10 Best Barefoot Running Shoes: The Naturalist’s Guide
In the past few years many runners have shifted towards a more simple a barefoot “feel” shoe. By doing so, they are able to run in shoes that best complement their natural running stride.
While many of us enjoy barefoot running, it simply isn’t practical to do so. Regardless if you are trail, road, or treadmills running, there are always hazards that can come up when you are barefoot. These hazards can cause injuries, strains, and make it downright impossible to continue your run if you are completely barefoot.
These setbacks have been frustrating for those of us who enjoy running barefoot—which is why the pursuit of a “barefoot” shoe has become so popular.
The perfect barefoot shoe is lightweight, flexible, and not heavily padded—all while still providing you with enough protection to allow for an unrestrained run.
- Merrell Bare Access
- M BOUND midsole
- Mizuno Wave Universe
- U4ic lightweight midsole
- Vibram FiveFingers KSO
- XS Trek Outsole
10 Best Barefoot Running Shoes
1. Merrell Bare Access
2. Mizuno Wave Universe
3. Vibram FiveFingers KSO
4. Merrell Vapor Glove
5. Vibram Evo Training
These shoes are breathable, lightweight, and moisture wicking. They utilize antimicrobial EVA midsoles for additional cushioning.
There are specific versions for Men and women--each tailored to their specific needs.
6. Topo Athletic ST-2
7. Merrell Pace Glove
8. Nike Flyknit 4.0
The shoe's hexagonal flex grooves allow them to provide adequate traction and flexibility.
These shoes also come in several color options.
9. Saucony Kinvara 8
10. On Cloud
Before shoes were invented, which was not so long ago, our ancestors ran endlessly across the savannah, outrunning nearly all animals they came across when it came to endurance. They did not need heavy, clunky heels and thick inserts. Breathability, odor-free foot environments were no problem. And lightweight? There was no extra weight. Now, hundreds of thousands of years later, we’re trying to go back. Why?
The joy of the barefoot running experience! You’ve got real freedom, near-effortless movement, and a lightweight feel that has you believing you could run forever. Take a tip from your ancestors and opt out of the maximalist shoe for a barely-there shoe that fits like skin rather than fabric over the foot!
The only thing that’s stopping you from going all-out, really, is the need for protection and the prevention of injury. These shoes have the technology necessary to support the foot, fit like a glove, and cushion just enough for comfort and stability. Soles are just thick enough to protect the foot from harsh terrain while allowing for genuine ground feel. Let your feet do their thing and stop weighing them down. Opt for the most popular better-performing models, and see just how harder and longer you can run when weight is a non-issue.
Here’s What We Looked For
running is one of the most popular fitness activities. Based on the demands of runners, shoe companies have researched and produced many different types of footwear to support different types of running. Barefoot running, running with minimalistic shoes and traditional running are three types that differ by definition, as well as their own pros and cons.
What is barefoot running?
This style is often referred to as natural running, which is running without wearing shoes. This type of running had once been popular all over the world, however because of the introduction of modern footwear, these days, it is mostly practiced some areas of Africa, Latin America, and some Western countries due to its perceived health benefits.
- People who choose to run this way claim that it helps to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries, which are caused by heel striking when wearing padded running shoes.
- Runners seem to have no impact collision, which is not so much the case with shoe runners, primarily from heel-strike, thanks to the landing on the middle or front of the foot
- Strengthens the tendons, muscles, and ligaments of the foot, allowing the runner to have a more natural gait.
- It can improve your balance. Running with bare feet works the smaller muscles in the legs, hips, feet, and ankles which assist with providing much better balance.
- It helps them stay grounded and connected to the environment.
Those are a few of the benefits that runners can get from shoe-less running, let’s take a look at some cons.
- No protection from the impacts of ground debris such as glass, rocks, or thorns under your feet.
- Can cause shock to the foot, requiring a long adaptation phase. Because most runners don’t get used to running with an uncushioned shoe, or even without a shoe, therefore the muscles will feel overworked. This could also lead to injuries such as calf strains or Achilles tendinitis.
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.
Minimalist footwear basically goes by two types:
A) Barefoot Running Shoes are characterized by the “zero drop” from heel to toe. As the same way, the heel has minimal cushioning or even no cushioning, maintaining the same height level as the toe.
