SoftStar PRIMAL RunAmoc Review
Cons: Wide toe box can look/feel bulky, leather needs care
Our Analysis and Test Results
The PRIMAL RunAmoc from SoftStar is a unique and artful approach to minimalist footwear. These shoes stand out for their extra-wide toe box and buttery soft feel.
We have had our eyes on the PRIMAL RunAmoc for the last year, awaiting its release from SoftStar. We first came across SoftStar shoes several years ago and enjoyed their regular Dash RunAmoc running shoe, so when we saw they expanded their toe box in the PRIMAL version upon request of their enthusiastic barefoot clientele, we knew we had to try them out.
The extra-wide toe box looks a little funny, but we loved slipping our feet into them. The narrower heel and midfoot still ensures a relatively precise fit and one that molds naturally to your foot shape due to the buttery soft leather uppers. On easy, regular terrain, these shoes feel absolutely fantastic. As the terrain becomes more irregular, however, we found that the extra-wide toe box could feel floppy and sloppy. Our feet would slide side to side, and sometimes that would create empty space in the toe box that could catch on irregularities in our path. We loved them for street running, walking, casual wear, light hiking, but would choose a more precise fitting shoe for most of our trail running.
The PRIMAL offers excellent barefoot accuracy. The zero drop sole comes in either a 2mm street version (the one we tested for this review) or a 5mm trail sole (which we have also tried). Both are made of excellent, sticky, Vibram rubber. We love that the sole is made of only one very supple and thin material—this helps to ensure that the sole flexes consistently along the length of your foot and doesn't control or impede your foot's natural movement.
The wide toe box allows for maximal toe splay, and the soft leather meant we could wear the shoes with or without socks. When we slipped these on, we felt inspired to move. The soft leather molded to the specific shape of our foot over time, and also allowed us to lift our toes with minimal resistance from the shoe's upper materials or sole. We have come to love the ability to lift our toes just as much as letting them spread in our minimalist or barefoot footwear.
The lacing system of the PRIMAL shoes is very minimal but plenty secure. SoftStar has placed them very intelligently, maximizing security without making the shoe feel tight or cumbersome. There is some tradeoff to this precision, however, and this shoe feels a bit looser at first. Over time, the leather conforms to your foot and feels more secure.
Paramount to a good barefoot or minimal shoe is low weight—but it is pretty hard to beat the ultralight weight of a bare foot! The PRIMAL is relatively lightweight and lands in the middle of the range of footwear in this review. The solid leather uppers make them a bit heavier than synthetic materials, but the durability, natural feel, and natural weather adaptability are a very good tradeoff.
The PRIMALs feature excellent leather uppers that feel smooth on your foot and breathe naturally enough to be comfortable in warmer weather. The solid material keeps out dust and debris unlike some of the more permeable mesh materials in other shoes. These are not designed to be a waterproof shoe, but with good leather care products, these can hold up to some wet weather use.
For this review, we tested the 2mm "street" sole. SoftStar also offers a 5mm "trail" sole. The street sole has a smooth bottom, and the traction relies largely upon your foot's ability to press through the sole and grip or grab at the ground with your toes. We found this to work very well, much like the Vibram FiveFingers. The use of relatively sticky and highly durable Vibram rubber also provided excellent grip. The smoothness of the sole, however, limited performance on dust-covered rocks (always a challenge!) and wet surfaces.
The solid leather uppers and tried-and-tested Vibram rubber soles make the PRIMALs a very durable, long-lasting shoe. These are very well put together, simple, and made of some of the best materials available.
SoftStar added recycled bicycle inner tubes as a toe rand on these shoes. These are still soft and supple, and a few times we thought we would puncture the toe with a stick—but we never put a hole in them, fortunately! We really like a rubberized toe rand, as this will help prevent long-term wear on the toes, which is the most common spot for wear and tear on a solid leather shoe. This is not the toughest toe rand we've tested, and it doesn't deflect debris as well as a more rigid toe rand, but it does ensure the materials hold up longer. On our previous SoftStar shoes, after two years of regular use, we finally wore a hole where the toe meets the sole, so this rand design should prevent that from happening as quickly.
The PRIMAL is an excellent pair of shoes for anything from casual wear to light road running. We don't recommend these for trail running, as the extra-wide toe box can feel cumbersome and clunky, but for more regular terrain, this wide toe box is highly enjoyable and allows your feet to feel very free in an otherwise attractive close-toed shoe. Some might find the wide toe box to be funny looking, but we got many compliments around town and realized we're the ones who most often see the big round toe box since we look down at them when we wear them. Also, our testers think the colorways and style of this shoe are pretty rad, but you can make that call for yourself.
The PRIMAL is a bit expensive for a running or casual shoe. However, this is a shoe that will last a very long time if you take care of it. The leather uppers and Vibram soles are put together in Oregon by SoftStar, maintaining excellent quality control.
The SoftStar PRIMAL RunAmoc is an excellent casual, walking, and light urban running shoe for the barefoot enthusiast. The thin, zero drop sole, soft uppers, and extra wide toe box ensure ease of toe splay and allow you to lift your toes easily as well. The soft leather is comfortable with or without socks, and we thoroughly enjoyed every moment in them. They are not as well suited to rougher terrain, however, as the wider toe box can make for less precise foot placement and sometimes your foot can slide to one side. But for flat or even terrain, these are a free, fun, and very comfortable minimalist pair of shoes.
— Lyra Pierotti