The next Fivefingers: After zero-drop, zero A.D.
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction. — Einstein
By this time next year, I’m betting the newest footwear sensation will be the oldest: huaraches, the one shoe that has been in action since the beginning of time.
Lash-on sandals were worn by ancient Greek messengers, Roman Centurions, Tibetan monks, and Hopi braves, and they’re still the go-to shoe for Tarahumara Indians. Even when they were given new running shoes at the Leadville Trail 100 in 1994, the Tarahumara slipped right back into their homemade huaraches as soon as they got the chance — and won.
Barefoot Ted learned the art of huarache-making from Manuel Luna, a Tarahumara elder who took Ted under his wing while we were down in the canyons. When Ted got home, he remained true to traditional design but began tinkering with materials. Instead of the leather straps and discarded tires the Tarahumara use, Ted found rubber compounds that were just as tough but dramatically thinner. He also unearthed an out-of-production elasticized cord that vastly improved lacing. For some models, he also layered on a leather insole that softens like a baseball glove. As a finishing touch, he named them after his mentor: Luna sandals.
Inspired by Ted’s experiments, other backroom inventors have added their own twists to the ancient design, launching the greatest burst of innovation the huarache has seen in 3,000 years. Branca Barefoot created a clever pair of side-loops that allow you to simply tie your sandals like regular shoes. Unshoes got rid of tying altogether by deploying the same cinching strap you find on a bike helmet. Over at Invisible Shoe, they’ve created a sole that’s thick enough for jagged stones yet pliable enough to roll up and stick in your pocket. Ozark Sandals dealt head-on with three huarache drawbacks—the toe strap, rubber feel, and dull appearance—by coming up with a durable rope sole in Popsicle colors held on by soft cord webbing (my wife has lived in hers all summer and only changes them to rotate colors).
Right before Barefoot Ted ran Leadville last summer, he presented me with a pair of Lunas which I threw under my bed as soon as he wasn’t looking. I was supposed to pace Ted for the last stretch at two in the morning, and no way was I running rocky trails in the dark in those things. But just to be polite, I decided I’d strap them on for a few yards and then swap them out for some real shoes. When we crossed the finish line four hours later, they were still on my feet. I didn’t have a single blister, bruise or stubbed toe.
Questions? All answered by Barefoot in Az