Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Review: Merrell Ascend Glove

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I’ve done a lot of shoe reviews over the past couple of years, and in so doing I’ve come to approach each new offering with the same sort of mild expectation of unspecific excellence. Being that I’m ever in search of the absolute perfect minimalist running shoe for myself, it’s kind of hard not to always put each new shoe on with the highest of hopes. In the end some shoes I’ve tried have wowed me, and some have not. But that’s not what happened at all with the Merrell Ascend Glove. Maybe it was my bad past experiences talking, I don’t know, but I gotta be honest: I kind of expected to not like this shoe.

Why? Well, because it’s not what I would normally prefer in a trail shoe. It’s cushiony (6mm of it), and it’s got a huge stack height (10.5mm) and a rock plate (“TrailProtect pad”). The sole is stiff, the upper is super thick, and the women’s shoe wasn’t offered in a wide enough width for me so I had to order my pair from the less-than-pretty-for-obvious-reasons men’s line. I was sure this would be the kind of shoe that would do nothing more than assist me in jacking up an ankle or contributing to the degradation of my already only barely-good running form. I immediately relegated the Ascend Glove to the back of my mind, alongside the NewBalance 1010 and the HOKA One-One (which I have still not tried but secretly really want to).

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Needless to say, I was skeptical at first. After having spent two years wearing paper-thin minimalist footwear, the Ascend Glove felt like a god-damned marshmallow. It took a little getting used to. Aside from the zero drop, this shoe looked on paper to be just like every running shoe I’d ever worn before I discovered barefoot running. If I wore this heavy (8 oz) foot coffin on the trails, how would I ever reconcile my identity as a minimalist runner?

That last sentence was kind of a joke. Sort of.

But I decided to put the question on hold once I happened to snag a pair from my favorite Merrell rep. I figured why the hell not just try ‘em, right? And anyway, at the time that this shoe arrived I had been offhandedly looking for the next really good trail shoe. I’ve been running a lot more rugged trail out here lately, the kind with steep dirt hills, sharp, rolling rubble, lots of technical stuff and at times, obvious danger. I needed a shoe with better grip that would keep me from falling on my ass all the time. I also wanted something that wouldn’t feel so much like a cleat when I had to mix roads into my run. As it turns out, the Ascend Glove may be just the answer I was looking for.

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My first run in these was a short, mixed-terrain run. I took them over pavement, through loose dirt trails, down steep, rocky embankments, up some sandy hills and over about a half mile of 3” drainage “gravel.” This is a pretty typical run for me these days. The first thing I noticed is that I didn’t slip as much on the steep downhills because the lugs on this shoe are pretty deep and substantial. After about 60-70 miles I have managed to visibly wear down the lugs on the balls of both shoes and on the lateral edges, but since I have been putting them through the ringer I would say this is a fair amount of wear (more on this later).

frontAside from the narrow-ish last (which is more or less Merrell’s modus operandi) that forced me to switch to the men’s version, I am impressed by the way this shoe is made. Like the men’s Trail Glove, arguably the best minimalist shoe Merrell ever made, the upper is rugged, durable and reinforced in all the right places (toe, heel, etc). I should also mention this shoe has also taken on a lot of crud, dozens of foxtails and several throws in the washing machine, so far to no loss of durability. The laces are traditional on this model, none of the lace-locking system that I know many of you loved but I didn’t particularly care for. From what I can tell, there are only small cosmetic differences between the men’s and women’s model. This is refreshing to me because in the past the women’s versions of Merrell’s best minimalist shoes have been much flimsier than the men’s, and that totally bummed me out.

Basically, the two big things I really like about this shoe:  its rather simple, straightforward and durable construct, and its specificity. Even though it’s a bigger, heavier shoe than I typically wear on roads or on easy trail, the Ascend Glove is simple and knows its job. It’s not all bells and whistles, and it’s not trying to be a do-everything, go everywhere shoe. I dig that. Even though the original Trail Glove was an excellent model, its non-specific construction was only great on mixed or easy runs. It wasn’t my best trail shoe, and it wasn’t my best road shoe either. But the Ascend Glove is a great choice for any tough terrain or a long trail run because I know it’s going to have excellent tread for the shiftier terrain, it can take a beating and the thicker sole provides more protection than many other minimalist shoe choices, without being too mushy. So, contrary to my original expectations, I have been wearing and loving the hell out of this shoe.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that this is one of the very few truly rugged trail shoes I have seen out there with a low enough profile and also absolutely zero-drop. I know some people are just fine with a 4mm or 8mm heel, but for whatever reason I just cannot hack it. I have tried. The drop is a deal-breaker for me. If you are the same way as me, then this is the shoe for you.

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As always I know I’ll learn more about the Ascend Glove as I put more miles on it, but so far the only down sides that I have noted (and already mentioned above) are the lack of width choices and the tread wear. I think it’s safe to say that I support Merrell offering a wide-width version for all of their shoes, considering the regular lasts they make fall so far off on the narrow scale. We have all seen what happens to me when I try to wear the regular stuff they make for women! It would be nice for those of us who have strong, wide, barefoot-runner’s feet to have an option that better fits our feet, without having to hit up the men’s selections all the time.

