Barefoot Shoes

Meet Tuck’s Shoes. Custom Russell Moccasins / Minimalist Shoes

I did an hour hike up and down a back-country ski trail the other day in a custom pair of minimalist shoes. Packed snow, nine degrees Fahrenheit, and my feet were toasty the whole way. They have no heel lift, no cushioning, an anatomically correct desig…

I did an hour hike up and down a back-country ski trail the other day in a custom pair of minimalist shoes. Packed snow, nine degrees Fahrenheit, and my feet were toasty the whole way. They have no heel lift, no cushioning, an anatomically correct design, and are the only shoes I’ve found other than FiveFingers where I can actually splay my toes; they have excellent traction. No need for snow shoes, or Yaktrax.

A new start-up minimalist shoe company? Nope, this company has been making minimalist footwear for over 100 years. It’s the Russell Moccasin Co. of Berlin, Wisconsin, and the shoe in question was produced for me as a prototype after a conversation with the 80-year old owner.

Like many of us, after starting to wear Vibrams on a regular basis, I realized that traditional shoes were no longer going to cut it. I’d been able to find decent, but not great, alternatives for office wear, but the one problem remaining was cold weather. How to get a boot that would be suitable for hiking in the winter in snow and on ice? After a good deal of research, I found that the Russell Moccasin Co. makes custom boots, and some of them sounded close to what I was looking for.

I called them up, mentioned what I was looking to do, and was told that I would need to speak to Ralph. Ralph turned out to be the owner, Ralph Fabricius, who’s been with Russell for 56+ years. I explained that I had gotten into running in Vibrams, explained a bit about barefoot-style running and how popular it’s becoming, and Ralph cut me off. “We can make shoes like that, we’ve been making shoes like that since the Army study came out in 1915. Have you seen the Army study? I’ll send you a couple of pages…” Ralph was very interested in my story and my project, and asked me to speak to Richard Sanders, who handles marketing for Russell.

Richard and I had a number of discussions. Since Russell has a long history of making barefoot-style shoes for hunters, both Ralph and Richard understood immediately what I was looking to do, and wound up teaching me quite a lot about what I should be looking for. Richard mentioned that the sole he would recommend was the Vibram Newporter, which is a totally flat sole designed to be non-slip. He talked me out of the Vibram Sierra, pointing out that the Newporter was almost half the weight. I wasn?t sure, but went along. He called Vibram and they explained that the Newporter in the regular rubber wouldn’t work well for snow and ice, so they sent Russell some soles that were made up in a rubber that would work well on snow and ice.

Ralph had some ideas about what would be ideal for a barefoot experience, and made up the shoe I’m writing about.

An overhead view of Tuck's prototype minimalist shoes made custom by Russell Moccasin Co. of Berlin, Wisconsin.  They have no heel, are built on an iconic foot-minded

An overhead view of Tuck’s prototype minimalist shoes made custom by Russell Moccasin Co. of Berlin, Wisconsin. They have no heel, are built on an iconic foot-minded “last” called the Munson Last, and have a wonderfully warm but breathable suede exterior.

I’ve been wearing these shoes at this point for several months. I’ve worn them running, I’ve worn then walking the dog in sub-zero temperatures in Vermont, and I’ve worn them chasing the dog through deep snow in the woods. I?ve worn them hiking on wet rocks and leaves. And I wear them to the office almost every day. I wear them with and without socks, with wool socks for the cold and cotton in warmer weather.

They don?t look minimalist (which is a selling point!), but you?ll note that there is no heel whatsoever, no cushioning under the heel or the forefoot, and a wide flare at the fifth metatarsal to allow my foot to widen naturally. I can splay my toes in these walking downhill. The only other shoe I can do that in is my Vibrams. To compare them to my Vivo Dharmas, I once tried taking the Dharmas on a hike. My feet slipped around in the shoe, the shoe slipped on the side of the trail, and, in general, it was an experience I will not repeat. The Russell, on the other hand, with lacing over the instep and excellent traction, have been just fine on hikes.

Hiking in them is a different experience from Vibrams, and yet similar. Obviously you have much less ground feel than Vibrams, since the sole is much thicker. You can still feel rocks under your feet, however, and the total lack of cushioning means you must walk the same way as you would in Vibrams. Under foot there are three layers of leather and the sole. They?re unlike the Vibrams in that they have much better traction (even than the Trek), and they are much warmer. I?ve yet to have cold feet in them, and I?ve taken them out in below zero temperatures several times. (I wish I could report at what point my feet started getting cold, just to be thorough.)

The Newporter sole is terrific. With Vibram?s ice compound, the only thing I?ve found that they slip on is smooth ice. They get traction even on rough ice, and anything less slick than that is not a problem at all. I?m happy I took Richard?s advice.

