10 Best Minimalistic Running Shoes Reviewed

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In Rome’s Olympic Marathon of 1960, an Ethiopian man named Abebe Bikila ran through Roman streets barefoot to win the Olympic gold medal with a stunning world-record at 2:15:16.2. This isn’t an isolated incident – for a long time, we’ve known that running without shoes or opting for minimalistic shoes benefits a lot of runners, and plenty of us are switching over to the lightweight alternative to those clunky thick-heeled shoes.

These days, though, running through the city without shoes isn’t the best idea. You’ve got broken beer bottles and who knows what else to dodge. The greatest risk to running without running shoes, naturally, is injury related to whatever rough terrain you’re running over. This is where the minimalist option strolls in. Take a read and choose a good shoe.

 
Last Updated: June 19, 2018
By Richard Haberkost:

As we regularly appraise and update this guide we also expand your choices. The current choices are proving to be very popular and we have increased the list. Minimalistic shoes are impressive and you need to know exactly what to look for when choosing a pair. In our section covering the criteria we use for comparative reviewing you will pick up some useful tips.

Merrell Trail Glove 4
  • Merrell Trail Glove 4
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Omni-Fit lacing system
  • Price: See Here
Vibram KSO EVO
  • Vibram KSO EVO
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Serrated XS Trek Outsole
  • Price: See Here
Vivobarefoot Stealth II
  • Vivobarefoot Stealth II
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • PRO5 ultra-thin sole technology
  • Price: See Here

10 Best Minimalist running shoes


Merrell Trail Glove 4

You’d be hard-pressed to find a list of the top minimalistic shoes without seeing a product from Merrell at the top, and these are the best of the best. All-in-all, these are a solid bet for most runners who are searching for a minimalistically designed running shoe.
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Comfort / Stability

The newest version of Merrell’s Trail Glove has a little more in the sole than its predecessor, which may not sit well with those die hard minimalistic runners. It seems the latest version has transitioned from a wide toe box to one that is slightly narrower. However, the general reception of the updated version is over all a positive one. Even if they, for some, offer slightly less felt contact with the ground, they are very comfortable, if you are okay with the arch support that is present in the update.

Quality / Durability

Merrel improved the tread and lacing systems of the shoe, as well as adding thinner mesh. However, some reviews have reported the mesh being too thin and thus, wears out quickly. Besides this, overall reviews are positive of the quality and durability.

Cost

They aren’t super cheap, but taking into consideration the quality and reputation of the brand alone, I think that it’s safe to say they’re worth the price.
Pros
  • Breathable mesh and synthetic TPU coverage
  • Merrell Omni-FitTM lacing for a perfect fit
  • M SelectTM FRESH lining cuts down on odor
  • TrailProtectTM pad for under-foot protection
  • MBound midsole cushioning for support
Cons
  • Some users thought there was a little too much cushion for a true minimal shoe supporter


Vibram KSO EVO Cross

The Vibram Men’s KSO EVO Cross Training Shoe is super-light at 4.1 oz. At less than 5 milimeters, the sole is thin enough for enhanced proprioception and balance but thick enough to absorb shock.
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Comfort / Stability

There are some reviews that complain about the toes being a little too tight, resulting in an uncomfortable fit. However, as different people have different feet, that too seems to be a fairly relative issue.

Quality / Durability

Like some of the others, it may be due to the lightweight and low profile minimalistic construction, but these shoes also reportedly have some issues with low durability when put to heavy duty use.

Cost

They are available at a reasonable price.
Pros
  • Buyers say they’re breathable, flexible, and light
  • XS TREK technology, which makes shoes comfortable as well as stable and durable
Cons
  • Expect an adjustment period


Vivobarefoot Stealth II

Vivobarefoot is known for their line of pure minimalist shoes, and the Stealth II is one of their best. This shoe gets major props from many die-hard minimalists for making a shoe that is comfortable without much padding or sacrificing overall quality, which is typically a downfall for many minimalist shoes.
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Comfort / Stability

Generally, the opinions from customer reviews agree that the Stealth II is quite comfortable. However, customers also point out that the shoe runs large, so you may want to size down before making your purchase. Being that they have the reputation of being a true minimalist shoe, keep in mind that you will feel the texture of the road and/or trail you run. If you are tender-footed, you may want to consider buying something with slightly more padding or break in these shoes gradually, allowing your feet to adapt.

