2017-09-20

Gear Review: Soft-star Runamoc Moccasins

I've been wearing Softstar Runamoc Moccasins as my primary shoes for about five years now. I use them for everything, going to town, visiting friends, hiking, backpacking, trail running, approach shoes while climbing, canoe trips, etc. I'm currently wearing my 4'th or 5'th pair (I lost count).


These are truly a minimalist shoe. They come in a number of versions, but the ones I get are made of vegetable tanned leather, and have 5mm thick rubber soles. On my most recent pair I also requested they leave out the elastic they put in the back of the heal. In the most literal way you can imagine, they are a thin sole glued to a little leather.

They have NO support at all, and that's exactly why I buy them. The sole is completely flat, and as I mentioned only a few mm thick. If you want a shoe with support, of any kind, these are not for you.



A little background on why I like this type of shoe. Here are my reasons for wearing a minimal shoe:
  • I am a little prone to rolling my ankle, but I've found that being close to the ground helps more than ankle support does (I know people who find the opposite).
  • The arch on my right foot goes all of the way across, when I wore supportive shoes my foot wasn't strong enough to support itself on the outside and it hurt, now my feet don't hurt after a 20 mile day.
  • I had knee issues and switched to toe/midfoot strike and found it felt much better for my knees and back. For this style of running cushioning is bad, and zero-drop is good.
  • I find the ability to wrap my foot around a rock, plus the ability to feel the ground, overall more or equally useful than having a "grippy" sole. I slide sometimes, but I know exactly when I'm going to slide. I wore these shoes to climb Long's peak in Colorado, including the upper scramble.
  • I have good circulation, so my feet are rarely cold.
  • I have spent time running and hiking fully barefoot
  • I walk a little hard on one side of my foot. The midsole of a normal shoe collapses rather quickly, causing my shoe to tilt and stressing my knees. As a result I see "cushioning" as a huge downside.
  • I'm used to it. Over the years I've worn Merrill tough gloves, Vibram 5 fingers, the old puma trail racing shoes, and many other minimal shoes. I can't walk in most forests barefoot comfortably, but I've been doing the minimal shoe thing for a long time.
These are one of my 4 pairs of shoes. I also own a pair of huaraches, a pair of winter hiking boots for snowshoeing and the like, and a pair of pack-boots for extreme weather.
Everyone is different, and knowing yourself is a huge part of  deciding what gear is right for you. The more minimal or lightweight the gear, the more this is true. Everyone can slap on a supportive boot and walk 10 miles, making your body do the work instead means letting your body adjust, which takes time. A 25 mile day of rough trail with bad sharp rocks the whole way bruises the heck out of your feet in shoes like this. My feet are used to it, so it hurts, but not overly much. It took time to get there going barefoot and wearing similarly minimal shoes for less intense activities.


The good:
  • All leather: This is huge for me. I've found that seeds in many locations around the U.S. can be seriously problematic for mesh shoes. I gave up on mesh shoes after I bought a pair and completely destroyed them in a single 1 week trip. Leather is also at least a bit water resistant, which is nice. Note that you can get them in vegan materials as well... I just don't.
  • Tough: They seem to last about as long as any other shoe. Angie has a slightly more traditional "minimal" shoe, the New Balance Minimus. These are a typical mesh shoes with a typical sole. We bought shoes at the same time, and they wore out at about the same time. I didn't log my miles, but I expect they last me at least ~600 miles, probably ~800, which is about as long as any shoe lasts.
  • Lightweight: There is nothing in this shoe you don't need. Just enough leather and rubber to get the wear-life I noted above. There's basically nothing else to the shoe.
  • Fit: The lace runs around the heal through the shoe, this tends to slide the foot forward in the shoe. As a result I have never gotten even the slightest chafing/hotspots on my heals. The shoe is wide and gives plenty of space to spread out your toes. 
  • Repairable: Usually the toe blows out for me first, and I just sew it up. This gets me home no problem, and tells me it's time to replace my shoes. My forefoot wearing through the rubber is usually a couple hundred miles behind.
  • Looks: They actually look pretty classy when they are new. Unless someone pays attention the veg-tan leather ones look almost like a dress shoe. I have worn them to job interviews... though I am a software engineer to be fair.
The bad:
  • The hole in the side between the vamp and the quarter goes to the ground. This lets in mud if you step in a mud-hole. It also means any hope of water-resistance or warmth is kind of a joke.
  • The sole wears smooth long before the shoe wears out. This isn't a big problem, but it does mean that you have to get used to mediocre to poor traction in some circumstances. It doesn't bother me, but it could be dangerous on trail for others.
  • Price: You have to get them custom made. Occasionally I've been able to find the right size and features in the returns section of soft-star's website, but usually I have to custom order them. Not a big deal, but it means t
Overall, I love them. I started wearing minimal shoes for running, and it just kept expanding until I couldn't stand to wear anything else even for long backpacking trips. They are not for everyone, but if you've been looking for something that keeps your feet from getting cut, stabbed, and chafed and that's it... this is your shoe.

