So why, you ask, are we interviewing Bedrock Sandals on Hike It. Like It.? Afterall it’s for those who Hike and Run Free with a Lightweight Mindset… and that would be exactly why. You see, Bedrock Sandals are not synonymous with loafing around in the hammock with a beer in hand. Sure you could do that too (it’s a great idea in fact!), but Bedrock has really been making a name for themselves among ultra runners, long distance hikers, and other outdoorsy types. Today we talk to Dan Opalacz, one of Bedrock’s co-founders, to find out what they’re up to over there and why us shoe-wearing people might want to take notice!
Hiya Dan. Please tell us a little about yourself. When did you begin hiking, and how much time do you currently spend outdoors?
I grew up with a passion for surfing and skiing and appreciated the outdoors through those mediums. Honestly I found running and hiking pretty boring until I started trail running in 2010 in minimalist footwear during my senior year in college. All of a sudden running with the necessary alertness that wearing minimalist footwear requires brings to light an new consciousness. As you focus your mind on the trail and it’s roots and rocks and undulations – other thoughts that typically flood- disappear during that time. I found a new sort of mediation in minimalist trail running and hiking.
What are some of your favorite places to hike or run these days?
I along with a few members of Bedrock Sandals live on our own sailboats close by our factory in the East Bay Area. I love evening hikes and runs in the east bay hills or long weekend trips into Yosemite, Sequoia, or up to the Lost Coast. I also get the opportunity to go on longer adventures taking photos and producing short films. I’m currently hiking along New Zealand’s Te Araroa trail with Bedrock Chief Experience Officer, Naresh Kumar.
What’s a typical baseweight look like for you?
For my NZ kit it’s close to 15 pounds. I carry an iPad, Camera equipment, and a Tenkara fishing rod.
So, right now Bedrock is exclusively manufacturing sandals, correct?
Yes we exclusively manufacture sandals currently and will likely continue to do so over the next couple years as we expand and continue to improve our product offerings.
I’ve gotta ask… you guys must have read Born to Run, right?
Absolutely, Born To Run was a large inspiration for us getting interested in the minimalist movement in 2009.
Did that influence your thought process about viability of sandals in outdoor activities like running and hiking?
Reading Born to Run and more so self experimenting made me realize that minimalist footwear and lightweight gear in general creates what I find to be a better all around trail experience. It gives you the ability to move faster, consume less energy, and exert less wear and tear on your body. For me, less weight often means more fun.
Alright. How did your designs come about, and what problems do they solve?
Nick Pence and I founded Bedrock in early 2011 to make a large improvement on an old sandal design – the huarache. Before our design the only huarache on the market necessitated the wearer to use leather or paracord type laces around the foot that needed to be tied with an over hand knot. We created the first bedrock sandal to replace the traditional huarache leather lacing system with a material that is more durable, comfortable, and robust – nylon webbing. We then replaced the tricky and time consuming leather lacing knot over the foot with an adjustable plastic buckle. Essentially our goal was to take this awesome design and combine it with modern materials to make it more wearable, durable, and user friendly.
Where are you currently manufacturing your sandals
We manufacture all our sandals in our small facilities in Oakland, CA and Boulder, CO. In Oakland we have built a two story factory fort within a large art warehouse, equipped with industrial sewing machines, 3D printers, hammocks, and lots of fun machines to make stuff with. Much of our small team of 6 in Oakland lives, works, and adventures together.
Do you have any thoughts on offshoring
Great question. For me it’s all about the quality. Quality of the product itself, quality of life that the builders have who make that product, and quality of environment that the manufacturing process upholds. All those three quality standards are difficult to achieve when manufacturing overseas, but if they could be achieved better overseas than in the USA, we might consider it.
As a smaller, independent manufacturer, what can you say to folks out there who haven’t taken that step away from the mainstream? What should they expect with Bedrock Sandals in terms of customer service, and product quality?
