By now, you’ve surely heard of Allbirds. The direct-to-consumer darling of Silicon Valley whose roots remain firmly entrenched in the magical land of New Zealand. And there are tons of good reasons I’ve featured them time and time again in some of our top lists, like in the best wool sneakers for men and women and amidst 30 incredible white sneakers for men.
Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing the Allbirds Tree Runners. In that review, I said:
“The Allbirds Tree Runners are highly versatile, every day, and all-day sneakers. They blend an awesome combination of materials and performance for a wide variety of daily applications. The price is more than reasonable, and the fact that they are committed as a company to producing sustainable products is a big win in my books. “
And while that remains true, I was anxious to get my hands on and review the shoe that started it all for Allbirds. The Merino Wool Runner. This was Allbird’s first product, and in many ways, it remains their flagship item. I’m not privy to their sales numbers. Still, despite having significantly diversified their product lineup, not just in footwear, but now also in apparel, I would place a healthy wager to say that the Wool Runner shoe remains firmly entrenched as one of their top sellers.
If you’re new to the idea of wearing wool on your feet, it might sound a bit strange. Quite counter-intuitive. After all, traditional wool is not breathable, downright miserable when wet, and not exactly conducive to what your feet would need in cases where you need equal measures of cooling, warming, comfort and water resistance. And that’s where the genius of the Allbirds Wool Runners enters the fray. You see, these shoes are not made of any ordinary wool. They’re made of something called Merino Wool. It’s magical wool that manages to avoid all the traditional pitfalls of the regular version of this material—more on this magical substance later in this review.
Before I talk more about this shoe, I want to tell you a few more bits about the Allbirds buying process. This company truly gets what it means to be customer-friendly. In addition to providing free shipping to many countries around the world, Allbirds also has a great return policy. Even if you’ve worn your shoes outside, you can return them within 30 days, no questions asked. Sounds pretty good, right? And in case your laces ever get frayed, or you want to give your Allbirds a bit of a different look, you can always buy a replacement or additional laces through the company’s online store.
So let’s talk about the AllBirds Wool Runners.
Available for both men’s and women’s sizes, Wool Runners are available in a massive and vibrant set of different colourways. You’ll find everything from the traditional Natural Grey / Light Grey Sole combination (as shown in the photos of this review) to more adventurous colourways such as the Sol / White Sole or Asteroid / Cream combinations. Despite a large number of colour combinations on offer, none of these choices feel haphazard. And while colour is very much a subjective matter when it comes to footwear, each of the Allbirds Wool Runners colourways for both men and women feels thoughtfully selected.
Available in sizes 8-14 for men and 5-11 for women, the Allbirds Wool Runners offers a clean, casual and minimalist aesthetic. They make for a great everyday walking shoe and, despite their wool construction, can easily double as a gym shoe. With a focus on nothing too flashy, like most of their products, the Wool Runners follow the traditional design ethos of minimizing the brand’s logo favouring a more mysterious and classy look.
And if all that isn’t enough, you can take comfort in knowing that the wool used in the making of these is something called ZQ certified. That means that the sheep that are sheared for the yarn are treated nicely and get to live their lives on sheep farms where they experience a pleasant and stress-free life. That’s always good to know because sheep are pretty cool after all, and we should try to treat animals better.
FIT & WEARING EXPERIENCE
Like many of their Allbirds footwear cousins, the Wool Runners are so soft you never need to wear socks with them if you so prefer. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Other shoes have made this same promise only to break your heart, or more accurately, break your feet within a few hours of wearing them sockless. But the Allbirds Wool Runners are different. Trust me, I have some of the daintiest, most delicate feet around, and I’ve gone days and weeks wearing these shoes on long walks and even a hike or two with no blistering, no rubbing and no discomfort whatsoever. Such is the magic of Merino wool.
