Luna Sandals are a US brand founded by Barefoot Ted, who found fame as one of the characters of the unofficial barefoot running bible Born to Run by Chris MacDougall. A decade after the release of the book and while the groundswell of interest in barefoot running may have faded somewhat. Over the years Minimal footwear has found somewhat of a small mainstream following, with Luna Sandals being one of the brands which has grown to be a leader in the minimal sandal space.
The Middle Bear is new trail running sandal introduced to fit into a niche in their trail running line-up. It’s an incarnation of the Oso models being the middle sized footbed stack height between the high stacked Oso at 13mm and the more minimal Oso Flacco at 7mm in stack height. The Middle bear is a 9.4mm footbed plus 4.5mm lugs underfoot. The Oso and Oso Flacco both also feat 4.5mm lugs.
I received the Middle Bear with the Winged Edition lacing. The winged lacing is a patent pending design offering a simple lacing system with just one adjustment buckle. It is a simple, easy to tension the sandal. After many years running in sandals lacing tension remains the most important feature of any sandal. Lacing comfort and performance is vital in the sandal performance for running. When wearing huarache style sandals the toe lace and heal strap need to be the right tension or the sandal will slip, particularly on trails and in the case of the heal strap become uncomfortable to run.
My first thoughts of the Middle Bear gave me confidence that this will be a particularly good trail sandal. The lacing system is very easy to quickly adjust and get the tension comfortable. The immediate feel of the 9.4mm Middle Bear footbed plus 4.5mm is quite luxurious and in a short initial run over a road surface the footbed gives a comfortable, responsive ride. The footbed is a Luna designed MGT (Monkey Grip Technology) supported by the 4.5mm Vibram Megagrip Outsole
I’ve had the Middle Bear’s now for a couple of months and put them through a very thorough test over various terrain. They’ve been used over road, hard packed and rocky trails, wet and muddy trails, sandy beaches, and forest roads. I’ve given them a great test on short runs, faster interval sessions and long hilly runs. It is on the trails where the Middle Bear really comes to life. While they are adequate on the roads, they are another level on the trails.
On the trails the Middle Bear footbed is very comfortable and secure underfoot. Whether the trail is soft and muddy or hard packed and sharp and rocky these can handle with a minimum of fuss. When running the grip is very good and there is little experience of discomfort especially from sharper rocks underfoot. The extra protection underfoot is certainly welcomed particularly on the trails.
In reviews on these pages we often talk about ground feel as a necessary component of barefoot footwear. Ground feel is your connection to the ground and the terrain underfoot. Being able to feel the ground under you gives added awareness. With the thicker 9.4mm footbed and lugs underfoot ground feel is compromised compared to more minimal sandals and footwear. While there is still a healthy amount of ground feel, it is distinctly less then sandals with a thinner more flexible sole. This gives less awareness and responsiveness on lighter trails and road but added protection from the elements on harsher surfaces and trails. If you want performance running on harsher trails you will have to compromise on ground feel is hard to avoid. The great thing about the Middle Bear is the MGT footbed which really moulds quickly to the shape of your feet, this adds to the comfort and ground feel. It is the 4.5mm Vibram outsole which limits the ground feel and gives a more rigid ride. Coupled together this is a good combination and running performance is certainly able to be achieved from the Middle Bear.
As previously said the lacing is simple and easy adjust. I was quickly able to adjust the lacing to be a comfortable tension. This is a real highlight of the winged lacing system. The laces are comfortable, the toe strap is instantly comfortable and doesn’t require any wear in period at all. I also like the addition of the rubber pad around the heal strap. When running in sandals the heal strap needs to be quite tight to avoid the sandal slipping off during runs. This rubber pad makes it easy to have the heal strap quite tight, yet still comfortable. My only criticism of the winged lacing system is I have had to readjust the sandal multiple times as the lace slightly loosens over time. Due to the ease of adjustment this isn’t a big issue but worth noting for those ready to test out the winged lacing system.
Underfoot there is some distinctly great features of the Middle Bear I’ve not seen in other brand sandals. Where the side laces go under and the sole of the sandal there is side hole lace protection which keeps the lace off the ground and prevents the lace becoming worn over time. This means adjustment is never compromised as the sandal lace wears. The reinforced toe strap plug is also worth noting. Again, this means the sandal lace won’t become worn over time and the lace protected for the long term. Other sandal brands cannot boast these features, thank you Luna for this.
Staying underfoot the Vibram MegaGrip outsole, the 4.5mm and aggressive tread pattern on the Middle Bear give great grip. On loose packed dirt trails they let the runner choose their path. They are responsive and the runner feels assured when making decisions on the trails, particularly downhill when your decisions matter the most. The grip on the Middle Bear is very good and gives the runner confidence when running.
The overall running performance on the Middle Bear I’ve found to be very good. When running on the road they are lightweight but feel very solid underfoot. The are responsive and give a nice energy return when running, I’ve found them suitable for most of my training runs. On the trails is where they belong though, I’ve given them a good test through training and use them both up and down over hilly terrain. I’m very impressed by how assured I’ve felt with the Middle Bear on my feet. The grip being a big part of this, however also the comfort of the lacing and the overall design and build of the Middle Bear gives me great confidence. I’ve used them over long runs with minimal foot fatigue after a couple of hours running in them. These are a real runner’s sandal, while Luna make sandals for almost every adventure, this is a sandal for runners and in particular trail runners.
At USD $115 the Middle Bear comes in at about an average price for most running sandals. They are still better priced than most running shoes from major brands and the freedom of running in sandals is worth much more than money can buy. Longevity of 1000km+ can be expected making them a great value for money proposition. Middle Bear comes highly recommended as a pure trail or all-round minimal running footwear option. If you haven’t tried a huarache style sandal for running it is certainly time for to do that, and the Luna Sandal Middle Bear Winged Edition may just be the one for you.