10 Best Barefoot Running Shoes: The Naturalist’s Guide

8

Searching for Barefoot Running Shoes? Take a look at the top rated shoes of 2017, Pros & Cons and what to be aware of before buying them in a store!

Buying Barefoot Running Shoes

There is a growing trend to move away from complex shoes and towards a simple streamline design. To find shoes that best complement the natural running experience.

While there is definitely an appeal in the idea of running barefoot, the practicality of it just isn’t there. Trail running is an obvious no go, with a variety of dangerous hazards, but even comparably smoother surfaces like road, track, and treadmills wear heavily on the soles of your feet after just a short time. That is why pursuit of a “barefoot” shoe has been so popular. A design that is light and flexible enough to leave your gate practically untouched while still providing enough protection to allow for an unrestrained run.

Our Top Picks
Merrell Bare Access
  • Merrell Bare Access
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • M BOUND midsole
  • Price: See Here
Mizuno Wave Universe
  • Mizuno Wave Universe
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • U4ic lightweight midsole
  • Price: See Here
Vibram FiveFingers KSO
  • Vibram FiveFingers KSO
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • XS Trek Outsole
  • Price: See Here

In the past few years, barefoot running shoes have leaped to a whole new level when it comes to technology and protection, keeping feet dry and healthy, and providing just enough support to avoid injury – all while remaining ultra-lightweight. Whereas more traditional models can become a bit bulky with the padding and extra mass, the best choices are the ones that you forget you’re wearing. With style, technology, and the lightweight feel you’re looking for, here are the highest rated options currently available.

Last Updated: December 6, 2017
By Mark Smith:

In our consistent and persistent effort to make sure our lists are up to date we have update this list to include the Kinvara 8, the On Cloud, and the Topo Athletic ST-2

10 Best Barefoot Running Shoes


1. Merrell Bare Access

Here we are: the best of the best barefoot running shoes. 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:
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 he outsole, but the majority are positive.


2. Mizuno Wave Universe

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.
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


3. Vibram FiveFingers KSO

This list would not be complete without some FiveFingers, a brand 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. Vibram’s changing the definition of footwear. Here’s why:
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

4. Merrell Vapor Glove

4. Merrell Vapor Glove
Merrell shoes regularly score high for the best barefoot running shoes, and these take the number four spot for a handful of reasons. They’re attractive yet minimal in design and they have so much technology packed into them, but somehow they remain lightweight and affordable.
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

5. New Balance 5000

5. New Balance 5000
Hold up. Can barefoot running shoes get any lighter than this? Probably not. The New Balance 5000s are near record-breaking when it comes to lightweight technology. They weigh in at a mere 2.8 oz. (W) and 3.6 oz. (M). That’s half the weight of plenty of other barefoot running shoes. What else do they have going for them?
Pros
  • Flexible for natural running experience
  • FantomFit for lightweight support
  • Great traction
  • Mid-range in price
  • REVlite tech for stability and cushioning that’s still lightweight
Cons
  • Some durability issues with the outsole after heavy use

6. Topo Athletic ST-2

6. Topo Athletic ST-2
When it comes to the environment and season best barefoot running shoes, most people think of a mild climate 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 knock all competitors out of the park. If you want to run hard and barefoot all year long, these are your guys.
Expand to see more
The Topo Athletic ST-2 is 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 the them room to spread their toes as they run. The ST-2 is lightweight without sacrificing the necessary padding to properly cushion a runners 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.
Pros
  • Extremely light weight
  • Wide toe box
  • Durable construction
  • Perfect amount of cushioning
  • Breaths well
Cons
  • Some may have issues with heel pocket grip

7. Merrell Pace Glove

7. Merrell Pace Glove
Attractive. Sleek. Light. Merrell's Pace Gloves have all of the qualities you’re looking for when it comes to the best barefoot running shoes.
Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Synthetic and mesh upper for breathability
  • TrailProtect pad for protection
  • Zero-drop
Cons
  • They run a bit small

8. New Balance 1600

8. New Balance 1600
These shoes come in wild prints and patterns, so if you’re a flashy runner looking for the best barefoot running shoes, you’ve got a sure bet here. They’re at nearly the same weight as the Minimus, but they’ve got a couple of different features to offer the minimalist runner.
Pros
  • DynaRide outsole for great traction
  • Lightweight
  • No-sew overlays keep the foot secure without weighing it down
  • Responsive
  • Well-cushioned, even for a minimalistic shoe
Cons
  • Fits a little narrow in the forefoot

9. Saucony Kinvara 8

9. Saucony Kinvara 8
One of the more standardized in designs on this list, the Saucony Kinvara 8 is still an exceptional option for a natural running. While maintaining and exceptionally lightweight build the Kinvara 8 still emphasizes a well cushioned and supportive design. Saucony also knows that the Kinvara 8 needs to be as flexible as possible to properly bend with a naturally inclined runner. These shoes are a moderately priced option available from longstanding reliable brand.
Pros
  • Lightweight construction
  • Very comfortable
  • Excellent mix of cushioning and flexibility 
  • Supportive
Cons
  • Narrow fit

10. On Cloud

10. On Cloud
The On Cloud is from a lesser known brand, but it’s quality speaks for itself. Between the Cloud’s lightweight build and it's notable ventilation these shoes have really lived up to their name. 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. The Cloud’s grip on the wearers foot is snug and supportive While the On Cloud has a tendency to acquire smaller bits of gravel in its tracks but the advantages of their comfortable lightweight design outweigh any drawbacks. If you are looking for a natural feeling run then the On Cloud is a solid choice.
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

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.


Important things to consider when buying a pair of barefoot running shoes

 

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?

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.

Pros
  • 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 with 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.

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.

    Minimalist footwear

The popularity and revival of this movement has 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 non 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.

Pros
  • They provide the feet with protection from the impact of 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 comfortably.
  • 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.
Cons
  • 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 at 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.

Funny running shoe 2

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 more motion-control option, standard cushioning and stabilization technologies as a solution to over-pronation and difficult surfaces;it is often come from the advices of health professionals or retail clerks

Pros
  • 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 responsibility to absorb the harmful impact caused by the heel strike.
Cons
  • According to several researches, 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 of 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.

 

Known Benefits

Reduce injuries

Benefits of barefoot running

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.

Landing that way results in a forceful jolt (also known as an impact transient force spike) through the Knees, ankles, hips, and even the spine.

Oppositely, Those who run in bare feet tend to more often land directly onto their forefoot or sometimes midfoot, with the centered 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 minimalistis models, often report the elimination of injuries (that were caused by 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 with 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.

Greater balance

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.”

Increased strength

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 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.

Reduced inflammation

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 of the body and blood pressure. In other words, we decrease strain and inflammation throughout the entire body.


FAQ

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. Their 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 be undermine the reason for purchasing barefoot running shoe.

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 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:

Sources

  1. Runner's World, Running Injuries in Shoes and Barefoot, Running enthusiast website, Aug 07, 2015
  2. Harvard University, Biomechanics of Foot Strikes & Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear, University study,
  3. Chris McDougall.com, the barefoot running debate, Website of Runner & Author Christopher McDougall,
Adidas Ultra Boost
Next Giveaway draw
Your email is safe with us. Pinky swear
Share:
WIN RUNNING GEAR