Best Minimalist Running Shoes for Men & Women
Okay first things first, why minimalist running shoes? Well, based on the research we’ve done the idea is to provide protection for your foot while allowing the human body to run the way it ran way back in the day before shoes. Is this a good thing? Honestly, it depends on who you ask and the web is a confusing place full of a lot of different opinions. And since we’re not going to get into the business of saying what’s best or safest for any single runner, we’re just going to urge you to ask around, ask the web, ask an orthopedist, ask a runner. Basically, do your due diligence and if after you’ve done that you decide you want to give minimalist running a go, well come here when you’re done.
Now onto the second issue, if you are venturing into the world of minimalist running shoes, it can seem a bit overwhelming. Before the shopping begins, make sure that if you are an experienced runner and are used to traditional running shoes, transition into minimalist shoes gradually in order to avoid injury. Minimalist shoes are constructed to allow your foot to work more naturally than in a traditional running shoe and are said to help you run more efficiently. That’s a lot to take in but running, as much as we love it is a high impact sport, and if you’re a big person, the amount of weight your legs are carrying each time that foot strikes pavement is profound. So, by all means, go with minimalist running shoes if you’ve decided that’s your thing, but be smart about it, as we said transition slowly and if something hurts… STOP!
- Merrell Vapor Glove 3
- Breathable Upper
- Nike Free RN Flyknit
- Arch Support
- Vibram KSO EVO
- All Terrain
These low profile shoes are also aimed at not changing your gait or foot strike but also help protect your feet from any debris on the ground. Another benefit of minimalist running shoes is that they allow you to strike the ground with the middle or front of the foot, rather than the heel, thus avoiding more stress on the legs. All in all, the minimalist running shoe is a great transition from the traditional way of running to barefoot running. Or, if you find yourself loving the freedom of minimalist running versus traditional running, you can stay in the minimalist category and not venture to barefoot at all. We have looked into some great options for minimalist running shoes to help you on your running journey.
10 Best Minimalist Running Shoes
1. Merrell Vapor Glove 3
This sneaker is extremely airy with its mesh and TPU upper to help your feet breathe as you run. However, since it is virtually impossible to eliminate all sweat from your minimalist-running feet, the upper is also treated with M Select Fresh to reduce odor.
Minimalist shoes can be just that in their outsole - minimal. That’s not as much the case with the Merrell Vapor Glove 2. Its Vibram outsole and lugs give you the right amount of protection against ground debris while also allowing for a low profile, making it a great choice for trail runners.
Cost and Value
Minimalist running shoes can run pretty deep into your wallet since they are such a specialized shoe. However, the Merrell Vapor Glove 3 has a pretty middle of the road price for this type of footwear. It’s a great value for what you get.
- Lightweight (5.5 oz.)
- Generous toebox
- Zero heel to toe drop
- Available in several colors/Designs
- Mesh upper means careful handling needed to avoid tearing
- May be too narrow for some feet
2. Nike Free RN Flyknit
The Nike engineers spent years studying the foot and developed their Free line of shoes to fit as snugly as possible, making them virtually undetectable shoes to the wearer. The soft, comfortable FlyKnit upper conforms to the foot like a sock, making them super-snug.
Since most minimalist running shoes are designed to have as little between your foot and the ground as possible, they often offer minimal arch support. If you are looking for a low profile, a minimal running shoe that offers more arch support, then the Nike Free RN Flyknit is a great option.
Cost and Value
The Nike name and the supreme engineering that goes into these shoes makes them a higher priced option. They are a great hybrid between highly minimalist shoes and traditional supportive running shoes, all while being extremely comfortable.
- Soft and comfortable
- Snug to your foot
- Available in lots of fun color options
- Arch support for people who need it
- Run true to size
- Run narrow - not good for wide/flat feet
- FlyKnit material may get dirty quickly in some colors
3. Vibram KSO EVO
The unique bungee speed-lacing system on these shoes is a big plus, especially for trail running. They are easy to put on and take off, even if you happened upon some muck on your run. The lacing system also gives the shoes a snug fit with no slip.
