So, you've decided to get into minimalist running. Good for you! Now comes the question of which pair of barefoot shoes are the right choice for you. There are tons of them out there and settling on a pair may be a more challenging task than you might want to put your mind through, so here are our top picks for you.
Not so long ago, barefoot running shoes started mushrooming around our local gyms and most of us never really knew what the deal with them was. Well, honestly, some of us may still be in the dark. Ever since Chris McDougall's book Born to Run popped up on shelves in book stores, barefoot running has been a hot topic.
Backed by research, barefoot running has benefits such as keeping your spine upright and providing extra resistance for your calf muscles while running. Also, improved balance comes about as muscles in the feet, ankles, legs, and hips are more activated. Besides all the technical stuff, you'll have to agree, the feeling of the ground right beneath your soles has a nice feeling to it.
The idea that less weight on your feet helps you go faster is not rocket science, nor a deep secret preserved for centuries by lost tribes. Runners who think about their craft have always been willing to go minimal, as well as learn from people who live close to nature. So we have long been familiar with the Tarahumara Indians. Far from being a hidden unknown tribe, their prowess and their limitations as runners are well-known in the running world especially the trail running world.
Some runners believe that it is healthier to run barefoot. Proponents of barefoot running believe that since our bodies are designed to run and walk without shoes, minimalist running is less likely to experience chronic injuries that are caused by heel striking. The idea behind barefoot running shoes (or running sans shoes) is the running stride is shortened, causing you to land nearer the ball of your foot, which is closer to a natural length stride. This list of best barefoot running shoes is running shoes that are as thin as possible so that you can run as if you are barefoot while still giving your feet some protection from any hazards that you may encounter while you are jogging.
Before we dive into our top picks, here are a couple of things to look for in a minimalist shoe:
The human foot tends to bend in pretty much all directions, so you want a shoe that won't constrict your foot movement, as barefoot running requires free-heel movement.
2. Minimal heel-to-toe drop
A shoe should also minimize "toe-spring" ie. the upward curve at the toes, which places toes in extension and contributes to extension deformities such as hammertoes.
3. Wide toe box
In shoes with a narrow toe area, the big toe isn't allowed to aid in balance, stability and propulsion. When the big toe is compressed out of alignment, the front end of the arch doesn't work.
4. Not too soft nor thick
The thinner and firmer the shoe, the more ground feel (proprioception) it provides, which in turn allows your body to adjust to the forces of trail running more efficiently and is optimal for learning natural running form and technique.
The first and most obvious feature you'll notice about these shoes is their five-finger glove-like design, signature Vibram. This design usually leaves people on two sides; either you love them or you just totally hate them. Their laces, even though not your traditional laces, do a better job blending with the sole compared to Vibrams with straps or no laces at all. Overall, the svelte design and its slim footprint is quite an eye-catcher and the most unique running shoe for minimalist running.
The Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO shoes are designed to be the answer for those who enjoyed the original model but are now looking for something new. These barefoot shoes strike the perfect balance between protection and connection to the running surface. Those who are just starting to get into barefoot running will be especially pleased with everything offered in these running shoes.
Comfort is very important with any running shoe, but maybe even more so when wearing a barefoot style. Vibram gets the most out of the minimal materials that they use for their shoes. The KSO EVO will allow runners to feel most things below their feet thanks to the very light sole. That can easily be a source of comfort or discomfort depending on how you look at it. The material used in the upper feels good against the skin.
The Vibram FiveFingers KSO is what we'd like to call an anatomic non-marking shoe. In simple terms, this just means it is very, very flexible compared to its counterparts, and even though it has superb grip, it doesn't scuff or leave no marks on the floor. Are you a regular with lots of luggage for the holiday and just the thought of shoes gets you unpacking some now "non-essential" stuff from your cargo? The KSO relieves you of some of that hassle. They can be rolled up literally from the tip of the toe up to the back heel. How's that for flexibility?
Hardy for good
For barefoot running shoes, durability ranks pretty high up on the list of concerns. Well, it is understandable as they are however made of less material. The main area of concern for these barefoot running shoes is around the toe pockets, as the rest of the shoe is pretty rugged and durable for the ultimate natural feel. Either way, minimalist shoes weren't designed for extreme conditions and exposing them to such conditions would wear them out much faster. The sole at some point will begin to wear but that should be after giving them considerable trail running mileage.
With a pair of these, you will enjoy a 0mm drop as the Vibram FiveFingers KSO prides itself in its minuscule heel-to-drop. This a more complex way of saying that you will be in touch with all the details of the running surface and the lack of a heel is a most welcoming feeling that gives you the closest experience to actual minimalist running.
