In today’s article, we’re going to be answering a question that a lot of Nike Huarache fans ask “Are Huaraches running shoes?”
The Nike Air Huarache is another one of those genius sneakers designed by the great Tinker Hatfield. It has been on Nike’s bestseller list for years and it shows no signs of losing its popularity.
But are the Huaraches running shoes? Are they any good for running?
I’m going to answer these questions for people looking for a quick answer. Below that, I’m going to review the 2021 Huarache and finish things off with the history of the Huarache.
Let’s dive right into it…
Are Huaraches Running Shoes?
The Nike Huarache is not a running shoe even it has the word Run. The first thing that backs this up is Nike running shoes have RN on the box, training shoes have TR, and sportswear shoes have SW.
So since Huaraches come in a box with SW, that means that Nike considers the Huaraches to be sportswear shoes. They were NOT designed for athletic performance but more for casual wear.
The Huaraches were first designed to be running shoes in the late ’90s. But for real running purposes, you would want to run in lightweight shoes which have the latest technologies that offer better support, better cushioning, better protection, better responsiveness, and a 400 to 500-mile lifespan.
But can you still run in the Huaraches?
Although Huaraches are not considered running or fitness shoes, you can still run in them but only for really short distances. They don’t have a real heel counter and so they won’t provide the needed support and stability in the ankle and heel areas.
Also, the midsole and outsole are not designed for running purposes because they tend to wear out really quickly on roads or even on the treadmill.
Related: Are Nike Shox Good For Running?
Nike Huarache 2021 Review
I didn’t go with the all-black version which would no doubt fit my wardrobe very well. Instead, I opted for the Magenta & Volt colorway variant because I like a bit of a challenge and this was closer to the OG colorway releases.
I kind of like that reference back to the original version.
The history of the Huarache is particularly important because they almost never got made.
It basically took a Nike employee going rogue ordering a run of these at factory level and then just rocking up a running event and selling them. They were crazy popular and they sold out within a couple of days.
So, even though Nike almost never made the Huarache because there were no orders at the beginning, it just took someone to just go out there and do it themselves. It evidently paid off and here we are 30 years later looking at a re-release and probably the 1000th different version of this shoe.
We’re going to go in-depth with the history of the Huaraches in the next section below.
We’re going to take a proper look at aesthetics, the all-important fit, construction, comfort, and all that good stuff as well.
Aesthetically, this is clearly a retro-futuristic shoe. It’s got a certain chunkiness which is definitely associated with shoes of the 90s.
Thankfully, that look is kind of in right now and you’ve got shoes like the Nike Dunk being extremely popular and more and more people are moving away from skinny jeans and things like that. Of course, those wider pants do suit a slightly chunkier shoe a little bit better.
The combination of that booty cage construction and the two-color neoprene gives them a very different look and a real feeling of depth though where a traditional leather or pleather sports shoe is almost peeled away to reveal something more futuristic underneath.
Still No Swoosh
I like how it creates this cross shape towards the back of the shoe. You’ll notice that that means there’s actually no room for a lateral swoosh on this, which is pretty unusual for a Nike shoe but the norm for Huaraches.
Instead, the only branding, apart from on the outsole, is a Nike text to the back on that heel clip and there is a special Huarache logo which is on the tongue. Although that tongue stamp is bigger than I’d like, it’s pretty inoffensive overall branding-wise.
But you can really see how this is a bit of a proto version of some of those later sneaker models like the Nike Presto which has this similar kind of two-part construction except with a plastic cage going over the top instead.
And of course, there’s the many sock shoes which came later and effectively did away with this whole part of the upper.
Getting the Huaraches on feet definitely did help sell me on them. The neoprene booty is key to that inspired-by-water-ski bindings apparently. It’s comfy, stretchy, and it encloses the foot very nicely.
However, neoprene alone doesn’t really have much structure or support so that is why we’ve got that leather upper and the traditional lacing system.
Collectively, those things provide a fairly locked-in fit that’s supported by that standout heel strip which is designed to help provide the kind of support that you would expect from a typical sneaker.
While this is a little bit less structured than a Nike Air Force 1 or something like that, I do find there is a teeny tiny bit of heel slippage.
The shoe does provide a certain amount of stability and I was actually quite surprised at how pliable that plastic clip is.
I was expecting a kind of hard rigid thing, but it’s actually really soft. Considering the pressure you’re likely to put on there, it’s definitely a good thing that is not a rigid plastic cage.
The Huaraches are more supportive feeling than a sock shoe but still very quick and easy to get your foot in and out of.
