Thin-soled running shoes, reviewed.

Posted on
May 23, 2011
Posted in: Products

For the last few years, I’ve resisted taking tennis shoes with me on trips. I figured there was no greater travel or fashion crime than wandering around a city in jeans, a button-down, and bright white tennis shoes, which, combined with my inherent neurosis, meant I was bound to be mistaken for Jerry Seinfeld. Simply, I could not let that happen happen.

I kick so much ass at Photoshop.

The alternative has not been easy. As woeful as they are to look at, tennis shoes are damn comfortable. And considering that I spend hours upon hours walking in a new city (I’m regularly on my feet for 6 hours at a time, taking a quick break for lunch, or cupcakes, or to sit down on the subway on my way to more cupcakes), it’s been hard to find something that works without leaving my back and knees aching (it does not help that I have inherited my mother’s tendency to carry a purse the size of an Ewok with me.) I generally opt for converse (what they lack in arch support, they make up for in street cred), or ballet flats which have not been designed for heavy walking (the brand-new pair I brought with me to New York last are now the shoe-equivalent of a Lohan. Rough-living makes them look far older than they are).

And yes, I pack heels. I realize the followers of Rick Steves are cringing in their denim dress shirts and khakis at the thought of me traipsing around the lower east side in three-inch-tall peep-toe confections, but I regret nothing (And I won’t be judged by people who wear socks with sandals.) Besides, I had my converse to fall back on. Or, at least, I did, until they met their demise in an incident that will be known simply “A-pooh-calypse.” (I am still debating whether or not I am going to tell you about that one).

I was now left with a pair of high heels, a pair of black dressy sandals, and ballet flats that were falling apart. And after sludging through Boston on a chilly day in the rain, with soaked toes, I realized, rather painfully, I needed tennis shoes.

Now, I’ll admit: I get a lot of joy out of shopping. But shopping under duress, when you’re desperately trying to find something warm enough/ water-proof enough/comfortable enough to wear for the rest of your trip, is absolutely heinous. Fortunately, I had some idea of what I wanted. I’d spoken to a few people who had embraced the idea of thin-soled shoes – ones that closely mimic what it’s like to walk around barefoot (yes, these are the same folks who wander around in those weird five-toed shoes you see everywhere). They preached the virtues of their new shoes with all the enthusiasm of the recently saved. Apparently god exists, in the form of really good arch support.

So, after reading a few dozen reviews on Zappos preaching the merits of the Merrell Barefoot Pace Glove, I walked into the Macy’s in downtown Boston and snatched up a pair. They didn’t have the individual toe holes (there is no way I’m wearing a pair of those. Sorry.) but the sole is supposedly the same (Merrell apparently collaborated with Vibram to create the shoe.) And the next day, against my better judgement, I wore them for roughly 6 hours. Here is a breakdown of how things went:

Day 1: I had read how fans of these shoes were amazed with how much more connected they were to the surfaces they walked on (“You can tell when you’re walking on gravel or grass.”) I found this a rather strange thing to say, because I generally tend to notice that with all shoes that I wear. What I did notice is that the muscles in my feet were flexing in some really weird ways. And my toes were twitching like an addict in withdrawal. What. The. Hell. I also felt like I had to work harder with each step – kind of like when you have to walk on sand. My arches felt like they had been stretched, and at the end of the day my feet and legs were tired, but not really sore. Also, my back didn’t hurt! I didn’t want to take my new shoes off.

Day 2: Dear god, what have I done? I tried to wear my new shoes again, but my Achilles tendon and ankle on my left foot are so not down with that. The back of my ankle felt like it was being stretched, and painfully so. I’d read this phenomenon happens with people who wear heels all the time and suddenly switch to flats – but as someone who wore flats, I was confused. And in serious pain. So I bought some converse. By the end of the day my back hurt, but I didn’t care.

Day 3: No way I was going to wear those bastard shoes again.

Day 4: Still nope.

Day 5: Now home, I figured I’d give them another shot. My Achilles tendon was still hurting, but it did feel comparably better than it had. And other than that, my feel did feel great. It seemed like I was actually getting a work-out when I walked, and not just like I was trudging around, destroying my knees and ankles.

Day 6: I might wear these again today. No, really.

Bottom line? I think that the thin-soled shoe has potential, especially if you start wearing them in moderation, and don’t immediately decide to run all around town in them. If you give your feet time, they’ll actually adapt pretty well to these. Of course, there remains the problem that they still aren’t that cute. I might pack them on a trip … but I’m still bringing my heels with me, too.

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  • I wear boot-cut jeans most of the time, so I have no idea what to wear with skirts or skinny jeans. One shoe I like, even though it totally looks like something Grandma would wear, is the L.L. Bean Comfort Moc. I think a plain black loafer shoe that supports like a tennis shoe and is waterproof (and quite cozy warm) is a step up from the white lace-up sneaker. (Though still rather nerd-tastic.) They got me through two weeks in Japan, weeks where I was either carrying a full backpack or a toddler on my back.

  • Clarks!!! Love them so much. They make shoes that feel like tennis shoes but look much nicer/cuter. Love me some Clarks. They’ve got a good return policy too.

