Taking a barefoot approach to running usually is done to solve structural issues in the foot under dynamic tension and exertion. Modern running shoes are designed to brace the foot, offering support and comfort to assist the foot in withstanding the pressure and impact from running.
Running Shoes May Help Prevent Injuries
While running, shoes can make the difference between a good run and an injury, they are not designed to correct functional issues with the foot. Rehabilitating these issues requires strengthening certain aspects of the foot related to isolating and strengthening these specific deficiencies.
Using minimalist footwear can greatly assist a runner with finding these imbalances and correcting them. They offer the runner the least amount of additional support while keeping the foot safe from an injury that would occur from barefoot training.
This helps the runner to rehabilitate their feet into a balanced and healthy state. By mimicking natural foot functionality, minimalist footwear protects the feet while the runner works on solving the structural issues to bring the foot back to full functionality.
Here are some tips that can help you in making the right choice of minimalist footwear to use in your training.
Your foot flexion takes on a wide variety of angles and directions. Your shoe should do the same, so make sure that the sole of the shoe is highly flexible, the thinner, the more the flexibility. The shoe should also have a good, sturdy protective pad or layer around the ball and heel of your foot, protecting you from foreign or sharp objects penetrating your feet and injuring you in training.
The heel-to-toe drop of the shoe should be as thin as possible, without inducing pain from too little protection. The arch of your foot relies on the support between your ball and heel with a balance of contact at these two points. This provides you with stability and plays a key role in correct posture throughout your body.
Likewise, the counter is also important. You need a shoe with a toe rise in it to prevent toe-spring from occurring. Too much toe-spring can result in added extension which leads to conditions such as ‘hammer toes’.
The rule for selecting sole thickness is simple; the thinner the sole, the closer the contact to the surface and the greater the need for the foot to work to support itself in functional use. If you are looking to rehabilitate the foot, or learn correct running form, then the thinnest sole possible, that still offers some form of protection from the elements, is what you are looking for.
By using a thin sole, you force engagement of the nervous system and it will bring in supporting muscle groups to assist the foot in movement. The feedback from the impact is felt through the foot’s strike to the ground, so the thinner the sole, the greater the engagement of the nervous and muscular systems.
Wide at the front
Your toes play a key role in your foot’s ability to balance the body, correct running posture and technique. If the big toe is overly compressed in the front of the shoe, then this structural imbalance will cause your running form to be poor and you will experience poor balance, propulsion, and stability.
To remedy this, choose a shoe that has a wide toe box. There are also brands which have individual toe pockets designed to give each toe completely independent movement and functionality.
Selecting the right barefoot running shoes can seem overwhelming. There is a myriad of brands and styles to choose from, make sure you choose a pair that will give you the support you need. Here is our list of the top minimalist footwear for barefoot running.
Best Barefoot Running Shoes #1:Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
This has to be the cream of the crop of minimalist barefoot running shoes. With an upper made from air mesh and synthetic leather, the comfortable design a lightweight nature of the shoe give as close to a barefoot running experience as possible while still providing protection.
The snug fit and thin material of this fourth-generation shoe make it perfect for running, sprinting and walking. The minimalist padding gives far greater surface control to the foot. They may feel a little tight and the arch support is not as good as other models and seemed eerily similar to other bare access models before it.
Overall, The Merrell bare access 4 is a casual runners shoe that gives decent support and a true minimalist feeling to the foot in a wide variety of activities. A fantastic all-rounder that you can wear anywhere you go.
Best Barefoot Running Shoes #2:Vibram FiveFingers Bikila Evo WP
This strange looking shoe is completely waterproof. The design features knobbed texturing on the sole to improve traction on a wide variety of surfaces, from tiles to ice.
This shoe seems to have reversed on its flexibility and quality of previous generations, the zipper and lace fastening systems do offer a snug, firm fit but do not appear to have been the best idea for a pleasant user experience. The waterproof fabric keeps the foot dry, wicking away moisture.
The Bikila Evo WP has tight toe pockets and user experiences show that the toe may feel exposure from colder conditions. The final verdict on this shoe is that while it is waterproof and provides a snug fit, the poor design of the zipper and the toe pockets are disappointing. The versatility of use of the shoe is great, and we expect it to be popular for people running in snow and ice where it can provide maximum grip.
Best Barefoot Running Shoes #3:Merrell Trail Glove 3
This shoe features a wide, comfortable toe box. With good design and quality materials, this shoe is at home on the trails. Trail running can present a variety of tricky situations to move around and the Trail glove gives the support you need while still attaining a decent level of support. The upper mesh is completely breathable, keeping the foot dry, cool and wicking away moisture.
The padding in the sole provides sufficient cushioning that could make this a potential shoe for half-marathon runners. The lightweight materials and construction are fantastic for such a reasonably priced running shoe. With great design and a range of colors to choose from, this shoe is a good balance of functionality and practicality that makes for comfortable, fast outdoor trail running both on the dirt and the tar.
