By Jason Boyle
Xero Shoes was founded by Steven Sashen and his wife Lena Phoenix in 2009. The idea came to Steven after getting back into running and reading the book Born to Run. I would offer more, but there is a great video and story on the Xero Shoes website that does a great job explaining their story. Xero Shoes offers Sport Sandals, shoes and boots, and Huaraches with a foot shaped design and minimal materials to mimic barefoot walking. They offer a ton of material including videos about the benefits of barefoot walking and running. I recommend reading information for and against barefoot walking and running before trying it yourself.
I will be reviewing the TerraFlex trail running and hiking shoe. The TerraFlex is based off of Xero Shoes Prio running shoe with a few newly added features. They describe the additions this way “we added a lugged sole for grip, and embedded 3mm of Barefoam™ inside the sole for extra protection and comfort. Plus, a durable Tough Tek toe bumper and more aggressive breathable mesh upper.” Like the rest of their website – there is a great video describing the TerraFlex, and I recommend watching it. They claim that the TerraFlex run a half size small and they retail for $99.99.
I really didn’t know what to think when I first tried them on. I already choose to wear zero drop footwear so that didn’t really changes things for me. I had the luxury of trying on a 9, which is my normal size and a 9.5 and as their website recommends the 9.5 was the better fit of the two shoes. The toe box is wide with plenty of room to wiggle my toes.
I did a short walk in them and I like how they felt. I can definitely feel everything that is under my feet – rocks, grass, sticks, all of it. There is no real torsional structure to the shoe, as it can be rolled or squished up. However, it does have reflective fabric straps that allow the midsole to be tightened down and reflective heel straps like a Huarache sandal to lock the heel in.
I am interested to see how they hold up over the test period. I am battling some Achilles tendonitis so this review may take longer than normal. I plan to use the TerraFlex hiking, trail running, and for daily wear. Most of my use will take place in the Southern United States. I plan on testing their durability both of the upper and the sole. They have a 5000 mile guarantee on the sole, and I don’t envision putting that many miles on them, but will get enough to get a feel for the durability of the sole. I am also interested in how well the lugged sole works in muddy conditions, and to see if my running or walking gait changes as I use the TerraFlex.
Update – Xero Shoes TerraFlex August 11, 2018
I have put over 100 miles of use on the TerraFlex by XERO shoes over the past several months. My use included daily hikes on the paved Mississippi River Levee near my home, hiking and trail running at the Woodlands Conservancy in Belle Chasse, LA, hiking around Grand Isle State Park, running a beach half marathon on the sandy beaches of Grand Isle, LA, and hiking and camping at Buccaneer State Park on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. I have experienced mostly hot and humid summer weather that dominates the Southeastern United States along with heavy afternoon thunderstorms.
I generally evaluate footwear on comfort, durability and functionality. I will start with the comfort of the TerraFlex. I find that they are comfortable, but it definitely took some time for my foot to adjust to the shoes. The shoes feature the 3mm of Barefoam, but I still felt like I was almost walking barefoot. I could feel every twig and rock no matter where I was walking. The Barefoam and sole dampened the sharpness of trail debris but did not hide it.
The toe box is nice and wide. I never felt like my toes were squished in the shoe, even after wearing them all day hiking around Grand Isle State Park and then running a half marathon on the beach at sunset. The Huarache style straps allowed me to get a snug midfoot and heel while still allowing more flexibility in the rest of the upper.
Other than some light trail running and the half marathon on the beach, I did not run all that much in the shoes. My Achilles recovery has taken longer than I expected, but I did use them to hike frequently. I say this because I don’t feel like I ever made a transition or change in my running style while wearing the shoes. I still feel like I heel strike while hiking in the shoes, but I am conscious of this and trying to work on changing my gait to more of a forefoot strike.
Durability has been great. Over 100 miles of use, and the TerraFlex are still in good shape. The upper looks brand new with no significant wear. I am not surprised, most of my use has been on relatively benign trails. The sole is also holding up well. There is some superficial wear on the triangle shaped lugs but nothing that affects the performance of the shoe.
