Friday, January 13, 2012

Skora Running Shoe Review: Skora Form Takes on the World's Finest

These babies get the "Instagram Treatment"
Rarely do I feel like I have my hands on something that few people are fortunate enough to own.  Rarely do I feel like I have something that I honestly wouldn't change, something I could not have imagined better myself. Rarely do I get to enjoy the top-of-the line product (I am a constant compromiser). Rarely do I convert so quickly to a new piece of gear, to the detriment to all the other stuff I have accumulated. Rarely have I ever had anything like the Skora FORM. I am sure it sounds like an overstatement, these are just running shoes after all.  However, when running is truly your passion, your vehicle for self-discovery, and your ticket to longevity and health, it is a big deal.  When a simple pair of shoes is so revolutionary, so empowering, and so enjoyable, it enhances this critical experience and thereby truly changes the game.  I’ve had these a short time, but I’ve run twice as many miles in the past week as I would normally at this phase of the year, only because my comfort while running and rapid recovery from workouts was so accelerated. Amazing stuff.

Not that you’ve clearly gleaned that this will be far from a neutral post, let’s just get it all out there. Skora is a company I have admired since first hearing about them earlier in 2011.  David Sypiewski, Skora’s founder, came to barefoot running after a string of injuries made him rethink his approach. Then, in David’s words to me over a Twitter message…after ten years of dreaming and four years of hard work, you are wearing the result. It shows. The Skora barefoot shoes” do a remarkable job of providing comfort and protection without encroaching into the foot’s ability to function as nature intended.  In the limited experience I have had with them so far, it is clear to me that these shoes permit shod natural running in a way that is uniquely their own.You can hear from our friend Kyle Kranz., who has run hundreds of miles in his, on this topic HERE

Skora will hit the market in the next few weeks with two new shoes in two colorways each.  First up is the shoe I am reviewing here, the Skora FORM.  The FORM is an exceptional, no expense spared luxury.  At $195 retail they are a boutique option, and like a lot of things you do get what you pay for (more on that shortly). Second will be the Skora BASE, a synthetic upper shoe with some innovative features.  We will be reviewing the BASE in a matter of weeks, but let’s stick to the matter at hand, the Skora FORM. This is a preliminary analysis, I will have a follow up post later with wear-tested goodness.  For now, as with all my reviews, I will do an in-hand analysis and try to put you there in the cockpit.

Way back when, most shoes were made of leather, even athletic shoes.  Early running shoes were certainly leather, and I can remember playing most of my childhood basketball in a pair of leather sneaks.  That said, leather fell out of fashion as synthetics made big advances in weight savings, breathability, durability, and cost.  Leather, it seems, was on its way out.  I am a nostalgic guy, though, and I remember opening that box with a fresh pair of Adidas soccer cleats or Nike high tops.  I remember the first pair of really good, quality dress shoes I bought when I graduated from the University of Michigan and started my first professional gig.  All these experiences had one thing in common…that beautiful, deep quality leather new-shoe smell.  Skora FORM gives you that and it is fantastic.  The leather on the FORM is no ordinary cowhide, though.  It is a combination of Pittard’s goatskin on the outside and Pittard’s sheepskin on the inside.  Pittard’s makes the kind of exclusive, world-class leathers you’ll find in very high end golf gloves, purses, jackets, and other bespoke leather goods.  These leathers dry in a fraction of the time of cowhide, but also dry soft and supple.  I am sure I can comment on this more after a longer wear test, but in my experience so far, sweat and moisture dried fast, true to its word.  The leather interior does get damp with strenuous exercise, though, but it remained warm and soft throughout, and as I mentioned, dried fast and with no harm done.

The last (shape) of all Skora shoes use a zero-differential, level platform.  It employs a very subtle arch curve, but no more appreciable support than you would want from a “barefoot shoe.” The toebox is wide, the heel wrap is sufficient to secure the foot, but not rigid or inhibiting.  The shoe has plenty of room, and for casual wear or running roads, it is an exceptional, comfortable fit.  Keep in mind that I have rather average or even narrow feet, but even so I think most runners will find ample room in the Skora fit.  The toebox shape may not be as exaggerated as the epic, roomy Altra fit, but I find Skoras to be wide, very freeing, and miles from the ordinary running shoe shape. The shoe overall is extremely flexible, too.

