- Type : Barefoot/minimal
- Use : Trail running
- Price : About $80-90
I first became aware of Luna Sandals on my initial trip to the Copper Canyons. Seeing the Luna Boys coming down to run with the Raramuri, I thought this was a nice display of respect, but I also thought it was... crazy. But then I ran the last 10 miles with Scott Smuin at the end of the grueling ultra, and he seemed to be doing just fine in his huaraches – that is, no worse than anyone else at this point. I was amazed. He suggested I try them. I thought this was... crazy. Again.
But then he sent me a pair of the Leadville model, which I tested and reviewed last year. Although I was, again, greatly impressed, I wasn’t entirely sure this was the best footwear to go trail running, at least not in the gnarly canyons, not when you're me and not when going at it for over 8, 9 or 10 hours.
I tried and fitted my OSO’s in December at The Running Event, a trade show we attended with the Luna crew. After a bad run the day before, where I had turned an ankle, I wasn’t sure it was a great idea to go dancing on the pointy, sharp rocks of Austin’s Green Belt with sandals. I was expecting to hike much more than anything. To my astonishment, I started running easily and with growing confidence, and even ended the day chasing the Luna guys up a dry, rocky riverbed. Wow.
But that was 10k, and that was Texas. I live in Montreal, I run ultras and I get cold easy. On a good year, I don’t think I’d get more than 6 months of running in sandals, so I thought they were really neat, but honestly not something I could ever use as footwear in any trail event. Then I traveled to the Copper Canyons again.
On an easy day after a long run in shoes, I took a couple people for a hike up El Naranjo, which is a part of the UMCB course. It was hot and I was lazy, and I didn’t feel like wearing shoes. I knew the OSO’s were solid, so I decided to wear them for the 4-5 hour walk. I couldn’t help but try a couple running stints with them on the single track going up, and I started playing around, running, in the steep gnarly downhills. They held very well, and I felt really confident.
So I thought I’d put them to a real test, the next day. I slipped them on and went for a hard run up to Guadalupe Coronado, another section of the course. The Vibram outsole is grippy and firm, and really has no less protection than rock-plated shoes. The lacing has greatly improved with non-slip strips along the heel and the top of the foot, removing any floppy sensation. The foot bed is made of a synthetic material that clings well to your foot and gradually molds to it with use, thus further increasing its comfort. There was nothing not to like. I was starting to get excited.
The next day, I decided to add a distance test. I ran the whole 20-mile loop from Urique to Los Alisos, which includes rocky road, riverbeds and single track. I was very pleased. Not only did the OSO’s deliver solid grip and confidence, but they also proved very comfortable over longer distances, even though I started to experience the same plug issue I had with the Leadville model, where the strip in-between your toes gets twisted and eventually becomes like a rope, chaffing my skin.
Other runners present on that day mentioned they had noticed significant changes in my form, for the better, and confirmed I was still moving strong after hours out on rough terrain. So, I wasn’t only feeling better, but actually running better? A little idea started to bounce around in my brain.
Maybe I could run UMCB in them.
To make sure this just wasn’t some pipe dream that would end up in bandages and crotches, I made one last test. I climbed all the way to El Naranjo again, and then I really let it rip on the downhill, a brutally fast and gnarly 10k that shoots straight down from the high plain to Urique. If I can make it out here, I thought, I can make it on race day. I took a tube of Shoe Goo and glued the plugs in place so the lace would stop twisting, then I strapped the sandals on and gave it a shot.
It was... well, here’s how it was :
No need to add, I was convinced. I felt confident that not only I could wear the OSO’s on race day, but that they would actually contribute to a strong, solid run in the hot dusty trails. I wasn’t disappointed. I finished UMCB over an hour faster than I had last year, with solid feet and a very, very wide smile.
I have grown convinced that the OSO’s greatest advantage is that they force a certain running form on you. It would be suicidal and downright idiotic to do anything else than take quick, rapid steps in running sandals, and the way these ones are built enforce - and reward – a fast turnover. This made me stronger in climbs and prevented some of the “deconstruction” of form that comes with fatigue after running long hours on a hot day. They kept my feet free, light and dry, as opposed to running socks and shoes. All that, on the Canyon trails, made a hell of a difference.
No matter how gnarly the terrain got, I never struck or hit anything with my toes, as seems to be feared by a lot of shod runners. The only time I kicked something was with the tip of my sandal and the rock never touched my foot. As for sand or tiny pebbles getting struck in-between your foot and the sandal bed, I won’t say it never happens, but it’s never bugged me and is certainly no different than when dust and scraps seep through your trail shoes’ mesh uppers. And I found out that if you don’t strap in too tight, the little scraps will almost always come off as soon as they get in.
I still live in Canada and I still only have about 6 month per year to run in sandals, so I don’t know where this is going to lead. But after having run 50 miles on some of the hottest, driest and gnarliest terrain in North America, I can already tell you that they will be in my backpack every time I travel for an ultra. Anywhere.
- Super-simple, minimal concept
- Vibram outsole is grippy and solid
- Protects your feet as well as rock-plated shoes
- Light, dry and free feet
- Enforces and rewards quick foot turnover
- Still nonviable for cold/winter running
- Proper adjustment takes some getting used to
The equipment for this personal review was supplied by Luna Sandals, free of charge, without any conditions.