These are great trail runners but can also be used for the road if you are more experienced. These minimalist running shoes help your feet feel natural but also protect you from debris with their Trek outsole. They can withstand wet elements and are machine washable.
Cost and Value
These five-fingered shoes are right up there with many other minimalist options as far as cost goes. They are a specialized shoe so come with the higher price tag.
4. Vibram V
With their zero drop and low profile design, the Vibram V will give you an extremely natural minimalist trail run next to going barefoot. The outsole, with its multi-directional lugs, will offer the protection you need on the trails with the comfort and feel of a minimalist shoe.
Five-Fingered Toe Protection
Vibram’s cocoon style outsole hugs the heel, wraps up the sides, and up around the toes, protecting you from rocks and ground debris on an off-road run. Traditional trail shoes offer this protection but this sneaker is designed to protect your feet without the bulkiness of a traditional trail running sneaker.
Cost and Value
As another highly specialized shoe, the Vibram V is a little pricier than some but compares in cost to many on this list. It’s an excellent choice for the minimalist trail runner.
- Protective minimal design
- Five Fingered natural eel
- Spandex and polyester upper to protect against wetness
- Machine Washable
- Easy lacing system
- Wide feet need to size up
- Some say big toe is uncomfortable
5. Saucony Kinvara 6
Many minimalist running shoes offer zero drop but no cushion. The Saucony Kinvara 6 offers the zero drop but with a little extra oomph in the cushioning department. These are a great treadmill or road running shoe because they are lightweight with some support in the heel and arch. The Grid technology in the sole provides more support than a regular minimalist shoe.
One look at the Saucony Kinvara 6, and you’ll notice the outsole. It is a more rugged look than many minimalist shoes; it looks more like a traditional sole. This is due to the cushioning and small amount of arch support. The sole is designed to protect your feet from impact while still giving you the lightweight zero drop that you may be looking for.
Cost and Value
These lightweight minimalist running shoes are pricier than some. They come with the well-known Saucony brand name and are constructed to give you a supportive and minimalist run. Although a little more expensive, they are an excellent choice if you want a little more support.
- Durable outsole
- Moisture-wicking insole
- Flexible Outsole
- May not be great for narrow feet
- The outsole may pick up small rocks
6. Inov-8 Bare-XF 210
The Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 offers an incredible amount of grip for the off-road minimalist runner. If you are looking to traverse trails with slippery conditions or that involve a great number of rocks to climb, then these may be the minimalist option for you. They even have 360 rope-tec to help you grip ropes if you are looking to do so.
With their zero heel to toe drop and supreme low profile design, these minimalist shoes come close to being barefoot. They offer excellent protection while giving you that minimalist running experience you are looking for.
Cost and Value
These shoes aren’t as pricey as some but are right around the price you’d expect to pay for a minimalist shoe. They are a good value for anyone looking to trail run safely while feeling almost barefoot.
- Tightly wraps around foot
- Excellent grip
- Zero drop
- Wider toe box for toe comfort
- Outsole protection
- Sizing can be confusing
- Not great for wide feet
7. Merrell Glove 4
If protecting the animals is something high on your priority list along with trying out a minimalist running shoe, then this is a great option for you. The mesh and TPU upper, along with the TrailProtect footbed, are all Vegan-friendly in construction.
Barefoot technology is a hot keyword among minimalist runners. This means the design of this shoe was manufactured with keeping your feet as close to feeling barefoot as possible.
Cost and Value
The Merrell Glove 4 is a tad pricier than others but an excellent shoe for the off-road minimalist runner or walker.
- Barefoot technology design
- Protective Vibram outsole
- Vegan-friendly construction
- Tongue integrated into upper
- Fits like a glove
- Some don’t like the arch support in a trail shoe
- Thicker sole than many minimal trail shoes
8. Newton Energy NR
Newton’s Action/Reaction technology in the midsole and heel absorbs impact more than most minimalist running shoes. This is a key aspect to look into for anyone transitioning to a minimalist shoe. Since it has a low profile and is constructed to feel as close to the road as possible and has the added impact support, it is a very unique shoe.