And a moment on the tread: although my Merrell rep has told me that my amount of wear seems normal, I guess I expected this shoe to wear a bit more slowly. But after inspecting the tread wear on my other beloved Merrell shoes, and comparing the amount of erosion on each, I realized he was probably right.  So if you’re putting your shoes through the ringer like I am and will be counting on the tread to keep you safe, you’ll want to replace this shoe at around 300 miles or so. It’s odd for me to recommend this, too, considering that one of the great things about minimalist shoes is you don’t have to deal with replacing shoes for their “supportive” qualities. But if good tread is important for your runs, then the replacement factor still exists.

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All in all though, guys, this is my best trail shoe now. It’s an ideal choice for men and women who are real dirt devils like me and want something that will hold up to the terrain while protecting your feet from the harsher bits, and also from the longer miles. It’s also a great shoe for anyone who loved the Trail Glove / Pace Glove, but would like to move on to something a little less minimal. If you’re on the fence I suggest you check it out, you’ll probably be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

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Review: Sport Kilt

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In the most general sense, a kilt isn’t exactly your typical piece of running gear. When you think of a kilt, you’re probably picturing weddings, funerals and hairy, middle-aged Scottish men with bagpipes.  That is, of course, unless you’re not the typical runner.

In my travels, I have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of runners, of all sorts and styles. Just like with any given group of people, you can divide runners up into several different categories. You’ve got your uber-serious runner, pounding out 100-mile weeks wearing $300 racing flats and a hard-set jaw, and your relaxed runner donning some old sweatpants and a grin. There are road runners and trail runners. Ultramarathoners and 5K’ers. And then there are the minimalist runners, wearing nothing but short-shorts, Luna Sandals and a beard, and your maximalist runners hauling around a 4-bottle hydration belt, GPS watch with heart-rate monitor, ID tag, sweatband, tie-dye calf sleeves and Hokas.

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Sprinkled somewhere within the heart of all those groups is the Sport-Kilt runner (like my ultrarunner friend Jason, pictured left). It may seem outlandish for many of you to imagine that running in a kilt would ever become popular enough to warrant designing one with the word “Sport” in the title. But I assure you that it’s not outlandish at all. In fact it’s quite the opposite, at least in my experience. Of the three groups of runners that I have fallen in with at one point or another over the years (minimalists, ultramarathoners and hashers), they have all had several members who embrace the Sport Kilt as a commonplace piece of running attire.

I have always been curious about what it’s like to wear a kilt while running. I had a lot of questions, like how would a piece of pleated polyester sit on you while you’re running? Would it twist, fall, hike up or rub? How hot would it get under there? Are there pockets? And most importantly, from a traditional standpoint, am I allowed to wear underwear?*

So I reached out to the good folks over at Sport Kilt, and they were happy to send me two of their ultra-feminine UltraMini kilts to try. One of them is their basic model Ultra Mini, and the other has added belt loops and lower profile sewn-down pleats. Both kilts have a wide, adjustable Velcro waistband closure and a hidden, surprisingly secure front pocket. Both kilts fit me the same way, but I don’t really care about the belt loops, except maybe to hang keys off them or something, and I prefer the one with the sewn-down pleats because it stays pleated better (this I learned during my years as a Catholic school kid). I like the adjustable closure because it allows me to tighten the skirt while I’m running so it doesn’t fall down, and loosen it later on if I want more of a low-rise look (or a slightly longer hem).

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And speaking of hem, the Ultra Mini kilt is quite, well…mini. On a hasher website, a Sport Kilt banner ad begs the question: “How short do you go?” Apparently, short enough to answer that whole underwear question with a resounding “YES”, since I have no intention of getting arrested for indecent exposure. Of the handful of times I have worn my Sport Kilts, I have paired them with compression shorts, a bikini bottom and regular underwear (hey what the hell, I am a hasher!). With compression shorts the skirt seems bulky and rather redundant. With underwear I was flashing my fellow hashers all day long (not that they minded). This I know because of the nearly constant shouts of “Pink!” from behind me as I leaned forward or climbed steep embankments… the color of my favorite Victoria’s Secret cheeky panties. That said, I much prefer wearing a less taboo pair of bikini bottoms or RunBuns under this skirt, which is more like something you’d find attached under a RunningSkirts brand skirt.

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Being that I’m originally from a cold-weather state, I am pretty sensitive to the heat when I am running. I will wear a short sleeve shirt running all the way down to 45 degrees. So I was a little apprehensive about the prospect of wearing a kilt running in southern California. Surprisingly, even though it’s not my lightest piece of running clothing, I didn’t feel particularly hot in the kilt. The pleated fabric allows a lot of air circulation when you move, and the fabric is somewhat absorbent, so the bit of dampness keeps you cooler (unlike with sweat-wicking materials which dry right away, thus rendering your sweat useless in dry climates). You probably won’t catch me wearing one of these kilts on a long run through Escondido in August, but other than that it serves as a perfectly reasonable running “skirt”.

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You might be asking yourself why wear a Sport Kilt rather than your usual running skirt/shorts/hiking gear? Well for one, most running skirts are made of sweat wicking materials so if you buy into Jason Robillard’s theory that absorbent cottons actually keep you cooler, then a kilt is a great alternative. And if you’re a dude who likes to keep your junk free and cool while running but aren’t into the Naked American short-shorts thing (left), then you’ll probably like wearing a Sport Kilt (although I would suggest you get a longer one). Not to mention you’ll always have something appropriate to wear to St. Patrick’s Day 5Ks, Irish weddings and sexy school-girl events.

