Best Barefoot Running Shoes Reviewed & Rated for Quality

Some runners believe that it is healthier to run barefoot. Proponents of barefoot running believe that since our bodies are designed to run and walk without shoes, that barefoot running is less likely to experience chronic injuries that are caused by heel striking. The idea behind minimalist footwear (or running sans shoes) is the running stride is shortened, causing you to land nearer the ball of your foot, which is closer to a natural length stride.  A shorter running stride is similar to our primal ancestors, who ran when they hunted and gathered for food, as compared to trotting around in a typical modern running shoe. Modern running shoes have a tendency to cause runners to land on their heels, causing the impact upward into the body, versus landing on the balls of your feet which will better absorb the impact of the ground.

Throughout most of history and even today, many people have run barefoot or wear minimalist shoes. The subject has been studied extensively but the American Podiatric Medical Association has stated that there isn’t enough evidence to conclude that running barefoot is better or worse than running with shoes.

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By Bill Swanson:

In this recent update I confirmed the top 10 listed barefoot running shoes are currently available and still rank in the top 10. I added several hyperlinks. Several Question and answers were added to assist shoppers on expectations of barefoot running shoes.

Featured Recommendations

Merrell Vapor Glove 2
  • Merrell Vapor Glove 2
  • 4.8 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Rubber Sole
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New Balance Minimus
  • New Balance Minimus
  • 4.7 out of 5
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  • Traction
  • Price: See Here
Tesla Sports
  • Tesla Sports
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Heel Loop
  • Price: See Here

Unless the science changes to state otherwise, for now running barefoot is a matter of preference. However, there are some reasons why you may not want to run completely barefoot. For example, you never know when there may be something that could potentially cause injury to your foot such as a piece of glass on the road, a surface which may be hot such as black asphalt, or a hazardous substance. This is why barefoot (also called minimalist) running shoes are a better choice than running barefoot.

These are running shoes that are as thin as possible so that you can run as if you are barefoot while still giving your feet some protection from any hazards that you may encounter while you are jogging. The soles of the running shoes will have a texture or pattern which will improve traction while running on wet surfaces while affording a layer of protection between your foot and the running surface.

 

10 Best Barefoot Running Shoes

 

1. Merrell Vapor Glove 2

1. Merrell Vapor Glove 2
The Vapor Glove is a minimalist shoe that is great for people who are into barefoot running. It has a rubber shoe that protects the bottom of your feet and your toes so that you do not injure yourself on rocks or other hazards. Additionally, it will breathe well so that your feet do not feel hot and sweaty while you are wearing them.
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Mesh

The shoe has mesh throughout the top layers. The mesh is great because it allows your feet to breath and sweat normally, which can help to reduce the odor caused by sweat.

Rubber Sole

The sole on the shoes is made of rubber. The rubber is great because it will keep your feet protected from hot surfaces, rocks, and other hazards that you may step on.

Cost and Value

The Vapor Glove is sold at a price that is higher than the average price. This is because it is a premium product that has been designed with minimalist runners in mind.
Pros
  • The bottom has rubber soles to protect your feet from hazards.
  • It has a mesh lining that breathes well to remove sweat.
  • The footbed has microfiber so that your foot breathes well.
  • You can wash them in cold water when they need to be washed.
  • There is zero cushioning and zero heel-to-toe drop to prevent head strikes.
Cons
  • The lining on the top of the shoes is not durable.
  • Reviewers have experienced problems with the mesh developing holes in it.

2. New Balance Minimus

2. New Balance Minimus
The Minimus is a great option for people who are into minimalist running. It gives you plenty of premium features that you can rely on to have a great experience while you are on the trail. For example, the shoes have mesh on them to let your feet breathe and they are even antimicrobial so that you get less odor.
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Traction

The soles have been designed in a way that lets you run on trails. This will give you the ability to run on top of rocky areas while still wearing a minimalist shoe.

