Always one for interesting designs, Softstar has released one of its boldest shoes to date, the toe-splay-happy, long-distance ready, RunAmoc Primal. Full disclosure: Justin was an early tester of the Primal RunAmoc nearly a year ago—and Softstar sent…
Always one for interesting designs, Softstar has released one of its boldest shoes to date, the toe-splay-happy, long-distance ready, RunAmoc Primal. Full disclosure: Justin was an early tester of the Primal RunAmoc nearly a year ago—and Softstar sent me these pair to see what I thought about them.
In short, I’m impressed, but you’ll want to see my full thoughts on the Softstar RunAmoc Primal. So read on!
Are you ready to go wild? Then we’d like to introduce you to the Primal, a wildly healthy shoe with our boldest sole shape yet! This innovative minimal shoe has an extra wide toe box for the ultimate in free movement and natural toe splay.
With our groundbreaking Primal shoe, we’re busting boundaries and embracing the natural physiology of the human foot like never before. This minimal footwear design is the perfect marriage of modern innovation with a pre-shoe-era mindset when our feet could wildly roam the Earth, unencumbered.
Weight — 7.6 oz (mens size 9)
Total Stack Height — 5mm Vibram Gumlite Trail Sole + 1mm insole = 6mm Total Stack Height
Barefoot scale — Great shoe for experienced minimalist runners and hikers. New runners will want to take their time to adjust to the thinner sole.
Ideal Uses — Road and light trail running. Light parkour. Adventures of many kinds.
BOLD is not a term that minimalist runners shy away from. We are brazen, tough, and exceedingly eccentric, all at the same time.
However, this shoe is definitely going to test some runners at first glace. The Softstar RunAmoc Primal (simplified to Primal) for the remainder of the review) features the widest toebox of any non-custom running shoe that I have seen and while some might think of it as clown-like, I think that it’s a game changer.
Keep in mind, I’ve called Softstar a game changer before, with their bullhide RunAmoc: A shoe that is so durable and enjoyable, that I still wear it regularly more than three years after that first review and I’ve purchased a handful of other colors to bolster my collection.
When running with their latest design, the Primal, my toes had a very interesting feeling of nothingness, an uncanny bubble of knowing that they are inside a shoe, but I cannot feel the shoe as I normally would; I am now able to splay my toes as though I was completely barefoot.
And that is what the Primal is all about, total freedom for play and toe splay.
The Primal uses the classic Vibram Gumlite utility sole. More specifically, the 5mm variety. This is not a beefy trail sole, but can handle most light and medium trails, rocks, and tree trunks. This shoe is primary made for road and the nubs of the Gumlite sole are great for giving you plenty of traction, but without impeding your flexibility and movement; a strong balance between smooth and dexterous.
Gumlite vaguely stiff, but still flexible. It is not quite as flexible as Vibram’s other sole rubbers, Morflex, Newflex or Cherry, but it provides more traction than most of its brothers. While the other soles are great for dry road running, Gumlite little 1-1.5mm nubs for traction. They cover the entire sole, in a uniform pattern; you will not see any zigzaging shapes, as with other soles.
This gumlite sole is very flexible and can be easily rolled up. Aside from their Hawthorn boot, this is actually the stiffest Softstar Shoe that I have tested. The stiffness does not get in way of delicate movements though, such as wrapping your toes and sole around an object, such as a curb, concrete divider, or tree trunk; you still have incredibly flexibility, but just not as much as with thinner soles in previous shoes from Softstar. For climbing trails and anything with large rocks, the ability to shift your weight around any point in the sole is a fantastic advantage and I cannot see how anyone would want hiking boots when they can feel and adjust to every step with something as durable, capable, and flexible as you have with the Primal soles.
There is a very slight “give” upon landing, but nothing jarring. The soles have a natural fall to them and running is very enjoyable. If you are used to running in Morflex shoes or regular running shoes, you may find an abrupt landing, but it’s nothing that you won’t adjust to within a few hundred feet; our bodies are amazing like that. If you are a seasoned huarache runner, then you will be right at home with the Primal.