Check the Sport Kilt site out here. You can choose from dozens of different tartans, including the California Tartan and the Hash House Trail tartan.

*in case you’re unfamiliar with the underwear conundrum, there’s an old riddle that goes like this: What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? His shoes.


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Review: Luna Sandals Mono with Ribbon Laces

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Having been part of this whole “barefoot” and “minimalist” running world for a few years now, and having seen it change and grow, I have come to know a lot about the innovators and entrepreneurs who have brought so much to it for so many people. One of those innovators is the Luna Sandals company. Powered by some of the most fun-loving, kind and down to earth people you could ever meet [at the Born to Run Ultra], Luna Sandals is as much a culture as it is a company. How great would it be to work for such a place!

It’s sadly just so rare these days to find a company that is just as good at professionalism and quality as it is at having fun and being passionate about the same things their customers are. Luna has this and I find it totally refreshing. This is one of the biggest reasons why I love to support and promote them and their products.

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The other reason is that I really love their sandals, guys! Last year I got the opportunity to review their original suede-covered sandal (renamed “Venado”) with the ATS laces that had just come out. Once I wore those babies in they became my only piece of footwear during the summer. I wore them for the 3,000 miles from Boston to San Diego when we made our big move. I ran, hiked, climbed and lived in them so much that the foot bed now has a fine patina and they have a fit so perfect that it would charm the likes of Cinderella.

oldshoeLast year’s Venado – beautifully worn in.

The only place I didn’t love my Luna Venados was when I ran up steep hills, which is a frequent occurrence for me around here. The tread on the soles was pretty flat and didn’t hold on to the ground as well as I liked, especially after building in some wear. So when I saw the new Mono food bed (pronounced “moe-no”, and is Spanish for “monkey”), I thought it might be a good alternative for the trails. Much thanks to the generous Lunar Monkeys, I was able to snag a pair cut down to the shape of my foot, and this time I decided to try some tie laces rather than the ATS.

The Mono Foot Bed

Instead of suede like in my Venado footbed, the sole of my Mono is covered in Pittard’s leather. This is supposed to be a more premium material than the suede, and less slippery in wet conditions. I found the leather to be comfortable and yes, seemed to have a better traction to my foot when wet. But the leather doesn’t get that nice form-fitting wear-in that makes my Venados feel so special. At least not yet, anyway. That could be due in part to the thickness of the sole (12mm as opposed to the Venado, which I think is 6mm), which turns out has its own list of considerations.

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Because the sole’s rubber is so thick, the toe and ankle holes are able to be counter-sunk, which means they dug into the sole a bit so that the laces don’t rub against the ground. This is a definite plus for the life of your laces. The sole of the Mono has some tread, so the traction is much better than the Venado for trail, although not as rugged as the Leadville (their recommended trail sandal). The Mono is more of an all-terrain sandal, which works for someone like me who is just as likely to wear them to the farmer’s market as I am to bring them on trail.

bottomThese photos shoe the sunken-in laces and toe plug.

And speaking of trails: I actually found myself running some trails in this shoe, especially when paired with the right laces (more on that later). The extra oomph of the footbed gives me just a little more traction – not enough to run down Torrey Pines Gliderport, most likely, but it works. The only negative I experienced is the thickness of the foot bed. It’s 12mm. That’s thick enough to keep me from feeling the ground. Most people don’t have the ankle problem that I do, but if I can’t feel the subtle ground changes below me, I lose proprioception, and thus I lose the reaction time I need to prevent twisted ankles.

So unfortunately I’m not really sure how much trail running I’ll do in these sandals, and I may consider purchasing a pair of Leadville Pacers for their rugged traction and thinner sole, and then have the full array of Luna sandals to meet my running needs.

The Laces

Your choice of lacing is probably the most personal, make-it-or-break-it aspect of any Luna Sandal. There’s the no-fuss ATS lacing, the ¼”  or 10mm leather laces, traditional hemp laces, and new to the game, the ribbon laces (currently offered in black and blue). I requested the tying laces as opposed to the more popular ATS laces this time around because I really love the way they look all wrapped around my foot and ankle – I find it pretty and stylish. I got my Monos before the ribbon laces were available. So when my pair came in they had a set of 10mm laces, the thicker leather that they offer. I don’t actually know why I chose the 10mm (or even if I did), but I wasn’t a fan. They were so thick and unflexible that I couldn’t get them to stay tied. They literally fell off my feet while I walked. Perhaps the ¼” laces would have made me happier. However, once I saw a few photos of sandals with the new ribbon lacing, I had to snag a set for myself (and at $12, they weren’t too much of a risk).

oldlacesMy feet up on the dashboard in the 10mm leather laces.

And my gosh what a world of difference! The ribbon laces may or may not be as long-lasting as the leather ones (this remains to be seen) but I very much prefer the plush, pliable fabric of the ribbon (which is sort of like a much softer version of a backpack or seatbelt strap).

Used to be I always stuck with the pre-tied huarache because traditional tied laces tend to slide right off my heels. Doesn’t matter how tight or loose I tie the things, the heel strap just doesn’t stay put. But because the ribbon lacing is so workable, I was able to find my own tying method (see below) that keeps the shoe in place permanently. For the first time, my feet are comfortable, there is no rubbing, and I don’t have to adjust or retie…ever. This tying method has worked so well for me that I even prefer it over the ATS lacing, and the new ribbon is so perfect that it makes any Luna sandal the most comfortable huarache you’ll ever put on your feet. Yeah, I said it. For the first time ever I can actually see myself comfortably running a distance race in a pair of sandals.