Antimicrobial

You will experience less odor with the New Balance Minimus thanks to its antimicrobial treatment. Microbes are a source of shoe odor so the less there are the better your shoes will smell.

Cost and Value

These are a premium pair of shoes so you will see them sold at a price that is higher than the average price. The premium price is justified by having high-end features.
Pros
  • There is a pull loop on the heel so that you can put them on easy.
  • The sole is designed to protect your feet on rocky trails.
  • The outsole only has a 4mm drop so it's great for minimalist runners.
  • They have an antimicrobial treatment that will help them smell better.
  • The upper part of the shoe is made with flexible mesh.
Cons
  • The soles do not last long and can wear out in as little as three months.
  • Users have reported that it can be hard to break the shoes in.

3. Tesla Sports

3. Tesla Sports
This is a pair of low profile shoes that are great for minimalist runners. They give you lots of grips so that you are less likely to slip while you are out for a jog. They also maintain a low profile that is great for minimalist runners and the breath well to help keep your feet dry and comfortable.
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Heel Loop

There is a loop that is sewed on the heel that you can use the put them on. This will help to prevent damage to the heel counter make them more comfortable.

Flex Groove

The outsoles have a groove that flexes. This will help you maintain stability and traction while you are exercising on surfaces that aren't necessarily smooth such as outdoor trails or the sidewalk.

Cost and Value

The Tesla shoes are sold at a price that is much lower than the average price. The lower price turns them into an excellent value since you don't have to spend a premium on them.
Pros
  • They are true to their size so you can order in your normal size.
  • You can purchase them in eleven different colors and patterns.
  • The soles have a groove design that helps you get traction.
  • There is a heel loop that you can use to put them on.
  • The design allows air to circulate through them to let your feet breathe.
Cons
  • Sometimes the sole will squeak when it is wet or damp.
  • The front part of the sole is thin and can wear out.

4. Inov-8 F-Lite

4. Inov-8 F-Lite
The F-Lite is a great option for minimalist runners thanks to its great flexibility, stability, and grip. This will let you run comfortably and confidently just about anywhere so you can train or exercise where you want to or need to. They also have a strong toe bumper that will protect your toes from getting stubbed on hazards that you may encounter.
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Mesh

The top of the shoes is made of mesh which will help them breathe while you are wearing them. Breathing is important because it will reduce foot odor and microbes.

Dense Heel

The heel area of the soles is denser than the foot area. This will help the shoes last longer in the event that you are a heel runner and tend to have more heel strikes.

Cost and Value

You will find this product sold at a price that is slightly lower than the average price. The lower price is great because you can save on a pair of high-quality shoes.
Pros
  • The sole is made of rubber for shock absorption, durability, and grip.
  • The toe bumper is strong and will help to protect your toes.
  • They have a 360-degree grip so that you can get great traction.
  • The top is made of mesh to help them breathe.
  • It has a dense heel that will last for a long time.
Cons
  • The heel area doesn't always feel as if it's under your heel.
  • Some users have reported that they can hurt your feet.

5. Vibram KSO Evo Cross

5. Vibram KSO Evo Cross
Here is a great option for something that is about as minimal as you can get. It has an ultra thin sole and the toes are individualized which helps you grip well while you are on a jog. They can be washed in the machine when they are dirty so that you can care for them as needed.
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Thin Sole

The sole is made of rubber but it is also as thin as what is feasible. This makes these shoes into true minimalist shoes that let you feel like you are truly barefoot.

Zero Drop

These shoes do not have any drop between the heels and the toes. This effectively eliminates toe strikes and will allow you to run naturally while you are wearing them.