The lugs on the outsole of the shoe are a part of Newton’s P.O.P. 1 Platform Technology and are designed to move when pressure is applied. This makes this sneaker style one of the most responsive minimalist options out there.
Cost and Value
The Newton Energy NR is the most economical option on our list. Although Newton is known for being on the more expensive side, the company has put this shoe out there as an affordable option.
- Shock absorbant
- Unique bright colors
- Responsive shoes
- Some don’t like the cushioning
- Bright colors may not appeal to some
9. New Balance MT10V1 Minimus
The traction and grip from the Vibram outsole will give you a great off-road run and will protect you from harsh underfoot conditions. The 4mm heel to toe drop will support your heels as you strike rocks and bumpy terrain. The midfoot wrap around the shoe will ensure snug-fitting safety with each step.
One thing about traditional trail running shoes is that they can be pretty bulky and stiff. Traction and grip are often piled high on the outsole to ensure safety but can make your feet feel heavy. These minimalist trail running shoes will give you the grip you need but will also allow for flexibility over rocky trails with its built-in flex grooves.
Cost and Value
These are an excellent value for what you get. They run a little pricey but if you are looking for a minimalist shoe that will give you a safe, comfortable, and protected trail run, these are an excellent choice.
- Flex grooves make outsole flexible
- Midfoot wrap to keep shoe secure
- More heel support to protect on the trail
- Odor-treated breathable mesh upper
- Lighter on your feet than traditional trail runners
- Runs small
- Midfoot wrap may bother wider feet
10. Xero Prio
Our feet are pretty flexible appendages considering the number of bones in them. The main purpose of a minimalist running shoe is to run more “naturally”. This means the minimalist approach to running would be getting your feet as close to barefoot as possible. The flexible sole of these sneakers allows for a great amount of natural movement for your feet, making them feel pretty close to barefoot.
For those looking for a little bit of support in their minimalist sneaks, the Xero Prio shoes have an optional 2mm insole that can be inserted. This may be a great way to start off, with these being such a low-profile sneaker. Then, once acclimated, you can remove them to get an even more minimalist feel.
Cost and Value
The Xero Prio is on the pricier side of things but since they can be worn for such a wide array of activities, you may get more bang for your buck with these.
- Really flexible
- Vegan construction
- Zero drop
- Barefoot friendly - wear with or without socks
- Wide toe box for natural toe spread
- Can be worn for many activities
- Runs small (order ½ size larger at least)
- Sole not stitched to upper - may wear easier
Delving into the world of minimalist running is certainly an adventure; it’ll be like no other running experience you’ve had in the past! To get the most out of your more “au-natural” run, the right shoes for you are very important. As you can see from our list, there are a number of different kinds of minimalist shoes: zero drop, almost zero drop, five-fingered, slightly cushioned, non-cushioned, trail-runners, road-runners, etc. In the end, there is a minimalist shoe out there for almost anyone who is looking to get into this specialized arena of running. Whatever you choose, make sure you work up to longer runs in minimalist footwear, especially if you are used to traditional running shoes. It’s better to gradually get into minimalist running than to jump in headfirst. Happy minimalist trails to you!
Criteria Used to Evaluate the Best Minimalist Running Shoes
When talking about minimalist running shoes, the “drop” refers to the thickness in the heel difference compared to the thickness of the toe. Many minimalist shoes offer a “zero drop”, meaning that the sole of the shoe is uniform throughout. The less drop you have in your shoe, the more “natural” and minimalist the shoe is. The thinking behind having a zero drop in your minimalist running shoe is to make your entire foot closest to the ground as possible, thus making it almost like you aren’t wearing a shoe at all. The more “stack height” a heel has, the more drop it will have.
However, not all minimalist running shoes have a zero drop, nor do they have to to be considered a minimalist shoe. True, the less there is between your foot and the ground means the more natural you foot might feel, but sometimes some cushion is necessary. For instance, some minimalist trail runners offer a small amount of cushion in the heel in order to combat impact from sharp objects while running on a trail. Road-running minimalist sneakers sometimes offer support in the heel as well which is a great option to have if you are transitioning from a higher drop traditional running shoe to a more minimalist one.
