I got these Xero Shoes because they’ve a 5,000 mile warranty on their sole and a 2 year warranty overall, and I wanted to stop using so many running shoes. Sustainability was on my mind at the time as I’d just been to Costa Rica and, during a beach clean up, had found several pairs of old training shoes that’d been washed up by the tide. It bugged me to see all these running shoes on a beach far from any city or factory.

They must’ve recently belonged to a runner like me, I reckoned. I thought about how many pairs of running shoes I get through in a single year. Maybe 3 pairs, and that’s with me being careful; if I paid attention to the manufacturers recommendations I’d be replacing them every 400 miles (which for me would be every 6 weeks or so if I was involved in a heavy training block, which in a pre-Covid ‘normal year’ I would be) so I’d be using at least 6 pairs a year! 

So when I returned to Canada I decided to try to do something to cut down my own shoe consumption. I understand that we can donate our old running shoes to charities which ‘re-purpose’ them. But having spent a few years in developing countries where the shoes are so often shipped for people to use after we deem them unfit for purpose, I understand what this can mean in reality and it’s not great. We can also send them to landfill and hope that they decompose in a big hole, although having worked in waste disposal and sustainability for 3 years I know that sadly we can’t be sure they won’t be dumped elsewhere and wash up on some otherwise pristine beach. 

But one thing we can try to do for sure is cut down on the amount of stuff we use. I was certain that there were some companies making shoes that were designed for more than 400 miles of wear. Shoes that would last me at least a year, or even 2. It was just a matter of making the effort to find them.

I searched online for running shoes that were made to last, and asked around on several social media running-themed group pages. I found only 3 companies that made anything different to the 400 mile rule, and they all offered options only in barefoot style shoes. They were Xero Shoes, a couple of models by Merrell, and a single offering from New Balance.

New Balance was out of contention for me because their founder gave nearly $400,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign, and you can’t support anybody who does that sort of thing all the time you have other choices. Merrell are renowned for their bad customer service plus their warranty was, like that of New Balance, nowhere near the 5,000 mile warranty of Xero. So I checked the Xero Shoes website out in depth, liked their ethics and the way they spoke about the barefoot style of running, and decided to give their ‘Mesa Trail’ shoes a go. You can find the Xero Shoes website here

Here’s what the Xero website says about the Mesa Trail shoe.

“We made the Mesa Trail with lightweight, barefoot-friendly, minimalist running in mind. But we know you’ll wear it off-trail too.

You’ll look great when you pair the Mesa Trail with your favorite jeans, and is comfortable enough for all-day wear.

The breathable, mesh upper gets rid of the weight and keeps you cool. The moisture wicking “37.5” lining helps keep you dry. The welded protective covering of the adjustable midfoot and instep straps adds durability. The lugged, dual-chevron tread gives you sure-footed traction. And the “hidden” 3mm TrailFoam™ layer adds the right amount of protection and comfort.

Why you’ll love the Mesa Trail

  • Natural FIT — a wide toe box lets your toes spread, splay, relax, and function naturally.
  • Natural MOTION — the Mesa Trail is flexible enough to let your feet bend, move, and flex the way, well, that feet are supposed to. The “XERO-drop” design (non-elevated heel) allows for proper posture, and it’s built low to the ground for balance and agility.
  • Natural FEEL — the Mesa Trail has a 5mm FeelTrue rubber sole, with 3.5mm lugs to give you the right combination of protection and grip, plus ground-feedback so your brain knows how to move your body optimally. Also, you can remove the 2mm insole, for a closer-to-barefoot experience that lets you Feel The World.
  • Light weight — so light, in fact, you could forget you have them on. A men’s 9 is about 7.6 ounces (each).
  • Huarache-inspired design — the adjustable instep and midfoot straps are not just eye-catching but functional, giving you a secure and comfortable fit.
  • Vegan-friendly materials — No animal products are used in the Mesa Trail.
  • 5,000 mile sole warranty — like all Xero Shoes, the Mesa Trail is backed with a 24 month manufacturer’s warranty and a 5,000 mile sole warranty.

After 4 months of use these Mesa Trail are now my go-to walking shoes (I go on 2 hour birdwatching walks in the forest and park 4 or 5 times a week), and I do a 6 mile training run per week in them too, at the minimum. In total I use them for approx 30 miles per week. 

Birding in the park.
On the track.

I like that I can feel the uneven ground underfoot in the forest when wearing these, yet I’m protected enough from it so that there’s no danger of injury from sharp stones or other debris. My foot health is also perhaps better than it has been for a long while. The toe box on these Mesa Trail is very wide so there’s plenty of space for the foot to spread out and act in a natural way, which many more narrow shoes prevent them from doing.