That’s big.

backThe tying method for those with flat heels: loop the lace once under the heel strap, and it doesn’t budge.

The Wrap-Up

Overall, I dig the Mono and I know I will wear it a lot. I miss the suede footbed, but I think I’ll get used to the Pittard’s leather and eventually see the up-sides of it. I probably won’t be spending a lot of time running trail in the Mono because of its thick sole, but I can see myself tying them on for a road run on a hot day or for some hiking with my dog. I will probably wear them everywhere I go this summer, however. I love the way they look and feel with the ribbon lacing, especially now that I have the tying part down. They are exceedingly comfortable, secure and even fashionable. If you’re looking for the all-terrain, super comfortable huarache shoe that has a little more sole protection, this is your Luna. If you don’t have a problem with thicker soles on easy trails (or prefer it), you’ll love wearing the Mono on the trail as much as on the road. But if you’re hoping for a sandal with amazing traction and don’t care about the leather footbed, go for the Leadville (12mm thick sole) or Leadville Pacer (9mm) instead. Either way, I highly recommend the new ribbon laces for their versatility, adjustability, stability and comfort. They’re just a total win.

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Earth Runners Sandal Giveaway WINNER!

First I want to thank everyone who read my review on the Earth Runners Circadian Sandal and entered my giveaway. It’s so much fun giving stuff away!

I counted up all the entries and used an online random number generator to give me my winning number.

randomThe 28th entry (and the winner-winner-chicken-dinner) was from:

YURI ARTIBISE

Congrats, Yuri! Go ahead and send me an email at trishalreeves@gmail.com and I’ll get you set up with your new sandals.

Thanks again everyone, and happy running!


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Review: Skora CORE

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I was exceptionally grateful for another chance to test some of Skora’s much-anticipated offerings this year. Last fall I tested the FORM. Overall, I liked the shoe, and I gave it a fairly good review. It was made of soft and pliable leather, which was unexpectedly comfortable, even without socks. I wore it to a few road races and I liked the extra bit of cushion in the sole, relative to my other road shoes. It was a bit narrow for my taste though, and I found it to be a little stuffy and not great at absorbing moisture. For these reasons, and admittedly because of the color (white – not my personal favorite) the Skora FORM shoe ended up hanging out in my closet a lot, while my other road shoes got more wear.

Well, this didn’t happen when it came to the CORE.

Good Looks and Inner Beauty

The CORE is just so easy to love, folks. The biggest reason why? This time around they adjusted the last so it’s on a much wider platform. Now we’re talking an exceptionally cozy, slipper-like fit, similar to what VIVOBAREFOOT is famous for, though maybe not quite as wide. The CORE is also made of the same super-soft goat’s leather as the FORM but with much larger vent holes in the upper, as well as an inner layer of absorbent mesh (i.e. no more cow skin sticking to my foot), which is enough to keep my piggies from overheating.

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I love the CORE shoe because it fits exactly how you want a shoe to fit: like it belongs on your foot. The first time I put it on, the CORE felt like it had been broken in for months. No bull. (Is that a goat-leather joke? I can’t tell). And that, my friends, is the beauty of  – and quite possibly the best reason for – a running shoe upper made of leather. You just don’t get that same feeling with athletic mesh.

Skora made a few other updates to this shoe, one of them being a drastic improvement on the asymmetrical lacing system (which is found on both of the new models, CORE and PHASE). By widening the lacing significantly and then totally reversing it so the tongue “burrito” faces inward rather than out, the pinky-toe-rubbing that I experienced with the corner seams (and with all shoes that use a similar tongue design) has vanished. Dig it. They put a lot more reflective material on this shoe too, which is really a plus for night runs when you forget to wear a brightly colored outfit. The available colorways are rad, too – very wearable. I really dig the bluish-charcoal-gray, teal and purple in my pair. I didn’t get to test the PHASE, but this time around the non-leather option is looking a lot more like the leather one, with three bright and fantastic colorways, but with mesh fabric and sold for a slightly lower price.

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Performance

I think it’s pertinent to point out here the thing I noticed most about this shoe while running in it: and that would be nothing. Absolutely, gloriously nothing. In my personal experience, any running shoe that lets me completely forget about its presence is the best kind of running shoe there is. After all, that’s sort of the point, right? Or at least it should be. This shoe fits my foot rather perfectly, and I would be hard-pressed to think of a road shoe I’ve tried that I like better. That’s right, I said it.

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The CORE is just absolutely my favorite road shoe right now. It balances lightness, comfort and road protection exceptionally well. The shoe weighs almost the same as the old FORM, but seems  a lot lighter because of the more lightweight leather/mesh combo upper. The stack height is 2mm lower in the new CORE as well, making the sole roughly 1000x more flexible. (Sidenote: even more flexible with the insole taken out, which I always do – I found the extra cushioning unnecessary and would rather the extra foot space without them.) The more open-width design really makes this shoe great for me. I’ve loved it so much that it’s gone with me for many miles, and it’s been my choice for recent road half marathons and training.

