I've been transitioning to minimalist a piece at a time over the course of the last two years. First was the gradual change in my actual training shoes. Then casual and business wear — still an ongoing process. Oddly the only persistent holdout was the uber-casual category. You know, the shoes you keep by the door to slip on when you're taking a chill bike ride to meet friends out for a beer, to take out the bottles for recycling, let the dog out, or need to make a quick run to the store because you're out of bourbon. (I don't drink as much as it sounds — those are just examples. Really.)
For occasions such as those, I have an ancient pair of Adidas slides and some Merrell clogs. Both of which have felt ever more clunky as more of my time is spent barefoot or with minimal coverage. My well-worn Luna Leadvilles sub in occasionally when the weather is warm, but what about when it's not? I love my Lunas, but sometimes I need something more.
Enter Soft Star shoes and their beautifully simple Moc3 RunAmoc.
I've come across the Soft Star site a many times during web searches related to barefoot and minimalist running. During those early occasions I unfairly dismissed them for their quaint sincerity. I was behaving quite like a child whose parents promise to take her to the toystore — except it's not a "real" toystore, but rather one of those old-fashioned ones with handmade items and wood blocks and educational games and whatnot.
Soft Star felt like that old-timey toy store: handmade shoes assembled in the U.S., attention to detail, shoemaking as a craft, etc. The metaphor is extended by their referring to themselves as "Elves."
But while elves do indeed make toys for Santa, so too do they work with shoes while the cobbler is sleeping. And in this case, the toys Soft Star's elves sent me were a pair of Moc 3!
What you get
In the elves' own words, the Soft Star Moc 3 is:
- Exceptional flexibility and ground feel provided by innovative patterned foot bed .
- Lightweight, weighing less than 5oz!
- Breathe-O-Prene® liners wick moisture away, with 4-way stretch to hug your foot. Also keeps dust and dirt away!
- Genuine Vibram® 2mm soling.
- Odor Resistant.
- Reflective strips for nighttime safety.
- Designed for your feet, not a last!
- Handcrafted in Oregon, USA.
- Genuine leather uppers, perforated for breathability.
With a shoe this thin and flexible it also probably goes without saying that these are zero drop.
When I first saw these online I was intrigued but hesitant. Now granted, the high experimentation within the minimalist shoe community — by both the producers and the consumers — as well as the fact that many of the brands are available primarily or entirely online, feeling hesitation when considering a minimalist shoe has become a common experience for me. I say it in a lot of my reviews. But in this case in particular, the idea of a handmade-to-order, leather-uppered shoe seemed unappealing. I imagined stiff sleeves that smelled of dirt and cows, or maybe something that looked and performed like a floppy change purse.
What I got instead was an odor-free, soft, supple, clean, and elegant modern shoe. It's structured enough to make for a quick and easy slip-on without floppy like a sock or pouch while it's also being flexible enough to hug your foot comfortably and roll up with incredible ease. The sole is unusual to look at, but it fits and functions perfectly.
The Moc3 is so well put-together that it's easy to forget that they're handmade. The one place that I remembered this fact relates to the inner stitching. Where the upper is stitched to the sole, there's a slightly protruding strip of material running around the entirety of the inner. When I first put them on I noticed it immediately: the feeling of a seam against all sides of my foot. Worrisome. But it never caused me any blisters, hot spots, surprise tickles, or anything of the sort. After only a few minutes of wearing them I had ceased to notice. It probably helps that the materials used are so soft and malleable.
The Moc3 drew a lot of attention. Especially in the busy Philadelphia airport. Which I thought was strange at first because they're really just simple black shoes. Then I got a look at myself in a full-length mirror in the bathroom. With a pair of jeans, polo, and large jacket, your eyes are immediately drawn to what appeared to be extremely tiny feet for such a tall guy.
It's just an optical thing, obviously. Minimalist shoes already appear smaller than more built-up shoes. Add in the fact that the shoe is a sock-like slip-on and dark in color and you've magically got tiny elf feet. (Makes sense, having been made by elves.)
They're so thin, and fit so exactly, that it looks like you're just wearing socks. But once my fragile male ego got past the size thing, all was well. Not to mention that Moc3s are arguably the least weird looking of all minimalist shoes that aren't actively trying to look like "normal" shoes.
The Moc3 reminded me that what needs to be adjusted isn't the shoes themselves, but rather our perceptions of what shoes are supposed to look like. We've been looking at humongous foot coffins for so long that seeing something slim, flexible, and maximally functional seems "weird." I wore them proudly.
Being concerned with function doesn't mean you have to be blind to style, though. Soft Star allows you to build your own version with a handful of colors other than black. (I would've ordered another pair myself if they were available in blue!)
Odor, or lack thereof
The only other slip-on minimalist shoe I've tried is the Patagonia Advocate. Not a perfect comparison due to the Advocate's positioning as a casual shoe, but very similar otherwise. One of the biggest issues I've had with the Advocate is that if you wear them all day your feet will stink much the same way as they often do in FiveFingers. This is a problem with any enclosed shoe that you wear without socks.
The original Advocates had zero ventilation. My feet get sweaty and quite ripe if I wear them around for a day with no socks — even in the winter. Which is a shame because I otherwise quite like minimalist slip-ons. So much so that I also bought the nearly identical Advocate Stitch when they were on sale. Fortunately that pair was slightly newer and had some tiny perforations at the top of the toe box. It didn't help a ton, but it was enough to take the edge off the foot sauna.
