We've reviewed a number of huaraches here on BirthdayShoes. "Huaraches," (pronounced \wə-ˈrä-chē, hə-\) is simply Spanish for "sandals." While huaraches may refer to Mexican sandals of all varieties, here we're specifically talking about the types of sandals worn by the Tarahumara Indians (made famous by Born to Run).
If you've read Born to Run, you'll recall Barefoot Ted McDonald not only for his wily characterization by Chris McDougall, but also for popularizing two styles of footwear — Vibram FiveFingers being one, of course, and the other being huaraches. Ted first caught on to the hottest fashion trend in the Copper Canyons of Mexico thanks to his newfound friend, local Tarahumaran Manuel Luna.
Manuel Luna made Ted a pair of huaraches out of an old tire and some leather. Little did Luna know that this simple gesture would one day spawn an entire line of premium huaraches sandals thanks to Ted taking the sandals and literally running with them — eventually building a business named after Luna some five years later. That business is Luna Sandals.
Today, I'm going to be reviewing the Luna Catamount thanks to Luna passing on a pair for me to try out.
But before I dive in, it's helpful to understand a bit about how Luna Sandals are ordered; basically, you pick a sole design (a particular combination of rubber or rubber and leather, with different offerings as to types of rubber and types of leather) and then you pick laces. In the case of the Luna Catamount, the sole is a combination of Cordovan leather and a 4mm Vibram rubber sole. The base configuration of the Catamount comes with an option of quarter-inch leather laces, 3/8" "Leadville Black" laces (what I picked), or braided hemp. I'll also be reviewing the Catamount with 5/8" elasticized laces and, as put on a pair of the Original Lunas, the braided hemp laces.
I'll state it out the gate: 3/8" leather laces are my personal favorite for the Luna Sandals Catamount. So I'll review the Catamount with the 3/8" Leadville Black laces first, and then talk about other lace options later.
The Catamount comes with a 4mm rubber Vibram sole and a roughly 2mm thick shell cordovan leather upper. I'm no leather expert, but the shell cordovan has a fancy look and feel to it; it's a very dense leather and is markedly stiffer and thicker than the thinner suede leather of the Original Luna as a result.
The rubber side of the Catamount sole is 4mm thick. In combination with the shell cordovan upper, the Catamount sole is fairly rigid, despite being only 6mm thick in total. That means that ground feel is a bit muted in these huaraches even though they have such a diminutive stack height. If you want slightly better ground feel, you'd need to step down to the Luna Equus, which has the same leather upper but only a 2mm thick Vibram rubber sole.
1/4" or 3/8" laces?
I got my first pair of Lunas (circa 2010? The Original) with the quarter inch leather laces; while a quarter-inch may be plenty thick for most, for me, it just felt (and looked to my eye) a little too dainty on my foot. I wanted something more; so I opted to get the 3/8" "Leadville Black" laces for my Catamounts. I'm glad I did because that tiny eighth of an inch makes a world of difference to me from both a feel and an aesthetic standpoint.
One of the most daunting aspects of wearing huaraches sandals is assuredly the question of how you will lace them: do you do a slip-on style so you can "set it and forget it" or go Gladiator and wrap the ankle, requiring you to lace-up your huaraches every time you wear them? I've tried gladiator style and while I can imagine it's merits given the right setting, my intended use for these huaraches was to wear casually, on a whim, as I'm walking out the door — this is how sandals should be in my mind and I also am terrible at tying huaraches in fancier configurations!
Having decided to go with slip-on style, what was I to do with all that extra leather?
Cut it. At least, that is what I did. It's always made me just a bit nervous to trim off all that extra lace. However, using a slip-knot as the final knot with the 3/8" leather laces, I'm able to keep a little extra slack in case of a knot blow-out (the knot that faces the ground between your two biggest toes can wear down over time and eventually break, requiring you to pull more leather through and re-knot). Once you sever that extra leather lace, you find you soon forget about it and embrace the elegant simplicity of the slip-on huarache sandal. Set it and forget it, right?
Well, sorta. The one drawback to the leather laces is that they have to be worn fairly tight on your foot; if you don't wear them tight enough, the rear strap that wraps your ankle will slip down and around your heel. The next thing you know, your huaraches are slipping off your feet! That's because a pair of huaraches derives it's "structure" entirely from your foot through maintaining tension between the sole and your foot.
In my testing of the Catamount with leather laces, this was my sole gripe; they tended to get loose on my feet from time to time, requiring me to adjust the laces (pulling hard at the ankle holes) and increasing tension by pulling a bit more leather all the way to and through the slip-knot.
The loosening/slipping has gotten better over time as the leather lace has broken in and the final knot tightened further. I think with sufficient wear, the leather laces will stay put just fine.
