13 Best Barefoot Running Shoes: The Naturalist’s Guide
If you love the natural barefoot feeling when you run, then you’ll love our list of the barefoot running shoes below. These shoes will encourage you to use your natural running stride—no matter where you run. These shoes fit securely without constricting your toes or any part of your feet. If you have converted to sockless running shoes, then you know they are a total game changer.
Check out our list of the best barefoot running shoes below!
In a Hurry? The best barefoot shoes after 12 hrs of research
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
13 Best Barefoot Running Shoes
1. Vibram FiveFingers KSO
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
Toe feel is strange for some new to the brand
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
Hyperlock TPU Heel Counter
Wide toe box
Narrow through midfoot
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
Weights 6.5 ounces
Temperature control upper
Great for trails
Tongue shifts around
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
Breathable mesh upper
Easy on and off
Clever lacing system
May be too breathable for cold weather runs
Inconsistent sizing with a looser fit
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
Midsole support band
Great for stability
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
Bare Access Outsole with Vibram pods for increased traction
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
A couple of reviews suggest some durability issues with the outsole, but the majority are positive
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
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
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
Comfortable quilted upper
Great for sidewalks
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
Made from recycled materials
Many unique color options
Stiff arch support
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
4 mm drop
Many fun colors
Narrow toe box
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.
11. Nike Free RN Flyknit 5.0
Supportive rubber sole
What we like most about this design from Nike is that it has a super easy fit without the hassle of laces! The design of this simple upper is made to hug your foot without creating any hot spots so you feel like you are going for a jog in a pair of socks. Plus, it provides just a little bit more cushioning on the heel than some of the other options out there on the market.Read more
The most notable feature of this design from Nike is that it has a super simple supper without laces that feels great against your foot. The most common location for hot spots on the foot is often where the laces lie. By omitting laces completely, you greatly reduce the risk of hot spots as well as chafing.
We also like the added level of support for the heels. This design boasts a rubber outsole that is slightly thicker than many of the other designs out there on the market. While it makes it slightly heavier than other designs, it does a great job of offering a little bit more energy feedback to help protect your knees and joints.
If you are in the market for something that has a great fit that keeps your foot cool, dry, and comfortable, this is a really great choice. Users love that omitting laces feel great on their feet and the durable sole is perfect for those that love to run for long distances.
12. Topo Athletic ST-3
0 mm drop
Can rub blisters in the heel
What we like most about this design from Topo is that it really promotes a full range of motion while still offering a little bit of support. This design is great for running on hard surfaces such as sidewalks and boasts features to keep your feet cool and comfortable even on those super hot days.Read more
The most notable feature of this design is that it has a 0 mm drop. This means that there is no padded distance between your toes and your heel. This is a great design for those that really want to feel the ground beneath them like they are running without any shoes at all.
The upper of the Topo ST-3 has a simple and low profile that sinks very low on the foot. It has slight padding on the tongue, which some users have reported can create hot spots along the top of the foot. It also comes in a few colors and designs that really pop when out there on the road.
If you are on the market for something that is super simple but still comfortable and supportive, this is a great option. We love that it boasts features that really allow you to connect with the ground while still providing a little bit of support to protect your joints and feel.
13. On Cloud X
Supportive without being confining
Wide midfoot for stability and comfort
Wide toe box
Pre set laces
Easy on and off
Rocks may become lodged in the tracks
The On Cloud is from a lesser-known brand, but its quality speaks for itself. Between the Cloud’s lightweight build and its notable ventilation, these barefoot shoes really live up to their name.Read more
These barefoot shoes are easy to wear and adjust to 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
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.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
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.
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
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.
At the end of the day, the most important thing for you to look for in a pair of barefoot running shoes is that they are the perfect fit for you. From comfort, breathability, and responsiveness to value, flexibility, and heel drop--the absolute most important thing to keep in mind is that the shoes fit your needs in all of these areas.
The shoes on our list among the best of the best, we ranked in order of the factors we considered but that doesn't mean that our number one pick will be the best choice for everyone who visits our page--after all, we all have different needs and different feed.
When looking for your next pair of barefoot running shoes it is important that you sit down and look at everything that you need. Make sure to consider your arch type and whether or not you can even use some of these shoes--barefoot and minimalist shoes are not for everyone, hence why everyone doesn't use these.
Set a budget if you need to and make sure to find a pair of shoes that addresses all of your needs. This may mean having a pair of shoes loaded with a lot of extra features or a pair of with the bare minimum. As long as you are investing in a pair of shoes that fits your every need you are on a good path to getting the most out of your shoes and your runs.
Don't forget to check other guides for barefoot running that we did like Vivobarefoot review guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: What's the big deal with barefoot style running?
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 a 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?
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.
If your feet are the type that will do well with these shoes, however, you will find that switching to barefoot running shoes is actually more comfortable then what you have been used to. This is not the case for everyone, however, even if you have a good grasp on exactly what you need in a running shoe. Most of us all have to give these a shot before we commit to them, so we definitely encourage you to go into a store and try some out before ordering a pair (even if they sound like your dream shoe).
q: I have very flat feet, will this type of footwear work for me?
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?
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 very thin 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.
However, nowadays there are definitely barefoot running shoes designed for trails and more technical terrain. In the past, we would have given you a firm no if it was anything other than an easy trail. If you are already used to barefoot running shoes, then you will definitely love those made for the trail--it's just like running barefoot in nature with the protection you need on your feet while you are out there.
q: Would a lower priced pair of water shoes give me about the same type of performance as the more expensive models?
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. Furthermore, water shoes are designed for wet environments, which means the materials they are made of are often less breathable.
As we mentioned earlier, considering the terrain you will be running in is incredibly important--and you won't need water shoes if there you aren't in the water.