I have learned a lot from other people. Here are a few of the sources I found useful. This is not a comprehensive list, and I am not endorsing any of the companies or individuals, or any of the information / products / services they provide. I am listing them here in case it helps you do your own research; I am sure you can make up your own mind.
Here are a few sites I’ve found helpful in letting me increase my understanding of what kinds of footwear are least bad for feet, and how to make one’s own (updated Feb 2021):
- The Natural Footgear website’s educational blogs. Many useful articles, videos and illustrations about how common foot ills are caused by conventional footwear, and how to address them by transitioning to footwear that lets feet move more naturally. They also sell a variety of products, including Injinji toe socks.
- Correct Toes “Foot help” section Correct Toes is a product that one can buy, to help remedy issues caused by poor footwear. Their website contains information on natural foot movement, as well as links to retail shoe companies that sell shoes they approve of.
- Natural Running Center Reviews a variety of “barefoot” footwear styles and has some related background information.
- Harvard University Skeletal Biology Lab outlines some of the scientific research on foot biomechanics and barefoot running
- “These shoes are killing me” podcast and transcript from Freaknomics Radio, in which scientists and doctors are interviewed about the harms shoes cause to the human body. Interesting reference/reading list at the end of the transcript.
- Footwear of the Middle Ages This site doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2005, but contains some information I haven’t seen elsewhere, for example, about the history of shoemaking outside of Europe, and sewing techniques. It’s interesting to read it in conjunction with Marquita Volken’s book on “Archaeological footwear”, and Jason Hovatter’s “turn shoe” video (see below).
- Bowman, Katy (2011) Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief. The New Science of Healthy Feet; BenBella Books (Dallas, TX). Not just for women, this contains much information and advice to help diagnose and alleviate the causes of foot pain. I found some of the photographs and diagrams very useful.
- Porter, Kathleen (2013) Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living. The Practice of Mindful Alignment; Healing Arts Press (Rochester, VT). Chapter 4 deals specifically with feet. Like other parts of the book, it contains amazing photographs contrasting how people in non-Western cultures move and hold themselves, compared to most Europeans and Americans.
- Stohlman, Al (2013) The Art of Hand Sewing Leather; Tandy Leather. I referred to this a lot when teaching myself how to stitch leather by hand.
- Vass, Lazlo and Molnar, Magda (2013) Handmade Shoes for Men; H.F.Ullman Publishing (Pottsdam, Germany). I loved the photographs in this book, and used them to work out how to attach uppers to soles using a welt.
- Michael, Valerie (1993) The Leatherworking Handbook; Cassell Illustrated (London). This introduced me to a variety of techniques not covered by Stohlman’s little book, and the chapter on leather demystified some of the rather arcane terminology.
- Volken, Marquita (2014) Archaeological footwear: development of shoe patterns and styles from prehistory till [sic] the 1600’s [sic]. Based on a PhD thesis, this amazing synthesis of ancient patterns from north-west Europe made me realize how foot shape and the traits of leather constrain shoe design, so that the same basic patterns are reinvented century after century. This book focuses entirely on footwear made before machines and synthetic glues became widespread in the manufacturing process, so was of particular interest to me, given that I am trying to stitch everything by hand without using solvent-based glues.
- Simple Shoemaking. Sharon Raymond was kind enough to share some of her easily-learned techniques with me. My first three pairs of shoes were made using her last-free “Lomoc” technique to attach soles to uppers.
- Paul Thomas Shoes. Based in London, UK, Paul runs a variety of courses. I did an intensive course, during which I made a pair of lined lace-ups that I subsequently wore to a wedding. Not only did I come away with a unique and beautiful pair of shoes, I learned a great deal. Paul’s instruction was a wonderful grounding for reading some of the technical books and online material that had hitherto seemed incomprehensible.
- Laughingcrowe school of non-lasted shoemaking. In late summer 2018, I spent a very intensive and fun 4-day stint in Portland, learning a new method of attaching uppers to soles, with Jason Horvatter. His ingenious “internal stitchdown” method allows the upper to be sewn to the underlying sole without a welt, or an external “stitchdown” seam. The trick is to use a “McKay” stitcher, which allows all stitching to be done through the sole, from the underside, just keeping a finger or two inside the shoe to catch the internal thread onto the hook of the stitcher, and check the thread is pulled through correctly. Excitingly, Jason has a new ~8-hour video coming out, to capture the whole “internal stitchdown” process: see his site for details.
