Monday, March 26, 2012

Gear Report - Open Source Huarache

Edit 8/8/13 - I've noticed this page gets many views and may turn out to be something other than what you were seeking.  This is a pseudo-build your own sandals narrative but is rather light on the "how too" part.  If you want more info on that, please leave a comment or email me.  I'd be happy to help.  Now on to the post:

This is an obvious statement: hiking begins at the feet.  As such, I have been contemplating the current state of my own ten digit wonders of bio-mechanical evolutionary engineering.  In short, they hurt.  I imagine this won't improve when adding 30 pounds of pack to their already sizable burden.  The thought of it makes my toes curl in unpleasant anticipation.

I immediately go with the assumption I am doing something wrong considering this seems the case more often than not.  As with all things I find myself doing wrong, I attempt to find folks who are doing it more right than I under similar circumstances.  Thus far I have discovered or affirmed my suspicions regarding several things.
  1. Contemporary soft cushioned sneakers with raised heels are evil.
  2. Humans are generally built better for running than walking.
  3. The heals of ones feet are intended mainly for balance while stationary.
The way I was raised to think about footwear, and walking in general like many other things in life, has proven to be based mainly on social inertia and general ignorance.  The result has been constant pain in my feet, back, neck, as well as wondering why all my little toes curl toward the big ones.  The later problem results from the continued refusal of my feet to conform anatomy to what the shoe industry has deemed average width for an American foot.  My pinky toes can be such rebels.

The rest I can place squarely on the shoulders of the culture and heritage in which I was raised.  I remember distinctly being ridiculed by my father, whom I do not blame for blindly perpetuating social indoctrination, for walking with an effeminate forefoot strike gate rather than the traditional masculine heel to toe strike.  I was doing, and have had to relearn to do, what feels natural.  I've had to do that with many behaviors, but that's for another blog.  This revitalized philosophy has finally reached the root of things, my feet.  I am learning that going barefoot is the ideal type of footwear, and the forefoot strike stride is better for ones posture, muscle usage, and general well being than walking heal to toe in overly cushioned sneakers.

Being the rational creature I am, many of the changes I initiate in life must be backed with reliable research.  I emphasize "initiate" since being a typical weak willed human I do not always follow through with all things I start.  Lately I have been getting better with the important change of following through on changing, so things are looking up.

But I digress...

Yes, I was speaking of research, facts, repeatable scientific experimentation, proof of concept either published in relevant periodicals or at least broad anecdotal evidence.  Granted that last method of research has lead to many people believing big eyed grey aliens are real (something that big needs more than hearsay for proof IMHO), but in general it can be a useful guidance for what works and what doesn't in everyday life.  In regard to this particular discourse, I have been leaning on those who have taken up the activity of ultra marathons and am attempted to extrapolate the information for use in thru-hiking.

My initial enlightenment on the subject was from an NPR report on a book by Christopher McDougall called Born to Run.  It is a factual account describing the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico and their little hobby of running 50+ mile marathons in nothing more than a simple pair of sandals (aka Huarache's).  After seeing Mr. McDougall on Jon Stewart (one of my favorite and most credible news shows), I began to seriously formulate an idea regarding my choice of footwear for this hike.  "Hmmmm," I thought....

The next relevant person I came across, on Facebook of all places, goes by the appropriate moniker of Barefoot Ted.  He is not only an avid fan of this concept of shoe-less locomotion, but has literally become a worldwide spokesperson for it.  In addition he has started a business called Luna Sandals that sells a domestically designed and manufactured versions of the Huarache.  "Facinating," I mused...

By now the idea was coming to full maturity, and being the tinkering sort I started to plan my own version of this interesting footwear to prove it's viability for long distance hiking.  Borrowing from those aforementioned and others, I managed to assemble the parts needed to produce my own test pair of hiking sandals.  The finished product is ready to be broken in.
All the components are available online for a reasonable price.  My average final cost was around $40 for a very heavy duty pair of sandals.  They have an 1/8" leather footbed and an 8mm Vibram sole.  The lacing is run of the mill diamond braid soft poly rope that has the center fiber reinforcement removed.  I may upgrade to leather if I can find a reasonable source, or I may just order a set of laces from Luna Sandals for the rather inflated price of $12.  My attempts to find flat braided hemp came up empty, as it would have cost me as much for 10 ft. of lacing as it did for all my other raw materials combined.  It is a sad state when we must import at great expense such a versatile product like hemp that once grew native in our own back yards.

Yet again, I digress...

After a bit of gluing, cutting sanding and drilling, what you see is a very nice and extremely comfortable piece of footwear.  Can't wait to try them out on a long walk.  Feel free to contact me for a list of material sources, and you too can walk like your feet where meant.

For all you non-crafty folk, hop over to Luna Sandals and check out their selection.  As with everything though, don't take my word for it... research.

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