Grounding: I have a hard time not scoffing at the concept, but someone once asked me if these shoes are "grounded". No, they are not normally "grounded" shoes, but you can pay softstar extra to modify the shoes to comply with the "grounded" idea.

Gear Review: Patagonia stand-up shorts

In my pursuit of non-synthetic clothing, it's been surprisingly hard to find really good robust clothes that fit my needs. For years I've bought various types of synthetic shorts, because they last so long, but I finally found shorts that last a long time without being synthetic.

I'm currently wearing my second pair, which are my town shorts. My first pair are starting to look a little long in the tooth but are still what I wear in warm weather the rest of the time. The core of the fabric is still solid, but the pockets and cuffs are ragged and unraveling.

If you read this blog, you know that I expect a lot from my clothes. I beat them up hard, and own very few pieces.


The good:
  • The advertising is not wrong. These are some of the best wearing shorts I've ever owned, including synthetic. I've been wearing a pair of these as my only shorts (besides while in town) for around a year, and I'd already owned them for some time as a secondary pair. As mentioned above, they look worn, but they are not spent yet.
  • Fit is plenty loose enough for hiking, rock-climbing and other physical outdoor pursuits.
  • While chafing is of course worse than it is in something not made of cotton, it's a lot better than I expected it to be. I've done 18 mile days in these, and it worked well.
  • For those of us with short legs (I wear a ~31x26"), it's nice to have a short that doesn't go over the knee. This length also means less fabric to get soaked in the rain, and have to dry. They are a not short-shorts by any means and look pretty classy when I wear my unstained pair in town.
  • Being 100% cotton they are biodegradable, so when I do wear them out they get to turn back in to plants again someday, rather than ending up as tiny specs of plastic polluting my drinking water.
  • The pockets are deep and well-made. The front pockets have no holes even after all this wear, the rear pockets hold my wallet well and I never worry it will fall out (even after the velcro ripped out of my first pair).
The bad:
  • They are still cotton. This means if you are in an extremely humid climate, doing 20 mile days on a through-hike, you better have tough thighs or you'll probably chafe. Similarly they don't dry very fast.
  • The length can be annoying. For example, they are not ideal for climbing, the legs are short enough that it takes a bit to get the harness up over the legs. For canoing they expose too much of my leg to sunburn.
  • If you want ALL non-sythetic, they do have a little velcro in them. Not a big deal though.
As mentioned, I like them enough that I bought another identical pair. I hope they keep making them so I can keep buying them. 

New tarp poles... cutting poles responsibly

If you recall, a while back I rolled the truck in a blizzard in North Dakota. We got a towtruck to come out in the blizzard and roll it over, and pull it out. I was then rushing around trying to get the stuff on the roof-rack (which had been cracked off) stuffed in to the truck in some manor or other in the dark in temperatures well below zero.

Suffice to say that the wooden poles I'd cut a while back didn't make the cut, and were left on the side of the road.

In the west we didn't miss them much, since it doesn't rain much out west we could use lazier pitches that use fewer poles. We're up in Minnesota now and the rain is picking up. Additionally, the forest around here is heavily logged, and thus there's a lot of "dog-hair". So, it seemed a good time to cut some new poles.


By "dog-hair" I mean extremely dense stands of very young trees. When I went to harvest I poked around looking for the densest stands I could find. Here those dense stands are ash. The stand I took these from had trees ~2 feet apart. Such a stand is *too* dense, and will actually be healthier with a little thinning. The trees cannot grow larger without some being removed. Removing the competition early (rather than letting some die) will reduce competition and let those that survive grow faster and healthier... much like thinning carrots in a garden.

I carefully picked trees that were actively crossing others. The trees I cut were within 6 inches of another tree, and in some cases nearly wrapping around them. The rubbing of the trunk on the other tree will tend to sicken both trees, so these are particularly helpful to remove.

Now... a few of you forestry/environmental/basketry types are waiting for me to address the fact that I said "ash"... yes, I said ash.

Currently we have a serious problem in the U.S. with "Emerald Ash Borer", a beetle who's young burrow through the tree and kill it. For more information look here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerald_ash_borer. It's invasive, so the trees have poor defenses and it's wiping out ash across the U.S. Of course the beetle can fly, but it seems they are often introduced to new areas by humans moving wood around, particularly firewood. I just cut ash, so how am I going to avoid this?

2 things. First, all the ash in the area looked very healthy, I do not believe the ash borer is in the area where I cut. Second, I carefully stripped the bark off each pole, additionally checking for any bug damage anywhere along each pole as I did so, and looking at the bark flakes I removed. The article I linked above notes that they stay in the inner-bark region (phloem, cambium, and outer xylem), so stripping the bark should get rid of them, or at a minimum show their tracks through the wood, even if one did deep-dive for some reason.