I will point out that the toe spring (the curvature upward at the toe) looks excessive. The curve you see is actually what has occurred from my walking around in them. Wearing them, they feel no different from my Vibrams.

I like them a lot. In fact they’re my favorite shoes. I wear them almost every day instead of my Vibrams or my Vivo Barefoot Dharmas, as they’re less odd looking than the Vibrams, and fit and breathe better than the Vivos. They’re much warmer than both, with the fairly thick (but flexible) Vibram sole. Plus I can wear them to work!

Surprisingly, they’re the most breathable leather shoes I’ve ever worn. I prefer leather shoes after having a bad experience with man-made materials, but I?ve never experienced leather like this. They’re so breathable that I regularly find my feet dry and the end of a day, which does not happen with any other shoe I?ve owned. I discussed this with Russell, and indeed their suede is known for this trait, which is of course why Ralph picked it for me. (As I said, I’ve learned a lot, I wasn’t a fan of suede shoes prior to these.)

These shoes are made with the Munson last*, a product of the Army study that Ralph introduced me to. Ralph may have been one of the few people alive who was still aware of this study. Only three companies that I’ve been able to find still make shoes or boots on the Munson last, and Russell is the only one that will make a minimalist shoe on this tried-and-true barefoot-style last. (More about Munson later).

The Munson last was designed to allow natural foot movement, and it works as advertised. It’s a far better design than what Vivo uses, since the Vivo lasts still constrict the toes while simultaneously being too wide through the middle of the foot.

Russell makes each shoe to fit your foot; so your first step in ordering a pair of Russells is to take detailed measurements and a tracing of your foot, and mail it to them. Email or fax is not OK, because the transmission process can alter the tracing. The only major drawback I?ve found is that since the shoes and boots are made-to-order, there is a bit of lead time to get yours, and they’re not cheap. (Compared to Vivo Barefoot, they?re a bit more expensive.) But, as I’m learning, they’re worth it. Russell also says that they have customers who?ve been using Russell moccasins for year or decades, and that they do hold up in the long run. I?m a happy customer of a product that is expensive up front but lasts for a long time.

My only complaint with these shoes has been that they were a bit snug around the ball of my foot. They?ve since stretched out, but, as Russell likes to say that you don?t have to break in a Russell moccasin, they suggested I send them back and they?d stretch them for me. I declined. I didn?t want to be left without them.

They’re also making up the boot that originally inspired me to contact Russell. The first draft of that prototype was the nicest-looking boot I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to wear it out in the woods and the snow.

Russell also makes dress moccasins a.k.a. loafers. They can make any shoe or boot in their lineup with a Munson last and without a heel.

Tuck models his custom new minimalist shoes he helped design in conjunction with Russell Moccasin Co. The shoes are keeping his feet nice and warm while affording his toes the ability to splay about comfortably. Though you'd not know it to look at them du

Tuck models his custom new minimalist shoes he helped design in conjunction with Russell Moccasin Co. The shoes are keeping his feet nice and warm while affording his toes the ability to splay about comfortably. Though you’d not know it to look at them due to their more traditional styling, these are very foot friendly, minimalist shoes!

* A last is a term used by cobbler’s to describe the platform-like device shaped like a foot that a cobbler uses to build out a shoe. The shape of the last dictates the ultimate shape of the shoe.

By Tuck

Tuck is a de facto minimalist footwear expert, having been an outspoken member of the barefoot and toe shod community now for a few years. Tuck has been wearing FiveFingers since 2007, using them for running, hiking, white-water kayaking, and, as he puts it, "scaring the neighbors!" Meanwhile, Tuck has endeavored to bring a nearly-century-old cobbler's last — the Munson Last — into the 21st century vis his [url=]custom Russell Mocs[/url]. You can keep up with Tuck at his blog [url=]Yelling Stop[/url]!

34 replies on “Meet Tuck’s Shoes. Custom Russell Moccasins / Minimalist Shoes”

Hey, Tuck! Great to see you over here on birthdayshoes. Thanks for the great write-up. I’ll definitely be checking out Russell’s line-up to see what style options they offer. I have several pair of Vivos, and while I like them, I find some of the same issues with them you do. Cold weather is less a problem for me here in S. California, but their fit is a bit loose and I also find they haven’t held up all that well (stitching coming out, glue separating, etc). I’m guessing these would be much more durable, and it sounds like Russell would service them if there were any issues. Vivo? Not so much.

Thanks again!

Hey Tuck,
Apologizes if there is a writeup on this elsewhere. You had mentioned you found some passable minimalist solutions for wear in office situations prior to these shoes, was wondering what you recommend. Tx.

