Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Barefoot" Running In The Snow!!!

My latest creation: A cleated minimalist sandal with waterproof sock – combination that can run on packed or shallow snow.

I just got back from the initial test run of my Winter Barefoot Running System. Yeah... I call it a system :) The acronym? WBRS – pronounced “wubbers.”

...I think I just realized I now like running better in the Winter than in the Summer. There aren't as many sharp rocks! In fact, running on packed snow on WBRS feels like running on the beach – barefoot!

So, how do my WBRS work, you ask. Quite well... I wore three layers of socks. My first layer was a pair of Injinji toe socks. I just like the way they feel. With them on, I'll never get a blister between my toes, and most important; they counter the pressure from the socks that go on over my toe socks. Admittedly, this isn't much pressure. They're only socks. But the outward pressure of the socks between my toes counters the inward pressure of the outer socks. This provides me with a neutral, barefoot, feeling. The second sock layer was a mid-hi REI wool hiking sock, kind of thick. And the outer sock was a calve-height SealSkinz waterproof sock.

My sandal design is similar to the distance running Tarahumara Indian huarache sandals, but these strap over the top of the foot. Since no company makes a waterproof sock with a slot for the tie to go next to the big toe, I had to make a sandal similar to the Unshoe Pah Tempe.

What I did different was to cut the sole slightly wider in places to accommodate screws that could function as cleats. I used 5/8” countersunk screws on a 10mm sole... They worked! I didn't slip much on packed snow (a freshly plowed dirt road).

Admittedly, I haven't tried them on ice yet. But if there are issues I can always use different length screws – or install more screws. Presently, I only feel the screws when I stand on something firm, like concrete. The screws must bend the sole a little. If this becomes a problem, I can always take the screws out. (The screws haven't come undone, so I haven't glued them in.)

I did one more thing different from the Unshoe design. I added protection for the 3/4” nylon straps on the sides and the bottom of the sandal. I used strips of bicycle inner tube, taped on, so that they can be easily replaced. Electrical tape works just fine – so far.

Overall, I'm very happy. Some snow does accumulate between the sandal and my foot, but I can always clear that with a brush of a finger. However, if I do leave the snow there, it doesn't seem to bother me any more than running over rocks in the Summer – and eventually it clears itself out.

So, not only can I now “barefoot” run in the Winter – I can use this system as an approach shoe when I go backcountry skiing. At lower elevations, where there isn't much snow, I can wear my sandals and socks and carry my telemark boots in my pack. Which means that with this “barefoot” system, I only have to carry one pair of heavy boots.

I already love my WBRS. I just have to remember to carry spare socks – especially waterproof socks – just in case the ones I'm wearing leak. This is only a minor inconvenience, especially when you consider two pairs of WBRS are still much lighter than one pair of snow boots.

There is some (sort of) bad news, however. I only intend to make these shoes for myself. So, you're on your own. But that's a good thing. If you make these shoes yourself, you can make them to fit your feet exactly.

You can get the sole at Luna Sandals. And you can get the strapping and the rest of the materials at most hardware stores. I used carpet thread.

...OK, OK; if you just don't have the time, I wouldn't be surprised if the people at Unshoe would custom make them for you. 

And one more thing; the cleats are an open source design.  

Apparently there are a few people who run literally barefoot in the snow. I'm impressed. But I'm also a little concerned. Our ancestors evolved to run barefoot out on the savanas, not in the snow. There may be a serious risk of frostbite. Not necessarily while running. But if you have to stop... especially out in the backcountry (where there isn't anyone around to rescue your barefoot carcass), you could be in a world of hurt.

I wouldn't want to be in a predicament where I have to run, barefoot in the snow, no matter how badly I'm injured. If you just have to try literal (bare) barefoot running in the snow, start out with short runs and stay near places where you can flag down help or call for quick help. Or... you can carry a spare pair of insulated boots - but then you might as well wear them and take them off when you feet get sore - which is what most everyone does anyway



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