Minimalist shoes are the latest trend among runners and for good reason. While some designs might look slightly awkward in shape (think frog-like feet), their performance has impressed sportsmen of all genres making them worth a try, at the very least. From FiveFinger toe-huggers to sneakers that look like a shoe but fit like a sock, these lightweight kicks ground you to the earth and give you a more natural feel as you manoeuvre your way over different terrains. Sounds great, right? To help you get your hands on a pair of these natural-feeling foot-huggers, we have compiled a comprehensive list of the best barefoot running shoes currently debuting on shelves. Here goes.
The Best Barefoot Running Shoe
Walking in at an affordable price, the FiveFingers KSO EVO’s by Vibram takes the cake for ticking all of the right boxes. Light and flexible, these natural running shoes have been designed to feature XS TREK technology. This technology is responsible for the traction, stability, and durability that the KSO EVO’s are popular for.
Interesting fact: KSO stands for “Keep Stuff Out” and the pair got the name for being one of the first shoes to have a fully enclosed and protective midfoot. The security of this shoe is further enhanced with a flexible upper and quick lacing system and a thin but sturdy midsole that measures less than 5 mm. While these Vibrams might not be much to look at, their performance far outweighs their aesthetics, making them a reliable option for roadrunners who are on the hunt for a combination of impressive ground feel and overall protection. If you like running, check out our guide to the best trail running shoes for men.
Lightly padded tongue
Speed lacing system
XS Trek outsole
- ModelKSO EVO-M
- Weight2 pounds
The upper dries really quickly
The quick lacing system is practical
Available at an affordable price
The toes are on the tight side
New Balance has been manufacturing nifty gear for runners for some time now but the introduction of the MT10V1 Minimus trail shoes has sparked a newfound interest in the brand. Fashionably designed to not only look good, as the name implies, these barefoot shoes also feature a minimalist structure that’s ideally suited to trail running.
Built to maintain an essential forefoot toe splay with a midfoot wrap that holds the foot steady, we can give these “kicks” a whole-hearted thumbs-up for being versatile and reliable during even the most extreme adventures. To add, if you take your hygiene seriously, you might be impressed with the model’s odour-resistant treatment that helps to keep foul smells at bay.Overall, the Minimus 10 v1 is a perfect choice for trail runners who are looking for a breathable, comfortable, and quality running shoe that won’t cost an arm and a leg (or a foot).
4 mm drop
Antimicrobial treatment to reduce odour
Vibram outsole with flex grooves
A stylish shoe
- BrandNew Balance
- Weight12 ounces
Several testers appreciated the flexibility
One of the more aesthetically appealing designs
Durable outsole material
Based on observations, these shoes run small
Shoe-like in appearance, the Trail Glove by Merrell confirms to a minimalist approach by sticking to lightweight materials and fitting like a, well, glove. Boasting a sleek and attractive design, these thin running shoes are ideal for trail runners who enjoy a light, authentic barefoot shoe. What we really appreciate about these guys, however, is that they are not limited to trails. Take to the roads and you won’t notice a difference in feedback or quality!
Accompanying a modest price tag, the Trail Glove 4 Runner oozes style and sophistication while the rugged outsole works at gripping uneven terrains seemingly effortlessly. Crafted to be anatomically correct, comfort is a key feature of this shoe – the fit is blissfully natural! And on reading consumer reviews about this product, we found a lot of admiration for the shoe’s flexibility, slip resistance, construction, and durability. You may also like to check our guide to the best trail running shoes for women.
Mesh & TPU upper
Trailprotect pad for underfoot protection
Vibram TC5 outsole
- ModelTRAIL GLOVE 4-M
- Weight1.8 pounds
These shoes truly do fit like a glove
Provides adequate protection for trail running
Does poorly on long distance or fast runs
Some reviewers hint that the ankle support is lacking
Merrell has impressed us once again, this time with the sleek and lightweight design of the Vapor Glove 3. Available in a wide assortment of attractive colours, these minimalist trail running shoes are not recommended to those who are newcomers to the world of barefoot running. Lacking midsole cushioning and a rock plate, these shoes are, instead, best suited to those who have already adjusted to the closer connection to the earth whilst running.
