The internet is obsessed with Allbirds sneakers—are they worth it?
I bought the trendy wool shoes to see if you should buy them, too.
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Allbirds wool sneakers can be seen on everyone’s feet these days. The San Franciscan-based, New Zealand-born footwear startup claims that its popular $95 Wool Runners shoes are some of the softest, most comfortable shoes that you’ll ever find, with the added benefit of being environmentally friendly. Plus, with the promise of being washable and wearable without socks, these sneakers certainly sound like a dream come true.
However, one has to wonder—is the wool shoe that claims to be the world's most comfortable really worth the money? After multiple seasons of owning, wearing, and washing Allbirds sneakers, I am happy to report that they are worth it for me—but whether or not they're right for you depends on what you're looking to get out of them. If you're on the fence, read on to find out what sets Allbirds apart from other sneakers, if they're comfortable, how easy they are to wash, and more.
What are Allbirds—and what makes the shoes different?
The footwear company claims it is dedicated to producing ethically sourced, environmentally-friendly shoes that also happen to be supremely stylish and outrageously comfortable. Co-founder Tim Brown sought to create a shoe that was both wearable and sustainable using merino wool from New Zealand's plentiful sheep population.
But it’s not just the use of merino wool that is good for the planet: The brand released a new sole material called SweetFoam, derived from sustainably-grown Brazilian sugarcane instead of synthetic rubber, which can release harmful, potentially carcinogenic compounds into the environment. SweetFoam reduces the ecological footprint that is normally associated with mass-producing sneakers, and is so effective that Allbirds has offered to share the technology with any shoemaker who asks for it.
Beyond the shoes' construction, I appreciate their lack of superfluous packaging. Instead of getting boxes within boxes stuffed with tissue paper and packaging materials, Allbirds uses its shoe boxes as transportation boxes. This way, you only get one box, making online shopping a little bit better for the environment.
Are Allbirds comfortable?
When looking for shoes, I’m most interested in seeing how long I can bear to stay in a pair over 24 hours. What I've found about Allbirds is that they're so comfortable, I would keep them on through the night if it were socially acceptable to wear shoes in bed. The shoe fits snugly against your foot with a tapered toe for an elegant, elongated look, and the sole is raised near the heel, which is fantastic for arch support.
Aside from the woolen construction of these shoes, the soles are incredibly lightweight and supportive. When I first gifted my mother a pair of Allbirds (who, for the record, is notoriously hard to please when it comes to shoes), she compared the experience to walking on a cloud.
The other great thing about Allbirds is that you can wear them without socks. In fact, the sneakers are meant to be worn without socks. This is because the merino wool construction of the shoes is moisture-wicking and anti-bacterial (a natural property of sheep’s clothing). As someone with particularly smelly feet (especially on hot summer days—I’m not afraid to admit it), I’m thrilled to have found a pair of shoes that don't require constant application of Gold Bond foot powder.
Are Allbirds waterproof?
While the original Wool Runners (which are the ones we tested and reviewed) aren't waterproof, Allbirds released a line of water-resistant sneakers—its Mizzle collection—at the end of 2019. The Mizzle line includes both the Wool Runners and the Runner-Ups, which now feature rubber treads, a reinforced sole, and the brand's patented Paddle Guard protection which wicks away water.
According to Allbirds, the new water-repellant (and weather-resistant) shoes have "a breathable bio-based shield living beneath a reinforced wool upper treated with a fluorine-free coating that’s ECO PASSPORT Certified (by OEKO-TEX)." The treads on the Wool Runner Mizzle and Wool Runner-Up Mizzle are also made with natural rubber, which Allbirds says is "a renewable alternative to petroleum-based synthetic rubber." The new line is slightly more expensive than the original Allbirds—the Wool Runner Mizzle is $115 compared to the regular Wool Runner's $95, while the Wool Runner-Up Mizzle is $135 compared to the Tree Topper's $115 (the Tree Topper is the most similar style to the Wool Runner-Up).
How to wash Allbirds
Part of creating a sustainable product is ensuring that you don’t have to engage in overconsumption. Washing a pair of Allbirds means your shoes last longer, and the company aims to make cleaning easy: so you can just toss them into the washing machine. When your Allbirds are looking a bit worse for wear, remove the insoles and laces, and brush off any excess grime with a towel or soft brush. Then, just put your shoes in your washer on a wool or delicates cycle—be sure it uses cold water.
Another tip on how to clean Allbirds? The brand recommends placing your shoes inside a laundry bag when washing, but I’ve never done this and have never suffered any consequences. You can also wash the insoles, if needed, by hand. Because Allbirds shoes are made of wool and tree fibers that can be damaged in high heat, never tumble dry your sneakers: just let them air dry, and by the next day, they should be as good as new.
So, are Allbirds worth it?
Allbirds Wool Runners will set you back $95, which is comparable to similar sneakers from Nike and Adidas, and the money is worth it. Given that I've been wearing my Allbirds at just about every possible juncture, I certainly feel as though I’ve gotten more than $95 worth of mileage out of these shoes already—especially because I can wear them year round. The wool upper of Allbirds also makes this shoe ideal for the winter. Having spent my last several years braving the cold in the northeast, it’s a dream to have a pair of sneakers that doesn’t let in every single gust of wind. And although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend these shoes for the hottest summer days in Texas, they’re still surprisingly breathable despite being made of wool.
That said, it doesn't mean they're without fault. If you’re looking to go to the gym in these shoes, don’t. While they can certainly withstand long walks or short jogs, they’re not meant as running shoes or for intense workouts. They’re too warm for extended strenuous physical activity, and the shoes simply aren’t designed for long distance runs or tough kickboxing sessions. For those sports, you’ll want more structured, breathable shoes that offer specific support across your foot, like Allbirds new running shoes. After testing Allbirds Tree Dashers, we found that they are also great quality.
There are other wool shoes on the market, but Allbirds sneakers stand above the rest in terms of design and comfort. Although all wool shoes are ultimately cozy and soft, Allbirds are the lightest I’ve tried, and they have a uniquely supportive sole that can withstand even the longest days of sightseeing and exploring. Also, their unique aesthetic makes them one of the most recognizable shoes on the market, and they come in a wide range of colors. If you’re in search of your next great shoe obsession, Allbirds may just be your best bet.
Where to buy Allbirds shoes
You can order Allbirds shoes directly from the Allbirds website or at one of the brand's 18 brick-and-mortar locations. In the U.S., Allbirds stores exist in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, Washington, D.C., Austin, Chicago, and New York City, but they are closed right now due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.