Goat Leather, Minimal Build set Running Shoes Apart

Nike, New Balance, Saucony, Asics. . . the big boys used to be the only option when you stepped into a store in search of running shoes. No longer. These days, a mega-trend of footwear that is more minimal and “barefoot style” has pushed dozens of new brands into the spotlight.

This month, I tested one of the more unusual new players. The brand, Skora Inc. of Portland, Ore., offers shoes unlike anything seen a few years back.

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Line of minimal running shoes from Skora Inc.

Skora has just two shoe models, including the futuristic Base and the fashion-oriented Form, the latter which is a lace-up shoe made with goat leather.

Both are expensive ($125 and up) and hold a “zero-drop” midsole design as a hallmark. That means there is no rise in the shoe from the toes to the heel area, something the footwear industry now regularly promotes as offering a “more natural” running experience.

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Natural pose: Runner strides in Skora Base shoes

Scant cushioning underfoot gives the Skora shoes a “barefoot” feel — the shoes flex and let your pedial anatomy absorb each stride and react to the ground as if you were running without shoes on at all.

Last month, I ran about 50 cumulative miles in the Form model. The leather shoes are fast and comfortable, though don’t expect an easy run at first. Sloppy style and long gaits with heel-striking strides will be punished in these shoes, which will feel harsh for anyone raised on the over-cushioned footwear that became commonplace in the last 30 years.

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Goat leather and a minimal build, the Skora Form

But instead of extra cushioning, which can slow a runner down and, some say, increase injury potential due to a promotion of unnatural biomechanics, the Skoras can encourage a light-on-the-feet stride.

This is accomplished with a wide toe-box area so your metatarsal bones can naturally spread out. A soft outsole with pronounced tread on the mid-foot and a weak heel area are other characteristics that make the Form shoe, as Skora touts, “a design that closely matches the foot’s shape.”

They are flexible and light. My size 11 shoes weighed 9.1 ounces each, which is a few ounces lighter than your average Nikes.

At $195, the Form shoes are twice the price of much of the competition. But the build is noticeably higher quality. As a bonus, the shoes are so nice looking that you can literally polish the leather and wear them to a business meeting. (I did, at least.)

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Forefoot stride: Skora shoes discourage runners from landing on their heel

Caveats of the Form include weird sizing (I had to get a shoe one whole size smaller than I normally wear) and minimal breathability compared to a mesh shoe. Even on a mild 70-degree day my feet felt warm. Also, for now the Form comes in a men’s shoe only. Women’s models are anticipated later this year.

The Skora shoes are made for road running; they have almost no tread and might slip on dirt. But on the road the shoes offer an experience different from anything I have tried. If you’re looking to make a leap from traditional running footwear to the new-school approach, the Skora shoes are a good place to start.

—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie.com. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.

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