Vapor Gloves enter the market with a mid-range price tag that we simply cannot argue. The investment gives you an ultra-flexible shoe that flaunts a roomy toe box and a soft and comfortable glove-like fit. The Vibram TC5 outsoles also feature a superior tread, giving you the speed and stability that you will need to tackle different terrains. The minimalist construction, anatomic shape and 0mm heel-to-toe drop provide everything you need for more natural foot movements while protecting you from the harsh elements. We like!
Trailprotect pad for underfoot protection
Breathable mesh linings
Mesh & TPU upper
Rubber outsoles with 2mm lugs
- ModelVAPOR GLOVE 3-M
- Weight12 ounces
Great ground feel
Not suitable for first-time barefoot runners
Engineered for intense workouts and lateral movements, this stellar product provides the feel and performance of a barefoot running shoe while keeping to a slightly sturdier design. The KMD Sport LS training shoes are perfect for bridging the gap between full-on trainers and thinner higher-grade minimalist shoes – making them ideal for beginners but still potent enough for experienced natural runners.
This multi-sport shoe is dynamic and adequately meets the needs of cross-trainers who appreciate the minimalist approach when it comes to footwear, which means it’s the perfect go-to shoe for walkers, runners, yogis, and weightlifters alike. With comfortable toe slots, TC-1 rubber outsoles, and traction pods and lugs that provide maximum grip on all sorts of terrains, the Vibram FiveFingers KMD Sports are excellent value for money. Be sure to also check out our list of the best running shoes for flat feet for more great items like this.
Xs trek outsole
A seamless 2mm polyurethane footbed
Strap closure system
Designed with multi-sport athletes in mind
- ModelKMD Sport LS-W
- Weight2 pounds
Stretchy uppers add to the flexibility of the shoe
The toes slots are extremely comfortable
A lightweight design
The footbed provides superior support
Not ideal for cold weather running
Not the best option for trail running
Ready to marvel at the comfort and impressive performance of the Minimus Cross trainers by New Balance? Let’s start. These minimalist trainers feature a fully knit nylon infused upper that encourages air to flow through the shoe, leaving your feet dry as the stretched material wraps around your foot in a snug and secure fit. Simply slip the gear on as if they were a typical pair of socks – and away you go!
With just a touch of aesthetic flair, these somewhat plain looking kicks remain humble in appearance while their performance is far from modest. Featuring a one-piece Vibram outsole, you can expect reliable traction that offers a noticeably grounded feel during strength training – making this product suitable for athletes of all types, not just runners. Easy on the pocket as well as your feet, we simply have no gripes with the 20v7 Minimus trainers.
REVlite midsole foam
Asym collar with moulded foam
A dynamic multi-purpose shoe
- BrandNew Balance
- ModelMX20BK7 D 105
- Weight12 ounces
Sizing is extremely accurate
Comfortable on long runs
Top marks for breathability
The upper is not very protective
A tad too much compression for weightlifting
If you want to test the waters and don’t feel like splurging on a pair of minimalist shoes that might not exactly tickle your fancy, then WHITIN offers an affordable option without skimping on quality. Possessing all the features of more premium designs, these natural trail runners include a roomy toe box, a rubber sole with excellent ground feedback, and the protection you will need on even the hardiest of trails.
With a quick lacing system and an added strap, WHITIN Minimalist Trail Runners have been engineered for comfort and a secure fit. You also have the option to keep the inner sole for extra padding or you can remove it for a “closer to earth” feel. And if you’re an environmentalist with an appreciation for animal-free merchandise, you’ll be happy to discover that this is also a vegan-friendly product. Our handy guide to the best running shoes for underpronation features more great products like this.