When it comes to traction, the grooves on the outsole of the KSO Evo will perform very well on most types of running surfaces. The TC-1 rubber used on the sole is pretty much the most grip you'll get from a running shoe and is something you'll appreciate if you're a regular on the beaten path.
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When it comes to outdoor gear Merrell are considered gurus and this shoe do an excellent job in proving this point. Unlike the Vibram FiveFingers, this shoe doesn't have separate compartments for each toe, and they'd be better off naming it the Vapor Mitten 3, but that's just my opinion. Names aside, these are a more conventional and traditional pair of barefoot running shoes compared to the KSO Evo and are a great choice for you if the separate toe design is not your cup of tea.
The zero-drop goes without saying or else they would be considered socks with heels of some sort. This, in simple terms, means they have almost no padding, no cushioning or shock absorbers so it's just the ground and your foot. It is shoe enough to protect your feet from cuts and keep your feet clean, almost durable socks if I may say. With that in mind, these aren't the pair you'll go minimalist running in around rocky areas, well unless you have steel feet, you are free to experiment. This is a shoe for the complete natural barefoot trail running experience.
Comfort to die for
Runners liked the lightweight design and flexible package of the Vapor glove. The superb ground-feel pleased barefoot-style loyalists. A few did find the shoe lacked protection underfoot, but that is to be expected with this type of shoe. Most reviewers found the Vapor Glove 3 to be very comfortable. Users did say that the sizing was a bit off and recommended sizing down, but with the right size, the shoe fits well. This is a slight upgrade to the Merrell trail glove line. Also, these barefoot running shoes outdo the Merrell Bare Access in terms of sole durability, given they both have a 0mm drop. They also give a more natural running feel as they are much closer to the ground compared to the latter.
When you look down at them while wearing them, you'll notice the added overlays, which in my opinion were made to bump up durability. The mesh upper is a material that many users are impressed with as they are quick-drying, great for those morning runs when the dew is still fresh on the grass. It also features the anatomically correct wide toe area shape which some people felt require some sizing down. A little downside is that its breathability is a bit poor especially for its lightweight design, occasionally compared to the New Balance Minimus Zero v2 Road.
Style it up
The shoe comes in a variety of colourways for men and women. The minimalist running shoe features a fairly busy design scheme to contrast the toned down structure of the rest of the shoe. The Merrell Vapor Glove 3 features a honeycomb upper pattern, which adds some interest to the shoe's overall design. Overlays exist as an additional design element that also adds support. Reviewers liked the minimalist construction and the look of the Vapor Glove. Most appreciated the design updates and were happy with the changes brought to the third edition of this Merrell Trail Glove running shoes.
Durability may be the most underperforming sector of the Vapor Glove. Its predecessor, the Vapor 2, had shortfalls in durability which may have been slightly addressed in the Vapor 3 and the Vapor Glove editions, but still not to a commendable degree when it comes to running shoes. The Merrell trail glove would be a better running shoe option. If you are a regular runner, this may not be the shoe for daily use as they may begin falling apart at the seams.
Leave a trail on any terrain
You may be asking yourself what terrain are they best suited for? The best answer is trail running. But what exactly makes it a good barefoot running shoe among the best? Well, for starters, the grip provided by the sole is exceptional and handles even the most uncertain trail surfaces. There are a few reasons for this. First, the outsole provides exceptional traction, even on the most uncertain trail surfaces. Users reported that the new Vibram TC5+, (a main component of the Vapor Glove series), outsole performed incredibly on slick rocks and pebbles making it a good shoe for trail routes or races with water crossings. The 2mm sticky lugs can handle various trail conditions. The shoes also feature a TrailProtect component. The upper is also perfectly designed for trail-use. Its quick-drying, breathable mesh design drains water easily and the anatomical shape of the shoe can accommodate foot swelling that might occur on long trail runs or during road running. The midsole pad does not provide impact protection but does act as a barrier against gnarly trail debris.
Flex that foot with ease
Running barefoot requires a deal of flexibility of the foot and the shoe too. The minimalist construction goes hand in hand with a superbly pliable design. Reviewers loved how flexible the shoes felt as every step felt snappy and connected to the earth. The Merrell trail glove is extremely lightweight and flexible but still is no match for this edition. There is no rigid rock plate or midsole material to get in the way of a smooth, natural ride. The minimalist construction goes hand in hand with a superbly pliable design. True to barefoot-style, runners can use their strength to propel forward with the shoes.
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This is one of the more inexpensive running shoes recommended, but they have become a favourite, especially for those who are just be getting with their new hobby. This is more of a general running shoe that can be used for walking, jogging, barefoot running, and climbing. However, they are very comfortable since they aren't marketed as solely rock climbing shoes, which can run small.