- I learned how to sew neat “butt seams” by watching an instructional video made by Jason Hovatter, in which he shows in detail how to make a pair of “turn shoes”.
- I wear Injinji toe socks (photo above) year-round, because they let my toes move more-or-less as they would if I were barefoot. Other companies also make toe socks but I like the durability and breathability of Injinji’s “Nuwool” mix.
- When I first started getting joint pain, the only pairs of shoes I could find to buy that didn’t hurt were made by Altra Running: the “One” and then its replacement the “One Two”. These styles had no heel lift at all (“zero drop”) and had an asymmetrical toe shape. However, in the years since I have started to give my toes room, my feet have widened, so I can no longer wear Any Altra Running styles without pain. Sadly, I have found that, for me, the Altra Running styles are now too narrow in the forefoot if they fit in the heel; furthermore, I am not keen on the thickness of their soles or the amount of cushioning and toe spring the latest styles have. However, a friend of mine is wearing a couple of their styles with great relief, and finds the cushioning helpful as she transitions to having no heel lift at all.
- In November 2017, I bought a pair of Primal RunAmocs from Soft Star Shoes and am very pleased with them. While not quite as good a fit as the shoes I make myself, I reckon it’s about as good as one can get in a shoe that’s not made to measure. The toe shape is almost identical to that of my latest unlasted sewdowns, and a shade wider than the shoes I’ve been making on my custom lasts (photo above). The soles are very flexible, and they have no heels. The shoes are made in Oregon, and the materials are carefully sourced, including “upcycled” bicycle tires for the toe caps. Update, May 2018: I just bought a second pair of Primal RunAmocs, having worn the first pair more-or-less daily throughout the winter 2017-18. The sole has worn very well, given the mileage I do on concrete / asphalt surfaces (2-5 miles per day), and they were surprisingly waterproof in rain, snow and ice. Update, Feb 2021: Having worn through the soles of two pairs of Primal RunAmocs, I invested in a third pair and resoled the first two pairs myself. This meant taking off the whole footbed as well as the rubber sole (because the latter was glued to the former too strongly to remove on its own). I resoled using a slightly thicker Vibram sole than the original (8mm rather than 5mm) because I figured the increased wear was worth the very slight increase in weight and decrease in flexibility.
- I made a pair of “Huarache” sandals from a kit sold by Xero Shoes. Unlike the Primal RunAmocs (above), the toe area in my size was not wide enough. To get a wide-enough toe area, I had to buy a sole that was several sizes larger than my nominal shoe size, and chop its length down (see photo below). I’ve been wearing these sandals with toe socks or bare feet to take the dogs for walks in dry weather. I also adapted the design to make a pair of house sandals for myself, with 9oz leather soles (photo above): I find the leather much less sweaty underfoot than rubber, but the leather would wear out quickly on concrete and tarmac of sidewalks and pavement.
- For short periods of up to an hour or so, I can bear a pair of Birkenstock clogs that’s a couple of sizes larger than my normal shoe size. I have a waterproof pair that I slop around in to take out the trash and do other short outside chores. They have a great toe shape for me: big toe not pulled towards the center line of the foot at all. However, the very stiff sole and high toe spring, combined with a slight heel lift, means that I can’t wear them for long, or for walking any distance.
- Since starting to look for foot-shaped, completely heel-less footwear with flexible soles, I have come across a few companies besides those mentioned above. Here are two that caught my eye: Lem’s Shoes and Vivobarefoot. More brands are listed on the Natural Footgear website and the Correct Toes website Update, Sept 18: suddenly there are many apparently foot-shaped, zero-drop sports shoes for sale via Amazon. Try searching for “toe shoe” or “water shoe” and see what crops up besides Vibram “Five Fingers” styles. I found at least six brands, all looking similar in styling and construction. The pricing, together with the brand names, suggest to me that most of these look-alikes originate in Asia.
I would love to hear what you’ve found useful in helping locate or make comfortable footwear. Please get in touch! You can contact me on twitter @tozafoot