Fit & Sizing
I got the Huarache in my usual size. Although I don’t mind that overall snug feeling, I do feel like the toe box on these is fairly narrow, particularly with that shape that does push your foot forwards to the front of the shoe.
Ironically, wearing the shoe a bit tighter helps stop that because it keeps your foot further back a little bit. But I think going a half size up would have provided that little bit of extra room that I think would have been quite helpful.
I definitely consider going half a size up unless your feet are incredibly narrow. But 30 years ago when these came out, you could imagine how kind of revolutionary these were from a comfort perspective. Even today, I still think that holds up.
Let’s take a look at the outsole and the midsole…
Midsole & Outsole
Being an Air shoe, there is of course an Air unit in the midsole although it’s not Air Max and so that is not visible.
There’s a massive amount of cushioning in the Air Huarache. It’s not just for show but the shape of that midsole does reflect the fact that there is an incredible amount of cushioning back at the heel.
The raised heel almost feels like it’s pushing you forwards, which definitely makes sense considering this was originally designed as a running shoe.
Underfoot, it feels like you’re sinking into a really thick squashy layer, which is pretty comfortable for walking around all day.
Despite the overall chunky shape and midsole, the Huaraches are not actually that heavy either.
Overall, these features make this feel like a surprisingly comfortable shoe and I’d be very happy wearing these standing or walking around all day.
Still Good in 2021?
Does the look of the Huarache hold up? Neither the Huarache nor the super classic super timeless Dunk or AF1 that are popular at the moment are ultra-modern highly technical-looking shoes.
I also have to admit I prefer the overall silhouette of the Mowabb. It’s more protective and it’s more boot-like.
The Huaraches certainly do have a retro element particularly in a colorway like this one which is harking back to the OG Huarache days of 30 years ago, but not so much that they’re very obviously kind of retro.
They’re not particularly dad shoe-looking either. I think they’re a bit too unusual for that.
That may well appeal if you’re looking for something that is a little bit different, distinctive, and a little bit eye-catching, particularly in this colorway.
Maybe it isn’t quite so crazy as something like the more outlandish Reebok Insta Pumps which kind of fills a similar kind of space to the Huarache.
I also think the black colorway of the Huarache gives it a totally different look and feel and really brings that technical aspect of these far more to the forefront. I think that makes them very easy to rock as part of an urban techwear outfit.
Ultimately, the athleisure look and the performance element is still quite clear on these. I think it makes sense to match that up with appropriate types of clothing that are similarly designed at some kind of level for athletics or just being outdoors doing stuff.
The Huaraches are bold-looking, comfy, and fit with current fashion trends. They’re pretty readily available as well and there’s a decent chance to express some of your own personal style thanks to the variation in silhouettes from the very stealthy-looking all-black to the more outlandish and more obviously retro things like this version.
Let me know what you think about these. Is the Huarache something that you’ve been interested in picking up? Or, do you prefer some of those updated versions or even things like Mowabb?
If you have experience with the Huarache already, definitely do share your thoughts down in the comments.
It’s always great to have a second opinion particularly for those guys who are looking for a little bit more on this shoe and want to see if it’s the right thing for them.
In the next section, we’re going to go through the shoe’s water-skiing origins and why Nike almost decided not to release this silhouette.
History of the Nike Air Huarache?
Released originally in 1991, the Nike Huarache is a shoe with a little bit of history attached.
In 1989, the design of the Nike Air Huarache was conceived during a water-skiing trip taken by Tinker Hatfield.
He was impressed by the water-skiing booties he was wearing, which were made out of a special material called neoprene.
Hatfield was struck with inspiration.
“The neoprene bootie in a water ski fits a bunch of different people, so I’m thinking, that’s kind of cool. That’s one of the problems we have with shoes. They really don’t conform to different shapes of feet very well. Neoprene does that.” – Tinker Hatfield (Nike Designer)
After the water-skiing trip, Tinker Hatfield returned to his studio, filled with ideas. He resurfaced days later with a sketch of what would later become the Nike Air Huarache.
The first person that Hatfield showed this early sketch to was, none other than, the late Sandy Bodecker, who would later become known for developing Nike’s skateboarding division.
Sandy Bodecker thought that the shoe looked like an ancient sandal. His initial comments to the design hint at an ancient European sandal. But when it came time to name the shoe, they took inspiration from Mexico’s ancient sandal, the Huarache.
These elaborate handmade Huarache sandals feature a leather upper that’s woven with individual pieces through holes pounded into the sole. The invention of the Huarache is often attributed to the Mayans but could have easily been the Aztecs, too.