These barefoot running shoes are best for half-marathons, speed work, but it will prove immensely comfy on easy runs around the block as well. The lacing system is lauded by some and hated by others, but the fact is it offers more stability to the shoe. The only real downside of the Saguaro being so lightweight is the sole, which isn’t as durable as one would hope for. This, however, won’t be an issue for recreational runners who don’t log extensive miles each week.
Comfort you can feel
The soft textile lining and a thin foam insole add extra padding. The upper is comfortable because of its minimal construction and the seamless Fused Upper Material—eliminating seams and using a smooth material up the level of comfort. The toe area is comfortable as well. Fused Upper Material produces a smooth feel against the skin, and the minimal construction boosts the comfort aspect of the upper. Although the upper—especially the lacing system—is not very durable, it is comfortable and extremely breathable.
This omission of the grippy rubber compound was likely made to make the sole lighter than before. This rubber compound in the areas of high ground contact provides more durability to the shoe, while its strategic placement increases forefoot flexibility. The rest of the outer sole features an arrow-like injection-blown rubber pattern that is designed to ensure a faster and smoother toe-off.
No drop for sure
Keeping in line with the barefoot running brand, this is a zero drop shoe. Saguaro operates under the idea that a runner’s foot and natural movement is perfect just the way it is, so Saguaro creates minimalist shoes that have a drop of exactly 0mm. They promise to put next to nothing into each shoe they create, believing that this is the best way to move and run—with minimal everything, including drop, thus making it on our list of best barefoot running shoes.
The cushioning of these barefoot shoes is just where it needs to be – protective enough so you don’t feel the miles on your feet, but firm enough to protect your feet from having to flex too much on longer runs. The protective woven heel that supports the Achilles tendon is not a route you see often, but for runners who tend to experience discomfort in that area, this will surely be a welcome trait.
This lightweight running shoe is best for roads, pavement, tracks, light gravel, and treadmills, but it can provide a comfy ride on a slightly more technical terrain as well, as long as that’s not a daily thing. A running track is an ideal surface that can accentuate what the Saguaro is all about – speed, flexibility, and lightness. The low drop means there is less midsole cushioning, which is why we would take these minimalist running shoes on a half-marathon, but we’d opt for a more cushioned option for distances longer than that.
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Not for the tender-footed, this barefoot running shoe won’t let you ignore large gravel or glass shards, but it will give you an ultra-thin surface on which to run or walk, and allow for significant ground feel. Barefoot runners will throw them on and go, but first-timers will need to set up a transition schedule to avoid a painful breaking-in period. These shoes are a great fit for vegans because they are made without any animal products or processes. But along with the socially-minded leanings, the company did not forget aesthetics. Even when it comes to shoes, maybe even especially when it comes to barefoot running shoes, looks do count. Reviewers were pleased that these running shoes looked like shoes, not a slipper or thick sock, like some other options on the market, thus making it on our list of best barefoot running shoes.
These barefoot running shoes are built to prevent muscle atrophy and immobility by allowing your feet to feel free to engage the ground naturally. Most often, barefoot shoes feature a full toe box meant to create more room for your feet, offering you better balance and a greater spread of your feet. The barefoot running shoes also feature a zero or minimal heel-to-toe drop, to help place less stress on your joints and also support healthy posture by putting your feet in a neutral position.
Let your feet breathe
This shoe breathes, so if you live in a warmer climate, your feet will thank you. But if you get out when there’s a chill in the air, you’re going to feel it on your feet also. The breathable mesh design on the upper, shaped like a honeycomb, allows air to whiz right through it. If you do have a habit of sweating through your shoes, make sure you clean them right after your run. These shoes are designed to work seamlessly with your foot. Some reviewers said they felt the shoe creased just across the top of the foot, and that it was uncomfortable until the shoe was broken in. Others warn the colour on the shoes will bleed if you get them wet. Lastly, the toe area gets a thumbs up from most reviewers for being wide and natural without being too roomy.
If you are looking for a long-lasting pair of barefoot running shoes that is both flexible and durable, these and more features are in our next barefoot running shoes, the WHITIN Men’s Minimalist Trail Runner. These running shoes are spectacular in their design. They possess all the features of traditional barefoot running shoes, which include a full toe box for relaxation of your toes, a real rubber sole meant to deliver ground feedback while offering you excellent protection. The WHITIN trail runner is constructed with vegan-friendly and animal-free products, making it highly favoured as an environmentally friendly unit.
