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10 Best Barefoot Running Shoes: The Naturalist’s Guide

last updated Dec 15, 2018
Barefoot running shoes allow for a more natural barefoot feel during your runs and encourage your running stride. Nowadays there are tons of barefoot running shoes to choose from so it doesn’t matter if you prefer trail, road, or treadmills running.

Barefoot running has recently come into vogue as we learn more about the role our feet have played in our evolution, and how tightly constricting and overly protective shoes have actually weakened and changed the entire structure and abilities of our feet dramatically. Nowadays there are many runners who swear by the barefoot running style, saying that it's been a game changer for them.

Take a look below to find the top 10 best barefoot running shoes currently available.
Researched Sources
5
Researched Sources
Reviews Considered
1250
Reviews Considered
Hours Researching
12
Hours Researching
Products Evaluated
10
Products Evaluated
Last Updated:
By EJ Callanan:

The newest additions to our list are the Vibram V-Run and the Xero Shoes Prio barefoot running shoes. All three of these range in prices, but they are all excellent options if you are looking for a minimalistic running shoe that encourages your natural stride.

Sorting Options
Comfort Breathability Flexibility Responsiveness Value By Default
Rank
PictureProduct
Name
Rating
Shops
1
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
95
Comfort
98%
Breathability
93%
Flexibility
99%
Responsiveness
93%
Value
92%
Price Comparison Last Updated (16.12.18)
$59.98
2
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
93.2
Comfort
96%
Breathability
94%
Flexibility
97%
Responsiveness
87%
Value
92%
Price Comparison Last Updated (16.12.18)
$79.95
3
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
90.8
Comfort
95%
Breathability
90%
Flexibility
93%
Responsiveness
91%
Value
85%
Price Comparison Last Updated (16.12.18)
$104.09
4
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
88
Comfort
94%
Breathability
89%
Flexibility
83%
Responsiveness
85%
Value
89%
Price Comparison Last Updated (16.12.18)
$147.99
5
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
86.4
Comfort
90%
Breathability
85%
Flexibility
87%
Responsiveness
90%
Value
80%
Price Comparison Last Updated (16.12.18)
$94.99
6
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
84.6
Comfort
93%
Breathability
85%
Flexibility
84%
Responsiveness
87%
Value
74%
Price Comparison Last Updated (16.12.18)
$110.00
7
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
83
Comfort
90%
Breathability
83%
Flexibility
82%
Responsiveness
90%
Value
70%
Price Comparison Last Updated (16.12.18)
$109.95
8
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
81.8
Comfort
89%
Breathability
85%
Flexibility
84%
Responsiveness
86%
Value
65%
Price Comparison Last Updated (16.12.18)
$59.90
9
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
79.2
Comfort
80%
Breathability
70%
Flexibility
85%
Responsiveness
81%
Value
80%
Price Comparison Last Updated (16.12.18)
$89.95
10
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
77
Comfort
90%
Breathability
80%
Flexibility
80%
Responsiveness
75%
Value
60%
Price Comparison Last Updated (16.12.18)
$139.99
$139.99
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In Depth Review Top 10
  • Vibram FiveFingers KSO
  • Merrell Vapor Glove 3
  • Vibram FiveFingers V-Run
  • Merrell Bare Access 4
  • Xero Shoes Prio
  • Merrell Pace Glove 3
  • Saucony Kinvara 9
  • Mizuno Wave Universe 5
  • Topo Athletic ST-2
  • On Cloud X
Table of contents
  • Criteria Used for Evaluation
  • Other Factors to Consider
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Sources

Best Barefoot Running Shoes

1. Vibram FiveFingers KSO

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
95
Vibram FiveFingers KSO
Comfort
98
Breathability
93
Flexibility
99
Responsiveness
93
Value
92
best offer for today
$59.98
Pros:

Breathable upper

Great ground feel

Highly flexible for natural running feel

Easy-on quick lacing system

XS TREK tech for combined stability, traction, and comfort that remains lightweight

Cons:

Toe feel is strange for some new to the brand

This list would not be complete without some shoes from FiveFingers, the brand most frequently associated with the best barefoot running shoes. These babies are ultra-minimalist at 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

Comfort and Stability

As far as comfort, these babies have it in spades. They are lightweight, breathable, and minimalistic. Their updated laceup 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.

