Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of testing a pair of Earth Runners Alpha X minimalist sandals. That’s been a treat – they’re very good sandals indeed, with a couple of features that set them apart from others that I’ve worn.
That’s not to say that the Alpha Xs stray very far from the basic huarache-like minimalist sandal concept. The soles are cut to size and shaped to the foot, there’s a strap/lace system to hold them on, and they allow your feet to stay open, flexible, and to breathe. All good.
But they’re different. You can see a couple of the “set apart” features in the photo below.
First, the straps… They’re leather, rather than the usual nylon – a lovely, soft, treated leather with the Earth Runner logo showcased nicely. They’re incredibly comfortable. And they’re complemented by a suede leather footbed that adds some moisture-wicking capabilities to the footbed, and has – even over a couple of weeks – already helped the sandals shape to my footprint.
The Alpha X strap pattern is different from that on the Bedrock and Xero Shoes sandals I own. From the toe, it comes back and across the foot to the outside, crosses in front of the ankle, goes around the heel, then back to fit into a locking buckle. It’s a design that works very well for my high instep feet. (If you’re uncomfortable with a strap between your toes, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.)
The photo below shows the bottoms of the Alpha Xs.
The Alpha X soles are from Vibram, which is no surprise, as almost all minimalist running sandals do that. But the tread pattern on the Alpha Xs is something called “Woodstock.” It’s not a very aggressive tread, but sturdy enough to hold its own on most surfaces except the most technical. (I find that good running form usually trumps extreme tread patterns anyway.) The Alpha X soles are 11mm thick, but surprisingly light, each sandal weighing only 141 gm (5 oz.). For all that, they’re reasonably flexible. Not the “once ’round the circle” flexibility you get with 6mm or 8mm soles, but still pretty good.
As I said, I’ve been testing the Alpha Xs for a couple of weeks. That means running in them – on neighbourhood roads and sidewalks – and walking in them as well. They’re good to run in, and even better as an everyday sandal. The leather straps are easy to adjust, which is a good thing, since they stretch a little at first. Not a big deal at all, just something to be mindful of.
It’s the combination of the leather straps, the lightweight/light-density sole, and the tread pattern that makes the Alpha Xs into a sort of “do everything” minimalist sandal. That was a bit of a surprise – I’d expected to wear them for running, but was completely unprepared for the other. The simple fact is that these are an extremely well-designed and well-constructed sandal. Given the attractive price point of the Alpha X (US$72 , not including shipping), they’re a good choice in the increasingly busy minimalist sandal market place.
A couple of caveats… As noted above, the toe strap thing might not be for everybody. And the strap pattern may not work for everyone’s foot shape. Leather straps? Great for comfort, good for security, but I’m not sure they’d be ideal for a lengthy trail ultra. And I worry a little bit that the bit of leather that goes under each side of the sole (see photo of the Alpha X bottoms) may wear out over time. As for the “general purpose” tread – you may want a more aggressive tread pattern for very technical trails.
I have to add that Michael Dally, the man behind Earth Runners, was kind enough to send, along with my pair of Alpha Xs, a pair of Smartwool tabi socks.
These, to use a phrase from a much younger generation, are The Bomb! Here in southern Ontario in mid-November, my morning runs happen in temperatures at about 0C to 5C (32F to 41F). That’s certainly doable without socks, but the tabis make cool temperature running just that much more comfortable. I’ve never worn tabis before, but am now a convert!
The Earth Runners Alpha X is a great sandal. I recommend it highly.
The thicker sole means that there’s not as much groundfeel as with my Bedrock Synclines. That’s to be expected. But Earth Runners also offers the Circadian (6mm sole) and Circadian X (8mm) models for that. They’re similar strap design, but with less sole and are available with nylon laces.
I think the Alpha Xs will really come into their own when I’ve run and walked long enough in them that the footbeds have become even more shaped to my feet. When that happens, they’re going to be close to slipper-like comfortable, while keeping to their minimalist sandal roots. I’m looking forward to that!
For comfort, looks, and general goodness, I don’t think there’s a sandal on the market that can beat the Alpha X.
I have to say something about the concept of earthing. It’s controversial, so bear with me.
Earthing is central to what Earth Runners are all about. In a nutshell, the theory behind earthing is that one’s health and well-being can be improved/enhanced by “grounding” oneself to the earth. The idea is that “earthing can help normalize your circadian cycle and avoid the harmful effects of high-frequency-man-made EMF” (from the Earth Runners website).
I’ve looked at it from all sides, and read and watched testimonials froma number of sources, including this video from Earth Runners’ own Michael Dally:
I’m willing to entertain the idea that there are benefits to earthing oneself. I’m not entirely convinced. I know how much better I feel when I run barefoot, but have always ascribed that to improved form, the joy of contact with the ground, and optimized groundfeel. But perhaps there’s more to it than that.
As it is, my Alpha Xs are only marginally conductive. You’ll see in the photo of the underside of the Alpha Xs that there’s a copper plug at the bottom of the toe plug. If the leather straps are moistened (by rain, sweat, or pre-soaking), they will, according to Michael Dally, become minimally conductive. For earthing to be fully effective, though, Earth Runner sandals with the full range of conductive copper inserts are needed. (The good news is that Alpha X sandals are available with conductive nylon straps instead of the leather straps I have.)
As I said, I’m reserving judgement. I will say, though, that I like the design and quality of my Alpha Xs enough that I can see myself ordering a pair of Earth Runner Circadians sometime in the future.
Note: Product for this review was provided by Earth Runners.