Cost and Value

The KSO Evo Cross is sold at a price that is slightly higher than the average price. You will be able to get a pair of well made minimalist shoes without paying a large premium.
Pros
  • It has individualized toes rather than a toe box for extra grip.
  • There isn't any drop between the heels and the toes.
  • You can wash them in the washing machine on cold.
  • The sole is as thin as possible to promote natural running.
  • They are made of polyester so that they are comfortable and breathe well.
Cons
  • You have to order a size up when purchasing these shoes.
  • The soles are prone to developing holes because they are so thin.

6. Nike Flex

6. Nike Flex
Nike is a brand that has long been associated with making high-quality athletic wear. The Flex is a great option thanks to its low heel drop that makes you feel as if you aren't even wearing anything on your feet while you are running. Your feel can also breath great because the upper portion is made completely from synthetic materials that do not trap moisture.
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Mesh Upper

The upper area of the shoe is made of mesh. Mesh is great because it breathes well and allows heat and sweat to escape from the shoes to improve comfort.

Tri-Star Outsole

The outsoles have a tri-star pattern. This will make them more flexible while you are moving around while helping to give you additional traction at the same time so that you can perform at your best.

Cost and Value

Nike is a premium brand so it should come as no surprise that the Flex is sold at a price that is higher than the average price when compared to other brands.
Pros
  • The heel has a minimal design to make it feel more natural.
  • The mesh has been engined to breathe well and give you support.
  • The midsoles have a core foam under your feet for durability.
  • The outsoles have a tri-star pattern for additional flexibility while moving.
  • They run true to their size so you can order your size.
Cons
  • They have a narrow width so they can feel like they are squeezing your foot.
  • Users have reported that rocks get caught in the soles.

7. QANSI Running Shoes

7. QANSI Running Shoes
Anyone who is looking for something that breathes exceptionally well should consider these shoes by QANSI. They are made with a mesh fabric on the top that lets plenty of moisture and heat escape through the lining and into the atmosphere. This allows you to feel comfortable while you are running. They also offer you great support in the arches for comfort.
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Elastic MD Sole

The sole has been designed to offer you the maximum amount of flexibility. This allows you to run in comfort as well as style because they will bend and conform to your feet.

Breathable

The upper parts are made of a fabric mesh material. The mesh material is great to have because it allows your feet to breathe which will help reduce foot sweat and heat.

Cost and Value

QANSI is sold at an affordable price that is well below the average price. The lower price is because they are thin which costs less to make and is great for minimalist runners.
Pros
  • The upper layer is made of a fabric knit mesh.
  • The soles are designed to flex in any direction easily.
  • They are soft and breath well to provide maximum comfort.
  • The sole has been designed to be durable and reduce skidding.
  • They are sold in ten different colors and patterns so you can get the right pair.
Cons
  • Although they are comfortable, they do not last very long.
  • There isn't a lot of arch support in these shoes.

8. Aleader

8. Aleader
Here is a great option for when you are looking for something that is good for cross training. They have a large outsole that will give you more than enough traction while you are training yet the shoes are lightweight and will make you feel as if you aren't even wearing them. These are great for anyone who wants comfort and stability.
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Hydro-Grip Outsoles

They have large outsoles that provide you with more than enough traction. This will allow you to run on just about any surface without having to worry about slipping and falling.

Lightweight

They are designed to feel lightweight so that you hardly notice them at all. This makes them into a great option for minimalist runners who want as little as possible.

Cost and Value

You will find the Aleader shoes sold at a price that is much lower than the average price. The lower price makes them into a great affordable option that you can try out.
Pros
  • The upper is made of mesh to help them breathe.
  • They have a great look thanks to the claw design on the side.
  • The laces go to the top so that you have full support.
  • The outsole is large which gives you extra traction when running outside.
  • They are lightweight and can hardly be noticed while wearing them.
Cons
  • There isn't any arch support built into them but you can use your own inserts.
  • Some users have reported that they do not last very long.

