Barefoot Shoes

Soft Star Rambler vs. Hotcakes: Two Soft Star Kids – Barefoot/Minimalist Shoes Reviews

It’s a pleasure to write another review of Soft Star shoes for Birthday Shoes. This time I?ll be talking about my family?s favorite pairs of children?s shoes, the Rambler and Hotcakes. I’ve weighed shoes. I’ve squeezed shoes. I’ve photographed my 2 1/2…

It’s a pleasure to write another review of Soft Star shoes for Birthday Shoes. This time I?ll be talking about my family?s favorite pairs of children?s shoes, the Rambler and Hotcakes. I’ve weighed shoes. I’ve squeezed shoes. I’ve photographed my 2 1/2 year old son, Django, in these shoes. And I’ll quote Michael Sandler’s advice on healthy shoes for children. Read on for my full review!

Shoe Obesity

Before I get into specifics, let?s talk about shoe obesity. Maybe it?s a touchy subject, but you?ve got to admit that there?s a lot of ?junk in the trunk? going on with most kids? shoes. I weighed each of the four pairs of children?s shoes that we own (all Size 10). Soft Star was the winner, by far. Here are the results:
ShoeWeight (oz.)
See Kai Run, Arrow 4.6
Soft Star Hotcakes 1.1
Soft Star Rambler 2.9
Soft Star Playtime2.9
I saw a toddler?s pair of Nikes that weighed 8 ounces apiece. That means some little guy who weighs less than 30 pounds is lugging a half a pound of shoe with every step!

Which Shoes are Best?

Any adult who has tried on a pair of minimalist shoes cannot help but marvel at their light weight. Once you?ve worn them for a couple of weeks it?s really hard to go back to your old clunkers. Born to Run popularized, among other things, the stunning fact that not one research study has ever found thick, cushioned shoes prevent injury. In the realm of kids? shoes, these fat, thickly-soled shoes with cramped toe boxes are even more ludicrous. Or worse. In his book, Barefoot Running, Michael Sandler discusses several studies proving that inappropriate footwear harms children?s feet. Afterwards he says, ?Chinese foot binding seems so abhorrent, but how much of a different outcome are our shoes creating when you think about it in light of these studies?? So what shoes should our kids wear when they can?t go barefoot? Sandler says, ?Studies show the best footwear for children are not the cute, stiff leather baby shoes we?re most familiar with, nor perhaps the favorite fashion models preferred by your kids and their friends. The best choices are loose-fitting, flexible-soled shoes made with breathable materials and with thin soles very close to the ground. More like moccasins.? As barefoot and minimalist footwear enthusiasts, my wife and I started Django out barefoot or in Robeez hand-me-downs. We loved the slipper-thin soled Robeez, but the toe box is rather narrow, the leather bottoms quickly develop holes, and Robeez are only available through Size 11 ½ . After that, there aren?t many moccasin-like shoes on the market that fulfill Sandler?s criteria for healthy footwear. Here?s where Soft Star?s moccasins fill a crucial niche.

How about Those Hotcakes?

Let?s start with the Hotcakes since they?re pretty much perfect. At 1.1 ounces apiece, the Hotcakes are my ideal for an ultra-lightweight shoe. The T-Rex soles feel like they?re the same thickness as our old Robeez, yet the T-Rex has better traction, (a great name), and most importantly, it feels like it will not wear through like the Robeez do.

How about Flexibility?

?Flexible? is a pretty subjective word. The See Kai Run website describes their Arrow shoes (see pic at right) as having ?flexible rubber? soles. They do indeed bend at the mid-foot, as all shoes do, but they are very stiff and inflexible in every other direction. The soles of the Hotcakes, on the other hand, can be flexed in any direction with only the pressure of two fingers. That is the soul of proprioception?the ability to feel the ground.
The first thing my wife, Leah, noticed about the Hotcakes was how incredibly soft they are. The faux Sherpa suede is also machine-washable, and the Soft Star website says the Hotcakes will not shrink or discolor in the wash. The elastic ankle closure works perfectly, and Django can easily put these shoes on by himself (a big plus). We?ve had the Hotcakes for about two months now. The T-Rex sole feels like it will live up to its name and take all the action my spunky monkey can deliver. But I can see that the edges of the upper fabric come into contact with the ground along the sides of the sole, so I suspect that these would be the first places that might wear out. I know zilch about making shoes, but I would love to see the thin sole of the T-Rex or Moc3 wrapped up around the bottom of the upper to provide greater durability. When Django grows out of his Hotcakes, I’ll leave a comment at the end of this post as an update on durability.

It’s Rambler time!

When our Ramblers arrived, the first thing we discovered was that Django can put them on by himself, like the Hotcakes. Sometimes they end up on the wrong feet, but the toe box is roomy enough that it doesn?t matter too much. We walked to a playground and noted that his shoes match the swings! I shot more photos of the Rambler than any other shoe mostly because they?re just so darned cute. We love the bright colors, easy fit, and light weight. The sole is slightly thicker than I would like, but it’s still very flexible in my book.


Like all the other leather Soft Star uses, the leather of the Rambler is formaldehyde-free, hence it is non-toxic, unlike most other leathers out there?that?s a key feature for us. When it?s warm, Django generally doesn?t wear socks, so when he gets his feet wet a little of the leather?s dye comes off on his feet. This food-grade dye is FDA-approved, perfectly safe, and it washes off easily. The Rambler is water resistant, which is another key feature for us as the rainy season approaches. The suede insole is plenty soft enough for us, but an optional sheepskin insole is also available.

