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SoftStar PRIMAL RunAmoc Review

This is an excellent, durable, and very comfortable minimalist shoe for road running and casual use.
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Price:  $140 List
Pros:  Soft and supple, wide toe box, adaptable to broad range or weather
Cons:  Wide toe box can look/feel bulky, leather needs care
Manufacturer:   SoftStar
By Lyra Pierotti ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Sep 17, 2018
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The Skinny

The SoftStar PRIMAL RunAmoc is a unique and very satisfying pair of minimalist shoes. The company makes all of their shoes to order at their factory in Oregon. Quality control is impressive, and the materials used are well vetted. These shoes have one of the widest toe boxes of any shoe we've ever worn, and while it makes them look a little different from the top view, we loved the freedom we felt when wearing them. The wide toe box does mean these are a little less nimble on rough terrain, so we preferred to wear them for urban adventures and mellow running on flat or even ground. The leather makes them feel buttery smooth whether wearing them with or without socks and makes them very durable and long-lasting, as well as impressively adaptable to a wide range of weather. Just be sure to take good care of the leather. But if the look of the wide toe box is a little too committing for you to wear around town, the Xero Shoes Prio feels great and flies under the radar from those more discerning eyes.


Compare to Similar Products

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.

Performance Comparison


Testing the fun and highly comfortable SoftStar contender.
Testing the fun and highly comfortable SoftStar contender.

Performance


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 2mm sole is meant for street use  but we wanted to test the limits of the shoe and see if it could keep up with all of our years of foot strengthening work.
The 2mm sole is meant for street use, but we wanted to test the limits of the shoe and see if it could keep up with all of our years of foot strengthening work.

The Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO allow toe spreading without excess shoe because each toe is isolated. We felt much more nimble on rougher terrain wearing the Vibrams.

Barefoot Accuracy


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 extra-wide toe box gives the shoes a distinct look but adds a whole lot of barefoot-inspired comfort.
The extra-wide toe box gives the shoes a distinct look but adds a whole lot of barefoot-inspired comfort.

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.

Squishing and bending the PRIMAL RunAmoc to manually check suppleness and flexibility.
Squishing and bending the PRIMAL RunAmoc to manually check suppleness and flexibility.

However, as we mentioned above, this is not the most nimble or precise of footwear (check out the Merrell Vapor Glove for that). It is excellent for walking and casual use where you want to let your feet feel free, but you can't actually be barefoot.

Performing the footbed test to check torsional rigidity of this pair.
Performing the footbed test to check torsional rigidity of this pair.

Weight


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.

Weather Adaptability


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.

With solid leather uppers  these shoes were adaptable to many conditions. They kept us warm when it was cool  dry when it was a little wet  and cool when it was warm. Yes  that is a glacier in the background.
With solid leather uppers, these shoes were adaptable to many conditions. They kept us warm when it was cool, dry when it was a little wet, and cool when it was warm. Yes, that is a glacier in the background.

The SoftStar website has helpful tips on how to care for these leather shoes, from when they first arrive to maintenance to washing instructions.

Traction


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 2mm street soles don't have any lugs  but they're so supple your toes can grab the ground for pretty decent traction.
The 2mm street soles don't have any lugs, but they're so supple your toes can grab the ground for pretty decent traction.

Durability


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 this 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.

Best Applications


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.

Value


At $140, 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 PRIMAL RunAmoc from SoftStar has a cool look  great for a day around town when you have to wear shoes but you really  really don't want to.
The PRIMAL RunAmoc from SoftStar has a cool look, great for a day around town when you have to wear shoes but you really, really don't want to.

Conclusion


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