As barefoot running hits the mainstream, it’s no wonder you want the low-down on some of the best options . This article will suggest brands worth parting your money so you get a superior minimalist running experience.
As a minimalist runner, you understand the mechanics of minimal footwear and how when properly introduced, they can strengthen the body. Research also concluded barefoot running could lead to a ‘lessening of impact peak’ in order to decrease the heightened mechanical stress from the repetitive running motion.
Ever since the beginning of time humans have been running. A study published by Harvard indicated how we were able runners without any shoes in early history. With the bare minimum, humans could achieve mid-foot or forefoot strikes with ease and comfort. You’d expect them to have injury after injury right? But that wasn’t the case!
Key Elements to a Brilliant Minimalist Shoe for Running
Experts say there are key things you want to look out or when searching for the right shoes. If you want a more detailed reference of the below points, we suggest reading the rating scale for minimalist shoes published by The Journal of foot and ankle research.
Minimalist shoes checklist:
- Weight is a key factor in distinguishing a minimalist shoe. To be the highest grade the shoe must be under 125g.
- Heel toe drop – you’ll hear this term used frequently when describing minimal running shoes. A shoe will be grade 5 if its heel is under 1mm and anything above 13mm is classed as normal.
- Height refers to how thick the sole is in the middle of the heel. Top points for a thickness (or thinness) of 8mm and anything higher then 32mm doesn’t count.
- How flexible the shoe is; yet another differentiating factor of the minimalist shoe. You test this by seeing how much fold there is from heel to toe. Another way to measure flexibility is to twist the shoe which mimics the action of turning your toe one way and your heel another. The highest grade for a flexible minimalist shoe is 5 (2.5 for fold an 2.5 for twist)
- Stability/control – this refers to the technologies and motion control the brand uses in their design. From multi-density midsoles to raised medial insoles, the top ones will incorporate some elements of premium design.
Beyond this, 2016 has seen some amazing minimalist shoes hit the shelves with a range of new and improved features. This article will however will cover a range of shoes from the past few years so you get the best of the best.
These trainers rank highly due to their amazing performance across a range broad range of terrains. To get the barefoot run you desire, the Trail Glove feature a durable Vibram outsole and intelligently placed lugs to keep you stable. The strong grip is combined with an adaptable flexibility so you get the best of both worlds.
The trail glove's synthetic overlay on the upper structure helps hug feet for a comfortable fit and gives runners that cradlle feel. Here are some other awesome selling points with the Merrell Trail Glove:
- New and improved Omni-fit – the stretched eyelets combine with a synthetic overlay to give an outstandingly secure fit whilst enhancing flexibility.
- Microfibre AirMesh – utilizing breathable materials, your feet are kept cool with a ventilated mesh.
- Fused toe box: this bumper acts as a protector for the front of your feet for extra durability.
- Rearfoot sling: made from artificial leather, this sling reinforces the fit and makes your feet extra stable without adding any weight whatsoever.
- Forefoot plate: the flex plate is engineered for superior flexibility; allowing the forefoot freedom during maneuvers. It additionally shields feet from potentially harmful objects you encounter on the trail.
For a run that gets you close to the ground whilst keeping your feet secure and protected, the Merrel Trail Glove ticks several boxes.
With a zero heel drop and coming in at a featherweight 180 grams, our hopes are holding high for the Trail Gloves ultimate barefoot experience.
Another top class minimal shoe from Merrell is the Bare Access with the price tag of $90. Great for road and with a 0.1mm heel drop, this lightweight shoe weighs just 5.7 oz.
The feedback from Runners World seemed positive quality and performance wise. This model however is geared towards the runner used to the everyday trainer who wants to ease gently into a minimalist shoe.
What are some of the highlights from Bare Access?
- Impact protection underneath
- Vibram outsole for enhanced protection and increased flexibility
- A spacious toebox and cozy fit around the heel area
These features along with the extra cushioning make this trainer a brilliant option to those wanting to dip their toe into barefoot running. With an overall high satisfaction rate, testers thought the shoe was brilliant for speed training and had a good overall fit whilst remaining lightweight.
Coming in at only 172 grams and a zero drop sole, the Evo Pure is a stunning example of thoughtful engineering with a minimal perspective.
