Best Barefoot Shoes: The Closest Thing to Walking Barefoot
These shoes will make you feel like you aren’t wearing any footwear
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PUBLISHED ON November 18, 2019
Barefoot shoes have become very popular in recent years. They are comfortable and offer users a more natural feel when walking. There are also health benefits associated with them; they can help build muscle and relieve joint pain. This buying guide looks at the three best barefoot shoes available today.
- Best OverallVibram Men's KSO EVO Cross Training ShoeSummarySummary
These barefoot shoes are lightweight and flexible. The shoe is shaped like a human foot with individual sections for the toes.ProsPros
The “toe flex” area of the shoe gives it a natural feel. It also has a great grip, and the speed lacing system ensures a snug fit in most conditions.ConsCons
They are unconventional shoes that can feel odd to wear and to look at. They are also known to wear out fast due to the thin sole.
- Best ValueMerrell Men's Vapor Glove 4 SneakerSummarySummary
These shoes are versatile and can work for both road and trail running in addition to crosstraining.ProsPros
They come with a Vibram sole and are very light. The toe cap is enclosed in rubber to guard the toes against bangs and scratches.ConsCons
There have been complaints that the toe box is a bit narrow for a barefoot shoe. The lack of cushioning means feedback from the road can be harsh.
- Honorable MentionVivo Barefoot Men's Ra Ii-m ShoesSummarySummary
These comfortable shoes are for those who want the barefoot experience in a less sporty package. They are equally at home with formal or casual wear.ProsPros
These British-designed shoes are breathable and made with supple African leather. The thin sole also makes them very flexible and gives them a more natural feel when walkingConsCons
There are currently no U.S. repair agents. They also have a polarizing look; some people love them and others hate them. The price is rather steep.
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Benefits of Barefoot Shoes
- Low-impact gait.The lower heel-to-toe drop within the shoes means that it encourages you to move more naturally. Traditional running shoes don’t have this and can cause you to change your gait to something unnatural and more stressful on your legs and back.
- Lightweight. The lighter your shoes are, the less effort you need to move your feet and the bulk wrapped around them. This saved effort can help you move more efficiently and travel further.
- Ground feel. The thinner shoes mean there is less bulk between your feet and the ground. This will help you feel nimbler and more in touch with the ground and how you place your feet.
Types of Barefoot Shoes
These shoes have smoother soles to achieve better comfort while running on urban terrain. They still have a low profile upper and zero drop. Look for a thin, flat sole that creates a shoe that’s incredibly flexible. You should be able to roll the shoe up. You might find that some barefoot running shoes are styled to look like a regular running shoe on the upper.
These shoes have deep lugs to achieve better traction while running on slippery and unstable terrain. These shoes tend to be more like a minimalist running shoe because they need to protect your feet. The outsoles are thicker, and you’ll see protective features such as a toe box with a rubber coating.
These aren’t designed for long-distance running. These shoes are best for someone who likes to be barefoot but needs something to put on their feet while in the gym for weight training. They tend to have a similar look to the road shoes with a smooth sole and more traditional shoe styling on the upper.
As more people convert to wearing barefoot shoes, manufacturers have begun to apply the same principles to lifestyle shoes. These are shoes meant to be worn to the office or out to dinner, not when working out. You’ll find more traditional shoe materials such as leather, wool, and canvas with traditional stylings, such as lace-up.
This American footwear company is known for producing high-quality shoes that are durable enough to withstand high-performance activities. It was founded in 1981 in Waitsfield, Vermont. The Merrell Women's Vapor Glove 2 Barefoot Trail Running Shoe is a quality shoe that is sure to perform well during your workout.
This Italian company was founded in 1937. The company is known for making rubber soles for shoe production across the world. It also pioneered the barefoot shoe movement with the FiveFingers shoe line. Check out the Vibram FiveFingers, V-Aqua Water Shoe and experience Italian quality and craftsmanship.
Well-known for its wide variety of athletic shoes, New Balance has begun producing minimalist shoes. Founded in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1906, the company has a long history of research and innovation in sporting equipment and apparel. The New Balance Women's WT10v1 Minimus Trail Running Shoe is a perfect example of the company’s commitment to innovation.
Founded in 2009 in Boulder, Colorado, Xero Shoes focuses on producing the highest quality lightweight and minimalist footwear. The company focuses on creating shoes that contour to the shape of your foot for comfort while walking, running, or any other athletic activity. Check out the Xero Shoes Pacifica Men's Minimalist Wool Shoe and experience the comfort for yourself.
Founded in Eugene, Oregon, in 1964, Nike is one of the most well-known brands in sporting goods. They produce everything from apparel to gear for a wide variety of sports, so it’s no surprise that they make barefoot and minimalist running shoes. Check out the Nike Women’s’ Free RN Flyknit 2018 Running Athletic for a lightweight shoe option.
Barefoot Shoes Pricing
- Under $50: These shoes are more casual and meant for lifestyle wear and not working out. You won’t find high tech features. Instead, they have fashion styling with decorative lacing.
