds and hundreds of miles. The struggle with adapting to this new style of walking and running is well worth it.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Steven Sashen on September 04, 2011:
FWIW, Invisible Shoes now produces its own rubber called FeelTrue™ that's an improvement over the Vibram and makes the kits even easier to make (some people only need to punch a toe hole and don't need to do any cutting at all).
saxrunner (author) on August 30, 2011:
Thanks for the comment Danette! I completely sympathize with him, I wore shoes around my campus as little as possible and wanted to continue doing so for my runs, and I discovered Invisible Shoes. Best of both worlds, in my opinion. Best of luck, and I hope he continues his barefoot philosophy!
Danette Watt from Illinois on August 29, 2011:
My younger son absolutely hates to wear shoes and I think I"m going to send him a link to this hub. He takes his flip flops off around campus and just puts them on when he goes into the building. The minute he walks in the door, the shoes come off.