Breaking in the footbed
Luna notes that the Catamount will break in over time and mold to your foot. While this is certainly true of the neoprene soled Original Luna, it's taken a bit more time to see it happen with the Catamount. I assume this is because both the cordovan leather and the Vibram rubber are denser, meaning they take longer to break down and thereby shape to your foot.
In order to try and speed the process along, I dug up some Brooks Proofide, which is a leather care balm I've used on my Brooks biking saddle. I applied a few coats (you can see what it sorta looks like as you apply it here and here — the resulting "wet" look quickly goes away as the stuff dries) and definitely noticed an overall improvement in the condition of the shell cordovan. The result felt less "hard" to the bottoms of my feet. My gut tells me it made the cordovan a bit more flexible, too.
The leather laces also stretch a bit over time; not really a huge issue, but something to be aware of.
Here are a few images of my Luna Catamounts with 3/8" leather laces:
As with all huaraches, the beauty of their function is in that it straps a sole closely to your foot with hardly any upper materials to speak of. This leaves your toes to flex and splay as much (or as little) as they want. Just check out the toe dexterity you get with huaraches:
The primary drawback to huaraches (as I see it) is that when your toes lift up, your sole hangs down; this can lead to the dreaded "trip" as your mind tells you your foot should clear some obstacle and while it would barefoot, it won't in huaraches. That said, it's just a matter of your brain learning to walk in such a way as to not have this little tripping hazard! And for that matter, I've not once had any issue tripping on the front sole of the Catamounts.
Meanwhile, being so very close to the ground and having such overall solid adherence between the sole and my foot means that my biomechanics get to work naturally, I feel light on my feet, and natural in my stride. While I didn't get these to run in, they can be run in.
The Luna Catamount paired with the 3/8" leather laces makes for a stylish, sophisticated yet simple pair of sandals. I tried pulling off the huaraches look with my original pair of Lunas (again, 1/4" leather) but they just seemed overly strappy. With the Catamounts, I've gotten a number of random, positive comments including some from total strangers that they like my sandals.
Huaraches can be a bit difficult to pull off stylistically for men as the straps can be seen as feminine. There is a women's sandal style that has a very similar look to the slip-on knot style of a pair of huaraches that doesn't do men any favors aesthetically. However, worn with a bit of confidence and a strong foot (which shouldn't be too much of a problem for minimalist footwear enthusiasts, right? We're talking about people who strengthen their feet by using them while wearing brightly colored five-toed shoes!).
If I really, really had my "druthers," I wouldn't mind seeing a 5/8" or even thicker leather (non-elasticized) lace tried with the Catamounts. I'm not positive such a thing wouild be possible, but it could look really sexy. Yes, sexy.
Wearing my Catamount huaraches with gusto:
5/8" Elasticized Laces
You'll note how pristine my Catamounts looked above (and in the photo gallery); these photos were snapped "right out of the box" — I had opted to get the black 5/8" elasticized leather laces (typically a +$15 add-on option for the Catamount). The main differences with the elasticized leather laces as compared with the leather or hemp laces are:
- Thong-knot is level with the sole. This is a cool feature that you can see in this photo.
- Use of a nylon (?) ribbon from the thong hole that attaches to the elasticized leather (as seen here — the bottom lace)
- The laces are elasticized, of course, meaning that while they're leather, they have a stretchiness to them.
The elasticized laces basically take a lot of the guesswork out of the knotting/tying process. You'll note that if you go with this option, the laces are already cut and tied to do the slip-on style; that's the only configuration you're going to get with elasticized.
Also, you get what looks like a more end-user product thanks to the extra "Luna" embossed end-cap where the slip-knot is. That is a nifty feature. I did have a slight issue with the wrap they used to accomplish this look — particularly where it came in contact with the thong part of the sandal. It tended to come loose and slide around a bit.
What really became an issue is how I couldn't seem to make the elastic laces loose enough not to put too much pressure at the top of my foot. When you step back and think about the huaraches design, you essentially have three lace points coming to a head at the top of your foot; each one running the distance from that one central point to a hole in the sole of the sandals. Nearest I can explain, this design in combination with elastic lace amplifies the potency of the elastic pull; so when you have three elastic bits coming to a head at one point, it creates a bit more force. Tack on a somewhat-more-rigid "knot" and you get a bit of discomfort.
I couldn't seem to wear the Catamounts with the elastic laces for long without it just bothering me so much that I had to take them off, and I'd then be left with a nice knot impression on the top of my foot. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary, but this was a problem for me and the main reason I gave up on elastic in favor of leather (or hemp).
