Luna Sandals Leadville Pacer Review

Luna Sandals have come out with some fantastic running footwear with their Leadville Pacers, and this marks one of the few times I'm so excited about a product that I want to tell the world how great it is.

I'm perfectly willing to admit my enthusiasm for Luna Sandals has a lot to do with how utterly impossible it is for me to find good running footwear that fits my unusually-wide forefoot and narrow heel while maintaining a zero heel raise, good ground feel, and other minimalist requirements like foot splaying space.

Remember that in 2008 I seriously busted up my foot after getting atrocious running advice about the need for orthotics, motion control shoes, and the adoption of a heel strike. In the years since that marathon-ending disaster I've adhered to a barefoot and minimalist running regime that's served me well.

The problem is that every piece of minimalist running footwear I've tried so far has had some flaws, and most won't even fit my foot. I haven't found a single problem with the Leadville Pacers since I received them a month and a half ago, though, and after 200 miles I'm pretty satisfied that they're the real deal.

Luna Sandals: The Inspiration

Luna Sandals Wear

Luna Sandals builds extremely simple, durable, and effective footwear very similar to the sandals worn by the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico's Copper Canyon, whose story is well told in Born to Run.

Their sandals, called huaraches, are roughly shorn from old tire treads. It sounds basic, but they're effective. The Tarahumara have twice fielded runners to complete in the grueling Leadville 100 ultramarathon race, and won both times. They regularly compete in 50 to 100-mile races for fun back home.

The huaraches aren't the source of their success, of course. Their awesome running culture and low fat, low protein, carbohydrate-rich plant-based diet are likely the important elements.

But the sandals are effective, and allow them to run over the rocky terrain they inhabit while maintaining good form and ground feel. The best footwear shields your sole from cuts while allowing the foot and ankle to move freely and without friction; their sandals do just that.

Luna Sandals uses Vibram soles and other manufactured elements, but in execution they're very similar to slapdash huaraches. They're also somewhat comparable to the sandals worn by ancient Greek, Roman, and other Mediterranean cultures during antiquity. There, they were used for utilitarian travel as well as sporting competitions, on the occasions those cultures bothered with footwear at all. 

One useful upgrade over the wrap-around ties necessary for similar sandals is the elasticized laces Luna Sandals uses. They make for a nice, firm fit that won't cut into you like some sandal laces I've tried.

What's Wrong With Other Footwear?

I've been traveling around Southeast Asia for more than a year now, and found every type of footwear I tried for casual and athletic use was sub par in this environment.

Flip flops eventually caused the foot and shin-area muscles to ache because you need to grip with your toes as you go to avoid having them fall off.

Shoes and sneakers got soaked in the regular downpours, which is a big problem for someone who does most of his travel by bike or on foot. They also rarely fit well, cause blisters, were heavier than I like, and usually had some heel raise or restriction to foot splaying.

My previous minimalist running footwear of choice, the Vibram Five Fingers, also were sub par for a variety of reasons.

What's Wrong With My Vibrams?

Vibrams Five Fingers were the best athletic footwear I'd discovered before buying from Luna Sandals. Vibrams took me through my first marathon, and I think they work well under a number of conditions. However, I have noticed some flaws in them over the years.
  • Once wet they're uncomfortable to wear.
  • Because of my wide forefoot, I need to slice them open to prevent chafing/abrasions after several hours of wear, which can end a long run and leave the FFs soaked in blood. These rips tend to grow bigger as time goes on.
  • The KSO model, which fits me best, doesn't grip well in slippery conditions. On several occasions I've taken a nasty spill on a wet sidewalk because they grip so poorly.
  • Sand and pebbles tends to get into all the models I've tried, rubbing on my foot uncomfortably. The holes I need to make to prevent abrasions exasperate this.
  • The models that work well for running tend to not work well for hiking, especially in steep, slick, wet, or sandy conditions. 

One reason it took me so long to try Luna Sandals was because my previous attempt to buy huaraches from Invisible Shoes went horribly. The shoes flopped around and made tons of noise when I ran. I was told this meant I was running wrong on the Invisible Shoes forums, so I decided to give the sandals a fair shot and spent many hours varying my running.