Expect a much more intimate experience. You’ll have direct contact with our small team and we’ll be there for all your questions or issues – if you ever run into any. We sell direct to our customers exclusively through our website. It’s not as easy as going to REI to buy a pair of sandals, but with the extra effort of ordering Bedrocks from us, you’ll get a carefully designed and well manufactured product along with a seriously epic warranty. Customer emails don’t get sent to a clueless representative offshore somewhere, they’re addressed in a timely manner by someone who actually builds, wears, and lives the product.
Do you have any plans to expand your current product offerings, or any new products on the horizon that you can talk about?
Absolutely. Our goal is creating the best quality and performance minimalist sandals available – all warrantied for the lifetime of their soles. With that said, we tirelessly pursue new designs, materials, and anything we think can improve the products we currently make and could possibly make in the future. Each year we greatly improve our sandals – if you look back to our initial Kickstarter campaign you can see our 1st generation Bedrock Sandal. Now, 4 years later, we have made something like 60+ material and design changes to improve them dramatically.
Would you say that you’re mostly catering to hikers/backpackers and distance runners?
We cater to anyone who wants a high quality, super lightweight and capable sandal suited for use on adventures. Hikers, and runners fit that pretty well but so do river rats, light weight travelers, and anyone looking to replace their bulky Chacos.
Can you elaborate on why wearing sandals while hiking or running is a good idea – and doesn’t it leave our feet and toes vulnerable to injury?
I think this is a personal statement and has a different truth for everyone. Ultimately it’s all about what you and your body are comfortable wearing across the terrain you’re on. If you can build your foot strength slowly you’ll find hiking and running in bedrocks is a magical experience. With virtually no weight on your feet, it’s easier to charge ahead, and experience the trail in a more connected way.
Are there any places where you wouldn’t wear sandals?
There’s some terrain where it’s not ideal – obviously (powdery snow + ice, scree, etc) – however the challenge makes it more fun for myself and the rest of the Bedrock crew.
Which of your products has been the most popular to date?
Our Syncline sandals. They an amazing blend of lightweightedness, comfort, and durability.
Just for fun, what are some of your favorite pieces of gear made by other manufacturers?
I love my Suntactics solar panel, my S2S thermal sleeping bag liner, and my Patagonia nano puff down jacket.
What are your “big three” items for a typical backpacking trip?
My Bedrock Gabbros, Sony Alpha Camera, and Yama Cuben Terraform Shelter.
Switching gears for a minute, Do you have any thoughts on the progression of ultralight backpacking, or backpacking in any of its “lightweight” flavors?
I think overall the more you can reduce the weight you carry the easier it will be on your body. There’s a line somewhere though, that’s different for everyone. Balancing trail comforts, pleasures, and weight – ultimately finding the combination that gives you the best and most enjoyable experience.
Looking toward the future, what’s your vision for yourself and your company?
My vision is continuing to create high quality products and to incubate a culture and lifestyle of minimalism, adventure, and environmental responsibility. As we continue to grow Bedrock Sandals we will be able to offer a wider variety of products, employ more people in our small factory, and sponsor more adventures for our community.
Complete this sentence: “I hope that Bedrock Sandals will…”
… continue creating the best minimalist sandals on the market with the best warranty and customer service experience. Continue innovating design and material wise to create even better products for the future. Most importantly perhaps is never losing sight of our dirtbag roots – living in vans and sailboats, and tramping around the world on a shoestring budget.
Thanks again for taking the time to chat, Dan. Is there anything else you’d like to add, or any sage advice to bestow upon those reading this interview?
I want to encourage people to go for it. Whatever that may be. If nothing else, you’ll learn a whole lot about yourself in the process.
Good stuff. Sometimes it’s the simplest of things in our lives that make such a strong impact. If you’d like to learn more about Bedrock Sandals and read about (or purchase!) their products discussed in this interview, please visit the Bedrock website at www.bedrocksandals.com. You can follow along with the Bedrock crew on their Facebook page and see some of the places Dan and his sandals have been on Instagram (@specialopz), or email him directly and say hi! Hike It. Like It.
Jacob is the head honcho, wearer of many hats, and modern day berserker here at Hike It. Like It. When he's not out hiking or running the trails you'll find him operating in full capacity as a Super Dad and chipping away at a degree in Kinesiology. This guy likes to stay busy.
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