Sunday, February 10, 2013

Luna Sandal Leadville ATS Laced Review

While running 24 Hours of HOSTELity I noticed a runner was wearing some Luna Sandals . After looking at them over from a distance and approving of the construction, I decided to purchase a pair for myself to test out(this may or may not have been an excuse to buy yet another pair of running shoes). These were developed and made by Barefoot Ted and his crew. If you don't know who Barefoot Ted is, give Born to Run a read. I figured with a 30-day guarantee, I have nothing to lose.

The Luna Leadvilles after a loop around a muddy lake :)
I anxiously waited for these to be made and ship. I believe they are handmade by a small office of "monkeys". I figured out my size by cross-referencing my Vibram Five Fingers size to centimeters to the Luna Sandals size. I had them shipped to my parent's house and I am pretty sure I drove my dad crazy with "Are they here yet?" text messages. Finally he said that they had arrived. Knowing what they were, he opened them.

The first thing we noticed after opening the package was that it came with "A Guide to your New ATS Laced Luna Sandals". I won't give away any spoilers, but it involves a monkey and his Lunas.

My dad said these were the stages I was going through. (from the guide)
The first time I put them on they felt pretty comfortable. I noticed the thong part between my toes, but it didn't bother me. The fit looked right, so I accepted them as mine and took them on a run.

I figured the intended use for this shoe would be a rocky trail, so I took them for a spin around the lake which has tons of sharp pointy rocks.

ATS Laces
 The lacing system on these is extremely simple compared to the lacing system of traditional huaraches. You basically just slide your foot over the back heel strap, then put your heel in the heel strap. The heel strap is a little elastic, making it easier to put on. This elasticity also contributes to comfort while running.

After my first mile I felt like the heel strap was slipping. I had not tightened the straps since I purchased the shoe, so I figured that was something that would need to be adjusted. Throughout my run I had to adjust the straps 3 times. After the run I asked a friend of mine that has them about this and he said that it took about two runs to get the ATS lacing system setup right. I figured lack of experience was making this harder than it should be. I think once I get these figured out they won't be a problem and will probably be more efficient than any other lacing method, shoes and huaraches included.

Luna is awesome enough to provide videos on how to use your sandals. Basically any problem you can imagine is talked about. Here is one on the heel strap.

MGT(Monkey Grip Technology) Footbed/Soles
This model has the thickest footbed of all the sandals at 11mm. That sounds a little thicker than most minimalist shoes at the 2mm or 4mm mark, but since they are completely flat everywhere I am able to run with proper barefoot form. The added height keeps annoying rocks from ruining my run. The more I run the more important it important to eliminate these annoyances. The soles are a little more flexible, kind of comparable to Sanuks. I suppose the right word would be cushy. They don't have a rock guard like the Merrell's, but the thickness prevents sharp rocks anyway.

The footbed has monkey grip(not made from real monkeys). I am not sure which side is monkey gripped though. The part my foot rests on is very grippy. I was able to run through muddy Georgia clay and slip minimally, while still enjoying the mud on my feet. The Vibram sole of the shoe is a treaded and grips well. I did not slip once in muddy conditions with the Luna Leadville's. I believe this is because the sandal makes me more observant of my running form, thus keeping me from putting too much weight in one direction. The monkey grip is just an added bonus!

These sandals are very comfortable, right up there with my Sanuks. I think every shoe has good features and bad features as far as comfort goes. I really like the laces on the Lunas. They stop my feet from sliding around without applying repetitive pressure to one area(I noticed my Merrell Trail Gloves and VivoBarefoot Neo Trails do this). I also like the soles on these. They are thick enough to block out the sharp rocks, but still provide some ground feel.

 Proprioception - the ability to sense the position and location and orientation and movement of the body and its parts.

Even though the sole is thicker in these shoes, proprioception is increased because your feet are out in the wild, compared to closed shoes. I am much more observant of the trail I am running on. I know that I could, for example, stub my toe, so I look around more. Also, feeling the air against your feet awakens a feeling I used to get when I ran strictly barefoot.

Running in Luna Sandals feels very primitive. It is a feeling similar to being an animal in the forest. You are the animal, you must be on the lookout for other animals and dangers. Things are dangerous. This is the real world.

It is nice to leave a stressful job, run in these, and forget all your worries. 

Even though I have yet to stub my toe, I would imagine it may happen one day. It is probably less likely to happen than my mind is making it out to be. The body tends to amplify dangers when in an unfamiliar situation(ie running in sandals).

Different Terrain
The Lake Zwerner loop that I tested the Leadvilles on provides a variety of terrain in a small package. On the flat sections I was able to run just like I do any other day. On uneven terrain I paid attention to where I was stepping but was able to keep a consistent gait. On uphills and climbs I was able to use my method of running more on my toes and plow up the hill with no problems. The heel strap stayed snug on my heel with this elevated heel method. On downhills I was a little more cautious, due to the openness, but was able to run efficiently. The laces held my foot in place and I did not feel any stress in one specific area. One thing I was worried about was the thong part on downhills. Luckily there was no more force than anywhere else in this area, keeping my toe webbing comfortable.

When To Use?
I wouldn't want to use these sandals in a major race right off the bat. They are too unfamiliar. I would like to get at least a hundred miles on them before attempting to use them for an ultra. This is kind of my rule for any new shoe, but I feel it is important when transitioning from a shoe to a sandal.