Underfoot, the Skora FORM has a blown-rubber outsole over a firm, thin midsole.  These are supported by a removable insole with a gentle arch “hug.”  The shoes are finished to a high degree without the insole, and you can run in them either way.  I’ve preferred to keep the insole in place so far.  The insole is a neat detailed piece in and of itself, with embossed lettering saying “Run Real” on the underside, a texture of tiny, gentle buttons across the footbed to help prevent sliding around (I assume), and a style and design not usually seen on a part of the shoe no one will see.  Speaking of which, Skora has outdone themselves with regard to the details.  This shoe has details on its details.  The lace eyelets, for instance, are carefully painted the stunning contrast blue reserved for the sole, and they have the Skora web address embossed on them in tiny, tiny letters. Tiny letters don’t make you run faster, but they add to the enjoyable, exclusive character of these fine objects d’art.

The fit of this shoe can be highly customized.  As noted, you can remove the insole and you still have a highly finished barefoot-friendly interior.  You can also take advantage of the heel strap, a hook-and-loop strap which has the ability to capture your heel just around your Achilles and provide security without a rigid heel cup. There is a “diet” version of a heel cup in that the outsole comes up and wraps the heel, providing a rounded, foot-like shape back there, but I wouldn't characterize it as a traditional heel counter.  The upper is what I like, though.  In addition to its material, the very soft and form-fitting leather, the cut and shape of the upper is well executed. The FORM has no tongue; but a simple a “wrap” style upper that is best appreciated in an image, like the one I have provided here. Unlike the Brooks Green Silence, which also has a similar arrangement, this leather wrap area lays comfortably over the form of your foot and does not bunch up anywhere. Very subtle, but very clever design, this. It allows comfortable barefoot wear, with no seams or folds to get in the way. It is as comfortable in socks as it is without, and in fact I have worn it with thick winter socks, thin running socks, and sockless. In all configurations I have been able to find a good fit. My guess is that these will be pretty warm in the summer, even though it is perforated and breathable, so sock choice may be critical at that stage, or I may just rely on the BASE model for summer running, we’ll see.

The heel tabs are big enough to be useful and they actually are useful in a shoe without a rigid heel cup.  They almost pull on like a fine pair of moccasins. The lace bed is off-centered on the Skora FORM.  This way, that soft wrap upper can lay comfortably across the top of the foot, and the laces don't apply pressure there.  It really works, the spots off to the side of yor foot where the laces are doesn't change shape as much as the top of your foot through the gait cycle, so it stays put and doesn't rub or squeeze your foot.

The Skora FORM also has a nice protective toe bumper that rises up from the outsole similar to many light trail shoes.  It provides security and a dash of color and personality that keep the looks firmly in the athletic shoe category, even aside from their plush leather appearance. It also allows barefoot running without the worry of hurting yourself while truly barefoot.  Speaking of design, the arch side of the upper is overlain with a unique, beautiful reflective design.  Rather than slap a few squares of reflective tape in the heel, designers created a pattern that creates an effective reflective surface, but also shows a little flair.  This design and ones like it, incidentally, can be found in the exposed midsole foam, and even the marketing materials for Skora.  It is this kind of uniform, conscious effort that made me first compare them with Apple Computers, another company that almost ruthlessly strives to make sure that functional objects can also be appreciated for their design and beauty.

The feel underfoot is right in the sweet sport for me.  It is firm, but not rigid.  It is cushioned, but not overly so.  You can feel the ground under you. The Skoras are not Vibram Five Fingers, though, you certainly have a shoe under your foot.  There is cushioning that makes walking very comfortable in these shoes.  Maybe not as much cushioning as something like the Altra Instinct, for instance, but more than Merrell Road Gloves or the previously mentioned Vibrams.  Skoras have that unique combination of in-store initial comfort and the flexible, natural barefoot running characteristics that you need to have a "real" running experience.  In short, David and the group at Skora have made something to be proud of here.  I'll reserve my additional performance comments for my follow-up wear tested review, but needless to say I am hooked.  They look good, feel good, work well, and give you all the plush character you would expect for almost $200.  At that price, I know these won't be for everyone. In my last post about Skora I said: "I would really, really have to love the product to put up $195 for one pair of running shoes." Well, these are those shoes.  You can run in cheaper shoes, but man, if you can buy one pair of shoes instead of your next two, make it a pair of Skora FORMs and you'll find yourself wearing them twice as much.