The Moc3 gets around this with an entirely perforated upper, harkening back to the technique of classic sneakers. And it works like a charm. I've yet to take off the Moc3s with any particular odor, even after long mild days with no socks. I'll try them for a day in the height of summer later this year and report back whether that still holds true.
For now, I tested the Moc3 under the next most stressful conditions I could think of: travel and the airport!
First, I wore the original Advocates (freshly cleaned) through the airport and on the flight at the beginning of the trip. By the time I landed and got to my hotel, taking them off was pretty offensive. If the hotel had windows that I could've opened I would've hung them outside for the duration of my stay.
Next up, the newer semi-perforated Advocate Stich. Wore them around for a similar amount of time. Slightly better, but still not better enough to prevent singed nosehairs and a noticeable recoil.
Then I wore the Moc3 on my flight home. I'd worn them around a few times very briefly and hadn't cleaned them, so honestly they were at a disadvantage. But really, it wasn't even a competition. The Moc3s won the odor/sweat test by a landslide. Even after an all day wear under stressful conditions, I took them off at the end of the day and the only noticeable smell was the faintest leather scent. And no sauna feet!
If you ever do experience any odor, be sure to check out Soft Star's care suggestions. Or just sprinkle a little baking soda in them overnight.
This was the first time I'd ever run in a full-coverage slip-on. Other than that time that I'd had a bit too much to drink while out and decided to jog home in my Advocates instead of taking a cab, but that was slow and brief.
I really don't know why drinking keeps coming up in this review. Anyway.
I'm still working my way down to thinner and thinner shoes. I usually run in styles with a 5-8mm sole. I've done total barefoot sparingly, and run slightly more often in slim huaraches. The closest feeling I can compare the Moc3 to is 4mm Xero Shoes. The difference, of course, is in the full wrap nature of the Moc3.
Even if you get the right fit, you're still going to be at least slightly more constricted than running in sandals. That's just the nature of full coverage. But the Moc3 is flexible enough that I didn't get the usual black toenails I end up with in most full shoes.
Running in these gets a thumbs up. They didn't slip or slide. No discernible hot spots or terrible sweatiness.
More of what works
The Moc3 is supremely breathable. Flexibility is perfect. The sole is precisely thick enough and excellently aligned. While you might not want to run any particularly rocky trails, the sole handled quite a few rather pointy rocks quite well. Importantly — and surprisingly, given that it's a slip-on — they stay put while running hard, even on hills.
The overall ease of these shoes makes them ideal for travel. They take up so little space while also serving so many purposes that I forsee myself reflexively tucking them into a side pocket of my bag for every trip I take from here on out.
I mentioned that I got a lot of looks whenever I wore these. I also got surprisingly more questions than I get when wearing other minimalist styles. The thing I noticed the most was the dreamy look that many non-minimalist types would get when they pondered the idea of a simple, light, slip-on shoe that makes you feel like you're barefoot without making you stick out like a sore thumb. The types who would never in their life wear "those freaky toe shoes" were definitely willing to ponder a pair of Soft Stars.
The only thing that actually didn't work for me is how the shoes handle water. If you step in a puddle during a run you're going to be sorry. They start to take on the full weight of the water pretty quickly, feeling like you just stepped into a shower while wearing thick winter socks. I did get caught in an unexpected sprinkle at the end of one run and they did fine. But don't set out in a downpour in these unless you usually run in ankle weights.
I like the Moc3 enough that I toyed with the idea of trying to further waterproof them, but it seemed like a major obstacle given the perforated upper and Breath-O-Prene liner (same as with the Soft Star Rogue that Justin reviewed). Plus I just like the shoes so much otherwise that I didn't want to risk ruining them. So if anyone out there has tried it on this or any other Soft Star model, let us know how it went in the comments.
Given the materials and the nature of their construction, the Moc3 can't just be tossed into the washing machine if it gets dirty or otherwise funky. They require a little more care than your average shoe in this department. Not a deal breaker by any means, but worth noting.
This was the big test, and I waited for a particularly challenging day. I wanted a workout with some major foot movement. Maybe some jumps, double-unders, burpees, or sprints. It probably goes without saying that anything slip-on is by its very nature unlikely to stay put quite as well as a shoe with some sort of fastening system (Similarly, see the FiveFingers El-X for Crossfit review I recently posted).
That said, the Moc3 surprised me. I felt aware of the shoes during box jumps due to the relatively smooth sole, but didn't slip. During double unders (which I'm not the best at), when I'd catch the jumprope on my feet it would sting significantly more than in a sneaker due to its thinness, but that's a problem I have with FiveFingers as well. Once or twice if I turned suddenly or pivoted I'd feel maybe the slightest slippage inside the shoe, but it was typically so little as to be quickly forgotten. All other movements felt fine. It was easy to forget that I was wearing a slip-on.
In short, I wouldn't use these for cross training with any regularity. But they'll more than do in a pinch, especially if you're on a business trip where you forgot your exercise shoes and find yourself with only these to run in or wear to the gym. Which is exactly what happened to me.
I dig the Moc3. I've mentioned its thinness, flexibility, and breathability a lot — but figured I'd mention it one more time for good measure. For slip-ons these stay on your feet very well. They're one of the truest multi-functional minimalist shoes I've tried, so long as conditions are mostly dry.
Since these are slip-ons, though, I'd strongly recommend that you take care to get exactly the right size. Take the time to measure your foot properly so you'll get the right fit. Put in the time to do it right and the Moc3 will do you right in return.