A wide relaxing toe box
Removable sock liners
True rubber sole
- Weight12.3 ounces
Great value for money
Made from durable materials
Available in several colour options
Very good at protecting your feet
The sizing is not always accurate
Well received by the training community, the handsome Bare-XF 210 V2 sneakers by Inov-8 also get our nod of approval. Home to a Power footbed insole that provides cushioning and absorbs shock, this pair of barefoot running shoes is slightly bulkier than other similar models – although they still maintain a very light weight.
Perfect for running, Crossfit, and weightlifting, the Bare-XF’s sticky rubber outsole guards against impact while giving you the grip you need to manoeuvre your way around your workout safely and effectively. Complete with a stretchy mesh upper that breathes like a dream and an aggressive toe bumper that protects your stride, these minimalist running sneakers make the cut for being a quality product that focuses on peaking performance while reducing the chances of injury.
Lightweight natural fit
Adapter web cradle lacing system
360-degree Rope-tec technology
- Weight1 pounds
Excellent for speed training
Ample toe room
Does not fit true to size
The toe cap is on the stiff side
Slightly on the bulky and clunky side, the Prio minimalist trail and road running shoe by Xero is perfect for athletes who are transitioning from average trainers to more grounded and natural footwear. In other words, they make a great “in between” shoe. Arriving on shelves with an acceptable price tag, the Prios keep to a practical yet attractive design (nothing too flashy).
Offering adequate forefoot space, wrapped straps for a snug and secure fit, and a XERO-drop sole that allows for proper balance, posture, and agility, this barefoot sneaker delivers a promising performance. Considering that this is Xerosfirst effort at engineering a minimalist running shoe, we think they did an excellent job at creating a lightweight product that ticks most of the boxes for barefoot running. Love this product? Check out our review of the best running shoes for beginners for our top picks.
Huarache inspired design
Adjustable instep strap
Wear with or without socks
- BrandXero Shoes
Great ground connection despite being slightly bulky
Super sticky and reliable outsole
Capable traction for road or light trail use
Ejects water quickly
They may run a bit small
Rubber on toecap could extend a bit higher
Designed with the intent of combining fashion with practical use, we think Troadlop hit the nail on the head with the introduction of their minimalist hiking shoe range. The brand’s unique selling point is a barefoot shoe that remains permanently dry while you keep moving but they have managed to create a reliable pair of trainers that offers so much more than just that – all while keeping to a competitive price.
Boasting breathable, deodorised, and antibacterial insoles, Troadlop’s Quick Drying Hiking Shoes offer a soft textile lining with a next-to-skin feel. A quick lacing system holds the shoe securely to your foot while the anti-slip rubber soles have impressed us with their superior gripping capabilities even on the most slippery surfaces. If you are a dedicated hiker or enjoy a good run on roads less travelled, you’ll find that you can easily depend on these lightweight, shock-resistant, and durable trail running shoes.
An easy slip-on design
Lightweight mesh and split leather upper
Non-slip and wear-resistant
Breathable and lightweight
- Weight1.1 pounds
Do not wear-and-tear easily
Impressively slip resistant
Huge selection of colours to choose from
The soles are relatively weak
Available in a wide range of striking colours, the Escalante 1.5s run on the notion that style and performance can, in fact, go hand-in-hand. Altra has outdone themselves by designing a minimalist shoe that features the perfect combination of high performance and comfort – finish this off with a trendy look; well, how can you resist the pair?
A sleek shoe that’s popular among runners who prefer to pick up the pace, these lightweight kicks offer a smooth yet springy stride while the Footpod outsoles give you the momentum you need to keep your balance while pushing forward at a speed. Weighing a little heavier on the pocket, we can assure you that the Escalantes premium price tag is attached to a product that’s well worth any dedicated runner’s investment. Find more great products like this by checking out our guide to the best zero drop running shoes.