Quality / Durability

Runners feel that Vivobarefoot stepped up their game with this latest version the Stealth II, in terms of quality and durability. The original model, and most barefoot shoes in general, tend to be criticized for wearing out quickly; but that is not the case for the Stealth II. The company claims the shoe is fused together by heat to create a shoe that lasts, and most reviews tend to agree.

Cost

These shoes are not the cheapest on the market, but given the information regarding their comfort, stability, quality, and durability, they are a worthwhile investment.
Pros
  • The synthetic multi-ply materials make for a mesh that is super thin and breathable 
  • Pro5 protection makes the shoe 5x more puncture resistant without sacrificing the thinness of the sole
  • Heat fused together making the shoe last
Cons
  • These shoes run large, so look into sizing down.

Altra Men's One 2.5

This shoe is great for minimalistic features, the design allows for speed, good shock absorbing capability and excellent flexibility and just the right amount of comfortable strategic cushion designed into the shoe.

Importantly, it is light and designed to allow you to go for speed.

For runners looking for a simple noncomplex shoe which gives a great performance, read on and check this model.
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Comfort/Stability/Features

The shoe features a platform which is zero-drop, for toe freedom you get plenty of flexing space via the asymmetric overlay, stability is supported via the shoe structure working together with a well-designed lace-up system.

The midsole is dual-layered EVA which comfortably absorbs impact and gives a nice confidence building balance, run enhancing flex grooves are designed into the shoe midsole area to promote omnidirectional maneuverability.

The shoe is simplicity combined with just the right amount of needed shoe tech to ensure a light shoe which will give a consistently high performance.


Quality/Durability
Synthetics are known to give durability and this shoe is constructed from a combination of materials and fabrics which ensure FIT and stability along with durability.


Cost

Good performing shoe at a good buying price.
Pros

A simple design with high performance

Good minimalistic shoe

Good shock absorbing

Good flexibility

Light for speed

Supportive structure

Breathability

Durability

Good surface grip

Cons

Simple design ( but good).

Merrell Bare Access Arc 4

A neutral high performing classic shoe, popular due to being tried and tested.

A top performing neutral shoe which meets the requirements wanted by minimalist running enthusiasts, durability is good when runners use the shoe in context.

The shoe offers strategic top quality cushion where it is needed, minimal arch support, good stability combined with protection, stabilizing FIT and reliable traction.

Merrell is known to create top-performing shoes which are a result of extensive research to ensure they offer shoes which are specific to exactly what is wanted by runners.

Read on and see why these shoes are top rated.
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Comfort/Stability

The upper section for this high performing running shoe are constructed from Synthetic Leather  and the popular highly rated air mesh.
 The shoe features as streamlined and free from bulk, the shoe gives positive FIT and stability combined with protection and comfort. 
The Bare Access Arc 4  is a light and comfortable shoe offering good FIt for neutral runners.
The shoe is not limited to being used for running, it can be used for other sports such as walking, general exercising.
Durability is dependable when the shoe is used in the context for which it was designed and not placed under pressure from use in other outdoor overly challenging activities.
A comfortable minimal cushion which provides good protection, stability, and aids performance. 
Traction/grip is dependable and good for running surfaces.
Minimal arch support in this high performing neutral shoe
Quality/Durability

The durability of the shoe parts is consistent while using the shoe in an appropriate context for which it was designed. The high-quality materials used in the shoe have a reliable intended durability.

Cost

The purchase will not break the bank or overly drain your credit card, you pay for a high-quality shoe.
Pros

Great neutral shoe

Light

Good traction

Top quality cushion

Tried and tested popular performance

Aids stability

Breathability

Cons

Arch support is designed to be minimal and overpronators should try it for FIT and support, it may well be ok but do check.

Inov-8 x-Talon 212

Line up all of these, and Inov-8 x-Talon 212 Running Shoes will surely stand out with their bright, vibrant colors and sleek design. If you’re looking to make a fashion statement pushing up dust behind you, then take a look at these.
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Comfort / Stability

The stability is pretty good with these. They do really well with off-road terrain like that encountered in Spartan races, or other similar obstacle runs. They do take some time to break in and run a little narrow. Many choose the next half size up and they seem to fit well.

Quality / Durability

The sturdy durable construction and water resistant coating really work well together to keep these shoes lasting, even after use in rough conditions that are experienced during off-road races.