Vivobarefoot are well known for producing forward-thinking designs with their uppers and outsole materials. This model is no different as Evo Pure features a suction-type rubbery sole with holes enabling a solid grip on the road. Brilliant for running on track or road, there's no midsole so you have protection from multiple objects.
- Upper covered hexagon making it more durable, lightweight and breathable
- Protected toe box for extra stability
- Anatomically designed sole which is fully flexible with 3mm puncture resistance
- Simple lacing system and shoe loop perfect for drying out or to make slipping them on easier
- Great for wider feet or to encourage strides with spacious toe formation.
If you’re wearing these in winter however, be aware the material is super-thin so a pair of socks is advisable with an insole if preferred. Overall, if you’re passionate and familiar with barefoot running, the Evo Pure gives you complete freedom and encourages a healthy alignment whilst running.
Known as the Precision Fit, this minimalist shoe has been worn by some of the worlds most celebrated athletic champions. With a combination of stability, lightness and durability, the Inov8 comes with a range of features perfect for off-road terrains.
With intelligently located studs to prevent clogging and enable a solid grip on softer surfaces, you’ll discover a reliable shoe in the X-Talon. Its patented Met Cradle webbing overlays are built into the mesh upper which cradle feet comfortably and allows them room to breathe.
Its secure sole also keeps feet dry and protected whilst the Meta-flex grooves help the shoe maintain flexibility. This means you get the room to expand your toes for a free run and natural gait transition.
Some other awesome features of the Inov8 X-Talon are:
- Patented fascia with band technology – this mimics the foot’s capability to apply the ‘windlass effect’. This means that as body weight propels forward and toes spread, the fascia band tension increases. When your heel strikes the floor, the band then fights the lengthening of the medial arch to support body weight. In effect, the shoe becomes a propeller that accelerates you into each stride.
- Multi-directional traction – for a secure grip across a multitude of terrains.
- Interwoven lugs and rubbery sole to make shoe even more stable, despite slippery surfaces.
- Unisex fit which has a comfortable fit for both females and males.
- Meta-flex includes a flex groove which aligns to metatarsal heads for a completely natural forefoot movement.
Coming with a neutral arch support and perfect for a trail terrain, this powerful minimalist shoe is great for runners who want protection with comfort. The 4mm cushioning and 3mm lug depth give your feet a bit more support whilst the Vibram lug patterning enables the foot to flex fully.
- Zero-drop sole
- Featherweight upper molds with breathable mesh lining
- Vibram soles for ultimate grip along with a TrailProtect pad to protect underneath the feet
- Long-lasting Select Fresh technology to stop shoes from smelling. Antimicrobial properties have been added to combat odor and prevent sweat or damp disturbing the shoes fresh feel.
- Vibram lug patterning – specially located throughout the sole except from the arch area so feet flex naturally and comfortably. Also increases grip on both wet and dry terrains. Perfect for humid atmospheres too.
- Vegan friendly design
The FiveFingers embody a raw and authentically minimal feel from the very core of its design. With its glove-like fit, the shoe’s lack of arch support helps you access a heightened lightness and flexibility. Without feeling intrusive in any way, the Bikila EVO also provides you with a good amount of protection too.
- Brilliant traction for the best grip on a multitude of surfaces
- Incredible flexibility and a sock-like fit
- Lock-down speed-laces
- Very lightweight whilst coming with enough protection
- Zero drop design
- Mesh upper for quality ventilation and moisture resistance
- 4mm sole in which 4mm is comprised of EVA footbed for shock absorption
- Rubber toe box for improved protection and longevity.
Perfect for interval training and tough workouts, the Minimus features a burrito tongue for a superior fit and breathable materials. Containing odor-fighting properties, you can happily run without socks and keep your shoes fresh for longer.
For enhanced stability, these pair of minimal shoes delivers a whole range of dynamic features designed for the barefoot enthusiast. Coming with a 4mm drop and weighing only 6.9 oz you get the lightest run possible.
- Asym collar helping to fill the gaps between the ankle for the most comfortable and molded fit.
- Burrito tongue which is kept in place throughout your run and helps feet feel locked in for a confident stride.
- Vibram outsole for the best mix between a solid grip on any surface and flexibility to give feet freedom of movement.
