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- Popular shoe startup Allbirds is best known for its Wool Runner ($95) that was launched in 2016.
- The sneaker is lightweight, breathable, machine washable, and sustainably made.
- Learn why they’re still some of our favorite sneakers after more than three years of wear.
Allbirds is one of the hottest footwear brands in recent years – and it’s not just because its shoes are made of wool.
The sneaker startup came about when Tim Brown, a New Zealand native, teamed up with San Francisco-based engineer and renewables expert Joey Zwillinger.
In 2016, they launched their first shoe, the Allbirds Wool Runners – a sneaker that’s innovative, comfortable, and sustainable. The brand quickly became popular because of its use of merino wool.
Why merino wool makes sense for sneakers
Most people think wool would be hot and itchy, but Allbirds uses a proprietary dual-faced wool that’s super soft and itch-free on the interior and dirt-resistant on the exterior.
With Allbirds’ special construction, the wool actually has many natural properties that make for amazing sneakers. They’re lightweight and breathable, cool in the heat, warm in the cold, and for those that like to go sockless, they’re odor-resistant. And the best part is, you can throw these sneakers in the washing machine, instead of meticulously scrubbing away stains like you would with traditional sneakers. If you’re looking for a pair of sneakers that are comfortable, durable, stylish, and affordable, Allbirds is the solution.
Since it was first founded, Allbirds has expanded its product offerings significantly. It now sells eight shoe silhouettes total, from a high-top sneaker to a women’s flat, as well as three sock styles. And, in addition to wool, the company has experimented with other sustainable materials, including eucalyptus fiber for its Tree shoes, and environmentally friendly water repellent for its Mizzle shoes.
Still, the most popular and recognizable shoe from Allbirds is undoubtedly the Wool Runner, which many members of the Insider Reviews team have tried over the years. Read on for our thoughts on how they feel and fit, plus how they’ve held up since we first tested them in 2017.
September 2017 review: Silicon Valley is obsessed with these wool shoes, and now I understand why. I love wearing sneakers with dresses or skirts to add a sporty-casual feel, and my white Allbirds Runners were a seamless addition into my weekend daytime look.
One day, I wore these shoes after spending the entire previous day in heeled boots, and my sore feet seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. I’d normally be a little paranoid trying to care for bright white shoes, but I don’t worry at all about any scuffs or dirt that attack these shoes since I can just throw them in the washing machine at any time.
April 2021 update: The Wool Runners are still one of my favorite sneakers to wear because of their soft and supportive comfort. I used to wear the shoes without socks, but now I usually wear socks because I’ve discovered they’re even more comfortable that way. From experience, the insoles can start to smell if you go barefoot for too long, so that’s another reason to pair your Allbirds with some socks. Or, hand-wash those insoles often.
While I love white shoes, the maintenance is admittedly more intensive than one of the many other colors Allbirds offers. If I could go back, I think I would choose a different color (and luckily, there are plenty to choose from).
Another thing to note is that after a few years of regular wear, the soles wear out and the shoes feel less supportive. If you plan on wearing them often, don’t expect them to last too long. Still, I’d buy them again because they’re just that comfortable!
Malarie Gokey, Insider Reviews deputy editor
September 2017 review: I don’t wear sneakers very often, but when I do, they have to be comfortable and stylish. The Allbirds Runners meet both requirements in spades. These merino wool shoes are ridiculously soft — I couldn’t stop touching them when they first arrived!
I’ve never worn sneakers without socks before, but the wool was so silky and smooth that I gave it a try, and it worked. The Runners are super comfortable to walk in, and they’re also very light and breathable with or without socks.
April 2021 update: I don’t wear my Allbird runners too often, so I can’t speak to how much heavy wear they can withstand, but they’ve held up to light wear well. I wore them on a long hike once and they got a bit dirty, so I washed them by hand, and they looked like new afterwards. Anyone who’s ever labored over a pair of dirty or stained sneakers knows just how convenient it is to be able to wash your shoes without ruining them. They also seem to get more comfortable with age as they mold to my feet.
Amir Ismael, Insider Reviews senior reporter
September 2017 review: Before I even got to the actual shoes, my first impression on receiving my Allbirds Wool Runners was the box. As a sneaker collector, the box is sometimes just as important as the shoes themselves — it’s definitely something I wouldn’t throw away. Building on its efforts to improve sustainability, Allbirds ships its shoes in the same box that they’re stored in. The box unfolds and two separate compartments hold each sneaker.
Once I did get to the shoes, I was immediately impressed. When I think of lightweight sneakers, mesh or engineered knit comes to mind first — not wool. Upon learning about Allbirds, I actually thought wool sneakers were a bad idea, but the Wool Runners definitely proved me wrong.
The Allbirds sneakers are super comfortable, lightweight, and stylish. I’m able to wear them all day long because of the plush insoles and flexible outsole. I went with the Natural Grey pair for a minimal and subdued look, and I absolutely love them.
October 2019 update: I wore my Allbirds a few times after I initially reviewed them and they held up wonderfully. I can remember them being comfortable and surprisingly cool in warm weather, despite being made out of wool. As much as I liked them, I ended up donating them last year because I have way too many sneakers. They were still in lightly-used condition, so I can’t speak to how quick or badly they wear out.
Over the past two years, Allbirds has come out with several different shoe designs, but the original Wool Runner is still my favorite. I definitely wouldn’t mind owning another pair, but I know I’d have a hard time picking out a color — there are just so many great ones to choose from now.