Quality and Durability

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.

2. Merrell Vapor Glove 3

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
93.2
Merrell Vapor Glove 3
Comfort
96
Breathability
94
Flexibility
97
Responsiveness
87
Value
92
best offer for today
$79.95
Pros:

Vegan-friendly construction

Combined footbed and outsole for lightweight construction

Mesh and TPU uppers for secure yet breathable coverage

Very durable outsole

Vibram layer

Zero-drop

Cons:

Sizing runs a bit large

Merrell shoes regularly score high for the best barefoot running shoes, and these made the number two spot on our list for a number of reasons. They’re attractive yet minimal in design and they have so much technology packed into them, while somehow remaining lightweight and affordable.

Read more

Comfort and Stability

These shoes are extremely lightweight and highly comfortable. They utilize M-Select Fresh technology for optimal breathability and antimicrobial coating to prevent odor and bacteria from forming. They provide adequate cushioning and offer a secure fit.

Quality and Durability

These are really durable and made of high-quality materials. They are made to last up to 200 miles, which is really good for a barefoot style running shoe which typically don't last as long as traditional running shoes because of the lightness and thinness of the materials used.

3. Vibram FiveFingers V-Run

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
90.8
Vibram FiveFingers V-Run
Comfort
95
Breathability
90
Flexibility
93
Responsiveness
91
Value
85
best offer for today
$104.09
Pros:

Lightweight design

Breathable mesh upper

Easy on and off

Clever lacing system

Terrific grip

Cons:

May be too breathable for cold weather runs

Inconsistent sizing with a looser fit

The V-run shoes are actually one of the best 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

Comfort and Stability

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.

Quality and Durability

These are pretty durable and built to last, but not meant for trails.

4. Merrell Bare Access 4

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
88
Merrell Bare Access 4
Comfort
94
Breathability
89
Flexibility
83
Responsiveness
85
Value
89
best offer for today
$147.99
Pros:

Affordable

Bare Access Outsole with Vibram pods for increased traction

Highly responsive

M Select FRESH keeps away odorous bacteria for a clean and healthy shoe

MBound cushioning tech for strong ground-to-foot feedback, as if the runner is barefoot

Mesh lining and upper are breathable and non-irritating

Cons:

A couple of reviews suggest some durability issues with the outsole, but the majority are positive

Merrell Bare Access running shoes come in a couple color combinations that are attractive but not too flashy or overbearing. 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 shoes above all others, though, is the technology behind them. Check it out:

Read more

Comfort and Stability

These shoes are really comfortable and stable. They are also breathable, flexible, and lightweight.

Quality Durability

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.

5. Xero Shoes Prio

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
86.4
Xero Shoes Prio
Comfort
90
Breathability
85
Flexibility
87
Responsiveness
90
Value
80
best offer for today
$94.99
Pros:

Lightweight

Durable

Comfortable

Flexibility

Cons:

Break in period

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

Comfort and Stability

These 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.

Quality and Durability

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.

6. Merrell Pace Glove 3

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
84.6
Merrell Pace Glove 3
Comfort
93
Breathability
85
Flexibility
84
Responsiveness
87
Value
74
best offer for today
$110.00
Pros:

Vegan-friendly construction

Combined footbed and outsole for lightweight construction

Mesh and TPU uppers for secure yet breathable coverage

Very durable outsole

Vibram layer

Zero-drop

Cons:

Sizing runs a bit large

Merrell shoes are known for offering some of the best barefoot running shoes, and they’re attractive yet minimal in design, while still having so much technology packed into them yet somehow remaining lightweight.

Read more

Comfort and Stability

These are incredibly breathable, lightweight, and comfortable. They are an excellent option for all of those who love barefoot running and minimalistic shoes.

Quality and Durability

These are really durable and made of high-quality materials. They are built to last and meant to be used on variable terrain.

