Thursday, October 31, 2013

First Impressions of the Sensori Venture minimalist sandal from Xero Shoes

Last week, Xero Shoes announced that they were branching out beyond their "Do it yourself" huarache kits by introducing a new line of "barefoot" sandals which they named the Sensori Venture. The introductory video posted to their website pegged this new sandal as something that was designed to "sit in the middle" between more expensive varieties of minimalist footwear and cheap flip flops and sandals.

Having given them a few days of road testing, both running in them for 30 minutes and wearing them to work with me, I can honestly say that this is exactly what they promised it would be. :-)

I received them quite quickly (two days shipping) and I opened the package excitedly. I got the charcoal in a men's size 8, which I was a little bit nervous about, because my normal shoe size is between 9 and 10, but according to their sizing guide, these sandals are slightly different from an ordinary shoe's sizes. And they're mostly right. I printed out their sizing chart and according to this, I should be wearing an 8. When I first opened the package, I thought I had made a terrible mistake. The sandal straps looked like they would be WAY too tight. I slipped them on and sure enough there was absolutely no give.

Undaunted though, I decided to mess around with the locking straps a bit, and that's when I realized that there was still about 3/4 of an inch of slack. I adjusted the straps, which admittedly wasn't easy but this was most likely down to the newness of the material more than it was any design flaw. It took maybe 15-20 minutes of noodling, but I finally got the straps to a point where they were comfortable. I will say, this is a case where I am right on the edge in terms of sizing. I might at some point pick up the next size up to see if those feel even better, but as they are, it might not be a bad thing for them to be snug.

That afternoon I took them out to a light run around my neighborhood, and I could tell right away how amazing I'm going to find owning a pair of these. First, a disclaimer. If you know me, and have followed me at all, you probably know I'm a barefoot "purist". Meaning, there's very, very little in this world that bothers me enough to feel a desire to put on shoes. I will tolerate shoes when I need's just that I'm lucky enough that I almost never need them.

But there is one exception to that rule, and for me that rule is cold, wet ground. Standing on wet asphalt isn't awful for short stretches, but where I run into problems is when I have to be on cold, wet ground for a sustained amount of time. There are two main problems with this for me:

1. Skin Erosion - I don't know if other barefooters just deal with this, but it really bothers me. The constant moisture in our area seeps into the skin, and after several minutes of exposure, the skin begins to break down. When it does this, I find that it no longer matter how thick or tough my soles are...I will get blisters, or breaks in the skin, or peeling, or any number of skin-related issues that can quickly sideline me from activity.

2. Stinging->Numbness - One of the most frequent questions that I get from non-barefooters in the winter time is "Don't your feet get cold?" Well yeah, of course they do. When you go outside your hands and feet get cold. So do your ears, and your's a rather silly question honestly. But getting cold feet isn't really a detractor in and of itself. What IS a detractor is that if you spend any amount of time on cold, wet ground like what we experience a lot of during our winters, you do feel the stinging of the cold air/water. But even this is not really a bother by itself. The danger for me really lies in what can happen once you get used to the stinging, and that is numbness. Although your body does have a defense mechanism for dealing with cold extremities (the process is called vasodilation; your body begins to open the blood vessels in the lower legs to shunt additional blood to the digits, turning them pink), it's a cyclical thing, and your body tends to alternate between vasodilation and numbing. It can also be cold enough that vasodilation becomes ineffective, which is when you run the risk of frostbite. For me, whenever I've had any kind of nagging injury from running barefoot, I attribute it to sloppy form, which is almost inevitable when you spend part of your run unable to feel the ground.

Slipping on the Sensori Venture completely removes the above two issues while still giving me enough ground feel to still get the sense that I'm barefoot. I own another pair of the standard Xero shoes huaraches, but I never really grew to love them because they really were a pain to lace up and they felt really floppy on my feet, like they were going to fall off or fold up under my foot, causing me to twist an ankle. But the Sensori Venture is nothing like them. It fits like a glove, without the confining feel of one. I've never had any interest in trying a Five Fingers type of running or sport shoe, but I always appreciated that they wouldn't have those instability problems of the huaraches. But I never once felt the Sensori Venture move apart from my felt like an extension of it.

The Sensori Venture is a really well made sandal, in my estimation, and I do think that they'll be my "go-to" footwear, even for just casual wear. You can even flip the heel strap around and wear them as normal, albeit unusual looking, flip flops. There's only two negatives I have to say, but both are really minor. The first is what I mentioned before about the straps being kind of tight in the beginning. Some of that may get better as I break them in and go for longer and longer runs. The second issue I've had is more of a mind-body error on my part. One of the features of the Sensori Venture is that it has a heel cup. I'm still a little unsure how I feel about this feature. It's supposed to be designed to keep your foot from slipping and sliding on the footbed. Since I've not felt any slipping or sliding, it may very well be doing its job brilliantly. But it also has a heel strap, and that heel strap is covered in a really sift material which is designed not to abrade, but this also makes it so that you don't really feel it at all. And as a result, in my initial testing, it feels to my brain, like the heel strap has clipped down and is now resting UNDER my heel. But it hasn't...I'm simply feeling the heel cup. This is a pretty minor complaint, all things considered, and I may just get used to both of them.

Either way, I'm really excited by this new line from Xero Shoes. I hope it does really well for the company. The world could only benefit from more people trying to live barefoot, or at least the next closest alternative. :-)

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