They’re also very easy to get on and off. This sounds like it shouldn’t be a talking point, but not all brands are like this (Salomon, for instance, involve at least 45 seconds of swearing and genuine discomfort to pull on; not an ideal start to any hike or run). And just because they’re easy to put on doesn’t mean that stones, twigs or other debris get into the shoe any more than any other shoe. I think that there is less actually, and this maybe due to the fact that my running form is better with these shoes than it is with more padded shoes, so I don’t flick as much debris up and inwards as I run. It just goes backwards, away from me. Although, to be fair, I haven’t worn them on any ultra length forest runs, so I’d have to do that before offering up any firm verdict on the debris subject. As it is, I’m very happy that I can just pull them on with no struggle or discomfort, double lace them and be off.

The birds also seem to like the Mesa Trail.

I’m going to get another pair of Xero shoes for my winter training and general wear because I believe the less barrier you have between your foot receptors and the ground the better your stability (an important point when the winter offers serious underfoot ice hazards as it does here). More about my reasoning for that later in this review. 

My only outstanding question is will this shoe upper last as long as the sole. After all, if the upper falls apart after 500 miles it doesn’t matter much that the sole is guaranteed for 10 times that. But to dicover this is going to take me, perhaps, over a year, maybe 2, and it didn’t seem fair to Xero to hold off a review until then. So for now, what I can say is that I’ve done about 400 miles in these shoes and they’re feeling and looking fine. I’ll update this as the months roll by but for now, it’s so far so good. 

The Mesa Trail after 400 spring/summer miles.

Some of you may be concerned about the barefoot style. I understand that. There’s a lot been said over the years about the barefoot style of running and it’s hard to know who to believe. The running shoe industry is worth around $58 billion per year and when there’s that much money involved in anything there’s going to be convincing arguments for and against – and paid-for scientific studies supporting each side – cropping up all the time. Then there are the professors and authors who make a living from the subject, and pro athletes who get paid to say good things about this or that brand. I guess the confusion created is beneficial to the industry as a whole, too much information can seem just as bad as too little, and it’s better for them that there is debate/conflict within running mags/circles about running shoes than nobody talking of footwear at all. But with all these opinions and motives flying about, how do we ordinary runners know what to do for the best?!

For what it’s worth, as somebody who’s been running since I was 15 and is still running strong aged 52, who’s won 2 national 24hr championships, and who has dabbled with barefoot running since 2004, I can say the following.

I use the barefoot style as part of my training, and recovery, and most runners I know of who enjoy longevity do the same. Even before I got these shoes I’d usually finish off a track session for a km run fully barefoot on the football pitch. It make for a refreshing warmdown, as well as being a great way of strengthening the foot.

I used to actually train barefoot far more at one point, and have worn various barefoot style shoes in the past, but I got out of the habit of doing this so much when I began training for ultra marathons and the Marathon des Sables and I didn’t think it was wise to attempt these large distances without more protective, padded footwear, for somebody of my relative inexperience.

Nowadays, I don’t wear barefoot style shoes in my training sessions that are over 10km as it feels like if I were to do this too often my ankles and joints would suffer from the impact. It’s fair to say that many indigenous runners cover hundreds of kms barefoot on a regular basis and suffer no ill effects. It’s also wise to say that they’ve been doing it since birth, their tendons, muscles, and joints have developed accordingly, and that to compare them to others who haven’t been raised within the same sort of running culture is foolhardy unless you’re going to go into the subject with as much focus as you would a PhD. 

However, I think every runner would benefit from incorporating some barefoot style into their routine and slowly building up the distance, as I’m doing now.

I had a few years away from the barefoot style before I got these Xero Shoes so this is how I ‘broke’ myself back into it safely. 

The first stage was to take the shoes to the track but not wear them during the workout. I’d only change into them when it was time for an easy 1 or 2km slow warmdown. I did this for 3 or 4 weeks. 

Stage 2 was to move onto doing my track workout on the grass verge/football pitch, wearing the barefoot style shoes all the time. In this way I could get up to 10km distance in a couple of months without putting lots of pressure on my knees. It did mean I couldn’t do really effective speed training as that’s best done on the hard track, but I could put in a pretty good effort and maintain fitness whilst I got used to the shoes. You do have to change your running form with the barefoot style – you’ll be on the front foot all the time, and for much of the distance you’ll be sitting a bit lower to the ground, with knees slightly bent – but most running coaches agree that this form is better for your overall posture/health so it’s not a bad habit to get into.

Stage 3, which is where I’m at now, is that I wear my Xero Shoes for my 10km track sessions, I stay on the track unless I feel a niggle in which case I move to the grass, and at the end I take off my shoes and go fully barefoot for a km or so as a warm down. It feels great. Another benefit of this way of doing things is that I’ve already scoped the grass verge out for any glass/needles/whatever during my 10k session so I can run the final part fully barefoot without fear of puncture wounds. Running in barefoot shoes feels really good, and running fully barefoot in the grass afterwards is amazingly refreshing and a perfect way to end a session. 

