EarthRunners Review – Elemental Running Sandals


Back in 2009, a friend handed me a book that added years to my physicality.  It set me on a journey of correcting poor ergonomics that, after a quarter century, were taking a visceral toll on my body.

I’ve been a barefoot runner ever since.

Backstory & First Barefoot Shoes

I ditched my heavy Chacos and started running and hiking as often as possible in the only barefoot shoes I owned… my actual bare feet.  At the time I was “poor” and “homeless,” aonly in a middle-class, ‘I-only-have-$10,000-to-get-me-through-the-next-year,’ living in a van to get the most out of traveling in New Zealand, going-to-Asia-next kind of way. so real barefoot shoes had to wait a few years.  In the meantime, I gritted my teeth to tolerate rocks and rough terrain stabbing into my naked soles as I strengthened my feet.

While I still prefer to run, hike, walk and exist totally barefoot, as a nomad there are many many situations where it’s not possible or practical.  For these moments, I got my hands on what was – at the time – one of the only products on the barefoot market.

Vibram Five Fingers.

I’ve had three pairs since.  Just when I think the shoes are finally old news, I go out in pubic and get another half dozen comments.  Admittedly, they are pretty weird looking shoes.

A downside to wearing five fingers is how much attention they draw due to their alien appearance says top travel blog half the clothes author jema in her earthrunners elemental review

Kids especially are fascinated by my alien feet.  photo: eyesighter on wikimedia commons

As my barefoot dedication held steady, the minimalist shoe market grew.  However, I’m a chronic late adopter who hates shopping.  So despite not loving my five-fingers, I stuck with what I knew.

The Lucky Moment

Weeks before I quit the internet, my taciturn brother-in-law had tagged me in a Facebook ABP from a barefoot running sandals company.  EarthRunners was looking for bloggers who care about barefoot running to test their huarache-inspired running sandals. bFor what it’s worth, I recognize the slight irony.  I quit the internet because I was sick of being constantly exposed to the ruthless commercialization of everything – especially travel bloggers who leverage the envy of their audience to get freebies they’d never choose or have otherwise.  However, I say no to almost every partnership opportunity that crosses my radar.  Here’s why.  You can rest easy knowing that I didn’t get paid to write this.  While I did get free shoes worth 15% of what I charge on the rare occasion that I’m willing to write a sponsored post, here’s how you know my review is unaffected: my commentary is not 100% positive.  As per my policy, I sent EarthRunners my talking points with my standard “Here’s what I think.  I’ll publish all of it or none of it.  What do you choose?”  They replied, “I think you make fair points and I’d say it’s good to publish.”  They had one rebuttal, which I include here.

I’m a travel and lifestyle blogger!

I care SO much about barefoot running!

Every athletic thing I do happens barefoot or wearing barefoot shoes!

EarthRunners said they’d be happy to send me a pair of shoes to try.

I printed out their foot-measuring silhouettes and selected the thinnest of their three vibram soles – the 8mm Elemental.  As a bonus, the Elementals are also vegan and come with conductive thread and a copper toe plug that theoretically restore pre-modern health.

earthrunner elemental running sandals are, on balance, a good shoe, says top travel blog half the clothes author Jema

The EarthRunners 15 days in, combined with proof I finally did a “girl thing.”

I’ve been wearing my EarthRunners almost daily for three months now, taking notes regularly.

First Impressions – EarthRunner Elemental

These shoes felt like bliss after several months of lazily slipping into borrowed flip flops.

I knew academically how bad flip flops were for my feet…

…but it took a single stride in the EarthRunners to FEEL it.

no flip flops says top travel blog half the clothes' author Jema Patterson in her review of EarthRunners Elemental

They may be beautiful on the outside, but what they’re doing to the inside of your body is pretty ugly.  photo: betsy, adapted from wikimedia commons

As I turned the EarthRunners over in my hands, I worried immediately that having the straps so near my arch might be awkward.  However, I quickly found the placement is perfect and really comfortable.

They were wearable out of the package, however, the toe strap came too tight for my liking.

Learning Curve – EarthRunner Elemental

It’s incredibly rare to be able to get such a super-custom fit in a shoe.  The EarthRunner straps are continuous and fully adjustable from tip to tip.

However, adjusting the straps is a learning curve that’s laborious enough that I wore them uncomfortably for a two stretches of time because I didn’t have an opportunity to sit and fiddle with them.

There’s no free lunch, people!

Tread & Strap Wear – EarthRunner Elemental

At first glance, I worried about strap wear in the places that were in regular contact with the ground.  To my pleasant surprise, at the end of 90 days the wear is minimal.

