Image Source: Allbirds
"Turns out, the world's most comfortable shoe is made of wool." Upon hearing that statement, we were captivated. Wool? Seriously? Are they like sweaters for your feet? Do you get sweaty? Do they look cool? We had so many questions.
The New Zealand-based brand Allbirds had just launched its beautiful, minimalist line of footwear, so we decided to check it out, and a pair's arrival was highly anticipated. When the Wool Runners ($95) were delivered to our office, the excitement was palpable. Editors from other departments were coming over to our desks asking, "Are those them . . . ?"
So, as any good editors would do, we put them to the test; I laced up and took them for a spin through the neighborhood with our senior content director, Susi. We headed for the steep hills in North Beach, San Francisco — which is essentially the equivalent of scaling a wall — up to Coit Tower. And, as suggested, we skipped the socks and opted to go barefoot.
The first thing we noticed about the shoes — aside from the truly beautiful, simple, and stylish design — was that they were insanely soft. Like, wearing-Uggs-while-you're-curled-up-on-the-couch soft. Except they weren't heavy like fluffy Winter boots; they were lightweight and breathable. Things were off to an exceptionally good start.
We hit the hills, ready for our urban hike. No joke, the hills are really freaking steep in this part of town. And then there were the sets of stairs (I decided to run them while Susi laughed at me). My feet were sweating, as they would be in any shoe, but I was more aware of it without the socks. We hiked up some more, ran another flight of stairs, and finally, we were at the top to get 360-degree views of San Francisco and the bay. So how did our feet feel?
Exercised! It's a weird thing to think about, exercising your feet, right? But our foot muscles definitely got a great workout. It reminded us of a Nike Free, a truly barefoot (yet protected) feel, in which you get a bit more articulated motion when you're walking. This also spoke to how light the shoes are. It's super important to work all the muscles in the feet to increase your stability, and the Allbirds Wool Runners had proven themselves effective in this.
Do we think this is your next performance running shoe? No, probably not. We don't think the soles are stable or supportive enough to endure long-distance runs or vigorous impact. But that's not to say they don't have a place in your athletic lineup! As mentioned, they're incredibly soft, lightweight, and breathable, making for exceedingly comfortable wear. For your LISS cardio and mellower activities, these are an excellent choice, and you'll be strengthening your feet in the process.
Did the shoes hold up to the claims? Allbirds says that the merino wool regulates temperature, wicks moisture, and minimizes odor. It's true: my feet didn't feel too hot and I was perfectly comfortable in the cool SF temps, despite our sweaty workout. Moisture was wicked and the shoes dried quickly.
As for the odor . . . I hate to admit this, but I totally smell-checked my shoes. I expected to be disgusted, perhaps horrified, but went through with it — to my complete shock and awe, the shoes smell like they've never been worn a day in their lives. Seriously! I wore them several times after the initial review (because, really, they are DAMN comfortable and they look good with everything), and despite a decent amount of wear, they smell like they've just been unboxed. I'm still floored as I write this.
Beyond my personal review of the sneakers, we were impressed by a number of practical and sustainable attributes.
- They're machine washable. We love how practical this is! It's so easy to keep your shoes clean. Just make sure you don't throw them in the dryer!
- There's a 30-day trial period. Wear them, try them, and return them if you don't like them with a no-questions-asked policy. We think you'll like them, though.
- They're sustainable. Merino wool is an incredibly sustainable resource, and it's natural (read: no synthetic products in the upper of the shoe). Allbirds' merino wool is ZQ certified, which means "it meets stringent standards of sustainable farming and animal welfare." Read: no sheep were harmed in the making of these shoes. That's something to make you feel good about your purchase!
- They have a small carbon footprint. The brand states that the "carbon footprint is 60 percent smaller than typical synthetic materials used in shoes," thanks to the use of natural materials. Allbirds also claims to use 40 percent less packaging than the competition, and we're all in favor of that.
- Allbirds is a partner with Soles4Souls. The charitable organization is working toward eradicating extreme poverty by 2050 and gives shoes to the poor around the globe. Heck yes!
Overall, these might be the most comfortable shoes we've yet to wear. And while they're not quite suited for running necessarily, they do make for an excellent low-impact exercise (read: walking) or to-and-from shoe, and they will certainly be a mainstay in our activewear rotations.