The wide toebox of the Primal makes for a very enjoyable running experience. I have particularly wide feet and I am almost always aware of the insides of my shoe when I run. For this reason, I have always enjoyed running in huaraches (custom-cut, whenever possible), but the Primal is easily the most comfortable shoe running experience that I had. It took all but five steps for me to stop thinking about the odd shape of these shoes and, instead, grin from ear-to-ear.
As an aside: the little nubs of the Gumlite sole will pick up and hold all kinds of dirt, mud, or dog poo, so be careful with where you land!
In testing on ice, the rubber in Gumlite is not made for that kind of low-temperature condition. You might want to look into something with Vibram Ice Trek or similar compounds made for cold-weather running, if you want complete confidence while running over snow and ice. There were a couple of instances where I did slip a bit when running over frozen puddles, but the Primal is so flexible and quick that I was able to recover, sticking to a slower pace on future puddles to be on the safe side.
Fit and Materials
The Primal is made almost entirely of surprisingly breathable premium, responsibly sourced leather. It’s beautiful leather, soft to the touch and seemingly broken in right out of the box. You can tell that Softstar takes a lot of pride in their shoes and the Primal continues that trend of quality, thoughtful, and hand-crafted design.
The leather is soft to the touch and shoe adapts to the shape of your foot over time, giving plenty of freedom of movement when you flex and bend your feet.
My Primal has very eye-catching contrast stitching and specific weakpoints feature criss-crossing patterns for extra durability. With my previous Softstar shoes, none of them have fallen apart on me yet, despite the seemingly soft leather construction. The stitch pattern is similar to the RunAmoc Dash that I reviewed years ago, but they have made subtle changes to the angles and a few reinforcement points.
Softstar has creatively added a protective toe cap on the front of the Primal. These are made from upcycled bicycle inner tubes from Oregon. The toe area has been an issue with so many running shoes that I was surprised that such a simple and environmentally-friendly solution hasn’t bene used before. The bike tube rubber is very durable and can handle a lot of bushwhacking. I even did a little test and pressed a nail into the rubber to see how far I can press it. I was unable to puncture the rubber with just my bare hands, though it did leave a small indent. The color of the rubber actually blends well with the slight texture of the leather. At first, I didn’t even know that it was a tire tube, perhaps just a strip of black leather.
For me, the heel is one of the most important points of any running shoe. I have found that some manufacturers do not give the heel enough attention and some heels can feel sloppy or too rigid. Softstar’s solution to the strengthening the heel without stiffening this important contact between foot and shoe was to use a thick wing of leather and stitch it into the heel section of the Primal. This provides a semi-custom fit that adds security to the heel, without sacrificing smoothness or comfort.
Inside the shoe, there isn’t a thick insole, but the entire construction is quite seamless and very comfortable, even barefoot; no socks required.
The cowl of the shoe is very low and this allows my ankle full and complete movement. This is incredibly helpful with climbing movements, cutting quickly, or just encouraging the overall feeling of openness.
One thing to note is that it is not just the cowl that is low, but rather the entire show is pretty sleek and low-profile. While there is plenty of toe space for splay, there is not a lot of vertical space inside the Primal. If vertical volume is important for you, you might find your toes enjoying their freedom from side-to-side, but not up-and-down.
While this did no affect my toe comfort, the Primal does have a low-profile shape and this may be a tough fit for anyone with those that require vertical volume. Someone with something like a hammer toe or just fat toes might not be too comfortable in the Primal. However, I am not sure how they can make the interior more voluminous without sacrificing the speed of the shoe. Aside from that, I suppose Softstar could have added more padding to the tongue, but this is a very complete design and one of my favorite enclosed running shoe designs.
BOLD. Game Changing. Maverick. What-have-you. These are just words. How they speak to the character of the creative folks at Softstar is what matters. They are bold and have a lot of confidence in their designers and their craftsmen and craftswomen. I will admit that I initially thought that the shape of the shoe was a bit much, but it gave me a good reason to remind myself not to judge a book by its cover, because underneath that wide exterior was one of the most enjoyable running experiences that I would have otherwise missed out on. Combining the openness of a huarache with the assurances of an enclosed shoe, topped off with a beautiful leather upper with a capable and flexible sole, the Primal is a winner through and through. I cannot wait to take it on more adventures and I know that it will be a willing partner on the road ahead.
If you’re interested in giving the Primal RunAmoc a go, head over to Softstar shoes and pick up a pair.