Back in the early days - when I first realized that my footwear was largely responsible for my foot/knee/back issues - I went on a quest to find a pair of minimalist shoes. Bare feet weren't going to cut it for me at work, nor were they going to get me through the colder months. My selection criteria were really quite simple: I wanted no raised heel, no cushioning, no arch support, and a last that was wide enough for my feet. After extensive research I soon discovered that my list of requirements wasn't going to be easily met by any off-the-shelf product. My thoughts then turned towards more traditional forms of footwear which was when I discovered Russell Moccasin.

Russell Moccasin is a Wisconsin based company that makes footwear based on what they call True Moccasin Construction. However it wasn't the true moccasin construction that wooed me as much as the fact that each pair of moccasins are made to the buyers exact specifications. As part of the ordering process, the buyer has to trace their foot on a piece of paper and measure the circumference at various points. Additionally, every model Russell makes can be tweaked and customized as desired to achieve exactly what the buyer wants. For me, this meant that I would be pretty much guaranteed to get a shoe perfectly fit to my feet with all of the characteristics I was looking for, without having to make any compromises.

The first pair I ordered were a pair of Russell Trackers. I originally selected the trackers because they were a basic leather bottomed moccasin with a waterproof leather which I thought would be good for fall/winter/spring use. Because I would be spending lots of time walking to/from work on concrete and asphalt, I asked them to glue a rubber sole straight to the bottom. This request kind of threw them for a loop at the time, as I didn't want a midsole or any heel rise whatsoever. As much as they didn't completely understand the reasons for my request, they were very accommodating and gave me exactly what I wanted. When I got them, they were exactly what I wanted. They fit my feet perfectly, had a great low-profile sole, no heel, no cushioning and kicked-off my journey as a full-time minimalist footwear proponent. I still have those shoes and they still fit great (although they are in need of a re-sole).

That was five years ago (wow, has it been that long already!). In those five years I learned a lot more about minimalist shoes and decided to share what I had learned on this blog. Much to my surprise, this summer I received an email from Russell Moccasin stating that they had found my blog, loved reading my articles, and had started a new line of minimalist shoes (thanks to prodding and encouragement by Tuck). The new minimalist line is based around the Munson Army Last. From the Russell Moccasin website, the Munson Army Last has the following characteristics:

... provides more room in the toe area than other shoe lasts do... the roomier Munson Army Last... provides a non-restrictive environment for the foot to do its work. By design, shoes and boots made on the Munson Army Last snug up the arch and heel when the shoe or boot is laced up, providing a totally different feel than other shoes.
... the Munson Army Last has been around since 1912. Named after its inventor, Edward Luman Munson, A.M., M.D., Lt. Col. Medial Corps, United States Army, the Munson Army Last was adopted by the U.S. Army to enhance the fit and comfort of military boots issued to soldiers. The Munson Army Last was and is one of the few lasts that ever approached normal feet shape and contour. (read more)

They asked me if I would be interested in trying out a pair of the new models and of course I agreed... I can't help myself, I am always keen to try out a new shoe! I traced and measured my feet, and ordered a pair of the Minimalist Hurons out of black German Elk with the Vibram Newporter sole. Since I usually have something sporty and synthetic on my feet, my thinking was that these shoes would be a great casual option for use at work and more formal occasions. About 6 weeks later (quality hand-made shoes take time to build!), and with much anticipation, they finally arrived.

Taking these shoes out of the box was a different experience than what I normally encounter with a new pair of shoes. I don't normally rate shoes on the un-boxing experience, but with these ones I just couldn't help but immediately feel like I was holding true quality and craftsmanship in my hands. No artificial glue smell here. Just beautiful black leather (and that wonderful leather smell), rubber, and high quality stitching. With proper care, these look to be shoes that will last a lifetime.

Having been wooed by the good looks, putting them on my feet for the first time wasn't quite the experience I had expected. They fit felt a little strange. They felt stiff and snug around my midfoot, and the heel felt less secure than I am used to in an athletic shoe. Nothing was uncomfortable, but just different than what I am normally used to. Now - almost three weeks later - I have found the fit to be really good and it continues to improve as the leather molds to my feet. I walk to work in them and wear them all day at the office yet I don't really notice they are there; for me, this is an indicator of a solid design.

From a minimalist standpoint, the design is solid. The soles are a little thicker and stiffer than some other minimalist shoes on the market (from insole-to-outsole mine measured 10mm), so if you are looking to feel every pebble, then these shoes probably aren't for you. Despite the thicker sole the flexibility of the shoe is excellent, and in my opinion, allows the foot to function naturally as designed. The Vibram outsole works well, provides good traction on a variety of surfaces, and looks like it will last a long time. As with all Russell footwear, when the sole wears out, it can be re-soled. The toebox has a great shape and doesn't constrict my toes. There is no raised heel, no cushioning, and the entire shoe is leather, inside and out. My experience with leather for casual use, as I found with my previous pair of Russels, is that it has some really good qualities. It molds to your foot, breathes well, and doesn't accumulate funky smells like synthetics do. These same great qualities seem to be carrying over to the Hurons as well.

So far, for first impressions, this shoe has scored well. They look great, they work very well, and the craftsmanship and build quality are top notch. I am planning on continuing to wear these shoes to work over the coming months and will report back after I have had some more experience with them. Based on what I have seen so far, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend these to anyone looking for a good quality everyday minimalist shoe.

Moccasins - Laurent Tougas