A Review of the GoLite Tara Lite
The GoLite Tara Lite is a new take on shoe design, a fusion of old and new: the design team took elements of a huarache sandal and built them into a shoe. This probably has some of you scratching your heads, wondering what what kind of logic stands behind such a marriage. Is it the best of both worlds, the worst of both worlds, a marketing gimmick... or something else?
- Sole Thickness: 16 mm
- Insole Thickness: 6 mm
- Heel rise/differential: 0 mm
- Midsole: 12 mm
- Weight: 325 g (Mens US 9.5)
- Flexibility: Stiff
- Toebox: Medium/Wide
This past summer I had the opportunity to meet with GoLite and talk about the new Bare Tech line they would soon be introducing in the fall of 2010. The first models introduced in that line were the Amp Lite, Flash Lite, Micro Lite, and Timber Lite. For those of you unfamiliar with the BareTech line, these are the common features:
- Soft Against the Ground technology. This design puts a soft outsole, under a stiffer midsole. The theory is that the stable platform is directly under the foot and the soft outsole conforms to the irregularities of the ground which together provide more stability than traditional shoe construction.
- No heel raise. There is no difference in height between the heel and the forefoot.
- Rounded heel. Where most shoes have a flared heel, BareTech shoes have a rounded heel. This is supposed to promote a later foot strike which in turn causes the runner to land more on the mid-foot rather than the heel.
- Precise Fit. A system whereby the volume of the forefoot can be adjusted by adding/removing a layer of material from the insole.
The Tara Lite, the fifth model in the Bare Tech line, adds an interesting new twist: the use of huarache-inspired sandal straps instead of laces. There are two straps. The first starts between the big and second toes, passes through to the outside of the uppers, across the foot in a zig-zag pattern, and fastens onto itself with a hook-and-loop closure. The second strap fastens across the back of the heel.
So what's up with the straps? Minimalist footwear geeks love a shoe with a wide toebox. The challenge of designing footwear with a wide toebox is that they tend towards having a sloppy fit; the foot has extra room to slide around. GoLite decided to try and tackle this problem the same way running sandals do, by using straps instead of laces. The theory being that by having a sandal strap between the toes, foot movement inside the shoe would be minimized.
In addition to the new lacing system, the Tara Lite also introduced a new outsole design dubbed the Sticky Gecko outsole. Constructed out of GoLites GripStick rubber, the Gecko-inspired design features hundreds of conical lugs of varying sizes. Lots of contact points for lots of grip.
The fit of the Tara Lite is very similar to that of the Amp Lite. That is to say it features a wide, comfortable fit with a generous toebox. As with the Amp Lite, the removable insole has a huge built-in arch which I can't stand. The first thing I did was pull it out and replace it with a thin Inov-8 insole. The footbed of the shoe still has a small bump under the arch which, while still not ideal, doesn't seem to bother me all that much. Removing the insole means I didn't get to take advantage of the Precise Fit system.
The fabric used for the uppers is quite stiff and this stiffness was found to create a few problems. The shoes are designed without a tongue and therefore rely on the stretchiness of the ankle opening to provide enough room for inserting your foot. Since the fabric isn't all that stretchy, I found the shoes somewhat difficult to slip on. Once the shoes are on, the stiffness of the fabric works against the straps when attempting to tighten them down which makes it difficult to obtainin a snug fit. The stiffness of the fabric also means that it doesn't stretch outwards easily when the toes splay under load. Despite these issues, I don't find the fit of the shoe bad, it is actually quite good, but could be significantly improved with a softer, stretchier upper.
The sole of the Tara Lite follows a similar design to the other models in the Bare Tech line which means that it is quite thick. The total sole thickness (including outsole, midsole, and insole) was measured to be 24 mm. The end result is a sole that is quite stiff with limited ground feel.
The strap through the toes, believe it or not, actually works pretty well - I was pleasantly surprised. There is definitely a feeling of security you get in the toebox that just isn't possible with laces alone. One of the (obvious) main reasons for doing laces up tight is to prevent foot movement. I found that with the toe strap, I was able (and preferred) to wear the shoes with a more relaxed fit. Although I don't think the system has been perfected yet, I think they may be on to something here and it would be great to see this feature further developed and refined. A side-effect of the strap system is that you can't wear the shoe with traditional socks. To help get you started, GoLite includes a pair of tabi socks with the shoes.
Due to the thick sole and robust upper, the activity for which this shoe works best for me is winter running. In conditions where it is cold and snowy, the shoe performs quite well. The Sticky Gecko sole provides good grip on the snow. The extra sole thickness provides great insulation from the cold ground, and the stiffness helps to give good purchase on the ice and snow. The upper, being that it isn't mesh, sheds snow easily and keeps the feet warm.
Because the shoe doesn't accept a gaiter, I have found that it isn't a good choice for winter hiking or snowshoeing. It works alright for walking around town on snow packed streets and sidewalks, but isn't well suited for deeper snow conditions.
For warmer spring/summer conditions, the lack of flexibility, the non-ventilated upper, and thick soles will be too much for me. Others who are looking for a shoe with good rock protection and durability for trail conditions may really appreciate what the Tara Lite has to offer.
The materials and construction of this shoe are of high quality. The shoe is designed for off-road use and it shows.
The big unknown with regards to durability is the strap between the toes. On sandals, this strap is a high stress point. Unlike laces, the strap isn't replaceable so if it were ever to pull out or break you would be out of luck. I have not owned the shoes long enough to tell if this will be an issue, but based on my experience with huaraches it can be a weak point.
If you are an off road runner or hiker that is looking for a shoe with a wide toebox, no heel lift, excellent traction, and substantial rock protection then this shoe is worthy of consideration. Keep in mind that if you use gaiters, there are no laces to hook on to.
If you are a minimalist runner or walker that is looking for a shoe that is warm and provides good traction for winter use, then again this shoe is a good contender. Just be aware that you won't be able to use it with traditional socks.
If you are looking for a minimalist shoe with high flexibility and superb ground feel, then this isn't the shoe for you.
I think that it would be very interesting to see GoLite take the Tara Lite concept (including the Gecko sole) and apply it to an ultra-flexible, thin-soled off-road minimalist shoe. There is a lot of potential here, let's hope they continue to develop it.
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