Branca Barefoot Running Sandal

Discussion in 'Product Reviews' started by Product Review, Apr 5, 2012.

  1. Product Review

    Product Review
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    Barefooters

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    Reviewed by: saypay45
    Date Product Reviewed:05/16/2011
    Product Type: Footwear

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    This review is posted directly from my website, The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy (www.maplegrovebarefootguy.com)
    I'm not sure when I went from the guy who hates huaraches to the equivalent of the Maple Grove Huarache Guy. Whenever or whatever caused the conversion, I'm glad it happened. For only being a piece of soling material and a string, huaraches are surprisingly complicated little buggers. There's a million different materials to make them out of, a thousand different configurations for the laces. It's pretty easy to end up with something you don't like. I've certainly had that experience.
    Not only are the possible configurations seemingly endless, it seems there is space to improve on the design. That is what the Branca Barefoot Running Sandal company has set out to do with their new line of running sandals. After trying the various huaraches currently on the market, Branca identified a number of problems with their design that they could improve on. Primarily, this sandal looks to eliminate all of the discomfort caused by the lace. It digs into your heel. It pinches and rubs on your feet. And then there's that annoying knot on the bottom of the sole. I think they do a great job.

    Initial Impressions
    Ordering a pair of Branca sandals is a little different than ordering other brands of huaraches. This is because Brancas are kind of a middle ground product; somewhere between a DIY kit and a custom sandal. With traditional custom huaraches, you send the company either your foot measurements in length and width, or a foot tracing with markings for where the toe and ankle holes should be. Branca asks for one measurement: the distance between the heel of your foot to the space between your big toe and second toe. They will then send you a sandal that looks like this:

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    Those aren't Spongebob Squarefeet's sandals....and they aren't your fraternity pledge paddles. They're your new huaraches. It's up to you to cut the soling material to properly fit your foot.
    You might have noticed the awesome color combo I chose for my sandals. Branca sandals are available in 16 different sole colors and 20 different lace colors. There are a lot of loud (also known as "awesome") colors to choose from, like neon green, pink, orange, and turquoise. If that's not your speed, they also have normal (also known as "lame and boring") colors like black and white. I went for bright colors because I figure people are already going to be looking at me because I'm running in sandals. Why not make a fashion statement?
    A couple of other features to point out. Unlike traditional huaraches, the laces on these sandals do not go around your heel. Instead, Branca has installed an elastic band that is attached to the bottom of the sandal. This is an effort to prevent heel discomfort from the traditional huarache lace. The heel strap is imblazoned with the company website...giving you official bumper stickers for the company on your feet. I hope it cuts down on the number of times I have to answer the question, "Where did you get your obnoxious sandals?"
    The lacing system is also completely different. The lace is threaded through two holes in the bottom of the sandal instead of one. Then, it travels through two eyelets on either side of the sandal, which are attached to some extra soling material. I call these "the wings". The lace used is a standard athletic lace.

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    Since the lace is threaded through two holes in the sandal, there is no ridiculous knot on the bottom. Of course, the knot is usually what gives the laces a bit more durability from rubbing against the ground. To remedy that problem, Branca placed a small piece of rubber over the exposed lace to prevent wear.
    The rubber used for these sandals isn't the traditional Vibram cherry either. Branca describes it as a styrene/butadiene mix. The material is very light and thin. Branca reports that their huaraches weigh in at approximately 5oz. I would imagine this weight includes the extra soling material. The weight of your own sandals will depend on how much sole you cut off. Mine felt extremely light after I trimmed them down.

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    As you can see, the material used is very flexible. I found it very comparable in flexibilty to the Invisible Shoes, with just a tad bit more resistence. I also noticed that this soling material did not immediately return to its original shape after being flexed. Rather, it slowly rolled back.

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    After lacing up, it was time for cutting. This part made me extremely nervous. Branca recommends that you trace an outline about a centimeter or so from your foot, and then cut out the shape while the sandal is off your foot. All I was producing doing that was a bunch of squiggly lines. So I cut my sandals out while on my feet. I don't recommend you try that at home.

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    Well all of that worrying was for not, and I came out with two sandals that I would call "similar". I also came away with mixed feelings on the whole half-custom, half-DIY aspect of these sandals. I like that I can customize the amount of material around my toes, because I prefer my toes to be very close to the edge. After testing a bunch of different huaraches, I know that different companies have different interpretations of the foot tracings that you send to them.
    But I also think that for the intended price of these sandals (which I'll talk about later), they should come finished. Otherwise, the cost of a screw up is just too high. And for folks like me who can't cut a straight line to save their lives, they end up looking a bit ratty. I also think that this feature isn't great for huarache noobs, who probably don't know how much toe room they prefer. You can't add material back after you cut it...and if folks cut too short the first time, they'll end up with sandals they don't like. Why not let someone who does this for a living cut your sandals. If he screws up, he has more soling material in the back of his workshop. You have to order a whole new pair.

    Comfort and Feel

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    Once you lace up your sandals, you realize how different they are from traditional huaraches. Instead of wrapping around your foot any number of times, the laces only touch the top of your foot as well as the sides in front of the ankle. Rather than the elaborate system of loops and pulleys used to anchor the sole to your foot, these huaraches tie on top of your foot the same as a normal pair of trainers.

