If you love the idea of barefoot running but don’t want to risk gashing your soles on glass or sharp stones, these are superb. You need to ease yourself into running in them, though, so don’t expect to go straight out and run an off-road marathon in them – get your feet properly used to them and they will serve you well.
True barefoot experience
Lots of trail feel
Very little protection
Not great in wet weather
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Xero Shoes Genesis running sandals: first impressions
Donning these huarache-style Xero Shoes Genesis running sandals – inspired by the footwear used by the long-distance runners among the Rarámuri people of Mexico’s Copper Canyons, as described in Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run – is about as close as you can get to actually running barefoot, while minimising the risk of gashing your foot on flint or glass, which would be a really annoying way to put yourself out of action.
There is nothing between the soles of your feet and the dirt except 5mm of ‘FeelTrue’ rubber, and the new iteration of the sandal is held on with nylon straps (with silicone grip), which go between your toes and around the Achilles strap.
You have to be very conscious about foot placement, to avoid injury, but advocates of barefoot running see this as a positive – it encourages thoughtful running.
• RRP: $40 (US) / £40 (UK)
• Weight (per shoe, men’s UK11): 170g / 6oz
• Drop: 0mm
• Colors: Blue / Black / Green / Red
• Compatibility: For the committed minimalist runner, these barely-there sandals can be taken on any (lowland) trail
Xero Shoes Genesis running sandals: on the trails
People who are confident wearing these sandals run all sorts of distances in them (including ultras), across challenging terrain in various conditions. Personally, I have run extremely rugged off-road half marathons in them, and the main negative has been the disapproving looks some other runners and spectators shoot me. Ignore them – these are among the best barefoot running shoes – they have held up fine and done exactly what I’ve expected and asked of them.
My first pair were purchased in the early days of Xero Shoe’s production of the Genesis, when you basically bought the materials and made the sandals yourself. This DIY approach really appealed to me, and I have been very happy with the sandals I ended up with – which I still run in.
The newer version is a bit more evolved – with clips and padding around the Achilles, which might make people feel like they have something more substantial for their money, but to my mind subtracts from the minimalist appeal of the sandal. Each to their own.
Unsurprisingly, the trail feedback is sensational though the 5mm sole, which is great if (like me) you don’t have great balance and you are susceptible to daydreaming and floppy-spine. As soon as your head falls forward and you over-stride or stop using your glutes, the sandals start making a slap sound and things get uncomfortable, so you are forced to correct your running style.
Also, you don’t get sweaty feet, or blisters. The soles last for ages (many years) and the string can be replaced or repaired (both of which I have done multiple times). I am forever wearing through the string just above the toe knot. Xero Shoes claim that if you run properly you won’t wear away the knot, but mostly I don't – I wear away the string just above where it goes through the sole. It’s straightforward to repair, but always annoying.
With the original design, there are no bonded materials, so everything could conceivably be recycled with ease, and they are suitable for vegans. They are infinitely adjustable, so you can spend a lot of time fiddling around with them to get them just right – although plenty of people love doing this.
They are very easy to clean. There is no need to worry about materials getting wet and drying off. And NO, running in the winter isn’t too much of a problem once you are warmed up. Assuming you’re not trudging through snow for hours on end, it’s basically the same as trainers really, except that your feet probably move more and so get better blood flow.
You don’t have the same traction you do in shoes. On the face of it this sounds like a negative, certainly if you are racing over gnarly ground, but the fact the your feet will move around in the sandals if you are not properly balanced and in control means you can't get away with being too aggressive, which is probably a good thing long term.
When conditions are wet, however, there is little to no grip between your foot and the sandal, which is fine if you are on flat ground, but not great if it’s steep and raining. You also have to deal with people pointing and being a bit sneery – and if you do get an injury, everyone will get all ‘I told you so…’ about it. So check out how to avoid trail running injuries to help avoid that situation.