However, the grippy soles go quick. I got the thinnest, most flexible footbed, because it’s important theoretically (and to me) to be able to feel the ground through my shoes. At the end of 30 days, there was noticeable tread wear.

At the end of 90 days, the tread on the ball of my foot is worn flat.

A downside to earth runners elemental was how quickly the tread wore flat in high impact areas, says top travel blog half the clothes author jema in her earthrunners elemental review

A bit surprising to see this much tread wear in such a short time. Although, I did wear the shoes for everything, so perhaps it would take other twice the number of days to get to this level of wear with the EarthRunners Elemental.

See?  Like I said – no free lunch!  Someday science will make a rubber composite that’s sticky without wearing away.

Ground Feel – EarthRunner Elemental

As above, I got the thinnest sole EarthRunners offers – the Elemental.

I stepped on my first rock on day two.  It wasn’t comfortable, but not painful.  Conversely, with my five-fingers, stepping on rocks can be traumatic.

So EarthRunners are great to be able to still feel the ground without the sudden, intense rock pain that one gets with five-fingers.

Ease of Use – EarthRunner Elemental

  • EarthRunners aren’t sandals you can just toss on like flip flops. Wearing them without the heel strap really stressed my arches and the muscles around the toe strap. They aren’t good go-to shoes for quickly dashing in and out.. . .  However, neither are my  other “barefoot” option.  Vibram five-fingers take twice as long as the EarthRunners to wiggle on.
  • The EarthRunner sandals don’t pick up rocks as easily as I worried they might. I do still get rocks in them just as much I did with my Chacos and other sandals. But it’s not excessive. If I tread intentionally, I can usually avoid any rocks at all.
    . . .  With my five-fingers, my runs are regularly interrupted by the need to fish rocks out from between my toes.
  • After two weeks, I had my first of many fold-overs. They are quite jarring. The flexible but grippy EarthRunner sole catches easily on carpet, causing the front part of the shoe to fold almost completely in half. It probably happens about once a week. If you drag your feet when you walk or have weak ankles, this could be a safety issue for you.
    . . .  Earth Runners had this to say:
    “The one rebuttal I do have is the sandal folding under:

    -Snug fitting sandals help avoid this occurrence.
    -As the sandals mold to the shape of your foot over time this seems reduce the occurrence.
    -The gait pattern seems to change over time helping to avoid this encounter.”

Running in Them – EarthRunner Elemental

I was interested in the EarthRunners running sandals primarily as an alternative to other barefoot shoe I was using.  In this department, I am satisfied.

Initially I had to fiddle with the straps on multiple occasions to get a good fit that didn’t cause muscle fatigue in at least one part of my foot.

They are more “slappy” than my five-fingers, although part of that is lack of awareness and intention on my part.  My ability to reduce the slap with strategic foot placement becomes obvious when I run with my nephew and we coach each other.

Ultimately, while I’m not ready to permanently toss my five-fingers, I really enjoy the free feel of running in the EarthRunners.

My Favorite Thing – EarthRunner Elemental

My go-to sports sandal, before I became a barefoot fan, were Chacos. Which, in sporty scenarios, get to stinking pretty horribly. (As do KEENS, etc.).  My five fingers only survive a few weeks before needing a trip through the washing machine.

To my amazement, the EarthRunners were stinky precisely one time in three months. I thought it was the beginning of the end and they’d be stinky forever, but the smell faded the next day. They get a huge vote from me in this department.

That’s it!  If you want to know more, check out the EarthRunners site.

FYI: after writing this review, I discovered EarthRunners has an affiliate program and signed up.  The links here do not change your cost but will earn this blog a small commission if you use them.  If you think EarthRunners might be for you and you use the links, thanks for your support!

Happy Running, Happy Travels!  ♣

References   [ + ]

a. only in a middle-class, ‘I-only-have-$10,000-to-get-me-through-the-next-year,’ living in a van to get the most out of traveling in New Zealand, going-to-Asia-next kind of way.
b. For what it’s worth, I recognize the slight irony.  I quit the internet because I was sick of being constantly exposed to the ruthless commercialization of everything – especially travel bloggers who leverage the envy of their audience to get freebies they’d never choose or have otherwise.  However, I say no to almost every partnership opportunity that crosses my radar.  Here’s why.  You can rest easy knowing that I didn’t get paid to write this.  While I did get free shoes worth 15% of what I charge on the rare occasion that I’m willing to write a sponsored post, here’s how you know my review is unaffected: my commentary is not 100% positive.  As per my policy, I sent EarthRunners my talking points with my standard “Here’s what I think.  I’ll publish all of it or none of it.  What do you choose?”  They replied, “I think you make fair points and I’d say it’s good to publish.”  They had one rebuttal, which I include here.