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    The sandal is secured in the rear by that ankle strap, which you can move to the height you prefer. The wings that hold the laces against your foot on the sides bend upwards and off the ground so that they won't rub and wear down.
    All of these features make the Branca sandal extremely comfortable. The laces did not irritate my feet at all, either between my toes or around the top of my foot. I find the comfort of the laces comparable to Unshoes, but since the laces are smaller I get more of that "barely there" feeling I prefer in a huarache. The heel strap is not noticable on the back of your foot.
    The only fit issue that was a little wonky deals with those wings. The tighter you tie your sandals, the more the wings will come up, causing the soling material to curve inward. But tie them too loose and the wings stick out, it causes other issues as you'll see later.

    Running
    The number one positive of these sandals while running is comfort, comfort, comfort. They are a step above anything else for comfort around your big and second toes. A lot of folks say that the bottom knot on huaraches doesn't bother them. I say you really don't understand how annoying those bottom knots in traditional huaraches are until they're gone. It's a whole new level of comfort. That Branca got rid of this feature makes them that much more enjoyable to run in. And the laces between your toes are so light and small they do not irritate your foot. If this is your biggest problem, these sandals are the ones to pick.
    Similarly, getting rid of all of that lace wrapping around your foot does wonders for both comfort and fit. These sandals are very comfortable between the toes and on the top and heel of your feet. Like I said before, they are comparable in top of foot comfort to Unshoes. The difference is that they feel less substantial on top of your foot.
    And tying them is a breeze! It literally took me 10 seconds to find the right tightness. And all of the other problems you can have with laces also didn't happen. No extra lace to stuff somewhere on the sandal, only to come loose later. No heel lace falling down your heel where you step on it. These sandals are great for newcomers to huaraches, or folks that are fed up with trying to find the best tying method. I certainly include myself among that group.
    Like I mentioned above, the tighter you tie these sandals, the more the soles will curve. The curve didn't affect my performance while running or walking, and I couldn't feel the curve under my feet at all. The bigger issue with that curve are those wings. If you take a look at them again, you'll notice that each wing ends in a sharp point. If the wings touch your foot, that point is going into your foot. For me, this meant some of the nastiest wounds I've ever received on my instep.
    After a 5 mile run I had two vicious open wounds. I can't imagine what that point would do to my foot on a longer run. When I told Branca about my problem, they informed me that I was tying them too tight. The top of the wings should not make contact with your foot people! However, tying the shoes looser for me has meant a fit that makes the sandals wobble around too much for my liking. Not to mention the occasional scrape of the opposite leg by those stinkin wings. I have since cut the tips off, which has cut down on cuts and scrapes, but they still happen occasionally.
    NOTE: Also, since I informed Branca about my problem with these wings, they informed me that they would be rounded the edges of the wings so that it doesn't happen to folks in the future. I think it's great that a company is willing to listen to feedback and respond appropriately!
    Besides the comfort, I also immediately noticed the noise. I sounded like a horse galloping down the street. It echoed between the houses in my neighborhood. Huaraches are usually loud, but this was a new level of noisy. I was able to tone down the sound by tying the sandals looser, but not eliminate it completely. I imagine the sound comes from a combination of the unique soling material used, and the fact that it curves around your foot. Branca reports that not everyone will experience this noise, but depending on your running style it might happen.
    Groundfeel-wise, these sandals performed very well. I felt they were a step below Invisible Shoes in terms of ground feel, but not by a whole lot. I think this had a lot to do with the soling material. Although this fact also had a positive side. Since these sandals do not immediately return to their original shape, they weren't as floppy as the Invisible Shoes, especially in the toe. The sandal was rigid enough to maintain their shape while not sacrificing groundfeel too much. In that aspect, I think they occupy a nice middle ground between the very flexible Invisible Shoe and the much stiffer Original Luna Sandal.
    Finally, these aren't a multi-surface running sandal. Nor do they work well in incliment weather. They worked fine for me on dry roads, but in the rain I was a little more unsure of my footing. With absolutely no tread, I wouldn't even attempt to take them out on a trail. They remind me a lot of the Vibram KSO in that respect.

    Price
    This is where Branca loses me. Right now it appears that they are having a sale where you can purchase a pair of sandals for $30. The normal advertised price is $60. I would pay $30 for these sandals, and I think this is an appropriate price for what you are getting. Other companies will sell you a DIY kit for that amount. Branca sandals seem more DIY than a finished product.
    I would not buy them for $60. At that price point, the competition is the Luna Sandal. The Luna would win out because it is factory cut, and has higher quality materials.

    Conclusion
    Overall, I like these sandals a lot! This sandal does a lot to innovate over custom huaraches on the market that came before them. I find their laces superior in terms of comfort and ease of tying. The soling material has both positives and negatives. It is more rigid to provide a more solid ride, but gives up a bit of ground feel to do so. I have a love/hate thing going on with the wings on the sides of the sandal. The good of them doesn't outweigh the bad enough that these things just blow me away. They come close though.
    My biggest issue, as you may have gathered, is the price. Way too high for something you still have to cut up yourself. But if you have $60 to pony up for some sandals, this is a solid choice. I would give them an 8 out of 10. I would give them a 9 if they lowered their price. Those dang wings prevent me from giving them a perfect score. I think rounding the edges off of future orders will help, but only time will tell if this is an appropriate fix. If it is, these sandals are near perfect for me.
     

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