Cost

The price, even on Amazon, is slightly higher than some other shoes on this list. With that being said, it is important to look at the features, especially the cleated tread, then think about the type of running that you are involved in. If you tend to compete in races where these features would be an unbelievable benefit, then it seems that they are priced quite fairly.

The Inov-8 x-Talon 212 can be summed up in one word: versatile.
Pros
  • Deep cleats great for all terrain running
  • Water-resistant DWR coating
  • Breathable and flexible
Cons
  • They run a bit narrow

Xero Shoes Prio

The Xero Shoes Prio are all about forming naturally to your foot. As Xero’s first performance shoe, the reviews of the Prio have been very supportive of the capabilities of this shoe in all aspects. This is an up-and-coming brand, and definitely worthwhile to check out.
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Comfort / Stability

Xero shoes are proud of the natural fit of the shoe, allowing it move and flex to the rhythm of your foot and the trail. The fit features a wide toe box, allowing your toes to spread. Only 5.5 mm of rubber separate your foot from the ground, providing necessary protection whilst allowing you to feel the texture of the earth beneath you. Also featured is an adjustable instep strap. The only red flag with purchasing these shoes is to be cautious when checking the sizing charts from the website, a few reviews have pointed out that the charts were confusing and resulted in getting a product that was way too small.

Quality / Durability

There were next to no reviews that reported any negative feedback on the quality of this shoe.

Cost

The price seemed very affordable and well priced after reading so many positive reviews.

Pros

  • Super lightweight
  • Extremely flexible
  • Offers great ground feel
  • Vegan Friendly 
  • Comfortable sock-like fit
  • Very breathable
Cons

  • Be cautious when reading the size charts, some reviews have reported following the instructions yet receiving shoes that were significantly smaller

New Balance Minimus 10v1 Trail

The New Balance Minimus 10v1 Trail Shoe boasts its capabilities as a lightweight off-road trail shoe, ready for adventure! The outsole features grooves that help secure your grip on the rough terrain you trek. Read on to learn more about what the newest version has to offer.
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Comfort / Stability

New Balance says they brought back the fit and feel of the original version of the Minimus 10, and reviewers happily confirm this. However, they also report that the midsole band that New Balance added to help secure ones foot, makes the fit a bit strange. Although, this is less of an issue when the shoe breaks in. The shoe runs small, so plan to size up.

Quality / Durability

The shoe tends to wear out quickly, especially the sole, due to it being a minimalist trail shoe that runners choose for rough terrain.

Cost

For shoes of minimal construction, they tend to be a bit pricey. However, considering the good reputation, these shoes seem to be appropriately priced.
Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Great traction
  • Great for any terrain
Cons
  • Midsole band can be too tight before being broken in
  • Mixed reviews on durability
  • Shoe runs small 

Saucony Kinvara 8

The Saucony Kinvara 8 is a flexible, zero drop shoe, and perfect for daily use. One of the best features of the Kinvara 8 is that it is lightweight and is increasingly comfortable as well as energetic with the new Everun top-sole. Read on to learn more.
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Comfort / Stability

The Kinvara 8 is a comfortable and stable running shoe. As mentioned above, a new feature includes the Everun top-sole and reviewers are impressed with the added energy upon take-off in a stride whilst providing a soft landing. They are reported to be slightly narrower than previous models, however, so you may need to size up.

Durability / Quality

There were few to no complaints about the durability and quality of the shoe and the overall reports are positive in this front. The Kinvara 8 is a shoe that lasts.

Cost

This running shoe is generally priced at an affordable amount.
Pros

  • Lightweight 
  • Quick-dry mesh for breathability
  • Positive reviews with the new Everun top-sole
  • Durable 
  • It is quite flexible
  • Affordable
Cons
  • Narrower than previous models

Brooks Pure Cadence 6

The 6th version of Brooks PureCadence is a good stability shoe for running, designed for running athletes who suffer from over pronation when in running motion. The shoes has a heel drop of 4mm, with a natural feel of running. It has a wide upper section and is very lightweight, weighing around 8. Oz.This 6th edition of Pure Cadence has great stability and support that is lightweight.
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Comfort / Stability

Its considered among the best minimalist shoes for running, be it for a short sprint or a marathon race. These Brooks' shoes will provide you with maximum comfortability and you won't have any pain in knees after running in them. Extra cushioning is provided by the midsole that is made of the BioMogo DNA. The upper part of the shoe is characterized by a tongue that is padded for additional comfort to the feet.