I also wear these shoes to the park. I treat the 2km run there through the residential streets as a slow warm up, this is when I find my stride and remind myself to get running on my forefoot, and then once in the park it’s a regular trail run. The way back is the warm down.

I suppose the next stage is to run hard on the trails using them on distances over 10km, I’ll move onto that when I feel ready. 

So I highly recommend these Xero Shoes. They enjoyable to wear, they encourage good running form, their warranty is better than any other shoe I know of (so they’re the tops in the running shoe world when it comes to sustainability), and they’re vegan (no animal- basedglue or leather involved in their making). Check them out here.

In slightly more detail, here are some more barefoot running thoughts based on my experience.

1/ The thinner and less padded the sole of your shoe, the more stable you are. Each time you take a step, as soon as your foot hits the ground, your foot sends a message to your brain giving it the lowdown on how the ground is underfoot. If it’s uneven or just uneven in one place where a stone is the brain will take in this information and send back instructions to your body to tell it how to react. This is how you move efficiently, putting more weight here or there, leaning in various directions when you need to to protect yourself. The thicker the sole of your shoes the less informed the message from foot to brain and the less chance your body has of responding correctly to it. If you think all this is rubbish, check it out yourself. Next time it’s icy outside, or if you’re at an ice rink, try to run on the ice in training shoes. Then after you’ve slipped over a few times take the shoes off and start walking barefoot on the ice. After 30 seconds start to run. I was amazed the first time I did this. There was no slipping at all. I could run without problems – apart from the cold! – and felt quite stable. The speed with which your brain responds to signals sent by the foot is incredible. 

The more stable you are the less chance there is of you getting injured. Last winter I slipped over seriously twice here in Toronto. Both times it was due to black ice under fresh snow; almost impossible to see or avoid. They were serious falls and if I’d have been older and less robust that might have been the end of me. I’m unsure why it didn’t occur to me until now but next winter I’ll be wearing a barefoot style shoe in an effort to avoid falls. Xero offer a fully waterproof hiking boot, I’ll order mine a size up from my usual so I can wear 2 pairs of socks and hopefully stay warm as well as upright.

2/ If you’ve been wearing padded shoes all your life it’s unlikely that actually going barefoot will be beneficial for you, at least for a very long while until your feet harden up considerably. Injuries from debris on roads and trails will probably offset any gain you get from lack of padding. On roads you will probably take to running on the white line, which is the flattest surface and well away from the sides of the roads where most of the stones/glass/metal shards are. The problem is the line is in the middle of the road so whilst this is kind of ok during a race (although placing both feet down in so narrow a space isn’t good news for your form in my opinion) it’s not practical during everyday life when you’ll be sharing the road with cars. Trails are always full of debris and on top of that do you remember the last time you were tired towards the end of your run and dragged your feet a little and kicked that rock? Ouch, and triple ouch if you’re barefoot and have no toe protection at all. So a shoe that offers a barefoot style is very useful. It’s not exactly barefoot and you can’t feel the grass and mud (which I love doing) but it offers some protection. The big question for the buyer is which of the barefoot shoes offer enough protection to enable you to run safely yet not so much as to interfere too much with your body’s needs and your enjoyment of natural movement. My opinion is that these Xero Shoes offer a good compromise; enough protection, but not too much. 

3/ If you rotate your running shoes your body/legs/feet will get accustomed to change and be stronger for it. I’ve no idea if this is medically proven, it’s just proven by myself and many of my friends who run seriously. It’s the same principle as any exercise. If you work one muscle group all the time but not the groups around it you’ll get injured after a while, or develop a problem. For instance, if you do daily push ups but no back stretches you will start to hunch forward. Same deal with shoes. The foot has 28 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, all of which work together to provide support, balance and mobility. If you’re wearing shoes that always support 1 area more than another then you’re courting trouble. Better to rotate your shoes so that all of the components of the foot get a regular work out. 

So I wear these Xero Shoes on all my recovery walks, and 1 of my runs, and the other 3 or 4 runs of the week I wear a mix of road and trail shoes that support my feet and ankles in different ways. It suits me well, and I haven’t been injured for a long time. 

Of course, we can’t talk of injury prevention unless we also talk of yoga and a decent diet. Things to note…There is no such thing as Runner’s Yoga. There is just yoga, and all runners should do it. As for food, each whole foods, plant based, and always use the known anti-inflammatories such as ginger, berries, turmeric, or pineapple after training.

4/ I believe that barefoot training helps me because it won’t allow me to run with bad form. If I do, it hurts. I can’t land on my heel or midfoot, I must land on my forefoot. That means my form has to be just right. The good news is that because the body and brain work together to do what’s best for you, this good form happens naturally after a short while spent barefoot or in barefoot style shoes. 

That’s all for now. Go check Xero Shoes out, and if you’ve any questions about anything I’ve written feel free to email me at dave@trekandrun.com