    • Everywhereist

      It just so happens I am eyeballing a pair of Clarks right now. They are silver. And adorable.

  • I am never without my Reef flip-flops that have a bottle opener on them. Cause you never know.

    • Everywhereist

      Not only does my cousin have a pair of those, my uncle does as well. Whenever anyone needs a bottle opener, they both get WAY too excited and whip off their shoes.

      • Joy

        Something about opening my bear with the BOTTOM of my shoe completely disgusts me

        • Joy


  • Bhavya

    Oh you are going to tell us about A-pooh-calypse!
    I mean, will you? Please?

  • two great options for cute/stylish/comfy, and since you travel a lot, i’m sure you can get your hands on them…

    Melissa’s – or visit their site – It’s a Brazilian shoe brand, and they have tons of styles, but i personally like their ballet flats. They’re plastic… or some sort of fancy plastic/rubber – so if it rains, well, your feet will still get wet, but still fun, and this makes them more resistant than most ballet flats!! And and they smell like bubble gum!! I backpacked through Europe with a pair of black Melissa’s and was feeling stylish and comfortable everywhere I went!

    Speaking of Europe – have you ever worn Bensimon’s? They’re like, chique French converses, only more comfortable (and effortless, as is everything French)!

    hope this helps!

  • Cat

    I haven’t actually bought anything from here yet (because temporarily cash-poor), but this website looks promising. When you select a shoe to look at, there’s a guide on the left side rating comfort, arch support and size/length. Also if you have any feet health issues, you can search for appropriate shoes for that condition.

  • Ann

    Ha, I finally bought a pair of those too because my husband is one of those minimalist shoe wearing runners and has been preaching about the light for a while now. I do like them, my feet feel like they are happily moving muscles they don’t normally get to use except when I’m barefoot at the beach. But my calves did get sore when I wore them to work all day. Guess my muscles weren’t used to working like that. Can’t imagine tromping around all day in them on hard city surfaces. Ouch!

    • Everywhereist

      Ann – I’ve had them a few months now. Worn them a dozen times or so. They are fantastic!

  • WishIwereAnOtter

    I recently purchased a great pair of Merrell sandals with Vibram soles. Unfortunately, they tore up the back of my left foot – I do have a wide foot. On went a large band-aid and a pair of socks. I quietly hoped that no one looked down and discovered my unfashionable secret. Thankfully, the foot has healed and the Merrell’s have stretched – no more socks.

  • Joy

    Two things:

    I have acquired a pair of these same exact shoes but have yet to give them a try. Summer = sandals and I have yet convince myself to bundle up my toes in this heat. After reading your blog, I’m excited and horrified all at the same time to try them.

    I had a very similar experience while walking The Strip in Vegas. For some insane reason, my husband and I decided that walking The Strip from Caesar’s to The Stratosphere (which is basically the entire length of The Strip) seemed like a completely doable, sane, and fun thing to do. But not in sandals that had yet to be tested in walk longer than from my car to my office. By the time I realized what a horrible mistake I had made, we were far enough away from the hotel that turning back would have been worse. A taxi seemed like defeat or I was too distracted by the pain to think clearly and I think Brad was too busy trying to figure out what he was going to do when I sat down on the curb and refused to move any further. And we were in Vegas, surrounded by stores that sold Jimmy Choo and Louboutin, which, while lovely, were clearly not going to work for my feet or my wallet. Mercifully, we stumbled upon a Ross (Dress For Less), a very bizarre site for The Strip. (To this day, I am convinced that when I go back to Vegas, it will be abandoned and I will find out that it hasn’t been opened for 20 years, when I was only in Vegas 5 years ago.) My choices were limited, especially in the stylish department, and I finally settled for this bizarre combo of rubber and bamboo (or whatever version of fake bamboo they use to make cheap shoes). They got me through the day, but I have yet to slip my feet in to those sandals since we returned from our trip…they are THAT ugly. And yet, they still take up space in my closet…

    • Joy

      PS – When trying to be stylish and comfortable all at the same time, I have found that Born shoes tend to do the trick.

  • Katie

    Converse always and forever.

  • Anisa

    I know this is an old post, but I am still reading the archives. I just had to comment on the shoes.
    First, my husband has several pairs of the toe shoes. I hate them. They are so freakish looking.
    Second, I bought a pair of the Merrell shoes very similar to the ones you described above when I was in Portland last September.( A big splurge for me to spend that much on a pair of shoes!) I wore them around Portland for a few days and my feet, and calves were killing me. They are the kind of shoe that you have to get used to wearing because you are not used to walking that way. They are comfortable after a while, but if you don’t were them for a while then the calves will hurt again. I wore them to the gym to keep my calves used to them, but If I miss a few days, wow. I did find a good shoe that is comfortable to wear. They are called Simple shoes. They are made from recycled tires and are great for walking around all day. I have 5 or 6 pairs. But most of them are canvas and don’t work so well if it is raining. But, now the company stopped making them and they are very hard to find now. I guess I will just stick with my converse. And maybe try my Merrell’s again out on the streets instead of the treadmill.

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