7. Saucony Kinvara 9

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
83
Saucony Kinvara 9
Comfort
90
Breathability
83
Flexibility
82
Responsiveness
90
Value
70
best offer for today
$109.95
Pros:

Lightweight construction

Very comfortable

Excellent mix of cushioning and flexibility

Supportive

Cons:

Narrow fit

One of the more traditional designs on this list, the Saucony Kinvara 9 is still an exceptional option for a natural running enthusiast. While maintaining an exceptionally lightweight build the Kinvara 9 still emphasizes a well cushioned and supportive design. Saucony also knows that the Kinvara 9 needs to be as flexible as possible to properly bend with a naturally inclined runner. These shoes are a moderately priced option available from a long-standing and reliable brand.

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Comfort and Stability

These are perfect for barefoot runners because they encourage your natural stride and allow for full range of motion. They are lightweight and supportive as well as stabilizing. They are highly flexible and breathable as well.

Quality and Durability

These shoes are made of high-quality material and are built to last.

8. Mizuno Wave Universe 5

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
81.8
Mizuno Wave Universe 5
Comfort
89
Breathability
85
Flexibility
84
Responsiveness
86
Value
65
best offer for today
$59.90
Pros:

As lightweight as they come at 2.3 oz. (W) and 2.9 oz. (M)

G3 SOLE tech for ground feel and strong traction

U4ic tech for midsole support

Very flexible for natural running motion

Cons:

Expensive

Barefoot running shoes are really cool because they allow us to run like our ancestors, but they put together the best of modern technology and style to protect the foot along the way. The Mizuno brand has this lightweight yet high-tech and ultra-modern style down to a tee. Even the laces, with brindle patterning, are stylish and unique. Not to mention the colorful, dancing numbers pattern or shoes-on-fire flame details to choose from.

Read more

Comfort and Stability

These shoes utilize an AirMesh upper that allows for optimal breathability and ventilation. As far as comfort, these have minimal padding and cushioning but high levels of flexibility and comfort due to intelligent and advance design.

Quality and Durability

These are pretty durable for natural running shoes and are built to last with Mizuno's typical high quality.

9. Topo Athletic ST-2

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
79.2
Topo Athletic ST-2
Comfort
80
Breathability
70
Flexibility
85
Responsiveness
81
Value
80
best offer for today
$89.95
Pros:

Extremely light weight

Wide toe box

Durable construction

Perfect amount of cushioning

Breaths well

Cons:

Some may have issues with heel pocket grip

When it comes to running in all the different seasons of the year barefoot running shoes don't usually come to mind, most people think you can only use them in mild climates in the middle of the year. Summers are too hot for running barefoot, and winter? Don’t even get us started. This is where the Vivobarefoot Stealths come in and knocks your perceptions out cold. If you want to run hard and barefoot all year long, these are your kicks.

Read more

Comfort and Stability

The Topo Athletic ST-2 is the good choice for athletes looking for a barefoot running shoe that is both durable and reliable. The wide toe box allows for the wearer to naturally grip their path by giving them room to spread their toes as they run. The ST-2 is lightweight without sacrificing the necessary padding to properly cushion a runner's feet. All of these features combined with the ST-2’s tight sock-like fit and mesh ventilation makes it an excellent choice for runners looking for a barefoot experience.

Quality and Durability

These are pretty durable, but not as much so as other options on our list.

10. On Cloud X

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
77
On Cloud X
Comfort
90
Breathability
80
Flexibility
80
Responsiveness
75
Value
60
best offer for today
more shops
$139.99
$139.99
See Deal
Pros:

Extremely lightweight

Comfortable

Supportive without being confining

Well ventilated

Wide midfoot for stability and comfort

Wide toe box

Pre set laces

Easy on and off

Cons:

Rocks may become lodged in the tracks

Narrow fit

Expensive

The On Cloud is from a lesser known brand, but it’s quality speaks for itself. Between the Cloud’s lightweight build and its notable ventilation these shoes really live up to their name.

Read more

Comfort and Stability

They are easy to wear and adjust with their slip-on design and elastic shoelaces. Some runners may be concerned that this sort of easy wear construction will affect the fit but the Cloud’s grip on the user's foot is snug and supportive. While the On Cloud has a tendency to acquire smaller bits of gravel in its tracks the advantages of their comfortable lightweight design outweigh the drawbacks. If you are looking for a natural feeling when you run then the On Cloud is a solid choice.