Skora is now shipping the FORM and BASE, and will open sales to the general public in a few days. You can also buy the BASE at Elite Feet.  Fourth Avenue Birkenstock in Ann Arbor will carry both the BASE and FORM. Also, please consider liking Average Guy Hits The Road on Facebook and Following on Twitter!

These shoes were provided as media samples from the manufacturer.



27 comments:

I Pull 400 Watts said...

Great review Zak!

Zak said...

Thanks, now that I edited it and corrected all the typos you should read it again! Sheesh... I enjoyed yours as well, by the way...I'll pop a link to your page in there for you!

harris said...

Zak great review and great photos of the shoes. I am really interested in these shoes and hope they would be better than some other zero drop shoes I have tried.

George Wells George Wells said...

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Zak said...

Harris- They certainly offer a unique option. I am anxious myself to buy a pair of the Base model and give those a go. To each their own, and fit can be a fickle thing, but for me these are an exceptional shoe. I hope they work out for you should you decide to try them!

harris said...

Zak I talked to the folks at Skora and it looks like they will have the preorder up by the end of the week. However, it states on their web site end of January. I really hope it is sooner as I do intend to get a pair of these.

.:Ash:. said...

Thanks for the awesomely enticing review, Zak. How would you compare the sizing of these to something like, say, the Merrell Road Glove? Do the Skora's fit large or fairly standard?

Zak said...

Ash- I would say they feel like they fit more roomy in the heel and midfoot, mostly because they are such a soft, unstructured material in the Pittard's leather. As for length and toebox width, I would say they compare very favorably to the Road Glove...very close. I was a pure 11 in both and would not change anything. The Road Glove, though, is very narrow and much more stiff in the heel than the Skoras. In other words, I wear the same size in both, but the Skoras have a much softer, less structured (but still secure) fit and feel, where the Road Glove is a more upright, structured shoe that reminds me more of a racing flat, albeit one with almost no cushioning. The Merrell has a stiffer arch as well, but has no insole.. the actual shoe just hugs everything very snugly through the heel and midfoot, by design. The Skora has an insole with some arch curve, and relies on the insole to provide what little arch "support" it gives. Maybe that is another reason why the Skora feels less structure din the midfoot...its just a wee bit higher volume and is softer there. I hope that helps!

I Pull 400 Watts said...

I can also confirm the sizing between Skora and Merrell. For me, Merrell miiigghhttt be a size smaller, maybe.

Also Zak is right on about the description of the Merrell's "support". I recently saw someone comment that "arch support is not zero drop" and that was indeed one of the main reasons that turned me off from the Merrells.

Zak said...

Yeah, unfortunately that means that just about everything, including the Skoras, are not zero-drop. I think that guy was sort of extreme in his opinions, to be honest. The Skoras do have an arch curve in that insole. Fit is very personal. I think the Merrells feel smaller because they are styled to really closely hug the foot, but as I mentioned, for me they were as true to size as the Skoras. The firmer arch curve in the Merrells is actually one of my favorite aspects of the Road Glove, for me it feels good, but I also appreciate the Skora design. Both have a place in my rotation. I like to mix it up day to day and for different workouts. I've run maybe 40 miles in the new Skoras and probably 200 plus in Merrells, so I clearly like both. Thanks for your additional input, Kyle!

.:Ash:. said...

Zak and 400, thanks for the responses! That sizing information is definitely helpful.

I Pull 400 Watts said...

I understand how that snugness feels good. I am coming from over 3000 miles in Vibram Classics, so I really prefer that sock like fit. I have a pair of the Vibram TrekSports and do not like them as much due to that strap coming from the arch and how snug they also are around the arch area, similar to Merrells.

Zak said...

Right on, well you would certainly have that tendency after 3k in Vibrams! That why it is just so awesome to have such diverse options out there in the marketplace. (and for lucky guys like me, diverse options in my own closet). Thanks, Kyle!

Nick Hind said...

Great review - very nice looking shoe. Just discovered the Skoras toady on a local (Australian) website, but with no pricing/availability as yet. Fingers crossed as shoe prices generally double by the time they get over here (Vibrams can cost over $200) so if Skoras are the same ... !
Can I ask more info on fit from people: I've got a 43 Merrell True Glove which feels firm midfoot but overall good fit, 42 in Vivobarefoots, and generally a wide foot. First gen MT10 Minimus Trail gave me issues with the rubber band across the forefoot, and Minimus don't seem to be the widest fitting shoe out there. So if Skora compares with Minimus Road Zero they may be too firm on me? Any insights?

