10 Best Barefoot Running Shoes: The Naturalist’s Guide
These shoes will encourage you to use your natural running stride—fitting securely without constricting your toes or any part of your feet. If you have converted to naturalist running shoes, then you know they are a total game-changer.
Check out our list of the best barefoot running shoes below.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
These running barefoot shoes need to allow you to comfortably feel the ground beneath you as well as allow your body to adjust to your natural running form and personal running technique.
When looking at comfort we also considered the thickness and firmness of the shoe as well as how much protection it provides.
The comfort factor is definitely something to think about strongly before buying a pair of barefoot/natural-style running shoes. Keep in mind that the first few times you use these type of shoes you may not find them that comfortable no matter how well the shoe is designed and built, simply because your feet and running gait need time to adjust to the new shoes.
Especially if you're a long time runner used to wearing more traditional style shoes, at first the shoes might actually seem really uncomfortable and you might start to wonder if trying the whole barefoot-style running thing was a mistake. But stick with it, and we're confident that after a little while your body will start to revert back to its natural form that has evolved to run without shoes over countless millennia.
The best barefoot shoes need to be extraordinarily breathable thanks to their very basic designs.
This means they have excellent ventilation capabilities and ensure your feet remain cool and dry during your runs. It is important to consider breathability because the last thing we want is for blisters and chafing to occur, which are actually often caused by excess moisture in your shoe.
Some of the models on our list are "bulkier" than others, but even these are still designed with features such as mesh panels and ventilated uppers to help keep the breathability factor high. People living in hot climates will especially love barefoot/natural-style running shoes as they inherently keep your feet really cool and dry as you pound that hot pavement in the summer sun.
Keep in mind, however, that moisture being able to get out, generally means it will also be able to get in, so watch yourself as you run and try to avoid large puddles etc. that you would normally just charge through if you were wearing a pair of heavier, more protective traditional running shoes.
Flexibility is one of the key features found in barefoot running shoes.
It allows for your natural stride and provides you with a full range of motion. Here we looked for shoes that had a very minor break-in period as well as for shoes that allow for all types of foot strikes.
Flexibility is important because it allows us to avoid injuries and ensures we have a full range of motion, barefoot shoes need to allow for our natural movement, which includes our full range of motion. We all strike differently, have a unique gait, and have our own type of arch. Barefoot and natural style running shoes need to be flexible enough to ensure that all of our needs are met while also allowing for different types of runners to be able to use their shoes.
So in a nutshell, for these types of shoe's flexibility is hugely important. We analyzed each product on our list for flexibility by looking at the materials it's made of as well as scouring over 1400 customer reviews from real-world buyers who have used the shoe and had something to say about it. Based on these things we then assigned the product a score from 0-100 based on how flexible they are, the higher the number the more flexibility a shoe offers the runner using it.
Remember however that for some runners starting out with barefoot-style running an extremely flexible shoe might not be the best fit, and they'd be better off choosing a shoe with a mid-range of flexibility until their feet and stride adjust to the more natural motion.
Barefoot running shoes allow you to improve your proprioception and balance in a natural and easy way, all while you're doing something you already love, running.
Without heavy, constrictive shoes, you can activate the smaller muscles in your feet, legs, ankles, and hips that are responsible for better balance and coordination.
And by having much better ground contact, the vestibular system begins to awaken, remapping and stimulating previously unused neural connections for improved balance. This is particularly important for some older runners, as a single fall or fracture can set in motion a full-on decline in health overall.
You know what they say, once you break your hip (as an old person) it's all downhill from there.
In the case of this buying guide, responsiveness refers to how much response and rebound a shoe gives you in return for the kinetic energy you put out with each stride. For barefoot-style running shoes, this is a fine line to walk, er, run. Especially if you run on trails, you'll want something with more responsiveness to interact with the variable terrain and help you negotiate obstacles. Responsiveness, however, comes from additional padding and torsional rigidity, which kind of goes against the whole point of this new type of running shoe technology.
In the end, we recommend thinking about what type of running you do most, whether on the trail or road running, and select a shoe that's appropriate for that.
Price is something we always look at but let's all remember that price alone doesn't determine the value to a product.