9. Juan Lightweight Mesh

9. Juan Lightweight Mesh
Here is a great option for when you are looking for something that will breathe well. These have a cotton blend upper. Cotton is a great choice of fabric because it naturally allows heat to pass through it. It's also soft and comfortable so they will feel great on your feet while you are wearing them. You will love the feel of these shoes.
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Rubber Sole

The sole is made of rubber. This will help you get great traction while you are on your morning jog or while you are training. You will love the cushion you get as well.

Quick Dry

There is a vent in the upper portion that allows moisture to pass through it quickly. This allows them to dry in the event that they start to get wet.

Cost and Value

You will find these shoes sold at a rock bottom price. The low price turns them into an excellent value since you won't have to worry about overpaying for them.
Pros
  • The upper is made of a blend of cotton fabric.
  • They have a vent that allows them to dry quickly.
  • The upper is made of a single piece for durability.
  • The sole is made of rubber and will resist slipping.
  • They are lightweight which makes them great for minimal running.
Cons
  • The uppers are very thin and can tear easily.
  • There isn't any arch support but you can use inserts.

10. Xero Shoes

10. Xero Shoes
They are called Xero because they feel as if you aren't even wearing shoes. These shoes have been specifically designed for barefoot runners. They are great because they feature a foot first design that will help you run more naturally then what you can with regular shoes. You will love how flexible they feel as well so it feels like you don't have anything on at all.
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Foot First

Running shoes are normally designed for the heels to strike first but these allow the toes to strike first rather than the heels. This will let you run more naturally.

FeelTrue Sole

The sole is thin but will still give you more than enough traction. This will help you feel stable while you are running on slippery surfaces or jogging on a trail.

Cost and Value

You will find these shoes sold at a price that is much higher than the average price. The higher price is because of the strong materials that allow it to be thin.
Pros
  • The sole is thin and made of rubber so that you can grip.
  • They are designed to feel like you aren't even wearing shoes.
  • They have a foot first design rather than a heel first.
  • The sole is flexible and will bend with your feet.
  • They have an upper mesh layer that lets them breathe.
Cons
  • Some users have reported that they are not durable.
  • Some people find that they are too narrow and squeeze your feet.

Many people want to feel as if they are running barefoot. This is because barefoot running feels more natural than running with traditional running shoes. The issue is that there are still hazards that we need to think about such as rocks, trash, or hot asphalt. If we do not take steps to protect our feet while we are running, then we can end up causing serious foot injury. For this reason, you will still want to wear some sort of shoe so that you don’t accidentally cut open your feet.

The solution to the problem is to get minimalist or barefoot running shoes. These are shoes that are engineered to be as thin as possible and have almost no drop between the heel and the toes. This engineering helps to avoid heel strikes so that you can run more naturally. They are a great compromise between wearing traditional running shoes and wearing no shoes at all. Your feet will be protected from hazards that you may encounter while you are running and you can still run more naturally than what you may be able to otherwise. This is why many people turn to minimalist shoes when they want to do barefoot running.

Criteria Used in Choosing the Best Barefoot Running Shoes

Upper Materials

When are picking out a pair of shoes, you are going to want to look at the material that is used for the upper part of them. This is because the upper area of the shoes will determine how well they breathe while you are wearing them which will influence the comfort of the shoes. There are different materials and combinations of materials but the common ones are synthetic leather, nylon, TUP, and breathable. These materials do not have to be used exclusively and are often mixed depending on the construction of the shoe.

Synthetic leather is a material that is made from polyester and nylon. Durability should be as good as real leather but it will breathe much better and dry faster. Unlike real leather, this material doesn’t have a break in period either so the shoes tend to be a lot more comfortable. Next, you have nylon or mesh that is made of nylon. Nylon flexes well and is a popular material to use in barefoot shoes for this reason. It will give you a more natural feel while still letting the shoe breathe well.