I Pull 400 Watts said...

@ Nick Hind - I wear a 7.5-8 in the True Glove and a 9 Skora. I know what you mean about the True Glove feeling firm in the midfoot, not one of my favorite characteristics of the shoe. NB is one of the few brands of shoes I have not spent much time in, so cannot really compare the two however.

Zak said...

Nick-

The Skoras are narrower in the forefoot than the New Balance Minimus shoes, having spent a lot of time in both. I have also spent hundreds of mile sin various Merrels and the True Glove has the narrowest fit because of that stiff upper that comes so far towards the toe. The Road Glove is wider. The Minimus Zero is a much softer less structured upper than the Minimus Trail MT10, so it seems to fit wider. I think you may be a good candidiate for Altras, though. If The MT10 is too narrow I would say you may struggle with Skoras, at least in the toe area. They are much looser in the midfoot and heel than all the rest we have mentioned.

Zak said...

Nick...also, i wear an 11 in everything...Skoras, Merrells, all New Balance, etc. Just for reference....they all fit exactly the same to me.

Neil said...

Hey Zak, do you know when you will be posting your review of the Base? I am trying to decide whether to purchase the Base or Form without actually seeing either shoe. I also wonder how people think the Form would feel after a long humid summer run. Thanks.

I Pull 400 Watts said...

Niel, The BASE is obviously going to be cooler than the FORM due to the lighter upper. However I have used the FORM in runs over 65 degrees without issue. That is as warm as it has been here ;p I prefer to wear Injinji socks with my shoes. The wicking of socks does make a difference. I would not hesitate to use either shoe in any degree of temperature. If it was a warm day on a trail, I would go for the FORM, on the road, BASE.
Kyle Kranz
Outreach Coordinator
SkoraRunning.com

Jeff said...

I wear a 10.5 in the New balance minimus road, would that be the same in a Skora form?

I Pull 400 Watts said...

Jeff,

You will likely wear the same size. The Base may fit about half a size large.

Zak said...

Jeff, the Skora fit is far different from the NB Minimus Road. I and some of my peers have found the Base to fit HUGE, except in the narrow toe box. Length wise and mid foot girth are a good full size bigger than the Minimus. I bought a 10.5 in the Skora Base and it was way too big. I wear 11.5 or 12 in Minimus shoes. If you have narrow feet I find Skora to be a tough fit. If you have wide feet, you can probably size down 1/2 size and be ok, or if you like thick socks you can wear those.

Jeff said...

So I do have a narrow fit and tend to wear the thinner thorlo socks. Possibly a 10.0 in the Form if I am a 10.5 in the NB minimus road?

Thanks!

Mike said...

How well did these hold up over time? How many miles did you get out of a pair?

I am very intrigued by Skoras (although I have several pairs of other shoes to burn through before I'll ever be in the market for them), but I can't really justify them unless they have better wear-resistance than other shoes.

I Pull 400 Watts said...

Hey Mike! I'll be leaving this reply at your other comment at my own blog as well :)

Here is a pair of Form with 1100 miles on them, the leather upper started to separate from the platform: http://on.fb.me/VxVKbL

And a pair of Bases with 750 miles that are still being ran in: http://on.fb.me/VxVOZl

The leather and high density EVA outsole do tend to give the shoe a pretty good lifespan.

Zak said...

Mike, Kyle knows better than I do about long-term wear. Mine probably only have about 200 miles on them, if that. With all the shoes I try I rarely get too high a milage in them. However, my black leather Forms still look pretty good after having them a good long time. I wear then regularly for work and casual wear, given their unique look and incredible comfort. I also have a pair of Bases, but those really didn't fit me the same way the Forms do, so they did not get the kind of mileage as some others. I would take Kyle's word for it in terms of long-term wear. Mine look good, like any leather shoe they do require a little upkeep to look spanking new, but they are build at a very high levee of quality. You get what you pay for in this case. So, if you are looking to get a 1,000 miles out of a shoe and wear it year round, this shoe can definitely take the abuse.

Original Sports said...

Hi Zak. What a great review, probably one of the best I have read online. Informative text as well as informative photos!