Because this is a barefoot shoe, there is more priority given to the lightweight, flexibility, and breathability, than comfort. But the shoe didn’t fail the comfort test. Athletes said they walked in them, worked in them, and participated in CrossFit in them, all with positive results. This is a shoe that requires a transition period for anyone who isn’t already accustomed to the barefoot running lifestyle. Most reviewers found the key to staying comfortable in the WHITIN barefoot running shoes was to limit your time in them initially and work up to longer segments of time and longer runs.
These WHITIN zero drop running shoes have a rubber sole. They have a roomy toe area for extra comfort in the toe area. These are ideal for anyone who is environmentally conscious. They are made using animal-free products also. Inside is a removable sock-liner. You can go for an even more natural feel if you want to. The only real downside is that they are a little on the large fitting side. If you are a half size, a 6.5 perhaps, then you should order a half size down, a size 6.
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Here’s an option for those that are seeking multifunctional barefoot running shoes, that gets the job done and looks great while doing so. Mimicking a five-foot toe area without the separation, this sneaker provides a natural feeling barefoot sensation without having your toes feel disproportional to the rest of your foot. Think of this shoe as comfortable socks that get the job done yet to remove the strain from your heel. This great feature gives these shoes the merit they deserve to make to our list of best barefoot running shoes.
Zero Heel-To-Toe Drop Construction
The basis of barefoot running is essential to maximize contact between your feet and the ground. While most barefoot running shoes have some sort of drop between the heel and forefoot distance this shoe does not. This is mainly due to the Zero Heel-To-Toe Drop Construction that promotes the natural movement of the foot. The construction itself is so lightweight and stable that your foot will remain secure and on the ground. Whether you’re running through steep trails or you’re lifting weights. The purpose is to make every movement feel as natural and authentic to the form and body as possible, promoting natural movement while still being secure.
Engages the Foot
When you’re wearing traditional laced up sneakers to run you are disengaging multiple areas of your foot, which is why the injury is common in active runners. To avoid injury as much as possible, added is a thin but arched support emulsion insole that gives you a lightweight feel great for barefoot running. These particular insoles provide security and protect the foot as much as possible. Additionally, when you wear these barefoot shoes you can strengthen muscle fibres that get neglected often enabling less injury and bothersome along the way, giving you a natural feeling in the process.
Cost and Value
You will find that these particular barefoot running shoes are not only reasonably priced but with all the great features that they offer they are almost a bargain compared to a well-established brand like Nike, New Balance or the aforementioned Merrell. Furthermore, they come in numerous colours giving you a broad selection to choose from.
When you attempt to mimic a barefoot experience, you’re naturally going to increase the response you give runners as they strike the ground. Hiitave assures its customers will enjoy a true barefoot running sensation when taking this pair out for a test drive.
Almost all buyers quickly discovered that the comfortable work shoe fit as expected and super comfortable. A few say that the comfortable work shoe fits like a glove and it is good protection for walks too. They say that the comfortable work shoe the inner sole makes these much more comfortable for on land and elastic tie takes up any slack. Buyers were eager to recommend it to friends and would-be buyers.
Level it and we'll conquer
Reviewers reported these shoes worked well on all the surfaces they encountered: concrete, pavement, treadmills and dirty gym floors. But the Hiitave is meant for long runs on even surfaces. Runners who dare to take them off-roading may find them uncomfortable at best, and painful at worst. It’s best to select a shoe for the terrain you will be tackling, and if you’re prone to getting bored, keep a variety in your closet.
When barefoot running, stability is a factor that will mostly depend on you. The thin sole and minimal heel offer a slight step up for stability over running barefoot, but runners should not expect a significantly stable feel. This is another reason why a transition period is recommended for these shoes so that the runner can make adjustments to ensure he or she is running safely.
For being the most minimal water shoe in our testing by a mile, as well as the least expensive, we were impressed with the performance of the Hiitave. Overall, if you are on the hunt for an inexpensive and quick to dry water shoe, you can’t go wrong with this choice!
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A more pricey shoe doesn’t necessarily mean a better shoe altogether, but it can mean that you’ll be getting more features and benefits with that cost. The more benefit you can get out of a pair of shoes for a lower cost, the more value they have. The best part is that there is a selection to match everyone’s particular style. Also, there are modern and sleek looking options that look like they’ve just stepped out of a time machine from the future. There are also some more classic looking, traditional choices for those who prefer to be more subtle.
Picking out a shoe may be a daunting task, especially when picking shoes specifically for barefoot running considering that it is just catching on and there's a plethora to choose from. This article was intended to give a rough idea of what to look for when looking for your own pair. Mentioned above are our personal best barefoot running shoes.