Thursday, December 23, 2010

My minimalist shoes

beige shoes
Leather closed toe sandal
Pink and black moccasins
Alp Sandals
Black fabric shoes
Open-toe hiking sandals
I have a fleet of somewhat minimalist shoes and sandals now. Pictured are the ones I like. All the other ones I made suck in one way or another. These are the good ones.

Except for the strappy sandals which I did not make, I only resoled, they all use basically the same pattern from Simple Shoemaking - the two-piece casual. I made little changes, such as altering whether they are closed-toe or not, altering the decoration across the vamp and heel area, changing the heel piece to cover more of my foot, and changing the materials used for the uppers and the fasteners.

All these shoes lack arch support and are zero-drop, which means no rise in the heel. The heel is the same height as the ball of the foot (except that after a while of walking, the ball of the foot does lower itself a bit.) Some have almost no cushioning and others have thicker soles which provides a little more cushioning. None of them are squishy soft, though. They all have ample toe-box width.

I wear them to work and class, to parties and on hikes. It is a wonderful feeling to wear shoes that don't do things for my feet. I have to walk a little differently and I'm getting used to not having a raised heel. It's strange to see how much that feature has altered the natural functioning of my body over time. It's like learning to walk again in some ways.

It's a wonderful feeling of freedom to have made all these shoes myself. I hope that they serve me well. You see, after my 2008 PCT hike, I left the trail with horrible stress fractures caused by motion control running shoes (specifically Montrail Hardrocks, the good ones before they changed them and everybody decided they sucked.) Those shoes forced my feet into an unnatural position with my toes pointed up to the sky. I hurt the bones at the balls of my feet as they were forced to hit the ground unnaturally with every step. Eventually I had metatarsal stress fractures and was in so much pain and agony I had to leave the trail.

At home I researched online and found these articles about the physical problems shoes can cause. So much of my pain was explained. I walked around barefoot in my neighborhood, bought some huge Keen sandals for work, and tried to heal my feet. It took a long time.

Before my second hike, I made sure to purchase shoes that were flexible rather than stiff and "corrective." This helped a lot, but they were not quite wide enough in the right places so eventually I got other injuries. I found the squishiness of the EVA foam soles to feel okay after miles of pounding on the trail, but in actuality, when I got home and did some test walks in different shoes, I found the squishy foam caused me to feel like I was working a lot harder to cover the same ground. Firmer shoes felt like the energy transfer went directly into forward motion. I think now that softness should be an add-on, something you can stick inside the shoe when needed and removed when not needed.

Long ago I read Ray Jardine and he suggested low-top hiking shoes rather than high-top boots for backpacking. I made that switch and it was like night and day. I was able to use the full range of motion of my legs to power up hills. I never went back. My ankles are strong as tree trunks. I've never hurt them. I think perhaps it is the same for arch support. If I can build strong ankles why not strong arches and strong feet? To do that means eliminating shoe features that try to "help" me. It means minimalist shoes.

No companies make the kind of minimalist shoes I was looking for (I guess they are starting to do that now), so I made my own. I really didn't want gorilla feet Vibram Five Fingers. I had some long ago and I did not like them. Instead I made relatively normal-looking shoes. It's wonderful to have a fleet of them. I like the feeling when I wear them and the feeling of independence having made them. I look forward to seeing what, if any, changes they make to my foot health.


  1. I've stumbled across you again! The internet is a small place sometimes. You not only make beautiful shoes, but write beautifully about them too. I am hoping to heal my feet as you are doing, and fingers crossed I will feel the same sense of liberation in both making and wearing them. Lots of luck in your shormaking adventures, and I look forward to seeing more of your work.

    Much love, Hannah (Citrus on the Crispin Colloquy).

  2. Thank you. I'm still working on them.