Review: New Balance’s Minimus 10v1 is a minimalist trail running shoe that stands its ground alongside the unbeatable Merrell’s and Vibram’s in the barefoot world.
The Acteva foam midsole provides some stability and shock absorbance while also being responsive. The mesh upper allows for maximum flexibility and breathability while fitting like a comfortable sock, the way it should.
Finally, the Vibram soles with multidirectional lugs stand up against all kind of trail terrain and provide a little more protection than Merrell’s Glove, making this an ideal choice for minimalist trail running.
Durable Vibram outsole.
Pretty stable for a minimalist shoe.
Good traction with multidirectional lugs.
4mm drop so not completely zero drop.
A fantastic option for minimalist trail running (pick up the road version if you’re mostly a pavement junky) and another of the best barefoot trail running shoes.
Review: The latest model in Nike’s Minimalist Free line, the Free RN 2018s are lightweight, comfortable and flexible, designed to feel as though you are running barefoot through grass.
They are a versatile option, designed for shorter distances but perfectly capable of coping with long millage provided you’ve adequately trained your feet.
This shoe sports a unique tread design which is best suited to road runs and soft surfaces but not so much gnarly trails, as stones and debris are likely to get caught in the grooves.
Its unique Flywire lacing system stabilizes your foot for a snug fit while allowing for adequate flexibility and expansion.
More cushioning than most minimalist shoes.
Tread not ideal for trail running.
8mm drop so not a true barefoot shoe.
Not super durable.
While the 8mm drop means this is not a true barefoot shoe, the additional cushioning in the heel makes the Free RN 2018 good barefoot running shoes for newbies to barefoot running who are still transitioning.
Review: Vibram’s latest FiveFinger barefoot trail running shoes are a slightly more rugged version of the V-Run.
The 5mm rubber sole provides protection from debris while the aggressive tread copes with rough trail terrain. The V-Trails are ideal for experienced barefoot runners, being comfortable and ticking all of the boxes for the ideal barefoot shoe.
This is also one of the most stable and protective of Vibram’s shoes so a great option for beginners transitioning to barefoot running.
However, it has no midsole so minimal cushioning – introduce yourself slowly.
Breathable upper feels like a sock.
High-quality sole provides protection against rocks and debris.
Multi-directional lugs provide optimal traction.
May need breaking in.
Foot shaped design means a bit of practice is needed for putting on.
The Vibram V-trails are truly a fail-safe option for barefoot trail running, the best barefoot trail running shoes for women.
Review: The Kinvara 9 is a staple shoe of the Saucony range, lightweight, neutral and minimal in its upper design.
However, though it is not a barefoot shoe when compared to the Merrells and Vibrams on the market, the 4mm drop and 23mm stack height at the heel makes this a great transition shoe for someone moving towards barefoot running.
A 4mm drop is still minimal when compared to conventional running shoes and prevents the feeling of forward compulsion, resulting in a natural running style.
Similarly, though it has substantially less cushioning than conventional running shoes, it has substantially more than the Vibrams.
Breathable mesh upper.
More support and stability than most minimalist shoes.
Requires no break-in.
Pro-lock midfoot lacing system can be restrictive if not adjusted appropriately.
For all intents and purposes, the Kinvara 9 is a solid minimalist running shoe.
Not a true barefoot shoe when compared to the Vibram FiveFinger but still supporting a very natural running style.
Review: Considered to be cushioned for a minimalist shoe, the Bare Access Arc 4 is another great option for those wanting to transition to barefoot running.
It is a neutral road running shoe with a zero drop and a minimalist outsole but reasonably cushioned midsole.
After a mile or two of breaking in, it fits like a glove the way minimalist shoes are supposed to and carries you the distance while encouraging a natural running style.
Extremely spacious toe box.
Reasonably stable for a minimalist shoe.
Benefit from being broken in.
Outsole wears out a little fast.
Not as durable as they could be.
These are likely to be the best barefoot running shoes for flat feet due to the little extra cushioning and spacious fit and for the same reasons the best barefoot running shoes for beginners.
Keen on the trail but not quite ready to take your barefoot running off-road? No sweat!
We have a list of the best trail running shoes for women right here. In fact, it’s actually safer to mix it up in the early days of becoming a barefoot runner, so having a more traditional pair of shoes to swap out with your barefoot shoes a couple of days of a week is a great way of giving your muscles a rest.
Review: The Xero Prio is a neutral, minimal, lightweight, performance running shoe. It scores highly in comfort, not needing a break in period and having the option of a removable insole.
Limited cushioning means that this is a minimalist shoe for experienced barefoot runners.
However, the effective lacing system provides structure and support which in combination with the heel cup provides a snug, secure fit.
Wide toe box.
Flexible mesh upper.
5mm stack height is seriously minimal.
Reflective stripes for night safety.
Sizing runs small.
Another great option when looking for the best barefoot running shoes for wide feet.
