Best Barefoot Running Shoes

If you’re a minimalist runner who thrives off being one with the pavement, you need the best barefoot running shoes to help you reach your maximum potential

Advocates say that barefoot running shoes let you run with a more fluid gait. Proper barefoot running form and technique allows your body to naturally absorb the shock while running, instead of being forced to land on your heels like modern shoes.

You feel more at one with the road and more alive as you try to awake all 20 or so muscles in the engineering marvel that is your foot.

Here are the 5 best barefoot running shoes on the market:

Vibram FiveFingers

Vibram Fivefingers Shoes

The Vibram FiveFingers design has become the embodiment of the barefoot running shoe. It made athletes take notice that there is an alternative to the plump, comparatively clumpy styles that we were conditioned to believe are sensible and mandatory.

In case you feel that a pair of FiveFingers is just too freaky to wear, Vibram lays out the case for doing so in sharp, scientific language. “The human foot is composed of numerous bones, joints, sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments.

To keep feet stimulated, we recommend wearing FiveFingers barefoot footwear for exercise, play and fun,” Vibram says. Fitness critic, Marc Perry, said in his Built Lean Vibram FiveFinger s Review that he went on a journey from hate to love with the shoes. “

I ran a marathon in Vibram FiveFingers and had no soreness after the race or even the next day,” he said.

Brooks Pure Cadence

Brooks Pure Cadence shoes

An established leader in the running shoes field, Brooks has crossed the floor and gone for even lighter shoes than it normally designs.

Brooks doesn’t define the Pure Cadence line as minimalist, but rather as a lightweight alternative that can help you “float or feel.” Brooks portrays it as just as much of an engineering marvel as the human foot itself.

The line boasts, “lean construction and a responsive fit.” Brooks adds, “it rethinks how support technology is engineered.”

Features like the internal Progressive Diagonal Roll Bar (PDRB) – a soft density ramp strategically put in the midsole that guides the foot through a smooth and stable transition – deter overpronation without added parts.  Additionally, the wide Nav Band “holds your foot like an endless hug.

The shoes are widely said to live up to the hype. They certainly look good, but are less hardcore than FiveFingers.

New Balance Minimus

Red Nike Free 5.0

As with the Brooks Pure Cadence, the New Balance Minimus could be mistaken for a regular running shoe at first sight.

Again like Brooks, New Balance has its case for wearing its minimalist sneakers beautifully mapped out, saying, “we put all our design know-how to work to create minimal shoes that maximize performance.

Because it’s one thing to just call shoes minimal – it’s another thing altogether to lead a running revolution.” The hexagon design and ultra-low weight make this one of the best barefoot running shoes to allow you to feel as if there’s no barrier at all between you and the ground.

In a review of a recent model, the Minimus Hi-Rez, analyst Tim Kelley wrote on BirthdayShoes that, at 3.7oz, the shoes are on par with some of Vibram’s lightest offerings. He says, “in practice, the ground feel of the Hi-Rez is absolutely tremendous.”

Nike Free

Nike Free line shoes

Nike’s Free line cleverly riffs on the idea of “free running” and Parkour. On their website’s numerics system, Nike states that “a lower number means a lower, more flexible midsole – and a more barefoot-like feel.”

Again, these lightweight sneakers boast a fair bit of cushioning compared to the industry benchmark, the Vibram FiveFingers.

Some Nike Free versions, however, are great looking. The Guardian’s running blog raves about the 3.0 model, saying, ”they fit like a glove, are light and bouncy and allow easy barefoot-style running.

After about 15 miles, they start giving me sore feet, but to be fair, Nike doesn’t recommend them for distances over 10K.”

The secret that makes Free line one of the best barefoot running shoes is its deep flex grooves that promote agile, multi-directional movement and flexibility.

This is ideal for getting the most out of your workouts, whether it involves strictly distance running or different types of training.

Xero Shoes

barefoot Xero shoes

In a daring field, Xero minimalist running shoes might be the lightest range on the market. The company knows that its shoes are radical, stating they are, “the closest thing to barefoot plus the protection you want, a perfect fit, and a style that’s your very own,.”