Because of their soft construction and material choice, these ultra-comfortable sneakers also have none of that usual break-in period. That means from day one; they’ll be comfortable and ready to wear. Of course, there’s always the question of sweat. Once again, you’d be excused for thinking that all that sockless wear will result in some pretty smelly shoes. Still, here we once again run into the stupendously awesome properties of merino wool, which has natural anti-microbial properties. That means that by its very nature, it will help greatly reduce any odour left behind by those sockless feet of yours.
These shoes are definitely not waterproof but will wick moisture away nicely and, in my testing, stood up well to even a brief dunking while I was trying to cross a tidal pond on a Vancouver beach while the tide had gone out. In addition to wearing these shoes for over ten weeks now as my daily driver, I’ve taken them on multiple five-mile walks in 20+ degree Celcius weather and on cooler and wet days as well. There’s no doubt that these shoes are breathable, yet I would still recommend that these work best as winter, spring, fall sneakers rather than a summer shoe as my feet tended to get a bit toasty after about the 3-4 mile mark. For a dedicated Allbirds summer shoe, I’d recommend the Allbirds Tree Runners over these wool ones.
Part of my job is to wear and test a lot of different types of shoes and sneakers. Now that I’ve had to wear other non-Allbirds sneakers, the experience highlights just how uncomfortable every other shoe is in comparison.
Are these running shoes in the traditional sense of what a consumer would think? No. Could you run in them? I suppose. For serious running, I’d explore either Allbirds dedicated running shoes or a more traditional brand like Asics or New Balance.
Made in South Korea with a Brazillian sugarcane midsole, the Allbirds Wool Runners are more of a casual jack-of-all-trades sneaker. They don’t have a huge amount of arch support, but they’re still comfortable, incredibly lightweight and easy to slip in and out of without having to untie and retie your laces. They easily adjust to the shape of your feet due to their form and Merino wool construction. Another aspect of Merino wool is that it’s lighter than cotton and keeps all those sheep warm in cold weather and cool in warmer weather. That’s mostly true for your feet as well, though as I mentioned before, I still think these aren’t super ideal for hot summer days.
How do the Wool Runners compare to the Allbirds Tree Runners? For one, they are definitely warmer and perhaps a touch snugger and perhaps even more comfortable than the Tree Runners. That’s high praise, considering I already thought the Tree Runners were the most comfortable pair of shoes I’ve ever worn. I suppose we have a new champion in the comfort field now!
As with the Tree Runners, the Wool Runners are easy to hand-wash and machine washable. Good thing, too, as the white sole is rather difficult to keep clean as it gets dirty with scuffs very quickly, as I discovered in my initial photoshoot with them. Just remember that you’re not supposed to throw these in the dryer. That’s a big no-no with Merino wool. You could potentially ruin your shoes for good by performing that mistake. Another thing to keep in mind, they are rather slow to air-dry. After my first wash, the shoes took almost two full days to dry completely.
Given the Wool Runners’ lightweight nature, as they barely cross 2 lbs, they make for a great pair of travel shoes. The soft Merino wool compacts nicely in your luggage, so they will hardly take up any space, and thus maybe you even want to bring a second pair in a different colourway to match your travel outfits.
HOW I TESTED THESE
I wore the Allbirds Wool Runners as practically my only shoe for about ten weeks. During that time, I did the following in them:
- Wore them indoors on hardwood and carpet
- Wore them outside for multiple short and long walks
- Wore them in warm weather (20+ degrees Celcius)
- Wore them in cooler weather (5 degrees Celcius)
- Wore them with and without socks for extended periods
- Wore them in light and heavy rain
- Wore them while walking through tidal puddles
- Wore them while biking
- Wore them while riding around on an electric scooter
- Wore them while playing basketball
- Wore them while playing a full round of golf on an 18-hole course
Wearing the Wool Runners through all these activities gave me a good impression of what you can come to expect if you buy these shoes. I’ll be back in about six months to update this review and give you a better idea of how the shoes are holding up and if I still stand by my final score for these amazingly comfortable and versatile wool sneakers from Allbirds.