Quality / Durability

Brooks are well praised for their durability. The outsole has a rubber that withstands very rough terrain, and experience very minimal cases of wear and tear after a long time of usage.This shoe speaks nothing short of high quality and durability.

Cost

This shoe is well-priced for all it has to offer in terms of durability and comfort.
Pros

  • The shoe is lightweight
  • Support offered is responsive
  • Has a lower price than its predecessors
Cons

  • Very few options in terms of color

Minimal shoes have a lot of scientifically proven benefits – for one, they enhance your proprioception and balance. In other words, you have a better sense of your position in relation to the ground and terrain with spread toes, and your coordination is enhanced as well since more direct ground contact activates muscles in the ankles, heels, and feet. Because these shoes are lighter, they result in less oxygen lost. You reduce the risk of certain injuries as you strengthen your tendons and muscles in your feet. Not to mention, chances of developing athlete’s foot are greatly decreased – a nice perk!


68228174-jogging-wallpapers

The Criteria used When Choosing The Best Minimal Running Shoes For Our List:

 

Weight

It doesn’t matter if you are a trail runner or a roadrunner if you are considering a minimal or barefoot running shoe, then you are looking for the performance benefits that having extremely lightweight footwear can offer. Naturally, the first thing we looked at while compiling our list was the overall weight of the shoe to make sure that you got that “barely-there experience.

Heel To Toe Drop

In order to gain the maximum amount of flexibility when hitting the trail or pavement, a minimalist shoe needs to have a low heel to toe drop. This will give the runner unparalleled ground contact feedback that is simply not comparable with any other type of running shoe. We made sure to listen to user feedback when it comes to the footwear having a successful low differential rate.

Overall Structure And Construction

The technical structure of a successful minimal or barefoot running shoe must remain solid while paring down on features. It’s a tough tightrope to walk because you want to make sure that the seams are durable and strong, however, you don’t want to add anything that will add unnecessary weight or bulkiness to the shoe. This is a case where added features will actually take away from the purpose of the footwear.

Price Points For All Budgets

Selecting the right minimalist running shoes can become quite a daunting task when you realize just how many are on the market and how widely their price points can vary. Our research is geared to providing our readers with exactly what they can expect from their investment.

Not only does this ensure that you get what you pay for, it also gives you the peace of mind knowing that you are getting what you need from the footwear. While there is value with higher priced minimalist running shoes, it’s important to perform due diligence and not compile a list of only the most expensive ones on the market. Our focus is on giving our readers choices that work the best for their activity and their wallet.

Durability

According to most seasoned minimal running shoe wearers, the durability of their footwear can become a significant factor when considering the overall value of their selection. Something that has become typical in minimal running shoes is a decreased durability (usually with the outsole) because of their Spartan construction.

By paying attention to the feedback we were able to determine that this doesn’t always have to be the case, and it is possible to both get a quality minimal running shoe and a durable piece of training equipment that can last.

Breathability of The Footwear

Surprisingly, utilizing the minimum amount of material doesn’t necessarily translate to a very breathable piece of footwear. Because of the nature of minimal running, we understand that most readers will want to wear these shoes without socks.

Because of this, it was crucial to listen to what real-world users had to say about the ability of the footwear to let out sweat and body heat while letting fresh air in. After all, when your feet are happy, your entire running experience is enhanced.

Young lady running in the desert at sunset

Other Important Factors To Consider When Making Your Choice

While we have researched through a wide range of feedback and data when compiling our list, we understand that in order to truly get the most out of your minimal running shoes, you must make a selection that makes sense for your activity level and how you will be using them.

Below you will find some personal factors to take into consideration when making your choice. It’s important to take your time and make your decision with care. In addition, our guide is provided with the goal in mind on helping you select your perfect match, and not simply going for the most expensive option.

Selection Should Be Based On Terrain Type

One of the most important considerations is the terrain type. Unlike a wide variety of athletic footwear that can go from treadmill to non-technical trails without much thought or worry, minimal runners are not for that type of application. If you are going to be running out on trails, make a selection that offers protection from elements such as dust and water.

Minimal runners use far fewer materials than their counterparts, so dust and sand will get in quickly and negatively affect your run if you don’t choose a trail rated option. If you know for a fact that you will be doing both indoor and outdoor workouts, experts recommend buying two separate pairs of shoes to keep unnecessary injuries at bay.

Be Aware Of Any Issues With Your Feet

Safety should always come first, and if you are currently suffering from Plantar Fasciitis or a similar foot condition, you may need footwear with a little more cushion. You may want to consider an insole that could cradle your foot a little, especially your big toe.