Along with low to zero drop in minimalist running shoes comes the idea of barefoot technology. Running absolutely barefoot is something that has become more popular in the past decade or so but we don’t suggest that you throw away your plain ‘ol running kicks and pound the pavement in bare feet right away. Whether you are looking to eventually run with naked feet or if you just want a more natural feeling in your feet, minimalist shoes can help you out. The idea behind the barefoot technology is simply to allow your foot to flex and move as naturally as possible while being protected from anything underfoot. Some barefoot technology shoes have a five finger design, basically looking like a solid glove for your feet. Other barefoot technology minimalist shoes look, well, minimal in design. In either case, a minimalist shoe will be manufactured to allow your toes to splay naturally and will most likely have little to no cushioning – just like your bare feet.
With that said, not all minimalist sneakers are geared toward helping you feel absolutely barefoot. Some have responsive soles to help your feet, and in turn, your brain, to better feel the ground beneath your shoe – all while having some support in the heel, arch, or sometimes slightly in the forefoot. It is widely believed that the future of running shoes will continue in the more minimalistic way of thinking: lighter is better.
Running sans shoes isn’t for the faint of heart – it’s definitely a specialized way of running. If you aren’t there yet or aren’t looking to ever get there, you’ll want to keep an eye out for minimalist running shoes that will provide at least some sort of protection. The main thing to protect you from is obviously debris. Afterall, nothing can stop a great run better than a rusty nail or a menacing shard of glass. If you are going to run with absolutely no shoes, try running on the softer ground. Some people do run barefoot on the pavement, but we are betting that those are experienced, barefoot runners. If you are planning on trail running in minimalist shoes, you’ll want something that will keep the rocks out of the sole of your foot. All minimalist trail shoes offer some sort of protection on the sole of the shoe, but some go a little farther with higher “lugs” (grips) and stickier soles. You’ll have to consider your terrain before settling on your minimalist shoe of choice. In any case, you’ll want to protect your feet from harm.
Frequently Asked Question
Q: Should I wear socks with minimalist running shoes?
A: That’s entirely up to do you! It depends on which style you decide on. Many minimalist shoes have a sock-like liner in them so you don’t need to wear socks. Some people prefer to wear thin socks.
Q: Doesn’t it hurt to run with minimalist shoes?
A: If you do it wrong, yes. Minimalist running is something to ease into. When you wear minimalist running shoes, you’ll be using muscles you don’t normally use when you run because traditional running shoes offer so much cushioning and support, your natural running muscles don’t get entirely exercised. Surprisingly, it’s not the feet that might be sore at first, it’s the achilles tendon and calves. As you feel some small pains in the beginning, you’ll learn to adjust your form and be able to run more effectively in minimalist shoes or even barefoot.
Q: What if I have flat feet? Can I wear minimalist running shoes?
A: Many minimalist shoe wearers with flatter feet say wearing minimalist runners have helped to strengthen their feet and they don’t have the same issues with their flat feet as they had in traditional running shoes.
Q: Can I go walking in minimalist running shoes?
A: Absolutely! Like many minimalist runners, walkers have said that by wearing these types of shoes have helped their feet get stronger and they have no pain whatsoever. They tend to be very light, so they will feel very light on the feet while walking.
Q: Can I wear these for weightlifting?
A: Minimalist running shoes are actually great for weightlifting because they help improve your form. Your toes and feet will splay more naturally and evenly so you will be able to strengthen your muscles in both your body and your feet.
Q: What is Minimalist Footwear?
A: Minimalist runnings shoes don’t have arch support, hard or stiff soles, and cushioned heels. More like the soft flexible shoes that sprinters wear. The idea is that the shoes do little more than protect the foot from the road, and give your foot plenty of room to do what humans have done since Pheidippides made the trip from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC. Of course Pheidippides died after passing along the good news of a military victory, so maybe not a great example but you get the idea.
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