Review: Arguably the most popular minimalist running shoe in 2021, the Merrell Glove 4 Trail runners deserve all the attention.
Minimalist shoes are not known for being durable, but these ones do hold up well thanks to a sturdy rubber sole and high-quality material. They have a breezy mesh upper and a barely there 3mm insole as well as a rubber Vibram sole that gives excellent ground feedback.
Review: The Vibram V Trail runners work well on both trail and gravel. With the classic Vibram rubber sole, you will feel the ground under your feet, while still benefiting from the protection and anti-slip properties the durable rubber provides.
These elite running shoes have aggressive treads that will not disappoint trail runners.
Review: The Topo ST-2 running shoes are minimalist, barefoot-style shoes that are essentially a pair of socks with soles. They have a flexible upper with very minimal structure. In fact, you can fold the upper flat.
These shoes keeps your feet very low to the ground, have a thin lightly cushioned midsole and a sock-like folding upper to keep the shoe in place.
Roomy toe box.
Slightly cushioned midsole with a little arch support.
Run wide and large, especially in the toe box.
These are good minimalist running shoes, a barefoot ride with just a little protection underfoot.
Review: This is a neutral competition running shoe with an 8mm drop, a soft minimalist sock-like flyknit upper, a low profile midsole and a sturdy rubber outsole.
The shoe provides minimal support, cushion, and arch support, making this a popular style for those who are determined to experience the barefoot feel but still maintain a bit of cushioning and a bit of a drop.
Low profile foam sole allows for plenty of ground feedback.
More cushioning than most minimalist shoes.
8mm drop may still encourage heel striking.
Feels like a sock with a bit of underfoot support and protection.
Review: These super-light, minimalist style racing flats weigh in at a mere 5.1 oz, demonstrating that these shoes are built for performance.
This 5mm drop shoe is designed for track and road but is not recommended for the trail. As a minimalist racing shoe, they have very little support and the cushioning is firm, but they are responsive and comfortable provided you have enough foot and calf strength to handle them.
G3 outsole provides some stability and support.
Small rubber studs built provide a little extra traction.
Review: This is another minimalist racing shoe. It has a low to the ground feel with some heel cushion, a firm fore foot, and weighs in at 6.5 oz thanks to fantomFit foam combined with REV lite midsole foam.
These shoes offer comfort, good energy return and a modest 4mm drop to keep you moving. These road racers are ideal for 5k, 10k and marathon races.
6.5 oz weight, 4mm drop.
Minimalist style mesh melt breathable upper.
Spacious toe box.
Midfoot is a very snug sock-like fit which might feel small on some people.
This fast, minimalist racing flat is ideal for barefoot runners looking for a little extra cushion.
Review: This barefoot style running shoe makes a great alternative to Vibram 5 Finger shoes.
The 3mm TPU sole allows you to feel the ground beneath your feet while maintaining durability and protecting your feet. They also have a comfortable padded collar, are very very flexible, as minimalist shoes should be, and have a faultless heel design.
3mm TPU sole made with PRO5, which is 5 times more puncture resistance than standard soles.
No-sew upper is very breathable.
Roomy toe box.
The tongue is a little too minimal.
So comfortable you won’t want to take them off, so minimal you may forget you have them on.
Review: This barefoot style trail running shoe is a huge hit. It improves on the Popular Prio shoe because it has better traction and grip, and has a little more protection than the Prio barefoot trail runner. But it’s still a minimalist, zero drop shoe.
The thin removable insole adds a little comfort, the rubber toe cap is there to maintain shoe integrity in rough terrain, and all of these features are made with vegan-friendly materials.
True feel rubber sole offers your feet plenty of feedback from the trail.
3mm foam insole for a little comfort without being too much cushion.
A lugged outsole, perfect for rugged trail terrain.
This shoe runs small, its best to order one size up.
Best minimalist trail running shoes for men who want a barefoot style trail running trainer.
And now, the 8 best minimalist running shoes for women.
Review: The new barefoot running shoe from Xero, the Prio is a crowd-pleaser. This barefoot minimalist style running shoe features a scant 2mm removable insole that keeps you in control of how barefoot a feel you get.
They can be worn with socks, or you can go barefoot. They are good for shorter distances and as everyday training shoes.
Huarache-style ankle straps secure the shoe in place if desired.
5mm Rubber sole is good for road and pavement and provides a little cushioning.
Wide toe box for natural toe splay.
Shoe runs small, order up a size.
Minimalist urban terrain running shoes move you from the track to cityscape, to the gym with ease.