Here are some more photos of the elasticized leather laced Luna Catamount:
Braided Hemp Laces (on the Original Luna sole)
I also wanted to try out the braided hemp laces on my Catamounts. However, while I did try out the hemp laces, you'll see that they're on my Original Lunas. That's because I didn't want to re-lace my Catamounts one more time (having done it once in switching out the elasticized to the leather, which by the way is a one way process as I had to basically cut the elasticized leather laces off the Catamount soles to get them off).
Given that the laces are fairly independent from the sole, anyway, talking about how the hemp laces function is a standalone thing, as it is.
For that matter, I think the hemp laces are a great choice. They feel fine against your skin and perhaps their biggest "pro" over the leather laces is that they have a bit more innate structure to them: you can almost sense that when you look at the photos below. I do worry that they might lose some of that rigidity over time, but being braided, I think the hemp likely will have less of an issue no matter what with slipping over the back of my heel.
You'll also note that I went for another trip around my ankle with the hemp laces in lieu of just slip-knot finishing them. That was my old fear of cutting too much cord off cropping back up; but I did like the simple slip-knot look (no second trip around the ankle).
Hemp dresses the huaraches down a bit from leather, but it has a decidedly natural look to it and blends well against my skin. Aesthetically, it's a good choice for a lace. It also apparently works well when soaking wet (never had that issue).
Catamount vs. Original Luna
Since I happened to have a pair of Original Lunas and a pair of Catamounts, I want to very briefly talk about how they compare to each other.
The two main differences between the Original Luna and the Luna Catamount come down to sole thickness and the leather used in the upper — oh and base pricepoint. The Original Luna without any leather upper start at $50 (vs. $125 for the Catamounts) — obviously that's a huge difference. Apples to apples you can option-out the Original Lunas (as I did many lunas ago when I bought them on the first production run) with a suede leather upper for $15 more, but still, that's only slightly above half the price of one pair of Catamounts.
As far as the leather is concerned, the cordovan is markedly thicker and more posh than the suede; however, suede isn't a bad thing and I like the feel of suede against my skin. I do think the shell cordovan will outlast the suede coppertop though, and I'm positive the high-end leather of the Catamount is what gives it the premium pricepoint. I think over the course of long-term wear with the Catamounts, the cordovan will hands down win out and outlive the suede. It's just a nicer leather and that's that.
The other difference between the Original and the Catamount is the sole. The Original Luna uses a Vibram neoprene sole that is 6mm thick (compared to the Vibram rubber in the Catamount that is 4mm thick). What's interesting about the neoprene soled Original is two things:
- The neoprene is squishier and overall less rigid than the rubber. Over time, it breaks down (faster I'd say) and causes the Original to more rapidly "mold" to your foot. Basically, while it starts out flat, it eventually starts kinda coming up at the front of the shoe (see pictures).
- The neoprene, despite being 50% thicker than the rubber, provides for better ground feel
It's this second point that is particularly fascinating to me; despite being 2mm thinner soled than the Catamount, you get better ground feel with the Original Luna sandals. As a sidebar, this is a fascinating thing about reviewing ultra-minimalist shoes and sandals; while it's easy to point at "bright line" measurements like stack height, the devil is in the details; you could walk around on a thin sheet of steel and get zero ground feel, but it'd be an ultra thin stack height, right? So it is with the Catamount vs. the Original — better ground feel with a less rigid neoprene sole as compared to rubber.
Knot to dwell on it.
Huaraches are known for a little knot that gets the whole lace structure started. The knot sits under the sandal between the biggest two toes. The Luna solution to this know is to punch a hole either straight through the soles in one fell swoop or to have two different sized holes; one big one in the rubber and a smaller one in the leather. This latter method is what's used with the Catamount and it effectively allows the knot to recess into the sole a bit. No such luck with the Originals, but it's not a problem. The knot under your foot is noticeable but not annoying in the least — this applies to all huaraches I've tried (including those by Xero Shoes). So I won't dwell on the knot. It's knot an issue. Sorry.
This review is getting a bit long in the tooth so I'll wrap up with a few parting thoughts. If I had to pick between the Catamount and the Original Luna, I'd go Luna Catamount with the 3/8" leather laces. This is the premium configuration ($125 isn't chump change though you do get a free tshirt!) that will get me wearing these sandals around town all summer long here in the heat of Atlanta.
However, if I just wanted a premium huarache sandal with a leather footbed and leather laces and didn't want to drop a C-note, the Original Luna with 3/8" laces for $65 (or maybe the ATS laces) would be my second choice. I wouldn't go with the elasticized laces (though I do love the countersunk design and the fatter lace).
What did I miss? Anyone else rocking Luna Sandals this summer for running or casual wear? Let's hear it!