Criteria Used for Evaluation

Comfort

These 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 millenia.

Breathability

Most barefoot running shoes are extraordinary breathable thanks to their minimalistic designs. This means they have excellent ventilaion 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 less minimalist 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

Flexibility is one of the key features found in barefoot running shoes. It allows for your natural stride and provides you with full range of motion. Here we looked for shoes that had a minimal 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 full range of motion. Minimalistic, 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.

Responsiveness

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.

Value

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.

Expert Interviews & Opinions

Most Important Criteria (According to our experts opinion)
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Are your feet ready for barefoot shoes?

If you have any issues like plantar fasciitis, arches in need of serious support, or anything else that would require a more supportive shoe, maybe think about whether or not these are a good idea.

What's the point?

The ground feel and responsiveness is as good as it gets in barefoot running shoes. They also make some trails a lot more enjoyable as well.

Other Factors to Consider

Drop

The popularity and revival of this movement have encouraged shoe companies to introduce thin-soled and flexible shoes which are claimed to be the next best thing to barefoot running. They have reduced or even zero cushioning, and are lighter weight than other running shoes. They also tend to have much thinner soles that provide more sensory contact with the ground. This type of running shoe provides protection from bruises, cuts, minor impacts, and weather.

According to some experts, wearing shoes causes the small muscles in our feet to be weakened and the ligaments, tendons, allowing the natural arches to stop doing their job. They also believe that the result of supportive shoe inserts, extra cushioning and orthotics is poor foot biomechanics and increased risk of foot, leg and knee injuries. Runners wearing shoes with a higher drop often make their landings right onto their heels, basically relying solely on the shoe’s larger amount of padding, while runners wearing zero drop shoes will slowly but surely help their feet and gait to return to a more natural pattern.

Frequently Asked Questions

q: What's the big deal with barefoot style running?
a:

As we go about our day to day lives swathed in comfortable layers of clothes and shoes, it's easy to forget how recent of an invention modern style shoes are, and that for the vast majority of our existence as homo sapiens we went barefoot, occasionally donning thin sandals and thongs. As a result our feet used to splay wider and have better grip, and be much, much stronger and tougher. Experts even say that our ancestors were even able to use their toes to grab things just like we do with our fingers today.

By running in a barefoot or natural style running shoe we harken back to those long ago days, and slowly but surely help our feet remember what it was like to be strong and capable of things we wouldn't think possible today.

q: Will it be painful to switch from traditional trainers to a barefoot model?
a:

It really depends on your particular feet. The difference will definitely be noticed immediately, as you’ll be able to feel more contact with the ground and all of its imperfections. As far as it being painful, It probably won’t be, unless you happen to have issues with your feet which require more support and cushioning.

q: I have very flat feet, will this type of footwear work for me?
a:

Any runner with flat feet can certainly tell you about the importance of support. There are some barefoot shoe designs that have that type of support available. Admittedly they are generally bulkier than others but tend to still emphasize a lightweight build. It may be tempting to use an insole to compliment a lighter shoe, but that is inadvisable since the effect it would have on the weight and flexibility would undermine the reason for purchasing barefoot running shoe in the first place.

q: I currently wear trail runners, and tend to stick to semi-rough terrain. Are these a no-go for my style of running and preferred terrain?
a:

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a no-go. However it may be a good idea to pay close attention to how rough the terrain really is. These shoes have little mass and minimal soles by their very design. If you are used to running with a protective pair of trail shoes, these will most likely take some time to get used to.

q: Would a lower priced pair of water shoes give me about the same type of performance as the more expensive models?
a:

Some water shoes may appear similar in quality and design to barefoot-style running shoes, but the support that barefoot running shoes provide in their fit and cushioning doesn’t compare to a shoe built for wet use.

Sources

  1. Alex Hutchinson, Runner's World, Running enthusiast website, Aug 07, 2015
  2. Chris McDougall, ChrisMcDougall.com, Website of Runner & Author Christopher McDougall,