Minimalist shoes are the hottest—most hotly contested—development in running these days. For every convert who swears that running “barefoot” (in zero-drop shoes with flexible soles and little or no arch support) has made them faster, more efficient, and less prone to injuries—and I’m one of them—there are just as many cautionary tales from runners sidelined with Achilles strains, calf problems, and stress fractures. A couple of my friends have gotten injured while transitioning to minimalist shoes in recent months, and the sheer volume of research they turned up is staggering, striking fear in the heart: Are minimalist shoes the Bad Idea Jeans of our generation? Or are they the best thing to happen to our feet since we were babies?
Now that some of the big names in barefoot technology are making mini minimalists, the debate has filtered down to the youngest generation: Are barefoot shoes good for kids?
Merrell just completed a new study on barefoot and minimalist running that inspired the company to redesign its barefoot runners, making them wider so that your foot has more connection with the ground. It also inspired Merrell to introduce two new minimalist collections: done-in-a-day Mixmaster shoes (below) and the multiday-hike Proterra shoes (above).
In applying the lessons of barefoot running to hiking footwear, Merrell had two big challenges. The first was figuring out how to create a braking heel—something that would grip the trail on descents to prevent the hiker from slipping and sliding—without using overbuilt and heavy lugs. Merrell’s answer: an inverted lug diamond patter sole that gives traction in the midfoot, where minimalist runners and hikers strike, as well as the heel.
Last fall, Gear Shed tester Andrew Forsthoefel set off on a momentous, sure-to-be-life-changing megatrip. He loaded up his backpack, laced his shoes, and walked out his back door in Chadd’s Ford, Pennslyvania, bound for the West Coast on foot. He’s not in it just to prove that he is Outside’s ultimate gear tester. Forsthoefel is walking cross-country to put himself at the mercy of the elements, or the people he meets along the way, and, like James Agee, to collect the stories of everyday peoples’ lives.
You won't have to worry about stinky flip flops this summer if you order yourself some Oka-Bs and have a dishwasher. Oka-B flips and slides are made from Microplast, a kind of anti-microbial PVC that you can hose clean or toss in the dishwasher for a low labor scrub with a clean, lemon-fresh scent. Whether the normal wash is sufficient or the pots and pans cycle is required really depends on your feet. Either way, do yourself a favor, make sure that your girlfriend/wife/mother doesn't see you squeeze them in between the tupperware.
Winter is waning, but summer is not here yet. Keep mud season muck at bay without cooking your feet with new weather resistant shoes and boots from manufacturers you already know and love.
Blundstone Stout:Blundstone has been making sturdy and unique boots since 1870. This season, the brand introduces their first shoe, a short version of your favorite boots. The Stout uses premium leather upper, stretchy side panels, and goat leather lining with a top stitch durable rubber sole. Available Fall 2012 in leather or suede, $130, blundstone.com.