Barefoot Shoes

Branca Barefoot Running Sandals Review (Minimalist Sandals)

Guest review by James Savage

Fortunately for those interested in minimalist shoes, we’re seeing not only an explosion in closed toed minimalist footwear, but we’re also able to choose from an ever widening selection of open toed sandals inspired by t…

Fortunately for those interested in minimalist shoes, we’re seeing not only an explosion in closed toed minimalist footwear, but we’re also able to choose from an ever widening selection of open toed sandals inspired by the huarache sandals made famous in Born to Run. I’ve been running in Branca Barefoot running sandals or “Brancas” for a few months now, and I have found them to be excellent running sandals with several advantages over homemade huaraches.

Original Brancas with red laces and black elastic rubber heel strap

Original Brancas with red laces and black elastic rubber heel strap

Ordering your Brancas

There are several choices to make when ordering your Brancas. First, you can choose from among three different models. The original Brancas have flat, rubber soles with your choice of 14 colored footbeds and 20 differently colored laces. The leather Brancas (the final, non-prototypes) feature a brown leather footbed atop a 5mm Vibram Newflex rubber sole (here’s a pic of it) with the same selection of colored laces. The heel straps on both models are available in either black or brown leather or the black elastic rubber I tested. As of this writing, there is a limited number of a third model of leather Brancas with perforated leather footbeds. Just to be clear: I tested both the original Brancas and a pair of prototype leather Brancas (not the perforated versions):

Leather Brancas awaiting customization

Leather Brancas awaiting customization

Sizing is customized to your foot’s dimensions. When ordering, you provide the measurement from the the location where the laces will go between your first and second toes to the back of your heel. When you receive your Brancas, they come pre-laced, and you complete them by simply tracing the front of your foot and trimming away the excess material (The above photo shows a pair of Brancas pre-trimming).


Brancas are similar in design to huaraches you might make yourself. They feature thin, flat soles with no arch support or unnecessary padding to get you as close to a barefoot experience as possible. However there are several unique features which set Brancas apart from homemade huaraches. Most huarache designs include an exposed knot on the bottom of the sole. Not only is the knot subject to wear, but it also might be uncomfortable for runners depending on a variety of factors such as lacing material and sole thickness. On the Brancas, there is no knot. Instead, the laces are threaded through a hole in the sole and affixed flat to the underside. For my Brancas, a patch was used at this point. However, all Brancas shipping today have switched to a spray-on polymer which is reportedly (according to Brant at Branca) more abrasion resistant. The absence of a knot eliminates a potentially uncomfortable bump under your foot and provides a better solution for wear and tear.

Original Brancas awaiting customization -- the patch shown has since been replaced with a spray-on polymer

Original Brancas awaiting customization — the patch shown has since been replaced with a spray-on polymer

Another difference between homemade huaraches and Brancas is the design of the ankle holes. Instead of simply using two holes at each ankle to secure the laces, Brancas use durable eyelets punched into wings on the sides of the soles. This has two advantages. First, the laces do not come in contact with the ground and therefore aren’t subject to abrasion, and second, the wings allow the sole to cup your feet for a tighter fit while reducing the smacking sound created between your foot and sandals when hitting hard surfaces.

Original Brancas with eyelets and elastic rubber heel strap

Original Brancas with eyelets and elastic rubber heel strap

Another great feature of Brancas is the lacing method. Lacing for huaraches can be challenging for some with many variations and subtle adjustments to make; however, lacing your Brancas is as simple as tying a pair of shoes. Plus, you can keep the laces tied (When you take them on or off) once you have them set/tightened to your liking. Unlike huaraches, switching out the laces isn’t as easy as it would require undoing their attachment at the bottom of the sole.

My favorite Brancas design feature is the heel strap. Independent of the laces, the heel strap firmly locks your heel in place thereby preventing your foot from slipping off the back of the sandal thanks to it being made from an elastic, one-inch wide rubber. Slide your heel firmly in into the heel strap, tighten the laces, and you get a perfect fit that won’t slip during runs. The elastic rubber simply stays put on your foot.

Running in Brancas

I’ve been running for several months on a variety of surfaces switching between the original Brancas and a prototype of the leather Brancas. I now have a few hundred miles of running in my original Brancas, and I have found them to be very comfortable. I even bought a second pair in a different color to add a little variety. My original Brancas are beginning to show some wear on the footbed as shown in the photos below. The wear only affects the aesthetics and doesn’t impact their function at all. The patches on the soles are beginning to break down, but they should be good for many more miles, and the rubber soles show no wear. Perhaps the newer version of the Brancas with their spray-on polymer will be an even more durable solution for securing the laces.

Wear on the footbed of the original Brancas after a few hundred miles

Wear on the footbed of the original Brancas after a few hundred miles

My prototype leather Brancas differ from the release version only slightly. Unlike the release version of leather Brancas, my prototype pair uses the patches on the soles to attach the laces, and my pair has a flat rubber sole like the original Brancas. The biggest improvement of the leather Brancas over the original Brancas is the leather footbed. The leather footbed is a much better surface for two reasons. Not only is it more durable, but it also conforms to your foot over time while feeling great against your skin. After about a hundred miles of running in my leather Brancas, there is zero wear, and they continue to be extremely comfortable. The leather upgrade is well worth the cost for prolonging the life of your Brancas. I suspect the Newflex soles are also an improvement over the flat soles by adding extra grip on loose surfaces.

