In previous posts I’ve lamented how relatively limited the formal minimalist footwear market is compared to the myriad of athletic and/or sandal styles available. Today’s review features another addition to the “dressy minimal” category, and happens to be from one of my favorite companies: Patagonia, whose name is almost synonymous with high performance and social responsibility.
Patagonia isn’t generally known for formal wear, and the men’s Pau shoe has a styling that could pass equally well for casual outings as it would as office attire. It also lives up to the company’s reputation as an eco-conscious manufacturer, even earning an “Eco-Star” designation from Outside magazine for its green construction elements. In the interest of full disclosure, it takes a little bit of resourcefulness to make the Pau a true minimalist shoe; I’ll explain what I mean in a minute. For now, let’s get to the review.
Leather upper and removable insole
Uppers of the Pau are made from full grain leather, available in Walnut (my version) or a very dark Velvet Brown. There’s a thin liner of Dri-Lex merino wool, a naturally wicking fabric that provides comfort even if you’re going sockless. Waterproof stretch gussets on either side of the tongue make the shoe very easy to slip on and off. The toe box is naturally roomy, with plenty of space for your toes to spread apart.
Hevea rubber outsole
Green construction is most evident in the outsole, which is made of 70% hevea milk latex, a sustainable resource derived from the tropical hevea tree; you can read here about how the tree’s milk is processed into rubber. The outsole has a honeycomb pattern similar to VivoBarefoot models, except that the rear foot honeycombs are convex while the forefoot ones are concave. Thickness of the outsole is 12mm, which is thicker than the VivoBarefoot Oak but slightly thinner than Merrell’s Tough Glove .
Opanka stitching around outsole
Another eco-friendly production method is known as Opanka stitching, which is a European method of shoe construction where the outsole is hand sewn onto the upper, rather than glued with chemical adhesives. This stitching is evident around the entire outsole as well as the top of the upper and the back of the heel. It’s a very durable construction method that minimizes the use of toxic byproducts.
Insole with one-inch heel
Here’s what I mean about the Pau not being a true minimalist shoe: the standard issue model comes with an insole that is 1” high in the heel and tapers to the forefoot. However, the insole is removable, and that was the first thing I did after receiving the shoes. There’s no additional midsole layer, so once the insole is out, you’ve only got the layer of hevea rubber between you and the pavement. You could also put a thin, flat insole - such as the one Patagonia uses in its Advocate moccasin - in place of the thick one on the Pau if necessary for comfort or to make up for the fit differential (see below).
Perfectly flexible with insole removed
Once the insole is removed, the Pau is completely flat and completely flexible, and functions just like a true minimalist shoe. However, removing the insole also changes the overall fit; the toe box is roomier to the point of being excessive, and the collar will be 1” higher on your ankle. My recommendation is to get at least a half-size smaller shoe than you normally wear, which will compensate for both the taller ankle height and the roomier toe box.
Translucent forefoot outsole
Ground feel with the insole removed is quite good, especially through the forefoot, where the hevea outsole is so thin as to be translucent. Overall weight of the Pau is 9oz (slightly less without the insole), which is comparable to the VivoBarefoot Oak but heavier than Merrell’s Tough Glove. Patagonia claims that the hevea material is highly durable and puncture-resistant, and I haven’t had any problems that would indicate otherwise.
For a product that wasn’t specifically designed as a barefoot shoe, the Pau comes awfully close to meeting all the requirements that minimalists look for. It also makes a nice addition to the gradually expanding lineup of natural footwear that is suitable for professional use or formal occasions.