I’m pounding out a seven-minute-mile pace around a Minneapolis lake, and on my feet are what I can only describe as sandals.
A “unique” footwear design, this spring multiple GearJunkie editors have put the UNEEK shoe by KEEN to the test.
My run around the lake is pushing them well past their intended use as a casual walking shoe.
Remarkably, my feet don’t hurt. These aren’t running shoes, but the funky, woven cord design hugs my foot comfortably as I round the bend and wrap up five miles back to the office.
As I stand here typing, I am wearing a pair of UNEEKs. They are indeed original.
No traditional shoe machinery or conventional footwear materials are used in the upper design. Instead, a macramé of cord that is looped and tied is the totality of the upper.
A Different Kind Of Sandal
KEEN Inc. is not afraid of healthy self-deprecation. Founded in 2003, the company once reported its original footwear was deemed by a customer as “the ugliest thing [he] had ever seen.”
KEEN got the last laugh with this “ugly” sandal, which had an oversize toe bumper. It went on to be among the hottest-selling shoes of the decade.
Earlier this spring, we interviewed a KEEN designer, Rory Fuerst, Jr., about the UNEEK, which is a similarly polarizing product.
“It’s a total love or hate shoe,” Fuerst said. “People are like ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,’ or ‘I hate that, I want to beat up the guy who designed it.’”
The company is hoping for another unexpected hit with the UNEEK. Though I have not heard any “I’d-like-to-beat-that-designer-up” type of comment, while wearing the cord-shoes around I have received a variety of verbal feedback.
My impression, at first blush, was of surprise, maybe some shock. They looked crafty, handmade, and somehow related to a paracord survival bracelet.
They also appeared to be possibly uncomfortable — so many rub points with all that moving cord.
So far, having hiked miles in the shoes, I can attest that blisters are not an issue for me. The 3mm cord is not abrasive. With its many free-moving loops, the uppers flex with your feet.
As noted in the intro, I also ran five miles in the shoes to give them some serious abuse. Fit was precise on my foot, and even after 40 minutes of movement over pavement and on trails the shoes felt fine.
Granted, they are not made for running; I used the afternoon jog as a litmus. The sole, while flexible and cradling of the foot, is not built for pounding on a run.
‘Open Air’ Design
The upper has a sandal feel and is super airy — move your foot and you get wind on your toes from all directions.
Overall, they are solid all-around outdoor shoes, and you can wear them with socks or barefoot. One warning: Look out for errant pebbles and sand, which can work in through the open cord.
UNEEK shoes cost $100 and come in 14 colors for men and women. They are something new and “unique,” no doubt.
Look for the “love or hate shoe,” as Fuerst put it, at stores now.