Leather Brancas with black laces

Leather Brancas with black laces


Brancas are an excellent option for someone thinking of trying huaraches but hesitant to tackle a completely do-it-yourself project. The Brancas give a great open toed, custom huarache experience with added advantages over homemade sandals. The original Brancas are an excellent introductory pair of running sandals, but for those planning on going the distance, consider getting a leather version for the added durability and fantastic feel.

Pricing, Availability, Measuring/Wearing Videos

Brancas are available directly from their website for $40 for the originals, $74 for the leather Brancas plus a bonus pair of original Brancas, and $97 for the limited edition perforated leather Brancas plus a bonus pair of originals Brancas.

Finally, here are a couple videos from Run Branca on tracing your foot for ordering and then customizing the Brancas once they arrive:

By James

James's life was changed forever when he tried running in Vibram Five Fingers in July 2010. He'll occasionally go barefoot, but he primarily runs in his homemade huarache sandals. He loves to experiment with different types of minimalist footwear and has previously reviewed huaraches (homemade, Invisible Shoe, and Luna Sandals), the Teva Zilch, and the VIVOBAREFOOT Achilles running sandals.

10 replies on “Branca Barefoot Running Sandals Review (Minimalist Sandals)”

I like the idea of huaraches, I really do. In fact I have a pair of Original Lunas (Luna Sandals) that I use fairly regularly (or did, before I got injured so no running for a while, but that’s another story). The problem I have with most of the huarache options is that, as a guy, I can’t help but feel that they seem very feminine. I say that because they look very much like the very thin soled sandals that women wear all the time. Surely there’s a way to make them look more masculine. I don’t know how that’s possible but I’m thinking that perhaps a thicker sole and thicker laces would help, perhaps a different fastening system as well rather than a bow tied in the front. Not sure….

Nice! I like that lacing option quite a bit… But the thick heel strap that’s a walking advertisement is sadly just not for me.

Maybe this is just me, but once my Lunas wore in a bit the side straps do not touch the ground anymore, and after months of continuous wear and over 100 miles walking/running in them, my knot has BARELY any wear at all. The leather straps are quite durable.

Aw heck, despite disliking the strap and the shoe lace material, I’ll probably end up picking up a pair to support another minimalist footwear company and to try out that lacing method…


I think you’d be quite pleasantly surprised with these. I’ve got a pair of the leather prototypes, too, and they’ve really impressed me with their functional design. Easy to put on, they don’t slide around. The double-laces out the “thong” point makes for a more secure fit (IMO) over huaraches, too.


For casual wear I’m inclined to agree. I just have a hard time pulling off the thin-laced huaraches look (generally) in a casual setting. If I had my druthers I’d pair the thicker straps and plastic adjuster of the Unshoes Wokova with the overall design of the Branca for a one-two knock-out punch of a running sandal.

But aesthetics aside, the Brancas have really impressed me with their functionality. The elastic strap just flat-out works for a no-adjustment/locked on running sandal. Meanwhile, the laces are truly “set’em and forget’em,” which I’ve liked in lieu of just trying and failing to nail the art of huaraches tying. I also get less “slop” (again likely because of tying error on my part with huaraches) in the Brancas thanks to the dual laces.

Function over form! And at the end of the day, it’s pretty bad-a to be running around in minimalist sandals. However feminine or dainty they look — it all just adds to the intrigue of what you’re doing to third party observers!

I concur with the opinion that these sandals look a bit feminine. Choosing subdued colors helps a bit, and perhaps you could do something to minimize the bow of the laces.

I agree running in huaraches is still pretty bad *ss, but I just think it would be super easy to make more of a “modern huarache”. We have all sorts of examples to choose from. Just take some of the more popular Teva, Chaco, etc… brands and use the uppers or foot fastening systems as a template and use the traditional huarache soles. Why is the archaic lacing system such an integral part of the huarache? Some innovations in shoe technology can actually be helpful in this regard…

Huaraches are kind of like haiku poetry. All the different brands use the same basic concepts, but then use different soling and upper materials to create very different products, each with their up and downsides.

I have been running in a pair of the new FeelTrue soles from Invisible Shoes. While I absolutely love the new soles, I think the fastening system could be better (for me, at least). To that end, I am in the process of tinkering with them a bit. I studied huarache designs from Luna, Branca, Bedrock, and Unshoes and came up with a plan. I bought some 1/2 flat nylon webbing and ladder buckles and will attach them to the FeelTrue soles. I also have a good plan for securing and protecting the bit of strap that goes between the toes and comes out the bottom (props to Terral Fox from Unshoes for the advice). The end result should be something like the Bedrock sandals. If it all works out like I hope, the nylon webbing will fit, feel, and function better than the stock nylon laces from Invisible Shoes. If not, I’m only out about $7. I will post my findings and some pics when I’m done and have had a chance to run in them.

Just curious, do they really send a pair a pair of originals for free if you buy the leather ones? I made my own huaraches, but they aren’t holding up the best anymore. So if I got two for that price, that would be stellar.

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