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I’ve even taken the CORE out to a few trail runs because…well, just because. The CORE works fine over easy packed-dirt trails and protects my feet pretty well on the rockier ones, but I find it slides too much on the steeper hills I often find myself running on. The soles are just too flat and not grippy enough. But I know this shoe is made for roads. I’m definitely looking forward to Skora coming out with something more trail-friendly for the tougher terrain.

The Goldilocks Effect

So final note on the new CORE versus the original FORM. My first thought after reveling in the happy roomy fit of the CORE was this: so the last is nice and wide, but is it too wide? The thing is, I write all my reviews from the standpoint of someone whose feet are naturally wider than average and have only gotten wider since taking up minimalist running. I’m biased. In my world, every running shoe should be made with an insanely wide last so that my toes can move around and not feel bound up by my shoe. But a lot of people have average to narrow feet and that can mean the opposite problem: a shoe that’s too wide and feels huge. Personally, I think that the CORE is the Goldilocks of minimalist shoe lasts: it’s not too narrow (think NB Minimus Road 00) and not extremely wide (think VIVO Lucy Lite).

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This photo shows the 0.15″ width difference between last year’s FORM and this year’s CORE, which has made all the difference.

That said, I would probably recommend that if you normally find your feet are quite long and narrow, the FORM may be a better shoe for you. Although I’ve illustrated several differences between the two models, I believe the fundamentals are still similar enough that going with the earlier model won’t have you missing out on a whole lot.

And for the rest of you, I can’t think of any reason not to love the FORM, except maybe that you’ll find them so beautiful you’ll have a hard time wearing them somewhere dirty. No worries though, they’re actually just as machine washable as your regular mesh running shoes – and they’ll probably last even longer. Happy Running!


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Review: INKnBURN Tech Tube

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Modeling for Instagram.

I know a lot of you runners like to wear hats on sunny days, especially in San Diego you all seem to swear by them. But, I don’t like them. They feel hot and big and binding on my head, I feel like I can’t see everything with the visor in my way, and…alright I’ll say it…they’re just not feminine. But I’m not an idiot (well, not most of the time), so I know that especially on hot, sunny days, I need something to protect my head and keep sweat out of my eyes. Sometimes I can’t stand anything on my head at all because it’s too hot, but otherwise, I prefer to wear tube-shaped head wraps. And since I’m such a big fan of INKnBURN, you know I had to try out their tech tube.

Like all the other INKnBURN products, the Tech Tube is super adorable. It comes in everyone’s favorite designs like Current (the style I have) and Lust, and it looks great (it goes really well with my new Leaf Tech Shirt, by the way). Just look at these tech tubes on InB’s beautiful clothing model, Holly Miller!

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Holly looks great in everything!

The tech tube is also really versatile. You can wear it as a headband, under or over your hair. You can wear it around your neck and face as a gaiter on cold days. You can un-bunch it and cover your whole head. You can wear it around your wrist to dab sweat from your face. If you’re skinny enough, you can even use it as a belt to hold small items (I’ve seen my friend Krista do this with a buff).

tubealoneInB’s tech tube is made out of the same material as their tech shirts: lightweight polyester mesh. You know, that sweat-wicking fabric everyone likes. And as advertised, the fabric does absorb and wick sweat from your body. But as a comparison to other head wraps I’ve used, which are made of cotton blends, the InB tech tube seems to hold in more warmth. Because of this, I think it would probably be best suited for cooler days. It’s also a little less stretchy than other head wraps, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you wear it and the size/shape of your head. My head is rather small, and my hair is fine and quite silky/slippery. The combination of those two things means that on a windy day, my tech tube doesn’t stay put on my head. I almost lost it last week when I ran at the beach!

That said, almost nothing ever stays put on my pin-like, silky little head. People with less pin-like heads and/or thicker hair always tend to have less of an issue than me.

To combat the slip-off, I will often wear low pigtails or a pair of messy buns to hold the tube in place, toward the front of my head. Or I bunch a majority of the fabric to the front of my forehead, close to my eyebrows, which keeps the tube leveraged correctly. A head wrap hardly does any good keeping sweat away if it’s behind your hairline, anyhow.

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Holding the tech tube on my head with some messy buns.

Hot yoga class is my favorite place to wear the tech tube. I sweat my butt off in that class and the tech tube covers up my yucky sweaty head, and keeps me from having to dab my face every thirty seconds.

Outside of exercise, I like to wear my INKnBURN tech tube as a fashion accessory. It’s pretty enough to wear with my yoga pants and a t-shirt (the SoCal uniform) when I run errands around town or to cover up a bad hair day. Which I have a lot of, now that I work from home and have become too lazy to use my hairdryer.

Check out all the tech tube styles on INKnBURN’s website!

And also, check me out on a St. Patrick’s Day run in the new INKnBURN craze: the Leaf Tech Shirt! Looks awesome, and it’s well-timed too…since green is Pantone’s 2013 Color of the Year.

And yes, my socks do say “BEER” on them.

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Review: INKnBURN Handheld

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I received a Handheld bottle holder from the lovely folks at INKnBURN a couple of weeks back. The nifty neoprene pouch came in one of my favorite INKnBURN design patterns, the Sugar Skull. I absolutely love it.

