Guest post by Matt
Matt is an avid minimalist hailing from the great state of Oregon, home of the minimalist shoe company Soft Star. He recently set out on an adventure that put his Soft Star RunAmocs to the test. Enjoy Matt’s take on these elegant but durable minimalist shoes.
Not unlike many of the people who’s stories are here at birthdayshoes.com, I’ve been intrigued with testing the limits of my minimalist obsession. In this case, it meant challenging Oregon’s South Sister mountain in footwear a mere whisper of the massively thick soles and steel toes of traditional hiking boots.
About RunAmoc Lite Shoes
When I received a pair of RunAmoc Lite shoes from local minimal shoe maker Soft Star Shoes to test, it seemed the opportunity had arrived. If you are not familar with Soft Star or their RunAmoc model, let me bring you up to speed. They are made by elves. It’s even run by two Chief Elf Officers. Of course, these elves are not of the short stature, pointy ear variety. Just dedicated shoemakers working from the factory in Corvallis, Oregon. But the RunAmoc’s do have an elfish quality in their simplicity. They sport merely a few pieces of leather stitched to a Vibram sole. And with a close look at that handiwork, you see these are as much hearty as simple – not to mention ridiculously comfortable.
Read on for the full review after the jump!
Initial Ascent from the Trailhead
Mine came with the optional trail sole which measures in at 5mm. But remember, these were developed as running shoes. Not scale-a-mountain shoes. You see, the ascent of South Sister is challenging in any footwear. You gain almost 1,000 feet per mile, largely over loose volcanic scree. From the trailhead however, it’s a couple miles through the woods. That’s where I began my test.
With little rubber between me and the ground, my feet were getting some great ground feedback as I started down the trail. I could feel every, root, stick, and stone. Having this close-to-the-ground feeling really helped fuel the anticipation of the hike. And the cool mountain air on my feet was a nice change from a stifling strap-up boot.
The RunAmoc Lites, if nothing else, are the most breathable full-cover shoe I’ve ever worn. Between them and something like a FiveFingers, there’s just no comparison. I’d venture most feet will not sweat in them. It’s fair to attribute most of that breathability to the unique perforated leather of the RunAmoc Lite. It has struck the right balance of softness and durability.
In most cases, the breathability would be a huge advantage. On the trail however, where each step is met with a cloud of dust, the perforation allows a fine layer of dirt to build up inside. It’s not as irritating or annoying as it sounds. The perforation size keeps out all the stuff that would hurt your feet. But you definitley know it’s there. SoftStar makes a RunAmoc Smooth model that would probably have eliminated that problem. Lesson learned.
Reaching the Treeline
Below the tree line, the RunAmocs handled the roots and rocks with ease. My feet just felt light. Hiking boots are just heavy beasts and most of us hikers have grown accostomed to their girth. But released from that weight by the RunAmocs, I enjoyed a springy sensation (at least for the first few fatigue-free miles).
Reaching tree line, I paused for lunch and assessed my RunAmoc experience so far. The good: unmatched ground feedback, great balance to deal with trail obstacles, dry and unconstrained feet. The bad: a fine layer of dirt in the footbed and tired toes. Tired toes? What’s that about? Well, partly due to the dirt and partly to the loose leather construction, my feet tended to slide around a bit inside the shoe. My toes, the fatigue would later tell me, where responding by trying to grip the footbed, much like wearing flip-flops. I needed to consciously work at not fighting the slipping if my feet were to last. (halfway pic)
Tough Climb to the Summit
The second half of the journey turns from hard to grueling. The loose rock and scree leading the the summit is a two-steps-forward-one-step-back experience, so I wondered how the RunAmocs would handle the change.
Turned out it wasn’t much different. The shoes let my feet to be agile and light as they could be while slogging through the volcanic remains. The dirt and slipping were still there but I didn’t miss my boots for a second. I did notice that the sharp volcanic rock was beginning to noticeably scuff the exterior. Clearly, the RunAmoc Lite leather was not meant for this kind of abuse. However, scuffs aside, it held it’s ground remarkable well. (the other sisters pic)
Now when reaching elevations in excess of 9,000 feet, stability became a factor. I started feeling lightheaded at times which made keeping my feet underneath me that much more important. It was it at that point I gave my first and only thought to switching shoes on the ascent. With my feet continuing to slip around inside the shoe, I didn’t want to lose my balance. In the end though, I decided against it, deciding the added weight would kill any momentum I had left.
Finally reaching the summit, I untied the RunAmocs and looked at my feet to assess the damage. But there was none. Not a blister, cut, sore, or abrasion. Over six miles, nearly a mile elevation gain, some brutal volcanic rock and my feet still felt great. Pretty incredible.
Does this mean I’m sold on these shoes as a bonafide hiking boot alternative? Yes and no. For hikes with much smaller elevation changes, I think they’d work well. Slipping would not be the issue it was on this steep climb. You’d likely still deal with some dirt, but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks in my opinion. Steeper climbs, depending on your foot endurance level, would be more of a challenge. But for a running shoe, and a minimalist one at that, making it to the top of one of Oregon’s highest peaks makes a strong statement about their versatility. My inner shoe designer tells me simply swapping out the perforatorated leather with the non-perfed option of the RunAmoc Smooth would give the stability and dirt protection to make these a viable minimal hiking shoe for most casual hikers.
One last note. For the decent, I switched to the boots. Being very fatigued, I couldn’t trust myself to maintain my balance should any slip occur inside the shoe. My old boat anchors worked well in that respect, but within a mile, my feet were in pain and I wondered if I’d made the right choice. In any case, I know I can never go back to clunky hiking boots.
Disclaimer: Though not currently a client, I have done some work for SoftStar Shoes.
Thanks for sharing this Matt!