6mm contour footbed
Attractive colour combinations
EGO foam technology
Suitable for cross-training
- Weight1.95 pounds
Very comfortable out of the box
An extremely versatile shoe
A natural feel with cushioning
Offers sufficient support
Minimal ground feel
The outsole isn’t as long-lasting as one would hope
Calling itself a shoe that kick-started a revolution, we cannot deny the soft and smooth ride that the Kinvara9s boastfully maintain. Light in weight and highly-responsive when it comes to ground feedback, these barefoot running shoes might not have been the first of their kind but they have certainly outdone themselves by making an impact on those who enjoy feeling the earth beneath their feet whilst training.
Featuring a minimal upper that comes in a variety of attractive patterns and designs, the shoe looks good while giving you the comfort you need for long-distance running. Keep in mind that the outsole and tread of these trainers are best suited to paved surfaces, treadmills, and groomed hard-packed trails – so not the best kicks for challenging trails. Overall, the SauconyKinvara 9 has made a lot of athletes happy and content because of its competitive price, simplistic yet handsome design, its excellent construction, and its impressive performance on the beaten paths.
Woven heel support
Pro-Lock lacing system
- ModelKinvara 9
- Weight12 ounces
Smooth heel-to-toe transition
Soft, yet responsive ride
Lightweight despite their bulky appearance
The Pro-lock technology is often more of a hindrance than a help
Strutting in with a household brand name, the Nike Rn 2018s are all that you would expect them to be – and then some. Leaning towards a more basic design than most Nike trainers, this model focuses on barefoot running performance instead of boasting a flashy look. Ensuring a highly-customised wearing experience, you’ll appreciate the comfortable wrap-around heel strap, superior cushioning, and versatility on the asphalt.
While we couldn’t find anything to complain about when it came to the Rns, there were a few naysayers who weren’t impressed with the sizing of the shoes – but this is just a matter of opinion. Instead, our discovery led us to hold this pair of minimalist shoes on a pedestal. We simply love how it wraps around the foot to create a feeling of sereneness which in turn creates a great fit, resulting in a comfortable run that gives you the desired traction. This is apremium shoe that comes with a premium price tag. Don’t forget to also check our guide to the best stability running shoes.
Removable foam insole
Flexible mesh upper
- Weight12 ounces
The shoe keeps your foot securely locked in place
Upper material breathes extremely well
A vegan-friendly product
Poor traction on wet surfaces
The high collar can be slightly uncomfortable
Barefoot Running Shoe Buying Guide & FAQ
How We Chose Our Selection Of Barefoot Running Shoes
Like with all our products, we want to ensure that we pick an assortment of the “best”. This is why we take our determining factors into serious account, paying particular attention to the brand, reviews, and price.
Brand – When it comes to running shoes, you want to stick to a brand that delivers as promised. This is we make sure that each of the shoes featured on our list comes from a reputable source that sticks to its guns in producing quality footwear that has been designed with runners in mind.
Reviews – While brands are excellent at telling us what we want to hear, we prefer to get our feedback straight from the horse’s mouth (the horse being the consumer). This is why we scoured the net to find honest reviews on our barefoot running shoes of choice.The Shoe Hero team then carefully narrowed this list down to a selection of products that we feel we can continue to advertise with confidence.
Price– Purchasing a pair of running shoes should be an investment and this is why we have selected a range of minimalist footwear that will ensure that you will get your money’s worth. Our list features shoes that will meet all types of budgets without skimping on quality features.
Features To Look For In Barefoot Shoes
Drop - When comparing barefoot trainers, you should look specifically at the heel-to-drop. As a rule of thumb, try to find a pair that features a heel-to-toe drop averaging 1mm. Reason being; the purpose of this type of footwear is for the entire foot to touch the ground, not just the heel.
Outsole & Grip – The outsole and grip of the shoes will depend on what you intend on using them for. Trail running shoes, for instance, should have more grip and all-around flexibility (usually with a thicker outsole) while road running barefoot shoes can (and should) forego the chunkier soles.
Material – When it comes to material, breathability and flexibility are key factors. Upper mesh fabrics will help to reduce the build-up of moisture while preventing foul odours and softer materials will glide gently with your skin to reduce chafing and discomfort.
