I’m a barefoot runner. I only run with footgear when I absolutely have to. That means when it’s too cold (-5C is about my lower limit for anything except very short barefoot runs), when the ground surface is too rough (I’m still learning to run barefoot on gravel trails), or when the run distance is too long to be barefoot (like the Niagara 100K ultra I’ll do in June). Or lastly, when I’ve been putting in a lot of distance to train for an upcoming race, and my soles just need a bit of a break from all the asphalt.
In those circumstances, I’ve had only two choices – my Soft Star Moc3s or my Xero Shoes Sensori Ventures. The way that usually works out is Moc3s in the cold, Sensoris in the warm. So far, so good.
Enter the Sockwa X8.
The X8s are a deceptively simple piece of kit. Essentially, they’re just a sock with a sole. That means that wearing them feels a lot like being barefoot, but with a little protection. That’s the premise of most minimalist footwear, for sure. But – in my experience, at least – nothing comes close to the X8 experience. And I say “deceptively simple” for a good reason – the X8s are a brilliant piece of technology. They’re carefully made, with high-tech materials, and they’re made well. So it’s worth, I think, spending of bit of time looking at what goes into each pair of X8s.
The uppers are made of Ariaprene, a synthetic rubber material. (Think of it as “see through” neoprene.) It’s breathable, decomposable, non-allergenic, rubber- and latex-free, and stretchable. All good!
The upper is stitched together as a one-piece bootie, and then glued to the TPU sole.
The X8 outer sole is 1.2mm thick Thermoplastic Polyurethane. Then there’s an inner sole made of a thin piece of fleece. And there’s 0.7 mm of added tread on the outer sole. The inner sole plus the outer Ariaprene fabric means a total of 4.5mm. Sockwa claims that 2.5mm of that compresses when you step on the ground, so you’re really only feeling about a 2mm sole. TPU is noted for its abrasion-resistant qualities, so I expect the sole will last a very long time.
(Curiously, though the X8s are obviously shaped to fit each foot, they come with prominent labels on the insides of the footbed heels. Do we really need to be told “LEFT” and “RIGHT”?)
I haven’t needed to wash my X8s yet, in spite of running through innumerable puddles and on some gravelly trails. But, when I do, it’ll be easy – they’re machine-washable in cold water, and can be dried by hanging them on a line.
You can see the snugness of X8′s fit in the above image. That felt kind of odd when I first put them on, but I quickly got used to it. And I soon discovered that they’re a real joy to run in. They feel extremely “barefooty,” offering tons of good groundfeel and ease of motion.
I’ve worn the X8s a lot in the past few weeks, as I’ve needed to put in some serious weekly distances (111K last week) as I prepare for the upcoming Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra. The temperatures have been cool in the early mornings (as low as -11C), so, on most of those runs, I’ve worn very thin, low-cut socks with the X8s. But I’ve also work them sockless, and, aside from being able to feel the flat-stitching on the Ariaprene uppers, that hasn’t been an issue at all.
A notable feature of the X8 soles is that, though they’re very flexible, there’s a slightly-raised pattern on them that gives a surprising amount of traction (far more than is offered by the Soft Star Moc3s, which are completely pattern-free). And the X8s don’t make the slappy noise that my Sensori sandals make (as do all minimalist sandals, as far as I know). Nor, of course, are there laces and toe plugs to get in the way. The X8s offer a lovely combination of elegant comfort and high-end functionality.
All of that said, they’re extremely minimalist. I’ve been running barefoot for six years, only wearing footgear when absolutely necessary. So I like to think my barefoot form is reasonably good. If you’re new to minimalist kit, you might want to go easy on the distances until you’ve got your form sorted. Don’t get me wrong -that’s not a criticism of the X8, but rather a caution to the newbie.
Long story short… Brilliant design, excellent execution, and a great price point at US$59.00.
How much do I like the Sockwa X8s? Well, let’s just say that I think I’ve found my ideal footwear for the Niagara 100K ultra in June!
Note: Product was provided by Sockwa for this review.