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Minimalist Shoes on a Budget: Sanuk & Vans

A while back I blogged about my general preference for Soft Star RunAmoc over Vibram Five Fingers for all but what the VFFs are specifically designed for: sporting activity. Shortly thereafter I recorded a video comparison of the two.

Today I still feel the same way. When I attended MovNat, I brought my flip flops, Vibram KSOs and my RunAmocs. When I wasn’t barefoot, which was a lot, I was wearing the VFFs for the dialy MovNat activities and the RunAmocs in the evenings.

However, a lot of people balk at the roughly $90 price, and when you consider the cut that goes to your state mobster, and shipping, you’re pushing $100 for either of these options (don’t even get me started on Terra Plana…). VFFs are beginning to show up in local sporting goods stores like REI and others so you’ll increasingly be able to save on shipping.

That also holds for a couple of minimalist, light shoes I’m going to show you — one of which I’ve been wearing almost daily for over a year.

I’m talking about the Sanuk Standard and the Vans Bali. Both are under $50 and when I got a pair of each, today, one (can’t recall which) was 40% off, so there are local deals to be had. You’ll find these at surf or boardshops.

So here’s a short video. Three minutes. Sorry for the light and auto-focus issues, but as you’ll see, they are very minimal and flexible — especially once you take out the insole.

Minimalist Shoe Review: Sanuk & Vans from Richard Nikoley on Vimeo.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

50 Comments

  1. Dan Linehan on November 8, 2010 at 04:29

    Heh, I work in Pt. Reyes Station one day a week actually.

    They say the Sanuk Standards they are only $25 – $45 on Amazon but apparently you need to wear size 8 to get the discount —

    • Richard Nikoley on November 8, 2010 at 06:56

      Lovely little hippy town, Dan. I love that market. And hey, now that you’re eating meat again, the Marin Sun Farms butcher shop is amazing.

      We try to do a family camping trip to Olema just down the road at least once per year.

  2. Dan Linehan on November 8, 2010 at 04:41

    Sketchers Voids aren’t bad either — maybe a slightly thicker sole though.

    • Jim Arkus on November 8, 2010 at 10:31

      I have those. Picked up a pair for $7 on clearance last year. They’re very comfortable and the sole isn’t as thick as you think. Kind of “slipper” looking though. But I guess for bumming around it doesn’t much matter.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 9, 2010 at 07:52

      Sanuk has that same style as those Skechers but the sole is WAY too thick for me, and spongy. The sole on those I’m demonstrating is but 2mm, just like VFF and Ramoc, and is of a semi hard consistency while very flexible.

  3. Kyle on November 7, 2010 at 22:23

    I’ve had a pair of Airwalks that are very similar, going on two years. I think they were $25. I got them because they were inexpensive and had a very thin sole.

  4. Jim Arkus on November 8, 2010 at 05:14

    Nice stuff. Al Kavadlo is pretty big on his Vans too, you should check him out…

  5. pfw on November 8, 2010 at 05:26

    Wow, good timing. My mocassins have worn out and I was looking for a slightly more durable option. Looks like these could do the trick.

  6. rob on November 8, 2010 at 07:42

    Nike Pegasus … 25 years of greatness

  7. DajM on November 8, 2010 at 08:07

    Richard, you’re the one who got me into a pair of Runamocs and honestly, I haven’t worn my VFF’s in a couple of months, now. I wear my Runamocs for everything, including crossfit. The only problem I’m having is it’s cold out, now. They are not winter friendly.

  8. Roland on November 8, 2010 at 08:36

    I do like my Vibrams, I just wish I would have gotten a more manly model. Classics look like girl shoes when you wear them. They look cute on my girlfriend, bad on me. KSOs next time.

    Richard, is there an issue with the seams on the inside rubbing against your foot when you remove the insole? Some shoes (like my old Nike Frees) had stitching, so I had to put a super thin insole inside, just for those.

    I like those Vans in your link. If only these minimalist shoe companies could do something about that thick ridge/seam around the front/top of the shoe. It screams “I’m special.” They do seem (pun intended) to be getting better, but I think some companies really want them to look hand made, rather than “normal.”

    • Richard Nikoley on November 8, 2010 at 08:42

      vans also has quite a line of traditional boat shoes, without the ridge. Not sure about sole thickness once the insole is removed.

    • Jenny on March 3, 2011 at 17:43

      Black ininji socks could fix that girly-shoe look, maybe? If they’d still fit…

  9. John on November 8, 2010 at 11:06

    Dumb question, but do you wear these with lightweight ankle socks? Or no socks at all?

    • Richard Nikoley on November 8, 2010 at 11:12

      Not dumb at all. The answer is, both barefoot and socks. For socks, I prefer very light, black, casual / dress socks.

  10. Mike K on November 8, 2010 at 14:21

    Big Sanuk fan, I wear them to work all the time. They even make a leather pair that look pretty professional.