All of you have different budgets and ideas of what you should or want to spend. Here we take into account the best available option for each budget as well as make sure to incorporate options for everyone. While budget is an important factor to consider, make sure to pick something that has the features you need because the last thing you want to do is overpay for something you don't need or to be penny smart and dollar stupid and skimp on a shoe that would have ended up being perfect for you just because you didn't want to spend a few extra dollars.
In this case, you'll probably end up with a shoe that doesn't really meet your needs and you'll have to spend even more money to buy the pair you really wanted and should have bought in the first place.
13 Best Barefoot Running Shoes
1. Vibram FiveFingers KSO
These babies are zero-drop and 3.5 oz. (W) and 4.1 (M). They’ve got a unique look and they slide on like an extra layer to the foot rather than a shoe.Read more
As far as comfort, these barefoot running shoes have it in spades. They are lightweight and the breathable updated lace-up system allows for a secure and comfortable fit as well. For most people, it takes a little while to get used to the unique "toe glove" style where each toe is individually wrapped just like in a pair of gloves, but once they do they often say they can't imagine going back to a traditional style running shoe.
These are pretty durable but aren't one of the most durable on our list. Their toe box and upper portion are flimsier than other models on our list and they are definitely not to be taken out on rocky terrain or trails.
Don't forget to check out our comprehensive guide for best Vibram 5 Fingers running shoes.
2. Merrell Vapor Glove 4
What we loved most about the updated Vapor Glove is that it boasts a simple design that keeps your foot cool and comfortable on those hot summer trail runs. One of the most important things to note about the Vapor Glove 4 is that it has a versatile design that is ideal for trail running as well as sidewalks and treadmills.Read more
If you find that you jam your toes at the end of most shoes, you will love the design of the Vapor Glove 4. It has a super wide toe box that allows your feet to naturally spread that helps to keep your balance and provides a natural and easy fit. Plus, it is made from lightweight materials that allow your foot to really breathe.
We also like that the rubber outsole is great for trail training as well as training on sidewalks. If you need something that is a little more versatile for a myriad of workouts, this is a great option. It also has a Hyperlock TPU Film Heel Counter to promote lockdown as well.
If you are on the market for something that feels lightweight and easy that is built for a myriad of workouts both on and off the trails, this is a great option. Users love that it comes in a wide variety of color options and styles that are super unique and unlike anything else out there on the market.
3. Arc'teryx Norvan SL
If you hate the idea of wearing anything on the top of your feet, the Novan SL from Arc'teryx is a great choice. What users love most about this minimalistic design is that the upper is about as thin as tissue paper, which feels like you aren’t wearing anything at all. It also has detailed treads on the bottom to really grip the trail ahead without slowing you down.Read more
The most notable feature of this design is that while it is designed to take out on the trails, it is one of the lightest trainers out there on the market. Trail trainers often have a repudiation of being heavy, bulky, and hot. The Norvan SL weighs in at just 6.5 ounces, which is one of the lightest trailer runners that money can buy!
Another feature worth noting is that the mesh upper is super breathable and lightweight. It is made from a paper-thin material that really allows your foot to breathe, as well as hot air escape. These materials regulate the temperature of your foot to make you feel like you aren’t wearing anything at all.
If you love to take your training off of the beaten path, this design from Arc'teryx is a great choice. It is made from super lightweight and easy materials that keep your feet cool and comfortable. It also has excellent traction for bumpy roads ahead without the extra bulk and weight of traditional trail trainers.
4. Vibram FiveFingers V-Run
The V-run shoes are actually one of the best barefoot running shoes Vibram has to offer so it's no surprise they have made this list as well. They are breathable, lightweight, comfortable, and a perfect option for those of you who love that barefoot feel.Read more
These shoes are really breathable, comfortable, and flexible. They are some of the most comfortable options out there but are definitely not meant for trails or offroad running because debris will get in.
These are pretty durable and built to last, but not meant for trails.
5. New Balance Minimus 10 V1
New Balance really hit it out of the park with this sleek and simple trailer upper. What we love most about this option is that it boasts stylish frames that help to support your foot while running on trails without weighing you down. The part about these trainers? These shoes clock it in at an affordable price point.Read more
The very first thing that we noticed about this design is that it has a lightweight and easy upper that also offers out from support in its synthetic overlay. Users find that it is super lightweight, and hugs their feet without causing hot spots. Plus, it comes in quite a few electric color options that really pop.