Yeah, it would be nice to get some more information about that shoe that he made you.

How much does it cost?
If we wanted to buy something simliar to that, but maybe in a different size, what would we have to do?

@Michael: Russell will service them. See this page on their site: 15 year-old Russells are apparently not unusual, and my experience with other well-made leather boots backs that up.

@hinogi, @Dave: I’ve got a pair of Vivo Barefoot Dharmas, and a pair of Terra Plana (same company as Vivo) Hamiltons. I’ve mostly been wearing the Russells since I got them. I think Terra Plana has nice products, I just think the Russells are nicer, for my needs.

If you’re interested in Russells, please speak to Doug Herge, their production manager. Mention my name and he’ll know what you’re looking for.

As mentioned, these are prototypes, but they’re very eager to make this a product line, and want to do right by their new customers.

Problems with that shoe:

Buying shoes online is just not practical. Maybe buying a pair of somehting you have already owned, but not something untried. What a hassle shipping and being home to recieve shipments and finding the right size or model…

They might pass muster for office wear, but just barely.

You mention the area around the ball of the foot being tight. That is a HUGE problem with most shoes for me.

If they are warm enough for Vermont, they are most likely way too hot for the South. Espcially for folks with sweaty feet.

I’ve been wearing Nike Free Sparq trainers to work and everywhere for almost a year and as far as I’m concerned they are almost the perfect shoe for everyday wear. The heel might be a bit too thick and overall too cushiony for the purists, but I don’t believe that’s a big issue when walking, and when running my heels don’t start touching the ground until I’m almost exhausted. And then they also pick up lots of pebbles in the grooves in the sole.

But the flexibility of the soles is amazing, and the way the uppers are constructed is perfect for people who find the balls of their feet constantly being crushed by leather uppers that crease in the wrong place.

My office has cracked down on sneakers and I’m at the end of my rope!! It makes me angrier than hell that not one shoe company on the face of the earth even tries to make practical foot friendly shoes for work. [Don’t even get me started about the lame, cynical and extremely expensive attempts at “unstructured” shoes by Clarks and others!!]

Why can’t someone just adapt a Nike Sparqs to make the appearance suitable for work???!! It’s been one week back at work in crappy conventional shoes (those cursed Clarks) and all of my old foot problems are coming back already.

Please tell me how much the shoes would/did cost?

I’m looking for a work boot, but after the vibrams my spine, knees, and feet are rebelling against some of the “better” brands.

I can’t find anything like what I am looking for ready made.

Thank you.

Many thanks to Tuck and Russell Moccasin for all of their hard work in bringing forth another minimalist option. Compared to other high end shoes, the prices are not unreasonable, particularly given that every shoe is custom made.

Although they are marketing certain models as minimalist, they can put a minimalist sole on many of their shoes. I’m opting get the Camp Moccasin with a minimalist sole to wear at the office.

Overall price isn’t too bad. And if the fit and quality is good, I’ll probably order a few other models. Lead time is currently 16-18 weeks.

I want to thank Tuck for taking the initiative, the mods of the site for posting this up, and Jared for posting the new minimalist line. I recently got some VFF KSOs and am absolutely sold on minimalist shoes. Unfortunately I live in Minnesota and the KSOs are not going to cut it in subzero temperatures. I don’t know if I can justify those prices on a student’s budget, but it may end up worthwhile if they last me 10+ years and give me a worthwhile option that won’t make senior partners or clients eye me suspiciously.

Are you certain that these shoes are to be classified in minimalist footwear? It seems the term is widly used these days but is it relavant to the products! Always interested in what’s happening, so thanks for sharing.

Have been reading up the subject of barefeet and minimalism from pionneer in the field: Dr. Steven Robbins:

As a minimalist shoe wearer for going on 4 years, I have more VFF’s and Vivo Barefoots (Barefeets?) than I want my wife to count. I had been eyeing Russell Moc’s products for quite awhile when I saw Tuck’s review. I took the plunge and ordered a pair of Mohican Stalkers; I needed work boots, with the Newporter sole and no heel wedge. That was in May 8th, 2010. Here it is Nov. and still no boots. The invoice estimated the boots would be ready on Sept. 29th. I called. two weeks ago, and was told the boots would be shipped by the end of the week. Still no boots, or any indication of shipment. I’m actually looking for reviews on Russell to get an idea if this is all an elaborate scam. Give the length of time since the charge on my card, the credit card company would not have to refund my $’s. I know, I know, patience Grasshopper.