  11. Leo on November 8, 2010 at 15:10

    I’m a fan of Converse chuck taylors, too. Flat front to back, thin, simple and really cheap. I think they look swell, too.

    All the powerlifters out there will agree.

    -Leo

    • Catlyn on November 8, 2010 at 16:01

      Until I got my VFFs, I wore Chuck Taylors for my Olympic lifting.

  12. ben on November 8, 2010 at 16:03

    hey Rich, i too bought the runamocs after watching your video comparison. My qualm with the fivefingers had always been individual toe mobility. Could you tell us about that aspect of the sanuk and the vans. Are your toes held together and/or pinched like in traditional western footware? Or do you have “toe freedom” like the runamocs provide. Slightly difficult to tell from the video. Thanks a bunch, your blog is terrific.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 8, 2010 at 16:37

      The vans (first pair Ive had) have great toe mobility. The sauuk are a bit tighter, but only a bit. And my older ones have total mobility.

  13. bubba29 on November 8, 2010 at 18:54

    have you done any sprinting with these on? or are they just for kickin’ around.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 8, 2010 at 20:00

      No, strictly for casual kicking around.

  14. Walter on November 8, 2010 at 20:15

    Richard,

    Great blog and love your stuff. Ever try an Anhu Delta water shoe? I stumble into them and once I took out the insole it was a blast to run in.

    Walter

    • Richard Nikoley on November 9, 2010 at 07:41

      Those might be fine, but in general neoprene makes my feet sweat like crazy.

  15. Wes on November 8, 2010 at 22:23

    Feiyues are awsome only 15 bucks plus its what the Shaolin monks use!

    • Richard Nikoley on November 9, 2010 at 07:56

      I’m thinking these might be OK, too:

  16. Simon on November 9, 2010 at 00:07

    I don’t know Richard…I think I’m going to have to call a B.S. on you for this one. I can’t see how those are minimalist shoes in the same league as VFF or your RunAmoc. Maybe in terms of boots, MBTs, or any Nike shoe they are, but not in terms of allowing for the same (or similar) sensory feedback that bare-footing provides.

    Also, what happened to the standing desk?..

    • Richard Nikoley on November 9, 2010 at 07:43

      I go barefoot more than I wear VFFs or RunAmocs, but sole thickness on these (once you remove the inner) is about the same, about 2mm. Since they are cloth, and owing to the extra room from removing the inner, they stretch out to give your toes plenty of room.

      I like ’em quite a lot.

  17. Virginia on November 9, 2010 at 02:45

    Ladies have the option of inexpensive ballet flats (I found them at Target for $13) – very flat, very light, very flexible. I bought them a size larger to give me more room in the toe area, and wear them for rowing crew, where it just takes too long to don wet VFFs. Otherwise love the VFFs and even wear them to work.

    I wondered about the standup desk, too. I seem to remember it was adjustable – maybe it was just easier to make the video from the seated position? But it hurt to see RN just COLLAPSE into that chair on the video!

    • Richard Nikoley on November 9, 2010 at 07:46

      I don’t think there’s anything bad about chairs. We did have a standup desk at the loft, that faced out towards the big front window. But it was impractical for this place so we went to a large conference table. Bea wanted to face the window, so she has that side and I wanted to face the door, so I have the other.

      I did the standup thing for a long time and eventually came to recognize that I’m just more productive longer term when sitting. When I want to stand and think, I just get up and pace.

  18. Aaron Curl on November 9, 2010 at 05:26

    For me, I need Vibrams. I can not have my toes crunched together. Our toes arent meant to be squeezed in an arrow shaped toe box. I have to wear running shoes and workboots to work (landscaping and construction). My feet ache at the end of the day due to my being barefoot and in vibrams when not at work. I have 3 pair of Vibrams and wear them EVERYWHERE ! I do not care where I wear them. I have worn them (black KSO’s look the sharpest) to a wedding and a funeral. Look at dress shoes……Why are they so narrow in the toe box?

    • Richard Nikoley on November 9, 2010 at 07:49

      The Vans are very wide at the toes. Zero problem there. The Sanuk do converge a bit, however, judging by the pair I just wore out, because they are cloth they quickly stretch to accommodate the toes just fine. Removing the inner adds significant room and because they are so light you hardly even know you have shoes on.

      The feedback from the floor, road surface is pretty much exactly the same as for VFF or RAmoc.

  19. Abbe on November 9, 2010 at 06:54

    Richard, I have a suggestion for the future. You should find a better place to do your videos. With the windows in the background, the highlights are at the windows and you are in the shadows. You can keep doing videos in the same location, but there is a way with the camera to correctly expose you and then the window light will be a lot brighter. You see this in movies all the time. The limited light to dark range on the camera can be moved to expose you correctly. It would be better to put the camera in the corner between the windows and shoot toward the desk, so the light comes from behind the camera.

    Just a thought.

    Abbe

    • Richard Nikoley on November 9, 2010 at 07:34

      Yea, I’ll know for next time. Probably should have closed the blinds.