On Cloud Women’s Running Shoes
Review: A lesser-known brand but deserving of some attention for its unique design.
On Cloud’s minimalist design promotes a natural running style with a 6mm drop that sits higher than barefoot shoes but half the height of the most conventional running shoes.
However, its drawcard is its substantial cushioning which will provide beginners to barefoot running with a forgiving ride.
Roomy toe box.
Balance of stability and flexibility.
Not as durable as it could be.
This is another of best minimalist running shoes for beginners looking to transition to barefoot running for its minimal design but substantial cushioning and highly comfortable ride.
So, What Are Barefoot Running Shoes?
The main feature of barefoot running shoes, is their extremely light weight.
They will also usually be zero drop (heel and toe the same distance from the ground), minimalist in terms of support, have a low stack height, and be softer and more flexible than standard running shoes.
Barefoot running shoes also have little to no cushioning, meaning that unless you have adapted, or are adapting to mid-foot or toe running, your joints will get a shock.
Similarly, if you usually wear supportive shoes and haven’t yet strengthened your feet, it is imperative to introduce yourself gradually to barefoot shoes.
Most barefoot running shoes are designed to be worn without socks, which may or may not take a bit of getting used to.
They will be sock-like and seamless in their design so rubbing shouldn’t be an issue.
But if this is something that you do experience, chances are with a little breaking in and toughening of your feet over time, the issue will pass.
If you’re new to the concept, check out Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, the man behind the movement!
You might have noticed that some of the shoes on this list aren’t strictly barefoot shoes, but minimalist shoes.
This means they have no drop, but they have a little more cushioning and structure than barefoot shoes.
Minimalist shoes are as far as some people will go with barefoot running, and that is completely fine.
But if you’re going to go all the way, minimalist shoes are the gateway drug, if you will, or the essential transition step between traditional shoes and true barefoot running shoes.
Not sold on the barefoot or minimalist buzz? That’s ok, it’s not for everyone.
If you came here looking for a solution for your overpronation but you’re not quite ready to make the transition, or you’d prefer to stick to your tried and true supportive shoe, that is definitely ok.
Having problems with knee pain? Consider wearing a knee sleeve for running to reduce your pain and support your recovery. You don’t have to suffer in silence!
How Should You Choose the Best Barefoot Running Shoes?
Which shoes you choose depends on how experienced you are with barefoot running and consequently the amount of cushioning, support and drop you are looking for.
Typically, all three of these decrease with experience as you get closer to true barefoot running.
For those transitioning, a little more drop and cushioning help reduce the chances of injury while you adapt.
Other factors such as tread and durability depend on the type of running surface you frequent (trail vs. road).
But, let’s face it, 2mm soles are going to wear out faster than conventional running shoe soles, it’s just a fact.
Finally, most barefoot running shoes are going to breathable, lightweight, and as flexible as possible, allowing for a running style as close as possible to barefoot running.
They will also have a very spacious toe box and allow for maximum toe splay.
But, at the end of the day, comfort is the most important factor. And what one person finds comfortable will be different for someone else so you might need to experiment.
Do You Wear Socks with Barefoot Running Shoes?
This is completely optional and depends on whether you’re prone to blisters or how well your shoes fit you.
There is no right or wrong answer for this, though barefoot shoes are usually designed to be worn without socks.
The only thing to bear in mind is that shoes with individual toes like Vibram’s Fivefingers, will require socks with individual toes.
Do Barefoot Shoes Strengthen Arches?
The short answer is ‘yes’. The longer answer is, it takes some time and you’ll have to train your feet in order to avoid injury.
Are Barefoot Shoes Worth it?
This depends on your goals and the current state of your feet. Some people’s feet are just never going to be able to transition to barefoot running. Other people find it life-changing.
If you’re on the fence, give it a try and see what you think.
How do You Run in Barefoot Shoes?
Running in barefoot shoes requires a shorter stride, slightly more upright posture, and a forefoot or midfoot strike.
It takes time to adjust your style and strengthen up your feet and calves so don’t rush this process.
Can You Wear Barefoot Shoes Every Day?
Definitely. But if you’re just starting out, limit this to a short amount of time and gradually build up.
Eventually, they’ll be the only kind of shoe you wear!
What are the Benefits of Running Barefoot?
Running barefoot strengthens the muscles in your feet and lower leg and changes your running style to land on your forefoot so that your feet are able to absorb the shock of impact and your knees and hips don’t have to.
Eventually, the theory is that this limits or eliminates the problems associated with over or under pronation and other injuries such as shin splints.
So there you have it, the best barefoot running shoes of 2021.
I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful.
Good luck with your barefoot journey and be sure to comment and subscribe below.
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Michael is a fitness expert and professional home/garage gym builder. His tutorials, guides, and reviews are backed up by his own experience and will definitely help you achieve your goals. He also loves putting mayo AND ketchup on the pizza for some reason!