Running in none cushioned shoes has some of the same aspects as this kind of running, but does not simulate the barefoot condition completely. Plus, these shoes can decrease the friction between your foot and the ground and therefore it also decreases the plantar skin abrasion.
B) Minimalist Running Shoes are somewhere between standard running shoes and barefoot running shoes. They have a minimum heel height at only about 4–8 mm to encourage a forefoot or midfoot strike, but still, provide cushioning and flex.
- They provide the feet with protection from the impact of the environment.
- Additional, people who have high arches will have the shortest break-in time and the fewest problems with barefoot running shoes.
- Minimalist shoes deliver a much more correct, forefoot-first stride than motion-control shoes.
- A minimalist shoe gives a much lighter weight to runners. Therefore the runner must expend less energy and will run the faster and longer, as well as more comfortable.
- Several minimalist shoes may provide stability posting to support the over-pronating runner to transition to the barefoot running motion.
- The toe-box is roomy which allows toes to splay inside shoes, and enhances grip as well as balance.
- Nearly barefoot running, minimalist shoes provide more connection between the ground and the runner; heighten runner’s awareness of what’s underfoot.
- Minimalist shoes require the flexibility and strength in a forefoot-first stride, and the popular mistake of almost runners is to take on minimalist running too quickly that can cause the risk of injury in making this switch too quickly, without preparing the muscles in the foot, ankle, or core.
- Minimalist shoes still decrease the feel ground to the foot to some degree in comparison with barefoot running. This bad effect coupled comes with a lack of motion-control support can increase the chance of injury for some runners.
- Another mistake is that many runners run exclusively on concrete and asphalt, these surfaces are hard for the body.
- Everyone who chooses this running type has to deal with blisters during the first few weeks until the calluses appear.
Traditional Running Shoes
By contrast, Traditional running shoes have a 10–12mm the heel to toe a drop. Many runners choose traditional running shoes with a more motion-control option, standard cushioning and stabilization technologies as a solution to over-pronation and difficult surfaces; it has often come from the advice of health professionals or retail clerks
- Traditional running shoes are designed with more cushioning which supports runners’ feet on asphalt and other hard surfaces.
- For runners who are unable to maintain a forefoot-first stride, this has a responsibility to absorb the harmful impact caused by the heel strike.
- According to several types of research, most runners who are wearing shoes that have higher heel drops have attendance to run with heel-first strides leading to vertical loading on the joints and feet which is claimed to be a significant factor in running injuries.
- Traditional running shoes also keep the heel in place on flat surfaces that may lead to the types of repetitive motions and cause injuries.
According to A Randomized Crossover Study showed some differences in effectiveness each type of running shoe. No shoe can offer the barefoot condition absolutely, even the no cushioned minimal shoe. Running with bare feet, the runners often have the smallest amount of ankle dorsiflexion, a shorter stride, and a higher cadence.
The zero cushion shoes provide the rather same results to barefoot about foot strike, and for ankle angle, they had intermediate values. Stride rate is decreased from the zero cushion shoe to the traditional shoe, but step length is increased from the zero cushion to the traditional shoe.
One of the first benefits of barefoot running is that it helps to remove the heel lift of most shoes, helping the Achilles tendon and calf muscle stretch and lengthen, possibly reducing injuries, such as calf pulls or Achilles tendonitis caused by short, tight motion.
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.
Oppositely, Those who run in bare feet tend to more often land directly onto their forefoot or sometimes midfoot, with the central point of landing closer to the center mass of the body. They use the natural shock-absorption of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons all around the knees, ankles, and feet, meaning that the runner doesn’t have the same type of impact spike throughout their joints.
This is the reason why people who run without shoes, or in minimalist models, often report the elimination of injuries (that were caused by a bad form that they no longer use) and more essentially, that running is more fun!
Better ground contact
This style of running not only helps to improve balance, but it also helps you feel more grounded and connected to your environment. You’ll learn how to spread your toes and expand your foot while it becomes a more connected and solid base that supports all your movements.
You may improve proprioception and balance. Without 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.
It Can Actually Be Comfortable
Runners will learn how to land on the forefoot rather than the heel. The heel strike during running only come because of the excessive padding of running shoes, but research shows that isn’t the most effective natural running stride.