  20. 11/10/10 – Xmas Party Update on November 9, 2010 at 19:02

    […] Minimalist Shoes on a Budget – Free The Animal Just some guys doing some snatches and now burpees… […]

  21. Anthony on November 10, 2010 at 07:11

    Toms Shoes are the most minimalist casual shoes I’ve owned.

    http://www.toms.com/

  22. Dave from Canada on November 10, 2010 at 21:07

    Hey Richard,

    We love you in Canada! Listening to Kenny Wayne’s “Blue on Black”. Everytime I hear this tune I think of ‘Free the Animal’. Weird? I don’t care. I think you’d understand. 3 year follower, 1st comment. You’re an inspiration. Long time Rand fan. Your site is the first referenced for new entries every day in this house. I laugh. I swear. I understand the frustration. You get it. That’s why you’re #1. I’ve learned how to cook REAL FOOD thru your site. This comment may be out of context, but I had to let it out tonight. You’re on the PULSE of the future. At least if the corporations corpse. Unlikely. Never give up. Elite.

    Cheers,
    Dave

  23. Paul on November 11, 2010 at 06:39

    don’t know if the comments are still going on this, but could anyone comment on the width on either of these shoes? I’ve had to stay away from vans in the past because my feet are fairly wide across the ball/metatarsals of my foot, i can’t say i’ve put my foot in a sanuk though.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 11, 2010 at 07:00

      the Vans are silightly wider than the Sanuk, so may not work for you. My feet are narrow.

  24. michaelf on November 17, 2010 at 12:29

    I bought a pair of “Simple” canvas shoes the other night. My wife laughed at the Vegan Friendly sticker on the box. I said for every cow I kill they kill millions of plants so I’m good with that, I can be friendly to them even though their stone cold killers.

    Probably the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever put on and the sole was thinner and more flexible than the Sanuks.

  25. Steven Sashen on November 21, 2010 at 16:19

    Another option you should look at is “Invisible Shoes” running sandals (www.InvisibleShoe.com). They’re just a thin layer of rubber between you and the ground. And they’re great for deadlifts and squats if you’re at a gym that doesn’t allow you to be barefoot.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 21, 2010 at 16:24

      I have been using my 2mm thick soled runamoks for deads & squats, and I like. it’s really just as good as barefoot, which I have also done.

  26. ryan on November 21, 2010 at 18:31

    heh, I’ve been looking for Sanuk reviews, and paleo websites, albeit seperately, and here I am.

    None the less, if you’re looking at a kung fu style shoe:

    http://www.martialartsmart.com/45-35k.html

    I get feiyues without the paint on them. of course, I get them from a kung fu school.

    only problem is I have a fairly wide foot… I’ll visit one of the local surf shops and check out those vans. thanks!

  27. […] Meaning: no way did she investigate deeply enough to find my original, extensive post on my experience with the human foot in walking over 5,000 miles: Learning to Walk. Nor did she notice my posts about Vibram Five Fingers vs. RunAmocs; here and here. And finally, she surely didn't notice that I just bought three pairs of shoes, modified for minimalism. […]

  28. Alternates to Vibram for people with weird feet! | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum on March 3, 2011 at 16:38

    […] Check out Richard's post on Minimalist shoes on a budget. Will probably be more forgiving of foot size mismatches, and if not inexpensive enough that you […]

  29. Kim on May 5, 2011 at 08:25

    Just had to pop in to say that I bought Sanuks and LOVE them. Thanks for the tip.

    I had RunAmocs, but they tore at one of the seams that connects to the sole, and the cobbler I took them to screwed them up by putting short heels on them. So sad.

    The story has a happy ending, though, because I like the look and feel of the Sanuks even better than the RunAmocs.

    Thanks, Richard!

    • Richard Nikoley on May 5, 2011 at 08:58

      Did you remove the inner sole, Kim?

  30. Ryan Evans on May 6, 2011 at 07:28

    I ended up getting a pair of Van’s Bali Rasta’s for Christmas. I’ve worn them almost exclusively since. So comfortable and I’ve had almost no feet pain, except for the couple of times I’ve worn dress shoes. I think as the Florida heat comes on stronger, I’ll have to use some powder to keep them fresh in the office. I just received a pair of Terra Plana Vivo Barefoots, my second day in them. I’d feel confident running in these, not so much in the Van’s.

    Also been doing pretty well transitioning to a paleo lifestyle at the same time. (even if medical conditions are fighting against me on this one)

  31. Jason Hughes on March 13, 2018 at 09:09

    Hey Richard,

    I was researching budget minimalist shoes and came across this post.

    Great video and awesome ideas, especially the Vans. They do last a long time.

    Will add these options on my blog: http://www.thesewisefeet.com.

    Drop by and let me know what you think!

    Cheers,
    Jason

  32. Geoff Mc on November 25, 2020 at 08:47

    Are the Sanuk Sidewalk Surfers 0 drop? Some people say they are but looking at them from the side they look like they may have a slight rise in the heel.
    Thanks!
    Geoff

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