The functionality of the TerraFlex is good. I have been pleased with the performance on pavement, muddy swamp trail and beach running. The lugs provided decent traction on the muddy trails at the Woodlands Conservancy. They provided traction but took a little getting used to because I definitely slid and slipped a bit. The lugs were perfect for the hard pack sand in Grand Isle. The tight knit upper also did a good job keeping sand out of my shoes on the beach and did a fair job of not letting Gulf of Mexico water through the upper when I got caught by a wave or had to cross a seep running across the beach. The tight knit upper also limited breathability. My feet stayed warm with or without socks although I never experienced any blistering.
As I mentioned earlier, I can feel every rock or twig through the sole of the shoe, so I am not sure that I would choose to wear them on rockier terrain until my feet have toughened up. I don’t feel like I am there yet, but I have a trip in the Sierra’s coming up and I plan to take them along to see how they do.
Xero Shoes TerraFlex Final Update – October 27, 2018
I have a much better feel for the Xero Shoes TerraFlex now that I have put over 200 miles of hiking and running on them. It took longer than I would have liked because I am still dealing with Achilles tendonitis and trying to take it easy. I used the TerraFlex on the following trips – 8 plus mile hike on the De La Vega trail near Berkley, California; daily hikes on the Mississippi River Levee; hiking and camping at Bogue Chitto State Park in central Louisiana, hiking to the Walls of Jericho near the Alabama-Tennessee state line, and walking around Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Temperatures have been all over the board; sunny and cool in California and hot and humid back in the south. I was able to get in some trail diversity with rocky and sandy trails in California and Alabama, and sandy and muddy trails in Louisiana. The only precipitation that I experienced was the occasional afternoon thunderstorm.
The TerraFlex have grown more comfortable over time. I still feel every twig and rock under foot, but my feet have toughened up some. Long days on hard pavement or rocks, like my hike to Berkley cause my feet to be sore. I think my feet would grow stronger if I only wore the Xero shoes, but they are an arrow in my quiver instead of the ONLY arrow. With that being said, I find that I reach for them first because of their comfort. One thing I noted with the TerraFlex is that I tend to look at my foot placement more while wearing these shoes than with traditional footwear. Not a bad thing, just an observation.
The De La Vega trail and the trails around the Walls of Jericho provided a much needed change in scenery and gave me the opportunity to see how the shoes held up on rocky trails. I am happy to say that the TerraFlex continued to show great durability even under harsh trail conditions. The upper shows no wear and the only wear on the sole is on the triangle shaped lugs. At this point, I think the wear is cosmetic, but I am interested to see if I there is diminished functionality if the lug wears off completely. I would also like to see how many miles it would take for the lug to wear down completely.
The final characteristic I use to evaluate footwear is functionality or basically what are these shoes good for? I think these are pretty good trail shoes for hiking or running, and even backpacking depending on how strong a person’s ankles are. There are some caveats though – these shoes take some getting used to. I found that I preferred to use them on softer surfaces like the trails at the Woodlands Conservancy or the sandy trails at Bogue Chitto State Park. Harder surfaces definitely caused my feet to take a beating, but as I mentioned I did not use these shoes as my sole footwear. I think if I made complete switch my feet would toughen up so that hard surfaces would not bother me as much.
My final complaint is with the traction of the shoes on wet rock or roots. Actually, there is almost no traction on wet rocks or roots. My hiking companions and I climbed up the wet rocks surrounding the waterfalls that make up the Walls of Jericho. The water was only a trickle due to the lack of rain in late summer, but the rocks were still slippery. I definitely lacked traction while scrambling up to the source of the waterfalls – a small hole high on a cliff. Meanwhile my companions were able to navigate the same rocks like they were mountain goats. I would not use them on wet rock if at all possible.
I did not have the same complete lack of traction while running and hiking in mud. I think I will stick to using them on soft trails that are mostly dry.
This concludes my final update on the Xero Shoes TerraFlex. They are comfortable and durable shoes that work well for trail running or hiking in all conditions with the exception of wet rocks and roots.
Special thanks to 4alloutdoors.org and Xero Shoes for providing the TerraFlex for the review.