Remember that minimal running shoes are best utilized when you have fully recovered from any foot injuries because you will experience a full range of motion and shock absorption will be a task for your muscle groups, not your footwear. Minimal running shoes will require the runner to rely on their own feet and legs to deal with cushioning and stability.

A Nice, Roomy Toe Box

The best part of wearing minimal footwear of any type is the level of freedom that you will experience while wearing them. You shouldn’t feel like you are wearing an uncomfortable or bulky pair of shoes.

Think about other pairs of shoes that you wear, do your toes feel “smashed”? If they do, you should consider an option that has been described by runners as possessing a roomy toe box. Luckily, our buying guide is packed with options that have the room that runners with wider feet need when they hit the trails or the road.

The goal is to feel as if you aren’t wearing shoes at all; this is what will transform your running experience. The gateway to this feeling is proper tow splay on contact.

Your Comfort Level With Lower Heel To Toe Drop

Consider how comfortable you are with lower drop shoes. If you’re just getting into minimal running and have been using typical running shoes for quite a long time, you should consider choosing an option that gives you some sort of a drop until your muscle groups acclimate to running in flatter shoes.

According to runners that are new to minimal running, the initial feeling of using a lower dropped shoe shocks them. Especially when it comes to the higher amount of stress placed on their feet and legs.

Remember To Remain Vigilant

Besides the increased feedback and quality muscle development that comes from running in a minimal shoe, another great benefit is how they encourage a change in your running form. In order to get the maximum amount correction, you must take your strides with more thought than with a standard running shoe.

Even seasoned runners were surprised with how subtle changes in their gait were achieved by running in minimal shoes. There will be almost no interference with the natural motion of your foot. Keep this in mind while hitting the road or the trail and you will be transitioning successfully in no time!

 

FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions that most runners encounter when making their decision. Hopefully, they will help you along your way when you are making your decision.

 

Q: I’m just getting started with minimalist running; what’s the most important consideration to make?

A: Patience. Simply put, don’t try to do too much, too soon. Experts agree that a reduction in weekly mileages coupled with gradual increments in intensity levels is the key to success with minimal running. Keep in mind that even seasoned runners experienced a significant transition period when switching to a minimal running shoe.

Q: How do I find the right size for my feet?

A: While most minimal running shoes run true to size and selecting your normal shoe size is a great starting point, we have noted those that run slightly smaller so that you can adjust. Just like any other type of footwear, it’s best to size your foot at the end of the day or after a strenuous workout so that you can take any amount of foot swelling into consideration when selecting your size.

Q: What’s going to be the hardest thing to change in regards to my running style when switching to minimal running shoes?

A: According to most runners, changing to a more efficient, forefoot-first stride is the hardest part of switching to minimal running. Most runners are actually unaware that there is anything off about their stride until they make the switch and experience it for themselves firsthand. The good news is that this will also be the best change that you can make for your runs. A more efficient stride will build endurance and prevent injuries. Minimal running has been described as “taking the training wheels off” for a reason, you don’t have the support and cushion that feature heavy running shoes offer.

Q: I don’t suffer from Plantar Fasciitis, should I still consider a minimalist running shoe?

A: Absolutely. Just do it with more caution and consideration. Heel pain, Achilles tendinitis, or any other issue can really slow you down and take away from the quality of your comfort. Just remember to stay away from zero drop options and consider a thin insole for additional protection. As long as you keep a healthy pace and respect your limits, you should be fine. Remember to always put safety first.

This was our approach when selecting the right pair of minimal running shoes. Remember that this type of footwear comes with a ton of benefits as long as you make a selection that is tailored to what fits you best. We hope this guide provided you with all the information you need when making your choice. Thanks for following along with us, and keep running!


Here are some sources we used while conducting our research

It’s important to use a plethora of sources to ensure quality information. We like to utilize trusted clinical partners and manufactures when providing our readers with the most up-to-date statistics found in all our buying guides. We are also very interested in taking what everyday users have to say about specific products, and we perform our due diligence to make sure that quality research goes into every guide. Here are some sources which helped us with this guide:

Sources

  1. Back Country, Back Country, Outdoor Website,
  2. Run Blogger, Run Blogger, Running Blog,
  3. Runner’s World, Runner’s World, Running Website,
  4. Amazon, Amazon, Retail Reviews,
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