Seriously close to being barefoot, the shoes resemble a pair of flip-flops.

Xero shoes, however, take a cue from the huaraches sandals worn by the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. Despite their extremely skinny form factor, Xero shoes seem convincing for a simple reason: the warranty, which runs to 5,000 miles – roughly the length of South America.

A source for the minimalist running blog, Barefoot Beginner, writes, “I have been running in Xero shoes since before their re-branding and I always knew them as Invisible shoes. I love them and usually have them slipped into my pocket when I head out for a longer barefoot run.”

That is what barefoot running shoes are all about – hardly knowing they are there as you try to hit your stride.

What Are Barefoot Running Shoes?

Doesn’t going barefoot mean to be without shoes? Not in the crazy world of barefoot running!

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, you can enjoy the exhilarating freedom of barefoot running while still having protection when you need it most.

Minimalist footwear or barefoot running shoes are both interchangeable terms in the current barefooting world.

Whether you call barefoot shoes truly bare or not, the idea itself is simple, but the practice revolutionary.

Putting less on your feet allows you to live, walk, or run more freely without the hindrance of more cushioning, weight, and motion control.

It is a way that you can still connect, feel, flex, react, and connect naturally to the Earth under toe.

How Do I Choose a Pair of Barefoot Shoes?

From running sandals to flats, racers, and moccasins, the variety of minimalist shoes on the market is astounding. There are even some models that might be labeled hybrids.

The different types of barefoot shoes include minimal, neutral, and those used for walking, working, or casual affairs.

The hybrids offer little arch support, motion control, or slight heel raise. They do, however, promote natural running motion, favoring a mid-foot strike.

The padding and support offers some stability but preserves most of the barefoot feel, style, flex, and comfort. 

When Do I Use Minimalist Running Shoes?

It is easier to develop good form and running habits by first going purely barefoot. The feedback from your feet can teach you more in a week than any shoe, ever.

Once you are ready for minimalist footwear or barefoot shoes, you’ll appreciate the freedom your feet and body now possess.

Finding the perfect shoe for your running program might take some trial and error, but with the variety on the market, finding footwear to tickle your fancy shouldn’t be that difficult.

Characteristics of good minimalist running shoes

No Arch Support

Barefoot shoes remove the curvy arch support, allowing your foot’s natural arch to take over.

Unlike most shoes on the market, barefoot shoes are flat, allowing your heel to drop (called zero drop) all the way to the ground.

This is important to maintain a natural gait pattern allowing the calf and Achilles tendon to flex, spring, and respond with each step.

No Cushioning

Traditional running shoes are stuffed with round, bumpy padding to absorb shock. Barefoot shoes do not have the fluffy padding.

The absence of cushioning allows your foot to feel the ground when it hits. This is what gives a barefoot shoe it’s distinctive feel.

No Motion Control

The firm side support and other structural attempts to prevent pronation are gone in barefoot shoes. Minimalist shoes allow your foot to roll, flex, and move freely.

A Wide Toe Box

Traditional running shoes have a narrow toe box. Barefoot shoes have wider or easily flexible toe boxes, which allow your toes to spread when they land.

Light Upper

Whether made of mesh, a strap, or fabric, it is important that this is light and breathable. It might also stretch, flex, and be pretty to look at.

Adjustability

Whether accomplished with velcro or laces, most shoes need to have an adjustable upper. If it is too tight, it limits circulation. If it is too loose, it will either fly off or cause you to adjust your landing in negative ways.

Insole

If it has an insole, it should be removable and the shoe should still be comfortable. It should not offer any support such as an orthotic might. It is best if an insole is non-existent, but it adds to the life, comfort, and durability of the shoe.

Outsole

This should not be made up of too much EVA foam or anything that controls motion. It should be durable, lightweight, and be able to handle the surface on which you plan to run.

A note about socks (including toe socks for Vibrams):

Socks are not really invited to the barefoot shoe party. Besides adding more layers between you and the ground, socks actually constrict the foot, limiting blood flow, which actually keeps your feet cold. 

About the Reviewer

CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.