Review: The 5 fingered V Trail Runner is an ideal minimalist training and racing shoe for off road running. The rugged runner sole is super grippy, keeping you sure-footed in wet and dry conditions alike.
The soles are sturdy enough to prevent puncture from sharp rocks, and the multi directional lugs allow you to turn on a dime on even in the roughest trails.
Slim 2mm anti-microbial insole sock liner keeps the shoe odor-free.
Ultralight 6.4 oz shoe.
Polyester spandex upper hugs feet and keeps shoes secure.
The slider on the laces is hard to adjust, making it a pain to take on and off quickly.
The perfect balance of underfoot protection, while maintaining a true barefoot feel.
Review: This is a comfortable minimalist runner with a firmer sole for everyday training.
The sole of the V-run is made from V-lite shock-absorbing material, XS Run material incorporated into the sole for grippiness, and MONT material is durable and firm and stable, even at low temperatures.
Just 4.8 oz. you will barely feel them on.
2mm removable anti-microbial insole, these can be worn barefoot.
Stiffer sole than other Vibrams.
Unpadded tongue exposes laces to the top of bare feet.
Fits like a glove, with a little more substance underfoot.
Review: This barefoot minimal running shoe is perfect for barefoot beginners and experienced runners alike. It is designed for city terrain, asphalt, pavement and track.
The shoe has an ultra-breathable hex mesh, no sew upper to keep your feet comfortable, cool and dry as you conquer your territory. The 3mm sole will give you the sensory feedback you need while still providing plenty of protection from ground hazards.
Pro5 Puncture resistant sole, 5x more puncture resistant than standard sole material.
Durable and breathable Hex-mesh upper provides a secure and comfortable fit.
3mm sole for ultimate underfoot feedback.
Comfortable, lightweight, breathable and providing plenty of protection from whatever hazards your soles encounter on your path. This is very highly-rated minimalist shoe.
Review: The Merrell Vapor Gloves are popular barefoot trail running shoes meaning they provide less support, stack height and cushioning than simply minimalist shoes, but as they’re designed for the trail, they have a gnarly tread.
They literally consist of a mesh sock-like upper attached to a durable and grippy Vibram rubber sole with zero drop.
Durable Vibram rubber sole has great traction.
Breathable mesh upper keeps your feet cool and dry.
Some durability issues with the mesh.
If Merrell can fix the durability issues (are you listening Merrell?), then these could be some of the best minimalist running shoes for women.
Review: Altra make great zero drop shoes for those looking to make the transition from traditional shoes to minimalist shoes.
They still have a reasonable stack height and a good amount of cushioning so it won’t matter if you accidentally land on your heel instead of your forefoot, but the zero drop will allow you to strengthen up your calves and get ready for running on your forefoot all the time.
But despite the stack height, the upper is still relatively minimal, made of breathable mesh at the front and no significant overlays.
Minimalist mesh upper is lightweight and breathable.
Soft cushioning is very comfortable.
Wide, spacious toe box.
Little to no ground-feel.
Not suitable for wide feet – has a narrow midfoot.
These shoes provide a great middle ground between traditional shoes and minimalist shoes, giving you the zero drop but with a good amount of cushioning.
How to Choose Your Best Pair of Minimalist Running Shoe
Balance Between Protection and Ground Feel
Minimalist shoes strike a balance between not wearing anything on your feet while you run and wearing traditional cushioned, often highly structured shoes.
You might like the idea of barefoot running, but the reality of the road or trail may be too much for the uninitiated foot.
Minimalist shoes offer protection from road and trail hazards while allowing you to feel the ground as you run, and develop a more natural (a.k.a. fore-foot striking) running style.
Some minimalist shoes have soles as thin as 3mm, while still offering protection through strong, puncture-resistant material.
What is Stack Height All About?
While we are on the subject of the sole of the shoe, let’s talk about stack height. Stack height is the thickness on the sole and midsole combined.
Basically, the stack height determines how much shoe material is between the bottom of your foot and the ground you run on.
Minimalist shoes have a minimal stack height. Logically, the thinner the stack height, the more you will feel the terrain or road below.
Why are Minimalist Shoes 0 or Low Drop?
First, what is the drop?
The drop is the height difference between your heel and your toe. Think of high heels, they have a really steep drop.
Traditional running shoes also have a relatively high drop compared to other styles of athletic shoes.
It is not uncommon to see a 10mm or 14mm difference between the height of the heel and the height of the toe in more traditional shoes.
