Interest in "barefoot running" has exploded in the last few years. While a few hardy folks are truly running barefoot, most of us opt for minimalist footwear. This article will help you to find the right minimalist shoes for running.
When minimalist-shoe shopping, your first consideration should be this: What type of surface will you usually be running on?
● Trail-specific shoes feature soles with aggressive tread for more traction. Some models may also offer rock plates in the soles, increased torsional rigidity and leather uppers to protect your feet from abrasions.
● Road-specific shoes tend to have razor-siped rubber soles for enhanced slip resistance on slick surfaces and a smoother ride. They offer little protection from sharp or uneven terrain.
Other styles—defined at REI as cross-training or multisport shoes—are designed for light running, gym or Crossfit workouts, yoga or any balance activity where having more contact with the ground is preferred over a thick platform sole.
The 2 Types of Minimalist Shoes
Next, consider shoe design. There are 2 basic types of minimalist shoes.
So-called “barefoot shoes” offer the closest feel to running truly barefoot. Soles provide the bare minimum in protection from potential hazards on the ground. Many have no cushion in the heel pad and a very thin layer (as little as 3-4mm) of shoe between your skin and the ground. Others offer a bit more cushioning.
Most significantly, all are characterized by a “zero drop” from heel to toe. This encourages a more natural midfoot or forefoot strike. Traditional running shoes, by contrast, feature a 10-12mm drop from the heel to the toe.
With any barefoot running shoe, people with high arches tend to have the shortest break-in time and fewest problems. Heavily pronating runners—those whose feet flatten during weight-bearing exercise—may struggle to adjust to the lack of arch support.
Tip: Unlike with traditional shoes, you do not want any extra space in the toes of minimalist shoes. Heel and toes should be comfortably snug and "fit like a glove."
These are a cross between barefoot shoes and traditional running shoes—an excellent way for many runners to ease into barefoot running. These are Spartan enough—extremely lightweight construction, little to no arch support and a minimal heel height of 4-8mm—to encourage a natural running motion and a midfoot strike, yet they offer some cushioning and flex. The toebox is generally roomy to allow toes to splay inside the shoes, enhancing grip and balance.
Several styles (e.g., Brooks PureCadence and the Saucony Mirage) offer some stability posting to help the overpronating runner transition to the barefoot-running motion.
Closures: While many of the Fivefingers feature rip-and-stick closures, the “LS” models feature a quick lace system. Typically, this lacing system offers better access to the toe pockets for easy on and off, and it does a better job accommodating high arches.
Care: Many barefoot shoes are machine washable for easy care; see specific product information pages for details.