Best Barefoot Running Shoes #4:Vibram FiveFingers Trek Ascent
If you are looking to invest in your barefoot running and your feet, then the Trek ascent is the pair of Vibram five fingers to do it with. These shoes offer an incredible level of user comfort and the less aggressive tread pattern makes it a brilliant crossover shoe for both indoor and outdoor use. From the trails to the gym floor, these shoes have great traction in the wet and are very lightweight and incredibly flexible.
For experienced barefoot runners, this shoe has a good level of protection around the heel and ball of the foot while still retaining remarkable flexibility, making them ideal for barefoot runners that are thinking of competing in marathons.
Best Barefoot Running Shoes #5:Merrell Pace Glove 3
The lightweight materials and construction of this shoe really feel like you are wearing nothing at all. The Pace 3 has a good sole thickness for a minimalist shoe that can still provide enough support for any runner that’s looking for taking them out on the road to train long distance.
With an air mesh for better breathability and a synthetic upper that’s available in two colors, this shoe has a unique ‘trailprotect’ pad that protects your feet from the roughest of trails while still providing the minimalist feel.
While this shoe might feel less comfortable that is predecessor, the Pace 2, with runners complaining of less lift in this model, it still is a great lightweight shoe that’s at home on the dirt, the gym mats or the concrete.
Best Barefoot Running Shoes #6:Newton MV3
Engineered to be lightweight and responsive, the design of the Newton MV3 is a good improvement on the previous versions of the shoe. The sole is well cushioned while providing a minimalist feel to it that allows for better response and control of the foot under pressing conditions that require performance. Built for the track or the road, the Newton MV3 is the perfect runner’s companion.
The shoe is constructed from a synthetic upper, with plenty of mesh to allow for your foot to breathe and rapid water drainage. With a widened mid-foot and filled toe areas, the shoe gives great ergonomic support while still keeping solid contact with the ground. The heel could use a bit more support, but overall it’s a good balance of support and functional minimalism.
Best Barefoot Running Shoes #7:Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO
For a lightweight shoe that offers a true ‘ground experience’ for runners, the KSO EVO from Vibram is the best minimalist shoe in their range. Made for the road and indoor use, this shoe has a quick lacing system and gives remarkable traction control and slip prevention.
The tread is stiff and firm while giving you’re the critical support you need in the arch and at the ball and heel of your foot.
This shoe allows for quick acceleration and fast reaction times at an affordable price. Being that they are the pinnacle of minimalist sole technology, they may not last as long as thicker soled shoes and you can expect to burn through them pretty quickly on the road.
They make for a great, functional shoe for daily use as well. You can take these shoes with you on whatever task you may find yourself doing, for running errands, to running long distance, these shoes are the best way to strengthen and condition your feet while providing comfort and world-class support.
Best Barefoot Running Shoes #8:Merrell Vapor Glove 2
The Merrel Vapor Glove 2 is the ultimate minimalist shoe for trail and road running. This great cross-over model has a neutral arch support and can be used by even the most experienced of runners to enhance their running.
Made from quality materials, the upper has breathable, quick-drying mesh that wicks away moisture and prevents odors.
This shoe is great for everyday training and allows for natural movement of the foot in everyday activities. With a snug and precise fit, the Merrel vapor 2 is a good barefoot running shoe that gives the runner stability and control when they need it while being lightweight enough to enhance speed and acceleration without foot drag.
Best Barefoot Running Shoes #9:Vibram FiveFingers Lontra
This minimalist trail running shoe has a great balance of grip, support, and functionality. Made from incredibly lightweight and durable materials, the Lontra is purpose-built for competition and has reflective surfaces on the shoe to increase runner visibility.
With a neoprene, sealed heel cuff, it keeps the foot dry and comfortable in the most demanding wet conditions.
The impressive flexibility of the shoe considering its rugged design, make it perfect for minimalist runners that require a tough, supportive shoe that remains lightweight and durable.
The Lontra may be the most expensive shoe of them all but you will realize where the money went the money you slip them on and lace up the quick secure system.
The Final Step
Choosing the right pair of minimalist running shoes that mimic as close to barefoot running as possible, is a personal choice that varies between runner to runner depending on their level of experience and need for a minimalist shoe.
Rehabilitating your feet from structural deficiencies requires as thin a sole as possible, so the Vibram products would probably be your best bet on a shoe that can help you solve this issues. They are light and can be used in any daily activity.
If you are looking for a shoe that is as close to minimalist as possible, but still has a bit of cushioning, then the Merrel and Newtons are your best bet for a shoe that will do you well on the trails and for those longer distances.
Whatever your selection, just make sure to check your shoes every 5000 kilometers for wear and compression of the soles.