Thermoplastic Urethane (TPU) are usually found in the shoe’s upper. They tend to be small and are placed in areas where abrasion may happen. The primary purpose of them is to reinforce areas of the uppers that may wear out without them. Finally, you have the waterproof uppers that are used on the inside layer of the upper. This prevents water from getting into your shoes while still letting them breathe. When you are picking out a pair of shoes, you will want to see if and where these materials are used since they will affect how the shoes feel and their durability.

The combination of the ultra-lite materials allows the barefoot running shoes to be super lite and give the runner the feeling of running barefoot while still providing a barrier of protection.

Water Resistance

At some point in time, you are going to end up getting exposed to water while you are running or jogging. This can come from a variety of different sources which may include puddles, mud, or even rain. You are going to want to look for a shoe that is able to resist water but at the same time still, allow your foot to breathe so that you do not end up feeling hot and sweaty. This can be a challenge but it can be done.

One of the things that you should look for in a shoe is a rubber sole. Rubber is impervious to water and the sole is what is going to normally make contact with the ground. If your shoe has a rubber sole, then you are less likely to get water in the shoe when you happen to hit a small puddle or even when you are running on the damp or moist ground. Most of the moisture the shoe gets exposed to come from underneath the shoe so this is why it’s important to have rubber in this part.

The uppers are a little more complicated. On the one hand, you need the uppers to breathe so that your foot sweat isn’t trapped in the shoe. However, you also do not want a lot of water leaking into your shoe through the uppers either. The best thing to do is look for synthetic materials that allow your feet to dry quickly. If water happens to pass through the mesh, then it will evaporate so that your feet do not feel as if they are waterlogged while you are running. It can also help to look for uppers that are a little thicker as well.

Flex

The better your shoes flex, the better they will be for barefoot running. This is because shoes that flex well will not lock or hold your feet into a certain position which will let you run more naturally. In this case, it can help to have a pair of shoes that are thinner rather than thicker. Thinner materials are able to flex more easily than thicker materials which will also help the shoes flex better.

It’s pretty easy to tell if the shoes flex well. You can take the pair of shoes in your hands and try to fold and twist them in different areas. If they do not put up a lot of resistance, then you have a flexible pair of shoes. On the other hand, they may feel still in which case they are less flexible. You will need to keep in mind that new shoes will typically be stiffer than thinner shoes so it isn’t uncommon for a new pair of shoes to require a break in period.

Normally, the uppers are not very stiff on any shoes because they need to be comfortable. The soles are a different case because they need to be thicker and stiffer so that the shoes do not wear out. When it comes to flexibility and durability, you are going to need to make some trade-offs. If you want shoes that are more flexible, then they may not last as long as shoes that are stiffer. You should think about how often you are going to wear the shoes and where you will use them and decide if you need soles that are stronger or ones that are more flexible.

Features

Features are important and some features can make the shoes more comfortable and help them last longer. When you are shopping for a pair of shoes, you are going to want to consider what sort of features are offered with the shoes to make sure that they are the perfect pair of shoes for you. The right set of features can increase the value of the shoes and make them a better pair than a more basic pair.

One good feature to look for is the heel loop. The heel loop is a small piece of material that is sewed on the top back of the shoe. You can grab onto it to pull the shoe up over your heel. It may not seem like much, but having a heel loop helps to make the shoe last for a longer period of time since you aren’t going to rub against the heel cushion while you are putting the shoe on.

Another good feature to look for is an anti-microbial lining. Microbes are known to cause odor in shoes and they build up from sweat and bacteria that are on your feet. Since the inside of the shoe is exposed to heat, moisture, and is blocked from sunlight, microbes love to grow on the inside of the shoes. An antimicrobial lining is an interior lining that is treated to kill microbes which will reduce your chance of getting diseases on your feet and it will also help your shoes to smell better. Adding both of these useful features is a great way to make sure that your shoes last longer and are more comfortable to wear in the long run.

