The GW81 Barefoot: "The one true barefoot experience"
I have redefined procrastination when it comes to internet footwear reviews. This write-up is 32 years in the making. It's not strictly a matter of laziness, though. Part of the issue is that I've only just recently gotten the hang of these and made use of them in the correct fashion. Thus only now am I able to give a true and fair review.
So ladies and gentlemen, I present the GW81 Barefoot!
The GW81 Barefoot was the first pair of footwear I've ever owned. Got them the day that I was born. I recently spoke with the CEO of Mom Industries, my mother, creator of the GW81.
GREG: What made you design this particular footwear? From where did you draw your inspiration?
MOM: Well, I can't say that I was thinking about making your feet in particular.
GREG: The GW81 Barefoot features a very unique design. Not the kind of thing you'll see in public a lot.
MOM: Heaven's no. That's just not normal, I don't think. Walking around without shoes.
GREG: And yet you're a fan of this particular model, I take it?
MOM: Oh, absolutely! You've always had the cutest little tootsies. You used to let me cut your toenails until much later than most kids since the clippers scared you and--
Okay on to more important things.
The pair I received is just under 12 inches long, just over 4.5 inches wide. I give those specs because the manufacturer didn't include an actual size on these, which is inconvenient but manageable.
The entire product is covered with a natural protective coating known as Epidermis?. The Epidermis? and the additional filler material underneath are -- get this -- self-healing! You can scuff these, slash them, puncture them, and with careful care they will continue to function well and will eventually fix themselves.
Mind, the GW81 is significantly more prone to such damage than, say, a pair of steel-toed boots. But with proper care they will still outlast said steel-toed boots. I'm sure there's a limit to the healing ability, but I haven't found it and nor do I intend to find it if I can help it.
It probably goes without saying, but these shoes are zero drop. They also have a stack height of 0mm, which makes them the thinnest multi-function footwear currently on the market.
I'm not going to lie, these are the ugliest shoes I've ever seen. They come in a wide array of colors but you can't choose which one you want. Which is a good thing, ultimately.
Visually they very closely resemble the New Balance "laces only" release from last December. But of course, the GW81 takes things to a new level by eliminating the need for laces entirely.
They wash well, though I would recommend doing so only by hand. The logistics of machine washing and drying these just seems too extreme. Other testers have reported an odor not unlike that of Vibram FiveFingers, but so long as they're worn without additional accessories and washed daily I haven't experienced anything of the sort. If anything, FiveFingers seem to get smelly much quicker.
Function and Barefoot Feel
The tread on these sucks. Period. While they do have a unique "print" pattern on each sole, it's very light and basic. This is the furthest you can get from quality traction for rocks and rain.
But to be fair, this seems to be an intentional feature of this particular pair of footwear. The more correct and natural your foot stride, the better the performance of the tread and the shoe as a whole. You will likely run slower in the GW81, but your stride will be better and more sustainable for your health in the long run. Just be sure you take your time to get it right. (See the Adaptation section below.)
Though the sole is relatively weak, the toes sections offer a protective plastic coating. Per wikipedia, this material is "a horn-like envelope covering the dorsal aspect of the terminal phalanges." Also known as "nails." There are upsides and downsides to these features. In the "pro" column, they offer a measure of protection if anything is dropped on them. It's no steel toe, mind, but it definitely helps. In the "con" column, they need constant maintenance. They must be trimmed regularly and can sometimes appear uneven. Chewing them is not recommended in polite company.
Groundfeel is better than anything on the market. End of story. If you find something better let me know, so that I can call you a liar to your face.
Given the unusual nature of the GW81, it takes some time to adapt. If you're moving directly from traditional padded running shoes to this most-minimalist model, you'll probably find yourself swearing and generally unhappy. But if you've made a smart transition from traditional sneakers to minimalist shoes like Vibram FiveFingers or Luna sandals, then your next transition to the GW81 will probably go pretty smoothly. In other words: take it slowly, folks. Don't just dive right into the GW81 just because it's the next big thing. Take your time and do it well.
I've been running minimalist for a little over a year and a half. After several months I managed a 5k in the GW81 with some measure of success, but when I tried an 8k only a couple of months later things ended rather badly. Long story short TAKE YOUR TIME. I can't stress this enough.
For CrossFit and everyday use
Earlier this year I quit my day job to become a CrossFit coach. I've been rather busy with that, which is why I haven't been reviewing as much here lately. (Apologies to all of my fans -- both of you!) Within the first month of my career transition I found myself walking out the door with just my GW81s on. Every day. No matter what the weather. My love of this footwear actually seemed to become part of my identity. Everyone loved it.
"Bare feet again? Ugh. You're the worst," remarked one of my fellow coaches.
Okay, not everyone.
But I've got to admit that I was surprised how versatile these have been. If there's one question I get all the time it's, "Aren't you afraid to step on some glass or hypodermic needles?" And after 6 months of going barefoot approximately 95% of the time, I can say with all confidence that there are significantly less needles and patches of broken glass than all you people seem to think there are. I mean honestly, I haven't gotten so much as a nick on them. And I only put something on over the GW81 when I have to go in a store, restaurant, or important social situation.
Honestly, I'm more afraid of dying in a plane crash than I am stepping on something sharp. Granted, I live in Durham, NC as opposed to Detroit, Chicago, or NYC. Still urban, but not big-city urban. Maybe the streets of big cities are littered with poisonous needles. I don't know. But I'd guess that most folks will be fine with the GW81.
I've had a better experience cross training in the GW81 than distance running. There's nothing that they've been unable to handle. The only time I feel inclined to put on heartier footwear is when I'm doing a workout that requires a partner and includes running. Since CrossFitters take their WOD times seriously -- sometimes too much so -- I don't want to burden anyone with my slower running in the GW81. But other than partner workouts I've yet to encounter a WOD that made me feel like I needed more than the GW81.
I've worn the GW81 almost exclusively since April of this year. Living in the southeastern United States, that means that most of the review time has been in relatively warm or mild weather. The true test is on its way, with the weather getting colder every day. I keep getting asked about what I'm going to do when as that happens.
My answer: stay the course for as long as possible. I'm under no illusions that the GW81 is perfect and ideally suited for any condition. But I've got to admit that even a try-new-things-all-the-time, hippie-minded weirdo like me has been truly surprised at their versatility. As such, I want to keep them in the game for as long as I can. Until it becomes unbearable, the GW81 Barefoot will remain my shoe of choice.
I know that I live an unusual life. Some would even describe it as "charmed." I wear a comfy t-shirt and shorts to work every day, and my uniform footwear is the GW81. This is not a normal person's life. Many people have to iron their clothes and sit at a desk. I get to move around and be active. And for this I am grateful. I completely understand that most people can't get away with such a weird shoe in their daily life.
But I urge everyone to try it out as often as possible. After a year or so of reviewing shoes there is nothing I'd recommend as strongly as these. It can be painful, yes. It requires some work on your bodily mechanics in every way, as well as some planning and forethought in regards to your day. The GW81 can help you reconnect with yourself in ways that words just can't describe.
Wish me luck as I see how far into Winter I can make it with these as my primary footwear. And stay tuned for updates!