Ramblers on the Trails

After a nap, we tried out the Rambler on a local trail and had a couple of nice surprises. One of our family values is getting the boy into the woods?into nature?almost every day. So we walk lots of trails, have off-trail adventures, and we do a little running. Lots of times Django and I are both barefoot, but I always carry his shoes. He usually prefers going barefoot when it?s warm outside, so I was surprised when he wanted to keep his shoes on for most of the outing.
Usually Django runs intermittently for a total of about 100 yards. But on this ramble, I?d say he ran for the better part of a mile in between long spells of walking or exploration. But he usually asks me to hold him when we start down a steep hill. So my final surprise came when he went flying down the last couple of hills on the trail.
I?d say the Rambler is a huge success.

Wrapping it Up

To wrap things up, I would be remiss not to mention what an exemplary company Soft Star is. I worked in a couple of factories in the summers between college years, so I greatly respect a manufacturing company that purposefully eschews large scale industrial fabrication for a humane environment and a hand-made ethic. How many other companies have this kind of thing listed as their first core value: ?Make our workshop a wonderful place to work: A creative, energizing and efficient workspace. An open, honest atmosphere where we work with mutual respect and dignity. A place where our families and community are welcome and integrated.? It?s easy to see how this line of thinking continues through the long list of Green business practices you can read about here. Questions or comments about Django’s Soft Stars? Let me know!

By Drew

I am a passionate trail runner, minimalist shoe aficionado, barefooter, and father. Depending on the season, I can be found in the Ashland Creek watershed (Southern Oregon) logging 20-90 miles per week. Born to Run and Birthday Shoes helped me discover minimalist shoes in 2009, and this put an end to the iliotibial pain I’d experienced in conventional shoes. When I’m not running, I am generally working at home on our small family business selling [url=]natural earth paints[/url].

10 replies on “Soft Star Rambler vs. Hotcakes: Two Soft Star Kids – Barefoot/Minimalist Shoes Reviews”

We also have and LOVE the Soft Star Hotcakes. I bought them for my daughter to use around the house as slippers. We have a cold house with mostly wood floors, so going barefoot is too cold, and wearing socks is either still too cold, too slippery, or the socks just come right off. The Hotcakes have been perfect! They are so light and flexible that she even sleeps with them on sometimes.

All our shoes from Soft Star have been nothing but wonderful!

I don’t have kids, and am not going to have kids, but as a “big kid” I can say I absolutely love my own Ramblers! Mine are not such an exciting colour as Django’s (what great colours!), but they are super comfortable and the shoes I slip on when I am not barefoot or in my VFFs. They are great for slip ons when going back and forth on errands or to & from the gym, or in cooler but not quite boot weather. Mine have the sheepskin insoles too which are fantastic under my wiggling toes. The sole is a bit thicker than other options but it softens up really, really quickly to be super flexible and it looks like it will last quite a while. Nice and packable too. I intend to take them along as a backup to my Spyridons on hiking trips.

I was curious about the adult Hotcakes too, though they were out of my size last time I looked. I had tried the regular width Roo’s out and they were too narrow and a bit too short for me but they felt really soft so I think down the road there may be some wider width Roo’s in my collection, or Hotcakes if they come back with them!

Soft Star has definitely become my other “go to” for minimalist shoes, besides VFF of course. I have some Merry Jane Metro’s on the way as well.

I have some ramblers for myself! While I don’t think they are nearly as cute on adults as they are on kids, they are extremely comfy and I like the wool insoles to give me a little warmth in the cold weather. I definitely plan on buying some for my boys when they outgrow the shoes they have now. I plan to get some soft soled ones soon for myself as well. Having worn these shoes, I can easily see how a child would love to wear them.

so what is the solution to the u.s.a’s
obese kids? LESS effort on WAR on junkfood and punishment->> MORE ACTIVE outdoor guidance:
or not, for some of them. but a least
they’ll be GIVEN A CHANCE to experience
how it feels.
(but hey, it’s politicly connected to
so many other stuff that it’s
wayyy too complicted to get into now,
in this brief comment box….)
i feel it’s every parent’s OBLIGATION TO HUMANITY to create a reality for their childs in which
they may choose to keep evolving
the balanced way.
more shared joy and connection to nature,
less hate and seperation toward our
fellow humans.
that way there is less “me” and dealing
with a shakey self and more of “us”
nature beings-travelling together in the
wild forrests, making life a joyful shared experience.

just my opinion.

and drew, thanks for the review!

In the past couple of years, Soft Star has added many styles for grownups, including ones that are office-friendly, and with “design your own” (DYO) options. If you call, you will get very good advice from people right in the shop / on the factory floor about how the different shoes fit and feel, how to measure, etc. There is NO RISK to ordering – all the shoes, no matter how customized, can be returned. (It blew my mind when I realized she really was telling me that my DYO shoes were returnable if I didn’t like them.) You gotta figure, if they have that policy, they don’t get too many returns. I’ve sure never returned any of mine!!

Here we are one year later, and Django just now outgrew his beloved Ramblers & Hotcakes. Both shoes were in good enough shape to pass on to another family. We replaced them with maroon Ramblers one size larger, and we’re off to the races…

Thanks for the review! I am currently stuck on deciding which of these styles for my daughters next pair of shoes. What made you choose to buy another pair of ramblers of the hot cakes?

Amazing post!

We are finally ready to order our boy his first pair of soft star shoes, and this post was a great assistance in making our final choice in terms of style. We too have an active tyke on our hands, and it appears that the rambler is the best sort of shoe for little boys who are all boy 🙂

My 3 year old son and I each have a pair of Ramblers for our winter shoes. My son recently decided to go puddle jumping in the lower end of the vegetable garden with his friends, so the shoes ended up super muddy. I washed them out in the sink, and also sloshed them in the bucket where his clothes were soaking in biz. They are almost completely dried out now, and look as good as they did before. They’re very slightly stiff, but will soften right up after a wear or two.

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