Protection–While soft materials are great for movement and comfort, you certainly do still need some padding to protect your feet from external elements. Look out for barefoot style shoes that are designed with light foam edgings or added padding that will help to protect the most vulnerable areas of your feet.
Size & Fit – When it comes to the minimalist footwear, taking the conventional approach of going by your actual shoe size can be a bit misleading.Most barefoot running shoes run a little smaller but just to make sure, your best option is to fit the shoe on and take a quick run before making your purchase. A fit should be snug from the heel to the arch, giving enough room in the toe box for foot splay. Foot splay is a component of barefoot biomechanics where your toes are encouraged to work and grab for power, stability, and traction.
Durability - Durability is of primary concern when it comes to choosing the ideal barefoot running shoes. To measure the quality and durability of the footwear, we advise you to read the manufacturer’s description and guidelines and then follow their claims up with their customer’s reviews. If you discover a trend where runners are complaining about wear and tear, then skip that product and move on to the next pair of trainers that catch your attention.
Types Of Barefoot Running Shoes
Surface Type Road, Trail, Off-Trail–Road and trail shoes differ considerably in construction. Trail shoes tend to have stiffer midsoles and grippier outsoles that help you to navigate your way over uneven terrains, they are also more barefoot-like. Road or off-trail minimalist shoes, on the other hand, are designed to be lighter on the foot and feature thin and flat midsoles.
Shoe Type–From a distance, these minimalist running shoes look like your average pair of trainers. On closer inspection, however, the upper shoe is made from thinner sock-like materials that are more flexible and hug the foot with a tighter fit.
Sock Type – The most minimalist shoe of them all, sock shoes slip on like a sock but with their thick rubbery soles, they perform more like your average trainers - if not better. Some sock shoes have rounded ends while others are designed to envelop each toe separately.
Barefoot Running Shoe FAQ
Q: Are barefoot running shoes better?
A: If you are happy with the performance of your current running shoes, then there’s no need to change. Barefoot running shoes are great to experiment with, however, and depending on your running style, they might better your running capabilities. It comes down to personal preference and what the user finds to be more comfortable.
Q: Can you wear barefoot shoes every day?
A: Adjusting to barefoot shoes can take time but once your feet have familiarised themselves with the feel and flexibility of these shoes, then yes, you can wear them every day! If you are recovering from an injury or suffer from foot and leg ailments, then we advise you to seek guidance from a professional podiatrist before continuing to wear barefoot shoes on a daily or continuous basis.
Q: Are minimalist shoes good for walking?
A: Many studies have indicated that minimalist shoes are good for walking and effectively strengthen muscles in the foot. Like with running, however, they should be introduced gradually so that your feet can adjust to the new feel and movements that accompany the minimalist structure.
Q: Should I wear socks with minimalist shoes?
A: While the point of minimalist shoes is to keep your footwear, well, minimal, most podiatrists do recommend that you wear socks with this shoe type. Socks help to absorb sweat, they can reduce injuries, and they can help to prevent friction on certain parts of your feet. You get socks that have been specially designed to wear with barefoot running shoes, you can even purchase socks that have individual toe sleeves!
Q: Can barefoot running help plantar fasciitis?
A: Plantar fasciitis occurs when the tissue stretching from your heel to your toes becomes sore and inflamed. Some studies have indicated that wearing minimalist running shoes can help to alleviate the symptoms of this ailment and in many cases, prevent it altogether. But since there is no substantial proof that barefoot running can, in fact, help plantar fasciitis, conservative scientists suggest that barefoot shoes should be prescribed on an individual basis.
- Minimalist/Barefoot Running Basics - REI Co.op
- How should barefoot shoes fit? - Barefoot Training Central
- What are barefoot running shoes? Are they better than traditional running shoes? - Mayo Clinic
- What They’re Saying About Barefoot Running - Plantar Fasciitis Resource