What are "Barefoot" or Minimalist Shoes?

What are "Barefoot" or Minimalist Shoes?

Some call them "barefoot shoes" ...

... While others prefer the term "minimalist footwear." As Vibram's "FiveFingers" kicked off the craze, many barefoot-alternative converts assume "barefoot shoes" must be "those toe shoes" — the eye-catchingly strange foot gloves or shoes that look like feet. But the barefoot/minimalist footwear category is much more than shoes that look like feet.

And 'round here, we sorta like the name "Birthday Shoes" — not just because of the "birthday suit" pun, but also because it's a reminder that you were born barefoot, that homo sapiens survived for eons without high-tech sneakers, and shoe design should consider the natural, biologically "nude" state of the foot. If bare feet got humanity through the stone age, do we really need a thickly cushioned pair of Nike's simply to play outside or go for a run?

What makes a good shoe should be grounded in the foot's natural, bare state. Thus, a basic understanding of the naked foot is the simplest guide as to what the ideal shoe should be. To wit:

  • shoes should allow your feet to move dynamically as they would barefoot.
  • shoes shouldn't support our feet — the need for "arch support" for a healthy foot makes little sense given arches are innately strong structures. Supports may actually undermine the natural function of the arches in our feet!
  • shoes should transmit "ground feel" allowing you to feel the terrain even if that means discomfort — in fact, being able to feel the ground may be the most important facet of learning how to walk and run with low impact, thereby reducing the chance of injury.
  • shoes should have little to no impact on how you would move if barefoot — shoes shouldn't change your natural bio-mechanics (and if you're accustomed to wearing conventional shoes, note that your barefooted bio-mechanics will need some reworking!).
  • shoes should be as light and keep your feet low to the ground!

This isn't a comprehensive list, but it hits on some of the most important facets behind what makes a shoe "minimalist" or "barefoot" ("barefoot shoes" may be an unfortunate way to describe barefoot-styled footwear, but it's probably the most colloquial way to convey the category).

Why are minimalist/barefoot shoes so popular these days? Because these types of shoes let feet be feet, making for healthier and happier human beings. Our kids know what most of us have forgotten—barefooted (or close to it!) movement is fun whether that be running, walking, playing, or just a random trip to the grocery store.

It's time we abandoned the prevailing paradigms around footwear. We don't need these overbuilt, overcushioned, arch-supporting monstrosities strapped to our feet to function. Free your feet and rediscover the inner kid in you.

Below you'll find a slew of detailed reviews of minimalist/barefoot shoes published here on BirthdayShoes. They're organized generally by style — Toe Shoes, Minimalist/Barefoot Shoes, and Huaraches/Barefoot Sandals. If you're new to BirthdayShoes, consider subscribing to our weekly email digest to keep up with the latest releases (as well as hearing about some really sweet deals) — subscribers are even automatically eligible to win free minimalist footwear via new model giveaways!

Note: If you get lost as you peruse BirthdayShoes.com and want to get back to this page, just click on "barefoot/minimalist shoes" in the horizontal navigation menu at the top of the page (below "birthdayshoes" above)!

Toe Shoes 

"Toe Shoes" is the term we've given to "barefoot shoes" that articulate the toes — as opposed to ballet slippers which sometimes go by the same name. There are a handful of types of toe shoes including Vibram FiveFingers, which are the original five toe shoes that arrived on the scene around 2006; Inov-8 EvoSkins, which have five toe pockets and showed up in 2010; Fila Skele-toes, which have only four toe pockets and showed up in Spring 2011; the Adidas Adipure Trainers, which came on in Fall 2011; and most lately, the BodyGlove 3T (Spring 2012), which only has three toe pockets. 

Vibram FiveFingers

As Vibram FiveFingers are so heavily defined by their sole design, the (toe) shoes below are organized by sole style, and within each sub-category, by release date (leftmost are most recent). Links point to reviews, if applicable, or in some cases, pages that aggregate posts about a given model. Surf around!

Fall 2012 Vibram FiveFingers Preview:

Vibram FiveFingers Current Line:

Fall 2012 reviews:

Fall 2012 first look:

SeeYa (2012):

Spyridon (2012):

Trek:

KomodoSport:

Bikila:

Jaya:

Kids models:

Performa:

Original:

Discontinued and/or Models that never made it into production:

[coming soon]

 

Fila Skeletoes

 

Adidas Adipure Trainer

 

BodyGlove 3T Barefoot


 

Minimalist Footwear or General "Barefoot" Shoes

This category of shoes includes footwear that is barefoot-minded, but groups the toes into one single enclosure (basically, the typical shoe design — no toe articulation). 