When the heel has a higher stack height than your toe, it forces you to land on your heel, also known as heel striking.
A drop of any height is unnatural.
0 drop shoes allow your stride to be as nature intended. Most minimalist shoes have a 0 drop, and a few may have a modest drop of up to 4 mm.
Any higher than that and they probably are not true minimalist shoes.
Weight Problems: Minimalist Shoes Should Not Have One
Some traditional running shoes suffer from weight problems. The material used to add structure, cushion, arch support, stability, stride correction and all that add up.
So, traditional running shoes are often much heavier than minimalist shoes.
A good pair of minimalist shoes should weigh around 10 oz. or less.
But what about the weight of the runner?
If you’re a big guy or gal, transitioning to minimalist shoes could take a little longer and require more of a careful build-up of foot strength.
Check out our article on the best running shoes for heavier people if you’re unsure which direction to go in. There is an excellent list of really well-cushioned and stable shoes that might be a better option.
The Shape of Your Foot
Minimalist don’t just automatically fit everyone just because they’re minimalist. Some will still be better suited to narrow or wide feet so it pays to know what kind of feet you have.
Minimalist shoes, by design, offer little to no cushion, support or stability.
Since you are here reading about minimalist shoes I will assume you are interested in the benefits of wearing minimalist shoes with little to no cushion, support or stability.
Some Benefits (once you’ve adapted and developed nice, strong feet) are:
They help prevent ankle strain and sprains. Since you are lower to the ground using minimalist shoes, it is not as easy for your ankle to roll outward, causing injury.
They’re flexible allowing your foot to bend and curve around the bumps and dips in terrain and use more of the muscles in your feet.
Minimalist shoes have superior traction because of their flexibility; more of your foot is in contact with the ground.
Minimalist shoes usually feature a wide toe box, which allows your toes to splay out naturally. Traditional shoes may bend your toes inward and cause bunions or blisters, or even change your gait.
Minimalist shoes usually have no arch support, forcing your feet to support themselves. Proponents say that traditional arch support causes the muscles of the foot to get weak and lazy from disuse and minimalist shoes do not allow this.
Landing on your forefoot means that your feet absorb the shock of impact instead of your knees, reducing in less wear and tear on your joints over time.
Too good to be true?
After all, it takes time, patience and persistence to adapt to barefoot running, especially if you’ve been a runner for a while and have become very used to heel-striking and relying on the structure and cushioning of traditional shoes.
You may even have problems or injuries like bunions or plantar fasciitis that could make the transition harder or unwise.
If this is the case, and you’re a severe over-pronator, you’ll need to take things really slowly. Check out our article on the best running shoes for overpronators if you’re unsure about making the switch just yet.
If you are interested in making the switch, start out running in a pair of minimalist shoes for just one or two short, easy runs per week and use your regular shoes the rest of the time. Then build up the amount of time you spend in minimalist shoes versus traditional shoes really slowly so that you don’t shock your body and cause an injury.
Be patient and you will get there!
Alternatively, if you’re already made the switch and think that barefoot might be more your style than minimalist, check out our article on the best barefoot running shoes – we’ve already got you covered!
Are Minimalist Shoes Good for Running?
Definitely, provided you’re a forefoot-striker. Heel striking in minimalist shoes could cause injury.
Do You Wear Socks With Minimalist Running Shoes?
This depends on the shoe and what you’re comfortable with, but more minimalist shoes are being designed to be worn without socks. Especially the more barefoot ones.
What are the Benefits of Minimalist Shoes?
As mentioned about, minimalist shoes force you to adopt a more natural running style that is associated with reduced injury and better posture over time.
Are Thin Soles Better for Running?
This depends on how you run. If you’re a heel striker, you’ll need all the cushioning you can get in your heels. If you’re a forefoot striker, then a thin sole can allow for better ground feel and a more natural running style.
Can You Wear Barefoot Shoes Every Day?
Once your feet are strong enough – definitely! After all, didn’t we all start out barefoot all the time?
Does Walking Barefoot Improve Balance?
To a degree, yes. Balance is largely controlled by the inner ear. But walking barefoot strengthens all of the muscles in your feet and lower legs which will definitely help with stability.
How Should a Minimalist Shoe Fit?
Snugly like a sock around the midfoot and heel cup, with plenty of space in the toe box so that your toes will not touch the front, top or sides.
Hopefully, you feel well-introduced to the concept of minimalist shoes and are ready to choose a pair and begin your transition if you haven’t already. Remember, go slow! And you will be fine.
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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!