I have known Gina Mama since our college days, where her Birkenstocks were lined up next to my Tevas and we both staunchly defended our shoe of choice. I’m not sure why I never even tried on a pair of Birks because I have always accepted that they are a quality shoe, that mostly everyone who tries them loves, except to say I too developed a preference for a quality, comfortable, supportive shoe and found that in a package that seemed more conventional than a Birk, and in my mind more practical for my needs. Now, roughly 25 years later, I have accepted Gina’s challenge to give Birks a chance. Is this a case of better late than never?
The night before my birthday, a package arrived, containing a pair of (Original Footbed) Gizehs in a brilliant purple (Graceful Magenta Purple Limited) color I absolutely love.
I should watch what I say because only days earlier I had told Gina that if I ever gave Birks a try, I’d want a purple pair. I had seen a metallic purple Birkenstock Arizona on a young lady in Breckenridge, CO and found myself admiring them. But as I know from her blog, the metallic uppers are prone to cosmetic problems and that is definitely something I would not want to deal with.
As soon as I got home, I put on the Birks and wore them around the house for about 30 minutes. I’m not a flip-flop wearer usually so the part between the toe on the Gizeh model felt a little weird. I didn’t develop any hot spots although I was ready to be back in bare feet when I slipped them off.
I should note, like Gina, I have firm shoe preferences that haven’t changed much in decades. I also live an active outdoor lifestyle that demands the proper footwear for both safety and performance. In an over-simplified statement, if it’s a shoe and you can buy it at REI then I would probably wear it. I live in Salomon trail running shoes (my “retired” pairs kept for walking), Keen/Merrel/Ahnu hiking and snow boots and Keen H2 closed-toe water shoe/sandals. My “dress” shoes are Merrells which still offer support and comfort. Luckily, my lifestyle doesn’t demand anything too formal.
I sent Gina Mama a text saying “I’m trusting you” and wore the Gizehs to a meeting at the school and later to school picks ups, which required more walking than would probably be recommended during the initial break-in period. Happy to report—no problems at all. Although I did find myself wanting to slip my feet out as I sat in the meeting.
Feeling great walking around the house in these Birks after a run. Usually I’m barefoot. The toe part doesn’t feel weird anymore, I don’t really notice it, Gina Mama says its because my foot is positioned properly. Cool. I told her I find the heel part of the footbed too firm right now. Not uncomfortably so, but just something I noticed. I wanted to note that sensation to see if it truly does soften over time. Another iconic requirement of my footwear choices has been user friendly out of the box! I’ve been fortunate to not suffer blisters or anything uncomfortable with my trusted brands. I’m not so gutsy as to hike a fourteener in a brand new pair of hikers, but still pushed boundaries compared to some stories about breaking shoes in. Blister-free always. I feel it’s because I have my brands and I just keep buying replacements for what I know and love. So admittedly, I’ve been put off by the idea of a break-in period for Birks. Will it be worth it? In two days I can say it’s looking good!
Less than 1 week later
You know the expression, ”walk a mile in my shoes?,” well I figured today was as good a day as any to give it a shot. Gina Mama blogs frequently about the comfort of walking in Birks pretty much anywhere, and since these are starting to feel broken-in, I went for it. I kept up a steady brisk pace for 20 minutes on a paved path. And while it felt weird not to have my Salomons on, it didn’t feel bad. Great support and nice to have my toes exposed on a sunny day. By the end, I was feeling some hot spots but I know that’s part of the break-in process. Can I walk a mile in Gina Mama's shoes? Absolutely and happily!
I found their purpose!! A good looking and comfortable shoe that can be dressy. I do still love my Merrells, but I didn’t have ANY sandal style shoes in my wardrobe, nothing open toed, until the Gizehs, because I won’t put anything uncomfortable on. So I’m more than super excited to add these amazing shoes to my wardrobe.
One month later….
Well here I am, going on a trip- do I bring my Birks? Gina Mama has blogged about packing the right vacation shoes. As a believer in the “proper” shoe for the activity, I was in a dilemma with what to bring on my recent trip to Moab, UT. Hiking boots and my SPD clipless biking shoes were a MUST. But, I wanted to add a cool, comfortable shoe too, for time off the trails. It came down to Keen H2 water sandals vs Gizehs. I took the Keens. I willingly admit either shoe would have done the job. But—we planned some
fishing (= water, maybe mud) and the desert is a dusty, rocky place which seemed more suitable to a shoe I could get wet and not worry about washing. Gina would probably say as much as I adore my Birks, I’m not a total convert yet. :) Or is there space for me to be somewhere in between?
A few weeks later
I informed Gina Mama of a challenge to myself. If I’m not outside, (sometimes even if I am) or on a trail, I’m probably barefoot. My feet and joints are fine with this but a comment from a friend who recently moved into a new home floored primarily in tile and complained about aching feet made me think- 'would I notice a difference if I wore Birks instead of barefoot?' So, I’m giving myself a conscientious week to find out. It’ll be tough- putting on shoes at home isn’t natural like slipping on my bike helmet when I grab my Specialized Stympjumper. Come to think of it, this may need to be a 2 week experiment!!
Success!! By leaving my Birks in a convenient spot where I often abandon my shoes when I get home I was able to remember and fulfill this challenge. Comfortable? Definitely. Better for my joints? Probably. But, old habits die hard and as fall gave way to winter, and I came inside stomping off snow, I eased into my winter habit of no shoes, socks on. Now I know there has been much debate about socks with Birks, and I would certainly be a person who would push those boundaries (I have been known to wear socks with Keen sandals on cold camp mornings and knee high smartwool socks with boots and capri sports pants after snowboarding), but socks and Gizehs are pretty clearly a show stopper. So winter arrived in full force and my pretty Gizehs went back in their box.
Spring is here!
To varying degrees where I live at 7300 ft elevation in Colorado at least. In one week we can enjoy sunshine and low 70’s then bundle back up for a spring snow storm. So I’ve only had my Birks back out a few times, as Spring in the mountains doesn’t exactly feel springlike just because the calendar says its so, but the important point is—I’ve had them back out!! No time wasted. My feet eased right back into them where we left off. Comfortably worn in.
It’ll be interesting to see what summer brings, what choices I make in footwear. Certainly for casual dressy occasions I’m grabbing those Gizehs. No worries for me that I’ll have hot spots or tired feet. The break-in process was mild. For around town, probably the Gizehs. I can admit they are more stylish and TONS cuter than my Keen H2 sports sandals. For adventure trips, that’ll be a tough choice. I can’t change the minimalist in me, nor the need to have exactly the right shoe for the job. And there is one other factor to consider. Would I want to risk ruining my Birks? The answer is a resounding No! Which brings me back to the beginning. Is this a case of better late than never, giving Birks a chance? The ruling is in and my feet say YES!
A special thank you to Hiker Beans for 25 years of friendship and for taking the time to write this guest blog. - Gina Mama