These days I prefer to run with a handheld bottle over a hydration pack or belt, unless it’s really hot and I’m going on a very long run. I bring my bottle with me on any run over four or five miles. INKnBURN’s handheld fits really well over my favorite Ultimate Direction 16 ounce bottle (note: this item does not come with a water bottle, but they offer one for $5 on the site), and I like it better than the cover I got with the bottle, so I’ve kept it. Why? Well…

  • The stretchy neoprene fabric is much softer and more comfortable. I don’t want to go back to the old bottle holder now. This is not something I pictured myself saying, but there it is.
  • The all-over fabric insulates the bottle: keeps water cool longer without freezing my hand off. Also, it absorbs condensation from the bottle and sweat from my hands, which keeps the bottle from slipping.
  • Unlike most other bottle covers, this one is actually easy to put on the bottle and take off. This is useful when you want to wash the bottle but not have a yucky wet cover during your run.
  • It fits just about any bottle, even the large 20 ounce ones. That way you can switch bottles and still use the same holder.
  • The pockets are large and plentiful. The strap has a pocket that will hold gels or a key, and there is a really large foldover pocket on the front that can hold things as large as an iPhone (yup, it’s true!). The fabric is super stretchy. I usually use it for tissues and spare cash.
  • Adjustable strap with convenient thumb hole. I don’t typically use it, but I know that a lot of people like the thumb hole in the strap.
  • It’s attractive! You can wear your favorite INKnBURN design on your hand! So much prettier than the plain, always dirty-looking bottle holders that you usually see.

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Most importantly, I like to ask myself this question before posting my review: After trying this item for free, would I actually buy it? Even at $39.95 a pop, I still would buy this handheld holder. I know what you’re thinking: the price is a tad stiff. But just like anything from INKnBURN, what you get for that price is a top-quality, 100% American Made product, backed by an insanely creative team of real people with a commitment to innovative products, beautiful design and excellent customer service. This is not some cheap crap made in Taiwan by a 12 year old getting paid 75 cents a day: it’s INKnBURN. Know what the “n “ stands for? NOTCRAP.

Sorry, I really wanted that joke to work out better.

Check out some of the other colorful designs that INKnBURN offers in the handheld holder!

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Review: Merrell Vapor Glove

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Let me start off by saying that I really hate being the only reviewer to give a beloved new shoe model a less than stellar review. It stinks. I feel like a jerk. But I have integrity, dammit! I’m just reporting the facts, here, folks. Okay…that’s a lie – mostly everything in this blog is heresay and opinion – but hey, a fact or two does slip in ever so often.

Back to the review. I wanted to love this shoe. I really did. The Merrell Vapor Glove was fabled to be the second coming of the almighty KSO. This model was supposed to become the next new be-all, end-all of the minimalist road shoe. I was ready to love this baby for as long as it held together, or at least until Merrell made something even better to replace it.

Well, as it turns out, the first thing happened a lot sooner than expected. But let’s tell the story from the beginning.

I got my pair in the mail a couple of weeks ago. I rejoiced. I thanked my Merrell contact profusely. I put them on. They felt awesome. They looked awesome. I rejoiced even more. And then I took them out for a seven mile run, without socks.

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Here is where I’ll pause to applaud the greatest thing about this shoe: the sole. Zero drop, 5mm of flexible Vibram TC1 rubber, the only thing between you and the earth. By feel alone, this shoe is as flexible and light as my reigning favorite, the Vibram See-Ya. The Vapor Glove sole just rocks. It’s just the right thing. And then there’s the upper. It is gorgeous and colorful, and at first glance it really seems quite open, spacious. I mean, the whole shoe has this pleasant, slipper-like feel, reminiscent of what VIVOBAREFOOT usually does. My kind of shoe, right?

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Well, about two miles into that run I started to feel some rubbing at my toes, from the upper crinkling in as my feet bent and flexed. At first I suspected sloppy form, since I was headed up a hill at the time. But soon I realized I’m feeling it in both feet, which is usually not a form issue for me. A mile later I stopped to take them off and wrap tissues around my chafed toes (I always have something with me that can double as toilet paper). Eventually the paper rubbed away and the toe chafing got worse, until it eventually became numb. That’s usually not a great sign. I stopped the run at 7 instead of 10 and by the time I got home I had three abrasions on my toes that needed significant wrapping every time I wore shoes again for the following week.

Figuring that the issue was probably just a combination of my soft sock feet (I wore socks all winter) and the unfortunate placement of my toes in the shoe, I waited a couple weeks and then took the Vapor Gloves out for another four-mile spin by the beach. This time I wore socks. The run was fabulous. But, I didn’t notice until I got home that I had managed to rub off part the upper, on the outside of the shoe just below the bones of my pinky toe. Where there should have been bright green mesh attached to rubber, all I could see was my black Injinji sock. What the hell.

Boo :(

Boo :(

As I stood there in disbelief, I shifted my foot around in the shoe. At first glance there seemed to be plenty of room on the sole for my foot. There was even a quarter inch of space between my big toes and the inside edge of the sole. What gives? So then I took a few steps, and I realized that the way the last is shaped, it forces my foot to shift so that the lateral side pushes out. Result: I spent 11 miles running on the upper of my shoe. Bam.

A possible added issue: the sole is really razor-thin and doesn’t continue very far up the sides, like you’d see on most shoes. By this regard, the super- thin sole has a slight disadvantage: it’s so flexible that instead of my foot being cradled in, it is allowed to move around the shoe and land in the wrong spot.