I watched ebay for three years and finally got some Russell boots in my size. I ended up with 7″
“Turtleskin turkey hunters” which have a snakeproof membrane that to me is overkill, even in the Australian bush where the snakes are deadly. It makes the boots quite hot, stiff and heavy.

I cut the heels off the Vibram 2060 soles and though they are slippery on some surfaces they are now pretty close to what I want in a boot. They are built on a regular last and I can feel the need for more room in the toe box. I’ll be ordering a pair of Munson last Mohican stalkers with newporter soles.

For those of you concerned about the quality or integrity of Russell Moccasin–relax. They make high quality products out of the best components and stand by anything they make. I bought my first pair of Russell’s in 1974 when I was in college. I was fitted by the owner, who is still the owner now. I think the founding family is now on their fourth generation of management of the company. They can custom make any moccasin style, out of any material, in any height, lined or unlined etc. They may be at their height of recognition so sadly, they take a while to find your front door, but don’t despair… they will arrive! If you are in the habit of buying the best in footwear you will find Russell Moccasins to be a good value.

Thanks for the well researched article, on your dime to.
I live in the area and ordered the same shoe that Tuck did in the store. Ralph personally measured my feet and confirmed, what the Army told so many years ago that my left foot is a full size bigger than my right, (usually it’s the other way around).
Ralph said 4 months delivery and was off by 10 days, so no complaints. $300 seems a bit steep but splitting pairs like the Army did would have been equivalent to buying two different sized pairs of $150 shoes then combining the best fit from each pair into a set and throwing the worst pair set in the trash, netting out a properly fit pair of $150 shoes for $300. I’ve now got a properly fit $300 pair of shoes, something I’ve not had since my Army days.
Full Grain leather, with no cardboard or plastic heel counters, I can easily expect years of service.
Russell boots for me, shoes for my wife and boots for the kids when they stop growing are now in the budget. Couldn’t be happier.
Note: These are fine looking casual shoes, but they also make them in smooth leather Black or Brown for a little dressier look.

How much did they cost? And do you think they would keep someones feet warm if normal winter snow boots don’t?

I live in Minnesota and am in need of an indoor/outdoor minimalist shoe, suitable for winter, that will also pass as an office shoe. Slip-ons won’t cut it because they are likely to come off in the slush, ice and snow.

l am having difficulty justifying the $280 price for a pair of Russell Hurons. However, while pricing semi-comparable Terra Plana shoes—that don’t looks as long lasting, or like they will serve me well in the winter—I see they are $225.

I wear through a shoe sole in a pair of work shoes in about a year. If the Russells can be resoled, so I may wear them for several years, that might tip the scale for me.

I was incredibly disappointed in the boots I got from Russell Moccasin. Despite sending very careful measurements including pictures and tracings, I got boots I could not comfortably wear. I wasted $275. Apparently whoever adjusts lasts to match measurements needs remedial training.

I don’t understand why you would want to use the Munson last? It still tapers in at the toe and does not look like a typical foot where the big toe is straight.

am new to the minimalist shoe movement and am wondering if anyone has some feedback about the russel thula thula minimalist 4″boot? will be doing a long hike in september and want to wear a minimalist shoe. the russels seem like a good match, but am wondering about heel brusing in them? also, have never spent this kind of money without first trying them on. any advise? thanks

Sandra, I work at russell and if you go to their website, you will find a salelist. You will not wear the same size as what you wear in normal street shoe sizes, it will be much smaller in Russell sizes. If you find anything about a size to size and a half smaller that what you wear, you could order it from the list, try it on and if it didn’t fit, you could return it for full refund except shpg or return it with an order, along with measurements stating how the pair fit or didn’t fit and they can make you a pair. We are out to September right now for shipping. We are very busy at the present time.

Sorry to resurrect a old thread, but I’m interesting in buying a pair of Russell Hurons, and I’m wondering how long is the build time now in 2016?

(If I ordered at the start of October 2016,how long would it take my new custom Hurons to arrive at my door?)

Hopefully someone from Russell Moccasins will be able to find me an answer.



My new Russell Huron moccasins just arrived fresh from the UPS truck.

(after a extra-long wait,since the elkhide version I had originally ordered wasn’t in stock- I switched to the suede option.)

(they’re the Laramie Suede version.)

I’ve got them on right now,and these are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn in my life.

How weatherproof is suede vs normal leather?

Is it normal for my Hurons to be showing fairly bad(IMO) tread wear after less than a year?

The traction isn’t too bad yet,but the tread is worn down faster than I had expected.

Just ordered my second pair of Hurons,this time in French veal leather.
(Actually,I bought them about 10 days ago…)

This is my second custom-built pair,and I’m looking forward to getting them after the wonderful experience I’ve had with my first suede pair of Hurons.

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