To say that BFT is small-budget operation is an understatement; it’s quite simply a one-man show, and the manufacturing takes place in any room of the house where Les can find vacant space – which, considering that his sales have been steadily increasing, is getting harder and harder to come by. Les is completely self-taught in the methods of shoe construction, and is constantly tinkering with various tools and equipment to make the process more manageable.
Some of the equipment is scavenged, such as the dies he scored from a retired shoemaker in Santa Cruz (probably after a surfing trip).
What the company lacks in size, it makes up in commitment; everywhere you look around Doc Waddel’s house - at least, everywhere that's not already occupied by triathlon gear - there are gadgets and raw materials and various staging areas for one step of the process or another.
Although Les is an experienced craftsman (he’s especially gifted at building surfboards and ukuleles), there was an extensive trial and error process in getting the right materials and prototype design of BFTs established. Les attempted six different prototype models, and is still experimenting with various materials that will improve either comfort, performance, or ease of construction. Perhaps predictably, the current product looks something like a Frankensandal, but has some unique design and construction points that make them very interesting.
For example, even though the sandals were inspired by classic huaraches, BFTs eschew the traditional strap between the toes in favor of one that goes over the top of the metatarsal heads. This is a comfort feature for many users, but also prevents anterior slippage of the foot on downhills, in similar fashion as the strap across the top of New Balance’s first Minimus Trail shoe .
The ankle closure is a combination of a backpack-style strap on top of a soft neoprene layer that sits across the top of the foot for comfort. In my testing, BFTs are a significant improvement over classic huaraches in staying comfortably connected to your foot. However, the last is somewhat narrow for me through the forefoot, so if you have wide feet you’ll probably need to ask Les about custom sizing.
Another pleasant surprise is the outsole, made from a Vibram rock-climbing compound which has no visible traction knobs at all, but is remarkably durable and grippy, even in off-road conditions. I’ve only logged about 75 miles in my pair, but Les has over 1000 miles* on one of his own pairs without wearing through the outsole.
(*ADDENDUM: That's not 100% true ... Les corrected me to say he put some LiquiSole on the metatarsal area at 600 and 800 miles on his way to 1000. The durability is still pretty impressive, though.)
Overall weight of one BFT is roughly equivalent to FiveFingers or moccasins at 5 to 6 oz depending on size. Standing height is roughly 12mm, with a midsole layer composed of pliable EVA. In true minimalist fashion, there is zero drop from heel to toe, however, there is one difference in the midsole design of BFT …
… at the front of the toe box area, where the material tapers upward from ground level to just a few millimeters thick at the big toe. I happen to think this is a brilliant stroke, in that it significantly decreases the risk of my biggest pet peeve about running in huaraches: accidentally scuffing the big toe against roots or rocks on the ground, which as anyone who has done it can tell you is extremely painful.
As a one-man show building sandals in his spare (that is, non-surfing) time, Les doesn’t have any grand aspirations to become a millionare by hawking BFT sandals. Rather, he sees his role as a health and fitness ambassador, and is dedicated to teaching as many people as possible the benefits of natural running. When I first started seeing him at race expos, he made a point to tell me it wasn’t about making sales, but simply spreading the word. This fall he’ll be at several race expos, preaching to anyone who will listen, and making sandals for anyone who wants to buy a pair.
BFTs are probably best suited for people who want to combine the biomechanics of huaraches with the comfort of a moderate midsole, or for those who have trouble with the fit of traditional huaraches. They are available for purchase from DocWaddel’s Barefoot Training Sandals website , where they retail for $90.
*Product provided by Doc Waddel
**If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at email@example.com .
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