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I’ve been reviewing shoes for a few years now, but I’ve never broken one before. This is a first. And I will say that I’m super bummed about it because, as I said before, I really wanted Merrell to come out with my next big, favorite minimalist road shoe. Not many minimalist companies have really nailed the road shoe so far, at least as compared to the variety of exceptional trail offerings out there.

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All that said, I still believe Merrell is headed in the right direction. It’s really refreshing to see them take a plunge into the world of true “barefoot-like” footwear. The Vapor Glove has just the right sole: one that feels more like a light rock-and-dirt barrier than a shoe. The design is glossy, colorful and more on-trend than most of the stuff they make. But I can’t recommend this shoe to anyone with wide feet, unless you like dropping $80 on gorgeous running shoes that might only make it 10 miles.

I’ll admit my foot is probably not exactly typical, and the Vapor Glove won’t be a fit problem for most folks with very straight, average feet. But I want to point out that a wider foot is at least somewhat typical for minimalist runners who spend all their time barefoot or in shoes that let their bones splay to their full potential. My feet have been the same width even as I’ve gained and lost weight through the years – but since I started running barefoot my feet have become even wider and longer. I hope the guys over at Merrell will think about coming out with a wide version of the Vapor Glove, or at least take this feedback on toward planning small changes to the next model.

And if so, my Hawaiian feet and I will be waiting.


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Review: Merrell Pace Glove 2

bothOf all the shoes I have reviewed on this blog, the Merrell Pace Glove 2 has received by far the most rigorous testing, and in the least amount of time. That is, indeed, if you can call what I do “testing.” Some might consider it more like beating the hell out of a new pair of shoes, and then waxing poetic about what happened. Either way, prior to throwing them in the washing machine for proper review photos, my pair of Pace Glove 2s were “tested” out on pavement, dirt, sand, mud, run through puddles  and have been completely submerged in waist-deep streams. They have run on endless flat ground, run uphill, run downhill, run sideways, climbed on sheer rock and skidded across beds of algae. I’ve worn them to the beach, to the grocery store, to a hair appointment, to clean my dog’s poop in the backyard, to walk said dog, and yes, I’ve even worn them running.

sideviewBecause of my positive history with the original Pace Glove, I had a feeling that this second incarnation was also going to become one of my go-to trail kicks. And for the most part, it has. There are many things about the PG2 that will make it one of 2013’s best minimalist trail shoes, and a few things that might have been better off left unchanged.

This Shoe Has Some Sole

bottomtopFirst, I want to talk bits and parts. The PG2 has kept a lot of the same great features as the original, and left a few behind.  So what’s the same? First and foremost, the amazing zero-drop, 4mm Vibram sole. You know, the sole that earned this shoe the Runner’s World Best Debut award, and Shape Magazine’s Best Shoe in 2011. You may not have ever heard of such accolades, but that sort of stuff is a big deal to shoe manufacturers…probably a lot like the Motor Trend award is to car makers. But, I digress. The sole is exactly the same, except the update has just a tad bit more cushion and stack height, at 9.5mm. The original had somewhere around 5mm with the rock plate, if I remember correctly. Anyway I don’t notice a difference, so really it’s neither here nor there.

One interesting aside I have about the sole of this shoe is its amazing traction. This shoe is made for trails so naturally it’s going to do well at grabbing onto dirt and soil. But in my travels I have come across a few giant boulders that just needed to be scaled (Hey, I like views. I also like pretending I’m 8 years old), and I really didn’t expect the PG sole to be so insanely sticky. Climbing rocks in these shoes is akin to sticking suction cups onto a car window. It felt like cheating! After my first rock-playground encounter in this shoe, I decided that I would have to make a note of it in my review.

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The upper of the PG2 is also made of the same breathable mesh, which is excellent for escaping heat…and also for draining rain puddles, slush or stream water, if necessary. And for those who cared, they also use the same anti-slip laces as before.

What’s the Difference

Now I’ll talk about what Merrell changed in this model. Superficially, they made the shoe look a hell of a lot cooler. They gave it a sportier look, more reminiscent of what they did with the Dash Glove (and less like a typical Merrell-brand hiking shoe). So far there are only two colorways up on the site, green/blue and gray/pink, but I’m guessing that they’ll add more as the model gains traction. They’ve also added a membrane-like rubbery material over parts of the upper. I’m not sure if there’s any practical use for this material, but either way I’ve managed to rub some of it off on the outside edge.

One of the biggest and most questionable changes in this shoe is the heel cup. Due to popular demand (my source at Merrell tells me), the elastic has been taken out of the heel cup on the Pace Glove 2, so that now it mimics that of the Men’s Trail Glove. I will admit that as I’ve started running harder trails, I’ve come to have mixed feelings about the original Pace Glove because of this very feature. The elastic heel would occasionally force my foot forward and squish my toes against the front of the shoe. I earned many a black toenail from the original Pace Glove, and as a result I wished I had ordered a half size larger. Without the elastic on the PG2, My heel doesn’t slide forward anymore, and I don’t foresee any more toenail injuries. Problem solved. However, I am going to admit that I actually do miss the elastic now because the PG2 feels looser, and somewhat less secure, than the original Pace Glove. But this feeling could also be due to the other big change: the lacing system.