- $50 to $100: You can find a decent pair of barefoot shoes in this range from top companies like Nike and Vapor. This is an ideal price range for investment if you’re new to barefoot shoes.
- $100 to $150: These shoes have the most flex and use innovative materials to achieve the more realistic barefoot feel. The shoes are lighter and tend to have bold athletic styles.
A minimalist shoe should be just as flexible as your foot. This will allow your foot to make as many micro-movements as needed to help you maintain grip and stability. Look for both longitudinal (folding) and torsional (twisting) flex. This will enable your foot to wrap and twist around natural obstacles.
Heel to Toe Drop
This is the difference in the amount of cushioning under your toes and heel. Traditional running shoes put your foot in a downward sloping angle. This is supposed to encourage a first strike on the ball of your foot but actually does the opposite. Ideal barefoot shoes have a zero drop, so your entire foot is on the same level. This will help you strike the ground with your forefoot first.
This is the thickness of the sole on the bottom of the shoe. It’s typically measured at the center of the heel, where there is the most amount of cushioning. The smaller this number is, the less cushioning your heel will have. Therefore, if you want a closer to barefoot feel, you need to find the least amount of stack height.
- Weight. The less bulk your feet need to move, the more barefoot your shoes will feel. While a few ounces may not seem like a lot, it will have compounding effects over time. The less weight you have to move, the more efficiently you can travel. Compare the total weight of the barefoot shoes and consider the distance you plan to travel in them.
- Toe Box. You need a nice and wide toe box to give your toes space to splay out and provide you with increased stability. This will give you the most natural stance as if you weren’t wearing shoes at all. Barefoot shoes with individual toe compartments provide the greatest amount of toe splay with no confining toe box.
- Grip. Almost all barefoot shoes have a rubber sole that is molded into a pattern of grooves and indentations. This is to give you slip-resistance and grip on slippery surfaces. Water can flow through the grooves so you can maintain contact with the ground. They also provide greater grip capabilities through the toes to make running up and downhill easier.
Best Barefoot Shoes Reviews & Recommendations 2020
Best Overall: Vibram Men’s KSO EVO Cross Training Shoe
These barefoot shoes are lightweight and extremely flexible. The shoe is shaped like a foot with an individual space for each toe.
You’ll achieve great grip with these shoes thanks to their “toe flex” area. This gives the shoes a natural feel. Then the speed lacing system will make them easy to put on and off while also creating a perfect fit on your foot.
The unusual look of the shoes makes them controversial. They can feel odd when you first put them on. They have a thin sole on the bottom, which can result in them wearing out quickly.
Best Value: Merrell Vapour Glove 4
These barefoot shoes are 100 percent textile with a Vibram sole. They come in four stylish colors: black, lime, blue, and gray. They have a low profile, which makes them versatile for both road and trail running, or even cross-training.
The Vibram sole makes them incredibly light. The rubber toe cap provides your toes protection against scratches and bangs. The Barefoot 2 construction gives the shoe stability during variable movement.
Some wearers find the toe area of the shoe to be too narrow. There is also a distinct lack of cushioning, which can make running on rough surfaces hard on the feet.
Honorable Mention: Vivobarefoot Men’s Ra li-m
These shoes take the barefoot concept and put it into a regular, less sporty-looking shoe. They’re 100 percent leather and can work in a casual or more formal environment. On the bottom is a rubber sole.
The entire shoe is waterproof and treated with a Dri-Lex lining. The leather is breathable, and the rubber sole is thin, which makes these shoes incredibly comfortable.
Unfortunately, there is no repair agent located in the United States. This can make repair and maintenance difficult. They also have a unique look that some may find unappealing. Their price is also quite steep when compared to similar leather shoes.
- Transitioning from a shoe with lots of support to a barefoot shoe can increase the chances of an injury. It is sometimes best to work down through the minimalist shoes before opting for barefoot shoes.
- It’s normal for some muscle pain to occur in the early stages of wearing these shoes because the muscles on the feet and legs are working in a different way. Start slow and work your way up.
- Barefoot shoes and orthotics or foot inserts don’t work well together. Most brands don’t have space to add an orthotic, and wearing them defeats the purpose of the barefoot shoe.
Q: What are the benefits of a barefoot shoe?
A: A barefoot shoe is designed to provide the most natural running or walking experience possible. They are supposed to encourage a more natural gait and posture as well as give you a better feel for the terrain.
Q: What should I look for in a barefoot shoe?
A: A barefoot shoe must have a thin sole of less than 6mm. It must also be completely level with no heels or arch support. It must also be lightweight and be wide enough to accommodate the toes comfortably.
Q: How do I choose a barefoot shoe?
A: It depends on what the shoe will be used for. On smooth surfaces like roads and sidewalks, the shoes should be lightweight with good breathability and flexibility. For trails, it’s better to focus on traction, durability, and comfort.
Our pick for the best barefoot shoes goes to the Vibram Men’s KSO EVO Cross Training Shoe. They are lightweight and comfortable and give one of the closest barefoot experiences you can get.
For a more affordable option, try the Merrel Vapour Glove 4.