- Synthetic mesh upper for breathability with a lace-cross system giving you the securest fit possible.
Brilliant for road runners who want that extra bit of support and cushioning, the Bare Access will fulfill all your long distance running needs. With a mesh paneled upper to keep feet ventilated and fresh, the reflective detail is a good design for extra safety.
For a zero-drop minimal running shoe with a full-foot connection, the Bare Access Arc gives you complete control with it super responsive insoles.
- Mesh/TPU upper for breathability and enhanced ventilation
- Reflective details for safety in the darkness
- Zero drop, 8mm heel cushion and a 12.7 heel height
- EVA footbed is built from three distinct layers – two of foam and the top layer. This gives you the best support and shoe integrity possible whilst supporting the arch and heel.
- Traditional lacing system so you can get a tailored, secure fit.
- Only weighs 5.8 oz
Yet another strong minimalist contender from Merrell, the Vapor Glove 2 comes with a secure and accurate fit promoting a natural stride. Its uber flexible design enables the foot to move and twist naturally so you get that authentic barefoot feel.
- A breathable mesh upper unit combined with TPU fabrics for extra security
- Odor-wicking technology in the foot bed to protect your shoe from unpleasant smells and effectively minimize sweat
- Durable outer with patented Vibram soul for extra durability and for a quality that doesn’t fade
- Vegan friendly
- Footbed comes fully combined with the outsole, becoming one cohesive unit so runners get a highly minimal, barefoot feel when running.
- This second version is even lighter than the first Vapor Glove for more freedom of movement
Whether you’re going for a gym session or powering through a 5 mile run down your local trail, the KMD Sport's a brilliant all-round training shoe. Known for their snug comfortable fit, you’ll get that minimal feeling without compromising on control.
With an improved structure compared to the prior models, the FiveFingers Sport promotes a natural midfoot strike for a healthy barefoot run. For a shoe with maximum flexibility and marginal support around the arch, the KMD Sport is your perfect match.
- Lightweight construction weighing only 6.7 oz with a 3mm footbed and 4mm rubber sole
- Nylon mesh and polyester upper
- Machine washable vegan design
- Coming with XS TREK technology for ultimate flexibility, firmness and coziness.
- Speedy, intuitive lace system plus buckle for extra comfort and security
- AEGIS Microbe Shield to promote fresh feel and keep bad odors away
- The Footbed has been created from polyurethane to decrease friction underneath feet during runs.
The Pure Boost is a brilliant urban minimal running shoe that delivers a smooth run. With great durability, the Boost has a design geared towards women so offers a more secure, tailored fit. For a sock-like feel and increased responsiveness, this neutral running shoe provides great support for longer running sessions.
- Breathable design with a ventilated upper to keep feet cool and fresh
- Side paneling made from synthetics that combine with a secure lacing system for a locked-in fit
- Sock-like arch support so feet are hugged and fully covered by the breathable upper
- Specially contoured for a female build
- Boost Technology in the mid-sole for a cushioned feel and superior protection upon impact. The runner also receives a greater energy return for a more efficient stride
- Affordable for the advanced features
- A grid design on the outsole that adapts to the surface and provides extra grip no matter what the conditions
Now one for the males, this minimal cross-training shoe from ASICS gets top marks for durability and holds its quality under intense training regimes. Brilliant for Iron Man races to daily trail running, the Fortius TR has a high-traction outsole for great grip even when the ground is slippery.
If you want a protective minimal shoe, the gel cushioning and toe cap provide extra support and shielding from any obstacles encountered on your run. Weighing 9.4 oz, this is a slightly heavier minimal running shoe with a low-profile sole and stripped-down feel.
- Double stitching in panel for a supportive feel during quicker lateral strides
- Gel cushioning and toe cap for a durable and protective shoe
- Breathable mesh upper to keep feet ventilated for a fresh feel
- Abrasion-resistant material for a durability
- Asymmetrical lacing for the best possible fit tailored to your feet’s contour
- AHAR Plus outsole to provide exceptional durability with high abrasion rubber in important areas
With a bigger picture of high-quality minimal shoes on the market, you can match the features to your current requirements. Understanding what each has to offer brings you closer to finding your perfect minimal match.