If I stay in Georgia my first use for these will be in Merrill's Mile. It may even be earlier, but I haven't considered any other races.

I plan to keep these off of the roads. I have other shoes for that, including invisible shoes. I consider these trail sandals and I have had some problems with trail shoes on the road(tread wearing down). I figure I better just use the right too for the job and not risk ruining my sandals.

Compared To:
Now I will compare these to other shoes I have had experience with.
  • Vibram Five Finger KSO, KSO Trek, or KomodoSport - These are more open and have a thicker sole and block the sharp and pointy rocks. No grip on the toes and less stress on the toenails. The sandals naturally have less rub spots than VFFs, because there is less shoe. VFFs are more popular nowadays and are probably more socially acceptable.
  • Invisible Shoes - These are thicker and feel more substantial. They are also quieter(I may need to cut the soles on the invisible shoes for a less slappy sound). I think the lacing system is more comfortable on the Lunas. The ATS laces are much more comfortable than the rope supplied with the Invisible Shoes. Invisible shoes do provide more ground feel and a more liberating experience.
  • Sanuk Sidewalk Surfers - My Sanuks got me through Merrills mile when my other shoes just felt uncomfortable. Sanuks are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. With that being said, I think my go-to shoe after all other running shoes have failed would be my Leadvilles, then my Sanuks. Sanuks tend to slide around when I run, but for walking and just trying to keep moving Sanuks are nice.
  • Merrell Trail Gloves - Trail Gloves provide a rock plate and are an excellent shoe option. Leadvilles are more comfortable to wear in messy situations. In my opinion it is easier to embrace nature than fight it. If I am going to be running through water it would be easier to wear the Leadvilles. Trail Gloves have a few spots that put pressure on my foot, especially on the downhills. This does not exist with the Lunas. Merrells and VivoBarefoot Neo Trails(below) are probably the most socially acceptable minimalist shoes on this list.
  • VivoBarefoot Neo Trails - These are kind of in the same boat as the Merrells. They don't have a rock plate, but are thinner than the Luna Sandals. The Neo Trails have a pinch spot as well, unlike the Leadvilles. I still highly recommend this shoe to minimalist trail runners.
But it is winter in the US... Aren't you cold?
Very observant of you! Previously when I ran barefoot full time I did run in the cold. The amazing thing about feet is that they are kind of like hands! When they are cold and get used, they warm up! Cold feet wouldn't really be an issue unless you were running in the snow(which may soak shoes and have the same outcome). Typically it takes a mile for the feet, and body, to warm up. After that it's all comfortable.

Some Questions
I asked the good people of /r/barefootrunning if they had any questions they wanted answered. I only got a few responses, but they were good questions. I may have answered these questions already, but I will put my answer below their questions. You can read the full thread here.

How well do they stay attached to your feet? I've always feared catching the top half of the sandal on something (a root, step, stone, whatever).
Comfort? Do the straps dig into your feet at all? -jammism

I feared that the lip would catch on something, but it hasn't yet. So far I have done a 3 mile run and an 11 mile run with them on semi-technical trail and I have yet to snag it. I think it is something to look out for, but less likely to happen than perceived. I will have to see how well that statement holds after I am extremely fatigued and not paying attention to what I am doing.

They are very comfortable. The thicker sole is nice on the trail and the straps are wide enough to not put pressure in all one spot(like a rope would). They don't dig into my feet. I did notice the buckle(similar to that of a backpack strap) was drawing some pressure to the area. I loosened the strap just a tiny bit and it moved the buckle just a hair.
When you adjust these it doesn't feel like you are actually moving the strap, but after a little pull on the strap it does actually get tighter and more snug.

How many miles did you get out of them, and on what terrain, until the treads started to wear out, if at all?  -imgladtheworldisflat

I literally just got them, so I am still doing durability testing. I can tell from the construction that I should be able to get at least 1000 miles out of them before some maintenance needs to be done. They are very simple as far as structure goes, so doing little work on them wouldn't be a big deal. The soles are treaded vibram soles, so I would imagine they would last similar to that of the five fingers.

Tread wear depends on what terrain you run on. I plan on keeping these strictly for the trail and avoiding roads as much as possible. I made the mistake of wearing trail shoes on a road one time and it wore down the tread faster than that of the trail.

I am going to start logging in my runs which shoes I wore and creating a durability list on my site so others can know what to expect from their purchases.

I just bought them. They are awesome. Better than invisibleshoes. I even use them for backpacking. -Gamermatt

Yep. I have invisible shoes and I prefer the ATS lacing over traditional huarache lacing.

I am very excited to be a Luna Leadville owner. They are super comfortable and a very liberating option for minimalist trail runners. I would highly recommend them for anyone interested. With the 30-day guarantee, you can't go wrong.

I did notice that they are no longer listed on the Luna Sandals website. After speaking with them on Twitter I found that they were just out of stock.


  1. Have you ever tried to make your own shoe? I'm thinking of saving some money and just get the material. It would make for an interesting article if you did that! Try it!

    1. I have not but I have seen people make huaraches out of bathtub mats, doormat carpets, etc. I think an actual shoe would be harder.

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