The purple and gray shoe in this comparison is the Wide-Width Pace Glove that I reviewed last year.

The purple and gray shoe in this comparison is the Wide-Width Pace Glove that I reviewed last year.

Merrell does pretty well with its patented “Omni-Fit” lacing system, which is fancy talk for lacing that is integrated into the tongue and upper, to give you a more adjustable and secure fit. In the original Pace Glove and Trail Glove, the Omni-Fit parts were made of heavy-duty non-stretch nylon webbing. But on the TG2 they included some elastic. The really great thing that this addition does: it makes offering a Wide-width version of the shoe’s last (which is what I needed in the original PG) pretty much unnecessary. The really not good thing that it does: it makes the shoe never, ever, ever feel like it’s tight enough.

Elastic in the Omni-Fit.

Elastic in the Omni-Fit.

Being that I have wide feet, the added elastic inside the lacing system lends the upper a lot more give. I no longer have that lateral “crunched” feeling that I used to get with the regular-width original Pace Glove. Basic foot space is a lot less limited in the new model. However, the longer I wore the PG2, the tighter I found myself lacing them. Combine that with the new looser heel cup, and my feet are moving around inside this shoe like a hamster on a flatbed truck. Now, that’s not really a problem if I’m running on some semi-flat trails (like a normal person would do), but when faced with some of the crazy-steep, loose-dirt-and-rock descents I regularly encounter out here in the hills of San Diego, a secure shoe fit means better traction and balance for me. It may just be a preference or terrain thing, or because I tend to wear socks on trails to keep out debris, but for me this was a sticking point with the Pace Glove 2.

In Conclusion

By most every count, the new Pace Glove 2 (and men’s Trail Glove 2) is an excellent, well-made minimalist shoe, as was anticipated by us minimalist shoe nerds. Being one of those nerds, I will admit that I expect and demand more from Merrell than from any other minimalist shoe brand, because in a lot of ways I’m more emotionally invested in their success. Kind of like the teacher being harder on her own kid than on the other students in her class.

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The now-archaic burrito-in-the-shoe demonstration. It’s still fun.

But really, as far as cons go, that’s really it. Merrell was smart not to change any of the stuff that made this shoe one of the best out there. The zero-drop, the great last, the excellent ground feel, durability and trail performance. The shoe is attractive, extremely well-made and even with its aforementioned drawbacks, it still outperforms every other minimalist trail shoe I have tried so far. This is true because Merrell knows feet, and also because they do an excellent job of hearing the needs of their target audience and giving them what they ask for. And what more, I dare say, could you ask for?

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Review: Bedrock Sandals

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Bedrock sent me a pair of their Earthquake sandals over the winter, and even though I live in warm, sunny San Diego now, I had a feeling that my review would fall on deaf ears if it came out in mid-January. So I have been waiting until the springtime new-shoe-buying extravaganza to pen my review.

The Earthquake Sandal seems to be getting continually improved upon by this little shoe-making factory down in Virgina, USA. Similar to many of the other huarache sandals that you can find out in the minimalist shoe marketplace, Bedrock Sandals feature a thin Vibram rubber sole (mine is 4mm), with a slip on lacing system and adjustable buckle closure. Like many other huarache companies, Bedrock offers a great sizing system to find out which pair to get, or they can customize the size and shape of your shoe sole to the shape of your foot. This is a great thing if you’ve got a weirdly-shaped foot like I do. Bedrock did a fair job of matching my foot shape, but I have seen better.

They’ve also made some recent developments in their sandal, adding some elasticized rubber in the heel, and a new optional rubber webbing material up front to assist the ease of fit adjustment in the buckle (this feature is not on my pair).

Having tried out a few other running sandals in my day, I felt this one was probably the lightest-feeling of all of them. The rubber sole wasn’t covered with any leather like a few other brands have, so it lacks in the whole “mold to your foot” aspect that I love about my Lunas. But the Hurricane sandal’s leather-less vegan sole didn’t feel floppy or heavy, as some plain rubber soles do. That could be in part because they’re made with Vibram rubber, and Vibram is pretty good at the whole minimalist shoe thing. J Another thing I dig about the sole is its surprising grip on the trails. Upon first glance the tread seems pretty basic – it’s not all high-tech and multi-directional like a lot of trail shoes, but it got me up and down the steep trail hills near my house without any slipping. Definitely a trail runner win.

bedrock2

As far as the straps go, they’re not bad, not the best. I found them to be placed well enough to hold onto my foot and the buckle closure is really quite snug. I did like the addition of the elasticized rubber piece on the heel. It kept the shoe on my foot more snugly, which made it possible for me to run more miles without having to stop and make the usual adjustments to the heel. With some other huarache brands, the heel strap tends to fall off.

Once you get strapped in to the Hurricane sandal, you’re pretty much good to go, not a whole lot of loosening or movement. There is a trade-off, though: the parachute-fabric strap is really stiff and kind of uncomfortable between my toes. Every time I wear these I come away with red marks across my foot and between my toes. After ten or so wears the straps have softened up a bit, but not a whole lot.

Overall the Hurricane sandal is only a fairly good, but less expensive running huarache. I really wasn’t blown away by the shoe, but I still use it occasionally for running errands or to do hill repeats on a hot day. I recommend them if you are just getting into minimalist running and want to try a simple sandal without spending bank.

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