Throughout the years, Huarache sandals have been worn by farmers in rural parts of Jalisco, Michoacan, and Yucatan.
Huaraches did not yield to the European invaders’ influence, but instead, have persisted and evolved as an artisanal craft across Latin America over the last several centuries.
Unique Design With No Swoosh
The Nike Huarache broke a number of conventional ideas in sneaker design. It had no heel counter, opting instead for the distinctive harness-like strap, exoskeleton support.
Not to mention, it also used neoprene, which had never been done before in a running shoe. The shoe was one of the lightest runners available for the time period. It only weighed 9.5 oz., which was crazy to think about in 1991.
Tinker Hatfield was so sure of his innovative design that he decided not to put any Swooshes on the sneaker. He wanted the shoe’s uniqueness to speak for itself.
Here’s a quote from Tinker regarding the decision to omit the Swoosh branding.
“It didn’t need a Swoosh, because people knew that only Nike could think of the crazy idea and then pull it off.”
Saved By New York Marathon
Despite its genius design, believe it or not, the Nike Air Huarache almost never existed.
Yes, Tinker Hatfield was certain that the shoe was the next big thing, but when Nike began to shop around the prototype to potential distributors, nobody placed any orders.
The shoe was just too different, too unusual. It was looking like Nike would have no choice but to shelf the Huarache.
Hatfield breaks down what happened next,
“One of our product managers actually thought it was awesome, and without proper authorization, he signed an order to build 5,000 pairs even though there were no orders. He stuck his neck way out there. He saw what I saw and he took those 5,000 pairs to the New York Marathon.” – Tinker Hatfield.
A marathon is not a place you typically go to sell shoes. Then, he sold them in like three days at the Exhibition Hall. They went like hotcakes. In a month, they went from zero orders to half a million pairs.”
When the shoe released in 1991, advertisements for the Huarache included the iconic, “Have you hugged your foot today” poster and a two-page ad in the Sports Illustrated that boldly stated, “The future is here,” which, funny enough, turns out to be very true since the Huarache’s technology, designed by Tinker Hatfield, is still being used by Nike, today.
In 1992, Hatfield and the team at Nike realized that the innovative design of the Huarache could easily be adapted to the basketball court.
“Well, I’ll just sort of take the same idea and transfer it into both a cross-training shoe and a basketball shoe.” – Tinker Hatfield.
And just like that, the Nike Air Huarache Flight was born.
The model was very much a departure from the bulky-style basketball sneaker Nike was producing back then.
The shoe was made famous by the legendary Fab Five squad from the University of Michigan, which consisted of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson.
Thanks to the nationwide exposure from the Fab Five, the Huarache’s multi-faceted technology was a major success. All throughout the ’90s, Nike continued to prioritize enhancements and borrowing the use of Air Huarache technology.
The shoes even ended up on the soles of TV star, Jerry Seinfeld. Nike also made a commercial with Olympic gold medalist, Michael Johnson, and even gave Andre Agassi his own model. Scottie Pippen rocked the Huarache tech with the neoprene-centric Nike Air Dynamic Flight version of the shoe.
A pivotal moment for the Nike Huarache technology happened when Eric Avar, the designer for the Kobe Nike line, created the Nike 2K4, which is widely considered by many as one of the best basketball-playing sneakers of all time.
This was Kobe’s go-to before he had his own signature shoe. Kobe famously wore the 2K4’s in the Laker colorway during the NBA finals in 2004.
In recent times, the Nike Air Huarache has been the canvas for collabs with brands like Stussy, Undefeated, and Nice Kicks.
Nike is still putting massive funds behind the silhouette. It’s now sold over 4,000,000 pairs worldwide and is even considered a casual shoe nowadays.
Moms love them, sneakerheads love them, the people love them. Maybe this shoe’s just having one big resurgence right now, but I’m willing to bet that the legacy of the shoe will continue to live on throughout the years.
The combination of the neoprene upper and the plastic heel clip at the back was a pretty forward-thinking design at the time. Even today it is still pretty unconventional.
We had a couple of different models like the Huarache Mowabb which took this kind of idea. And of course, there have been so many different variations of the Huarache from straight-up material swaps like the denim Air Huarache SE to the skate-friendly version, the Eric Koston Nike SB Huarache.
There’s also a couple of more technical-looking releases like the Huarache Grip and the Huarache Drift
What do you guys think of the Huarache? Have you ever tried the neoprene stock for yourself? I’d say it’s one of the most comfortable shoes Nike ever put out.
So, are Huaraches running shoes? Are they good for running and performance purposes? Now you know the answer.
See you on the next one.