Luna Sandals Leadville PacerI shifted my weight from toes to heels and from side to side. I changed my pace, cadence, and everything else I could imagine that might be affecting things, but all running patterns I dreamed up still flopped. I was constantly tripping over the front of the sandals, which folded under my toes, and they made an annoying slapping noise on hard surfaces.

Finally I threw them in the trash in disgust, and figured Five Fingers were the best option I was going to find anytime soon.

Luna Sandals: The Better Option

While traveling in Cambodia this summer I met up with my friend, Brad, who is an enthusiastic owner of Luna Sandals's Original Luna model

He let me try them on, and I was really surprised that they didn't flop around and trip me nor make anywhere near the same degree of noise as the Invisible Shoes sandals had. 

I took them out for a spin, and a few miles later I was convinced they were for me.

Are Luna Sandals Vegan?

If you're a vegan for moral reasons you'll want to pay attention to how you order your Luna Sandals. There are two optional elements that contain leather products in most models: the laces and the footbed.

For the laces, just choose the elasticized vegan laces (they're marked vegan). The footbed has no vegan replacement, so you can just choose not to add one. The site FAQ says they add comfort to the sandal, but after trying Brad's model with a leather upper, his seemed no more comfortable than my model without the footbed I received.

I ended up ordering the Leadville Pacer model because I wanted to do more trail running in the mountain range to the west of Chiang Mai, Thailand (where I've been staying for the last few months), and the slightly thicker sole has proven far more protective on the rocky terrain than the thin fiver finger sole I'd been using before. I also do a lot of road running in the pacers, and although they have a bit less ground feel than the Original Luna model, they still work great.

I went with no footbed because during the rainy season you're constantly getting soaked here, and the leather upper, just like the surface of many types of flip flops I've tried, gets really slippery when wet. The material that makes up the base does not.

Luna Sandals LogoI've hiked through streams and rivers in these sandals and never had a problem. The sandals are dry moments after you step out of the water. The excellent tread also grips slippery sidewalks well.

They're great for hiking over a variety of terrains, allowing you to grip on steep gravely climbs, smooth rock, as well as wet mud and sand.

I enjoy them so much that I've literally have worn nothing else since I got them. I use them for casual wear, and even took them on a 100 km bike ride through the mountains a few days ago. They're really easy to slip on, and can just as easily be cast aside if you want to go barefoot or for a swim.

Another option I loved was that I could trace my foot and send it to Luna Sandals to have them cut the sandal to fit my foot perfectly. This means that there isn't extra material around the heel, like is usual with my flip flops.

The elastic laces around the heel and between the toes are comfortable and grip the foot securely. Everyone asks if the laces rub, but they haven't so far.

Luna Sandals: Where They Won't Work

Luna Sandals won't work in every situation, of course.

I've spent much of my life in New England and New York, where the cold weather makes sealed shoes necessary for half the year or more. If cold is an issue, you'll need some sort of warmer footwear.

I've also run into some problems hiking through dense thickets and brambles, and have gotten a few thorns in my feet. Sometimes a boot or shoe is just going to offer you protection that a sandal won't.

Finally, many people assume that if they can run 30 miles in modern running shoes that they'll be up for the same distance in minimalist footwear: they won't be, and injury will probably result for those that try.

If you're going to start running in minimalist footwear or barefoot, be smart and go really slow.

Leadville Pacers: Go Get Some

I'm very pleased with my Leadville Pacers, and highly recommend them. I haven't discovered any flaw in them yet, and don't expect to. The same goes for the Original Luna model, although I've only worn them for a short while.

I can't speak for the other models, but due to the similarity of design, I feel confident recommending all of the Luna Sandals models as excellent minimalist running footwear.

See you on the trails :)

Following Up:

Learn how to eat a healthy, low fat raw vegan diet, which shares an almost exact caloronutrient ratio with the cooked diet eaten by the Tarahumara.

Reevaluate how you run, and if you're meant to as a human being.

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