Another focal point of this design from New Balance is the construction of the outsole. What makes these trainers ideal for trail running is the Vibram outsole. This outsole has flex grooves that bend with all points of your foot so that it doesn’t create stiff and unnatural movements.
If you are on the market for something that boasts a sleek style while offering support and flexibility, this design from New Balance is a great choice. We love that it is made from quality materials that are able to hold up while out on the trials without weighing your down. Plus, the affordable price point really makes them worth checking out.
6. Merrell Bare Access 4
They’re lightweight with zero heel-to-toe drop, weighing in at 4.5 oz. (W) and 6.4 oz. (M). What really sets these barefoot shoes above all others, though, is the technology behind them.
These shoes are really comfortable and stable. They are also breathable, flexible, and lightweight.
These shoes are made of high quality and durable material, with solid construction that will last for longer than the average for barefoot running shoes.
7. Xero Shoes Prio
These barefoot running shoes are comfortable, adjustable, and offer a secure fit. They allow for a full range of motion and help you push through even the longest runs.Read more
These barefoot shoes are supportive without sacrificing flexibility and offer high levels of comfort during all of your runs. They provide excellent traction and are highly protective so you can take them on some of the easier trail runs you love.
These are highly durable and built to last. They have excellent traction and grip, making them one of the few high-quality barefoot-style running shoes available.
8. Vivobarefoot Stealth II
Like to stick to sidewalks and treadmills? Vivobarefoot Stealth II is a perfect option for sticking to hard surfaces. It has key features that give your foot just a little bit of added support without weighing it down or causing any hot spots. Users also love that it boasts a sleek and unique styling that will make you want to wear them while you're out running errands as well!Read more
The very first thing that we noticed about this design is the lightweight and quilted upper. It is composed of materials that are incredibly lightweight that allow your foot to breathe. It has abbreviated laces and minimal seam lines that reduce the risk of chafing and hot spots, which are all hallmarks of an effective pair of barefoot trainers.
The rubber outsole is slightly tacky, which is perfect when running on slick sidewalks are the rain. Users love that the simple sole is lightweight, but still offers subtle energy feedback and support where you need it most. It also hosts reflective features to help you be seen when out for a pre-dawn run.
If you are in the market for something that effortlessly blends style and function in one sharp pair of trainers, this design from Vivoborefoot is a great choice. Users love that its simple design is comfortable, lightweight, and feels like they are wearing nothing at all.
9. Merrell Trail Glove 5
Barefoot trainers often have a reputation of boasting unique styles that makes them ideal for running and nothing else. The styling of this updated version of the Merrell Trail Glove makes it something that really shines on the trails, and will generate some glances while out running errands.Read more
What users love most about this design is that it provides a little bit of extra cushioning while still fits on your foot like a glove. It is made from super lightweight and breathable materials with minimal seam lines to reduce the risk of hot spots. We also love that the laces are simple and abbreviated so that the fit isn’t too tight.
Users also love that this design uses a Vibram outsole that is insanely durable and helps support your foot when traversing bumpy trails. This rubber sole provides modest energy feedback while still allowing you to really connect to the ground under your feet.
The Updates in the Trail Glove 5 are made to provide runners with a more natural feel without hindering support and performance. It is made from eco-friendly recycled materials that users can feel good about and has a lightweight and easy fit that your feet will appreciate.
10. Saucony Kinvara 11
If you want something that is a little more versatile than some of the other minimalistic designs that we have seen so far, this design from Saucony is a great choice. While it may not immediately look like your basic barefoot running shoes, key features help keep your feet supportive without being held back. Users also love that it comes in a wide variety of styles and color options.Read more
The very first thing that we wanted to discuss is that the design of the midsole and outsole has excellent movement. This shoe really moves with your foot, while the cushioning helps to provide excellent energy feedback. The styling of this sole makes it great for trail running, as well as workouts at the gym as well.
We also love the lightweight and easy upper of the Kinvara 11. It boasts simple and lightweight materials with simple laces that reduces the instances of hot spots. It runs love on the foot that won’t hinder your full range of motion, and it also is incredibly breathable for running long distances.
If you are in the market for something that is simple yet supportive, the Kinvara 11 is a great choice. Users love that it promotes a full range of motion with light and easy materials, which makes it ideal for more than just running. Plus, it comes in a lot of fun colors and designs that you are sure to love.