Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Xero Shoes (Invisible Shoes) Connect Review

Back when I first got into minimalist running, if you wanted to buy a pair of huaraches there were basically two companies to choose from: Luna and Invisible Shoes. I've been wearing Lunas for over a year now but had never had a pair of Invisible Shoes until a few weeks ago. How do they compare? Read on.

The Basics
First, the name. Like Stem/Leming, Invisible Shoes is currently in the process of confusing everyone changing its name to Xero Shoes, not to be confused with "Zero Shoes" or "Xerox Shoes" (which is what Emily called them for a while).

Groundfeel doesn't look very good
Since the company doesn't seem to have quite made the switch yet, I'm going to keep calling them Invisible Shoes for now.

Invisible Shoes was started back in November 2009 by Steven Sashen, who among other things is the guy behind the incredibly hilarious Sh*t Barefoot Runners Say videos. Originally, tie-curious runners had two options: pay to have a pair of sandals custom-made, or order a kit (which meant a big piece of hard to cut rubber and some laces) and go through the daunting task of making them from scratch yourself.

Like I said, that rubber's hard to cut
The most recent additions to the Invisible Shoe lineup are the FeelTrue DIY kits, which aren't really DIY kits in the sense that most huaracheros are used to. What you get is two pre-cut soles in your size (you select your size based on the length of your foot in half inch increments), two laces, a hole punch, and a hairpin.

Which to me sounds a lot like what MacGyver would get in the mail if he ordered a pair of shoes.

The pre-cut soles mean that the "DIY kit" is almost completely ready to go out of the box. The only thing you have to do is use the hole punch to (you guessed it) punch a hole between your toes, which will take the average monkey with a hammer about 45 seconds (it took me about a minute). After that, you simply thread the laces through the holes with the hairpin (which is actually the hardest part) and you're done.
If you want, you can trim the outside of the soles to fit the shape of your feet but this isn't necessary. I chose not to, mainly because I'm lazy.

The kits come in two thicknesses: 4mm (Connect) and 6mm (Contact). The Connect retails for $30 and the Contact for $35, though they are both currently on sale for $5 less (if memory serves, they've been on sale for a while now). I chose the Connect since I planned to use my pair mostly for road running.

There are also tons of color options. As has been the case for a while, you can get your laces in any of nine colors. A brand new option is the ability to get your sole in one of a variety of colors as well.
So if you have a pathological fear of not being remembered as "that guy with the hot salmon sandals with the forest green laces," Invisible Shoes has you covered. I got black on black because (1) I'm boring, and (2) apparently nerds can be goth too.

Once you've picked out your colors and gotten your sandals punched and threaded, the last decision you need to make is how you are going to lace them. There are an infinite number of options available but most fall into two main categories. Traditional...

...or slip-on.

(Sorry about the yellow tint in these pictures. I took them inside the Latrix, which is basically the Matrix except lemon flavored.)

If you go the slip-on route, you can either cut the laces short (as in the photo at the very top of this review) or you can find something creative to do with all of the extra lace. I tried just wrapping it around and around the rest, which worked pretty well.

As always, the traditional lacing is going to be the most secure, although the slip-on style I tried worked perfectly well, at least for road running.

All in all, the Connect works well as a road running sandal. As previously mentioned, the sole is only 4mm thick, so groundfeel is about as good as it gets. In fact, groundfeel is so good that especially rough asphalt can be a bit uncomfortable. That's another way of saying that there isn't much protection in the Connect, so if you plan on running trails (or even encountering a lot of gravel) you might want to consider the thicker Contact. Durability shouldn't be an issue though, since the dense rubber seems extremely tough. I think you'd have a hard time puncturing the sole (even with a hole punch and a hammer, it took a couple of whacks).

Flexibility is another area in which the Connect shines. As you can see, the sole rolls up nicely. This makes it one of the better options if you are looking for "backup" footwear to bring on a barefoot run.

Invisible Shoes lists the weight of one sandal at around 3.3 ounces. Since the sole is dense it feels surprisingly heavy in the hands, but at 4mm thick it still feels like almost nothing on your feet. One plus of the FeelTrue sole over the Vibram Cherry of the original DIY kit is that I didn't notice any of the floppiness that people often complained about. Also, over time the sole has molded to my feet a little bit (which the cherry supposedly didn't do), though not as much as some other sole materials.

Comfort is good overall. I don't have anything in particular to complain about, although I don't find them as comfortable as some other sandals. I guess I would categorize the comfort level as "perfectly fine, but not luxurious." The laces are thin enough not to cause problems between the toes, but not so thin as to cut into the skin. The density of the sole material means there isn't that slight cushiness that there is in some of Vibram's rubber (but again, the Connect has better groundfeel, so there is that tradeoff).

Traction is fine, at least on roads. The rubber is reasonably grippy and there's a good tread on the sole (but not enough to be a problem on flat surfaces).

The laces keep the foot sufficiently secure for road running, especially with traditional lacing. The thin laces don't seem like they would do as well on technical trails, although I haven't really tested the Connect on trails due to the lack of protection of the sole.

My only real complaint with the Connect is that there's a bit of a slapping sound when I run on pavement. I've tried different lacing systems, tightening, loosening, etc., but could never make it go away. This isn't really a huge problem, but I mention it because it's a pet peeve of mine and it might be of other people as well.

Overall, I would recommend the Connect for running on roads at any distance and for casual wear. I don't think it would work as a trail sandal, and I don't think it was intended for that. In several aspects (comfort, security, versatility) there are other huaraches on the market that I prefer, but they are all more expensive and/or require more work to make.

The Connect is a very solid road running and casual sandal and a great value. The price is probably going to be the biggest selling point for many people since at $25 it's much cheaper than most minimalist shoes. At that price point the only main competitor is Luna's DIY kit, which is also $25. The big advantage Invisible Shoes has over the Luna kit is that the Connect is virtually a ready to wear sandal. The disadvantage of the Connect is that its fantastic groundfeel and complete lack of protection makes it a bit of a one trick pony. Whether this is a real problem or not depends on your personal needs and preferences.

You can buy the Invisible Shoes/Xero Shoes Connect here.
Sandals provided by the manufacturer

Invisible Shoes in Color - Barefoot Running Sandals Sale

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