Landing on the heel is basically putting on the breaks for every footfall. The most efficient runners land on the midfoot and keep their strides light, smooth and flowing. Landing on the forefoot also permits your arches to act as natural shock absorbers and for a softer landing on hard surfaces.
Most people today think this type of running hurts and is dangerous, but in fact, you can run this way on the world’s hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain.”
For everything, you use something; What you use and develop you keep, just as long as you keep doing it. But, once you stop using it, it atrophies. Running shoe-less not only prevents some running injuries but also wakes up new muscles, both for balance and support.
When most people begin going barefoot that means their feet begin to function more naturally, allowing more strength to be gained. It helps to tone all of the runner’s leg muscles in the process.
Less chance of foot conditions
As the feet gain more strength, issues such as plantar fasciitis tend to decrease. Many often to also see improvements from conditions like foot neuromas, bunions, and hammertoes. Even arthritis has been known to gradually heal itself as the foot develops greater flexibility, blood flow, and of course greater strength.
Allows greater circulation
Going without shoes actually tends to awaken muscles of the legs and feet that have been previously dormant, while increasing blood flow to those limbs to get moving. The increased blood reduces many of the pains, varicose veins.
Helps develop better posture
We’ve all picked up unhealthy habits in the more traditionally designed shoes. The typical running shoe isn’t really just simply a shoe; it’s one which has a relatively high-heel, standing about 1-2 inches on average in height.
To keep from losing balance, we often find ourselves bending forward a bit at the waist, putting more strain on our lower back, upper back, neck, hamstrings, and shoulders. It also tends to put more force on the feet, hips, and knees when running. Once the habits are broken by changing the type of running shoe to a much lower profile design, the effects make eventually begin to reverse some. By allowing yourself to have more contact with the ground, those nerve endings that are around the bottom of the feet will start letting us know when we are leaning forward or if we are bending forward from the waist.
By running with minimal footwear, we tend to naturally do so with better posture. Not only do we look better and get taller, but do we greatly reduce all of the stress and strain on our bodies.
Going barefoot has been shown to reduce inflammation. One solution may be grounding, the process of reducing inflammation by standing and walking with bare feet on the ground. Studies have shown that free radicals, the pesky buggers take responsibility for inflammation carry a positive charge.
Although these positively charged particles play an important part in our immune system and the healing response, if we don’t know how to drain them, they will build up in our bodies, create excess inflammation and cell/tissue damage. Meantime, the earth naturally contains a huge negative charge.
So you should run barefoot, it’s your body’s way of discharging this unwanted charge. Direct contact with the ground also permits us to discharge free radicals.
Additional health benefits
With diabetes and obesity, our health is at an all-time low. And health relates to the feet. If you have strong feet you can run, walk bike and more. But with weak painful feet, there’s no desire to exercise.
Experts recommend people should keep feet out of shoes for as long as possible because they know shoes probably weaken and deform the feet. Not only that, but the act of feeling the ground strengthens their senses and helps remap the brain.
Barefoot stimulation helps improve memory, concentration, focus, and overall intelligence too. Studies show that by stimulating the nerve endings on the bottom of the feet, we can decrease the parasympathetic fight off the body and blood pressure. In other words, we decrease strain and inflammation throughout the entire body.
When considering or shopping around for a good pair, there are probably some questions you have of your own. To maybe help answer some of them, or help spark some more of your own, we have gathered together Some frequently asked questions with regards to finding the right brand and model for you.
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, 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.
Q: I currently wear trail runners, and tend to stick to the 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 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 shoes provide in their fit and cushioning doesn’t compare to a shoe built for wet use.
Hopefully at least a portion of the information was helpful to you, in your search for a great pair of these extremely minimalistic runners. If you still aren’t whether this is for you, just give it a try and see what you think. Just make that when you do, the footwear you choose is suitable for you.
Here are some sources we used while conducting our research
While conducting our research, we utilize any pertinent information that further helps to assist you in finding the best products for the kind of running that you’re into. Here are some places where we found some really great stuff:
- Running Injuries in Shoes and Barefoot, Running enthusiast website, Aug 07, 2015 ,
- Biomechanics of Foot Strikes & Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear, University study, ,
- the barefoot running debate, Website of Runner & Author Christopher McDougall, ,