The hardest thing about making your own sandals is having to look at all of those people’s feet. There are so many DIY videos on youtube, some way more helpful than others, each with its own pair of feet. Weird bony ones, chubby pale ones, knobby, hairy, bent and bandy, scaly, hammer-toed, fungoid, etc.
OK, let me back up. Six or seven years ago, Runners World ran an article about Tarahumara / Rarámuri runners in the Copper Canyon region of northern Mexico, including how they did everything in huarache sandals made out of old tires. This also intrigued me because of some conversations I’d had with my first mission companion in Mexico (nearly 15 years ago) about sandal making. He was a Zapotec guy from a pretty remote area of Oaxaca, nowhere near Tarahumara country, but his dad was a sandal maker.
Since then, my favorite sandals of 12 summers, after many repairs and a resoling, have finally come to the end of their days. These are the sandals Kelly got me before we married, the ones that broke a strap once in Pariah Canyon, and I miraculously found an ancient pair of sand-filled canvas shoes (perfect fit!) sitting on the bank within the hour. So if I’m going to try making a new pair, this would be the time, right?
It turns out the internets have a lot to say about making their own sandals, what kind of cordage or webbing to use, what material makes a good sole—shoe insoles (gross), car mats (seriously?), crushed water bottles (for real), and then there are kits.
After sifting through a lot of this, and some experimenting, I settled on tire sidewalls as soles, and nylon paracord (left over from our laundry line). Everyone out there advises you against using steel belted tread for a sole because it’s pretty impossible to work with for this kind of thing. I even went out and bought an angle/disc grinder to see if that would git ‘er done, as it were. I can’t recommend this either. I did end up with a ragged, sole-shaped mass, but it’s nasty, unpleasant work. The other problem with using the tread is that very few tires, at least from what I could find in several trips to Ray’s Tires, are simply bias-ply (without radial steel belting).
Now, you might expect, as I did, that the sidewall wouldn’t provide enough traction, or that the shape would be too deeply contoured to fit well. But the traction’s fine, they’re actually thinner , lighter material than the tread, they’re still plenty reinforced by the nylon plies/cords, and, if you position the cuts right around the tire bead, the contours actually fit the arch of your foot surprisingly well.
Anyway, here’s what I came up with. I’ve taken them out running a few times now—the longest one so far was 10 miles—and I have to say I’m pleased.
If you’re interested in giving something like this a try, here are a couple of the videos I found helpful. This guy (in Israel, I think?) demonstrates how to do the sidewall thing. It’s also got a nice sort of campy Survivorman/Bear Grylls quality to it, like he’s sneaking up on a dead tire and field butchering it for the camera.
And this Steven Sashen guy pretty much walks you through the whole process, whether you’re buying one of his “Invisible Shoe” kits or not. (And I have to say, of all the youtubes I waded through for this, his were easily the nicest feet of the whole mess.) If you like his "sh*t barefoot runners say," you might also enjoy this little xtranormal video too.
If you see yourself getting interested in this—human evolution, distance running, biomechanics, and alternatives to running shoes—check out Harvard’s barefoot running page.
Finally, aside from all of this, one of my favorite things about cutting footwear out of old spent tires is the arc of human transportation it implies. Like, “Alright folks, end of the road / oil / free ride, etc. Here’s where we start walking.” On that note, here’s one final video that seems appropriate here, about where all our tires go to die.
related: losing contact, barefoot?, jaywalking bigfoot, beating the vultures, tires, turkey timers, edward burtynsky