Quality

Running shoes take a beating so it’s a good idea to look for ones that are well made and have high quality rather than inexpensive ones that do not last. The issue that many people have with barefoot running shoes is that they do not last and will start to fall apart quickly. It’s difficult to engineer such shoes because the materials need to be thin in order to allow the shoe to have a lightweight and flex well. However, many people get frustrated when they see that their three-month-old pair of shoes is starting to fall apart.

There are a couple of things that you can look at to make sure the shoes last longer. One thing that you can check is the number of stitches on the uppers. Some uppers are made of a solid piece that still lets them flex. However, since there are no stitches, there isn’t any place of the stitches to pull apart. Most shoes will have some stitches and in this case, you will want to make sure that they are tight and that they don’t have any loose threads on them. This will help to keep the uppers from tearing.

The soles tend to be the other trouble spot. They need to be thin in order to flex and keep the shoe lightweight. However, this means that they are more likely to wear out so you have to think about where you are going to be using the shoes. Trail runners may want thicker soles while people who run on indoor track should be fine with thinner ones. If you match the soles to where you are running, they are more likely to last. You should always be sure your barefoot running shoes are allowed to dry thoroughly after each use. A shoe dryer can ensure your shoes are ready for their next run as well as help with odor control by thoroughly drying the shoes.

 

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I put arch supports in my shoes?

A: The only thing that would stop you from using arch supports is if the shoes are too tight to allow room for them. This can be common in these kinds of shoes since many of them are designed to be extra small so that they wrap your feet tightly. It may be best to get the arch supports first and then try them with the shoe to make sure that everything will fit together properly

Q: Should I get shoes with individualized toes?

A: There isn’t anything that says that you have to have individualized toes. Such shoes can make you feel like you are even more barefoot since the toes can flex individually. However, individualized toes may not protect your toes as well as a regular toebox. You should consider using a regular toebox if you are doing outdoor running. The ones that have individualized toes may be better for running indoors on a track where you are less likely to stub your toe.

Q: How do I stop my shoes from getting tears in the upper?

A: Barefoot running shoes are thin on purpose and the material in the shoe may not be strong enough for you. If you keep getting tears in the upper mesh layer, then you will need to switch brands and look for something that is thicker. Although a thicker upper will add more weight to the shoes, it will also make them more durable and will help you save money by making them last for a longer period of time.

Q: Can wearing barefoot shoes help reduce injury?

A: There isn’t any conclusive science that says that barefoot running prevents injuries from running. However, wearing barefoot running shoes is better than wearing no shoes at all because you can seriously injure your feet if you are not careful. Many people little and throw their garbage on the ground and this can include sharp objects such as glass, chicken bones, or sharp plastic. Having some sort of a shoe will help keep you from getting cuts or puncture wounds from such objects.

Q: Can I wash my shoes?

A: Many brands of minimalist shoes can be washed in the machine in cold water. Of course, you are going to need to check with the manufacturer to make sure that this is the case otherwise you can ruin the shoes. If you wash the shoes in the washing machine, you should use a mild detergent. When the shoes are done the washing, you should let them air dry until they are ready to use rather than drying in the machine.

Q: How do you actually wear barefoot shoes?

A: You can wear minimalist shoes with socks or without socks, some manufacturers recommend wearing thin socks the first couple of times during the break-in period.

Q: Can I use barefoot running shoes in colder weather?

A: In cold conditions, minimal footwear offers limited protection, especially if you wear them with toe socks but you need to use caution as you may not be able to notice if you are injury your feet in any way because of numbness. It is not advisable to run if your feet are numb from cold.

Q: What happens if I step on a rock, stick, or another object while running in barefoot running shoes?

A: It may hurt, but the soles will offer protection you will not have if running barefoot without barefoot running shoes. It is advisable to use caution while running in low light conditions as objects in your path will be harder to see.

Sources

  1. Wikipedia, Barefoot Running
  2. Wikipedia, Minimalist Shoe
  3. Rei Co-op, How to Choose Barefoot/Minimalist Running Shoes
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