VIVO BAREFOOT


  

Leming Footwear


 

Merrell Barefoot


 

New Balance Minimus


 

Altra Running

 

Skora Running


 

Soft Star Shoes

 

True Linkswear

 

Saucony

 

Skechers

Other



 

Huaraches and Sandals

  

InvisibleXero Shoes

 

Luna Sandals

 

Unshoes Minimalist Footwear

 

Bedrock Sandals

Others

Category: Barefoot Shoes

Xero Shoes Amuri Cloud First Look Review

Xero Shoes Amuri Cloud First Look Review
Xero Shoes continues to innovate on the class huaraches design with the release this week of their new "Amuri Cloud" barefoot sandals. What is this "Cloud" that I speak of? It's a design feature of the Amuri Xero Shoes that reduces weight and improves… more »

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO Review

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO Review
The original Vibram FiveFingers Bikila model was released in the Spring of 2010 in conjunction with the Boston Marathon, and has long been the workhorse of Vibram?s running stable. The Bikila LS was introduced a year later and was among the first mode… more »

Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO/EL-X LS Review

Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO/EL-X LS Review
Above is the (available-in-youth-sizes) FiveFingers EL-X LS. What you may not realize is that the upcoming KSO EVO (for adults) is the same pair of toe shoes!
Earlier this week, I received a pair of Vibram KSO EVO/EL-X LS from an online vendor and I wanted to share my thoughts on this highly-anticipated shoe. The upcoming KSO EVO will be replacing Vibram's most popular shoe, the very versatile KSO. It featur… more »

Lems Nine2Five Minimalist/Barefoot Dress Shoe Review

Lems Nine2Five Minimalist/Barefoot Dress Shoe Review
Want a cap-toe Oxford shoe that fits to your minimalist/barefoot shoe needs? Dress shoes making you uncomfortable at work all day due to over-narrow toe boxes, hard inflexible soles, and stiff arch support? You should check out the Lems Nine2Five! They're business-casual "barefoot" dress shoes that let you walk/move/stand naturally and still look good at work. more »

Vivo Barefoot One Review

Vivo Barefoot One Review
Vivobarefoot released several new models in 2013, and being the owner of several Vivo shoes, I was excited to have the opportunity to test out the new One. I was curious to see how the Ones would stack up against my existing lineup of Vivobarefoot shoe… more »

Sensori Venture Xero Shoes (P)review!

Sensori Venture Xero Shoes (P)review!
Xero Shoes has started teasing their impending release of the Xero Shoes Sensori Venture, an out-of-the-box ready, huaraches-inspired design that takes the guesswork out of tying a pair of everyone's-favorite-barefoot-sandals, employing a wholly new lac… more »

VivoBarefoot Rooty Kids Minimalist Shoe Review

VivoBarefoot Rooty Kids Minimalist Shoe Review
A review of the Vivo Barefoot Rooty minimalist shoes for young kids. These are leather-upper, velcro-fastening shoes that seem to hold up well to three-to-four year old abuse (that exacted by my 4-year-old daughter!). If you're after healthy shoe options for your kids, these are worth checking out! more »

Review-Merrell Bare Access Arc

Review-Merrell Bare Access Arc
The Merrell Bare Access Arc 2 is my first barefoot shoe, and I'm incredibly happy to have this as part of my hiking gear. I always thought I disliked hiking long distances, as my feet would feel heavy even in normal cross-trainers. However, two months a… more »

Golf Review - Speed XC Lite from Vibram

Golf Review - Speed XC Lite from Vibram
Justin recently reviewed the Speed XC Lite from a casual perspective with lots of information and photos (link).  Given that the XC-lite is actually listed in Vibram?s golf category, this review focuses on the functionality of the shoes primarily from a… more »

Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO

Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO
Coming Spring 2014 — Subscribe to stay up-to-date on the release (And catch more upcoming minimalist shoes for 2014)! If there was one model that brought Vibrams to the masses, it had to have been the FiveFingers KSO. When it launched, there wer… more »

Merrell Vapor Glove - Running, Crossfit Review

Merrell Vapor Glove - Running, Crossfit Review
This review is long overdue. The Merrell Vapor Glove was released to great fanfare in February of this year, and almost immediately came the flood of fawning reviews. I think in the months since release I've only seen one negative review, with even that… more »

Review-Speed XC Lite FiveFingers from Vibram

Review-Speed XC Lite FiveFingers from Vibram
The FiveFingers Speed XC Lite is one of the new Vibram toe shoe models released for the end of Summer/Fall 2013. The Speed XC Lite (or "XC Lite") is a riff on the water-resistant Speed XC FiveFingers that released earlier this year. Both these new Spe… more »

Lems Mariner Boat Barefoot Shoes Review

Lems Mariner is a new "barefoot casual shoe" that favors the "boat shoe" design ported to a minimalist/barefoot style and function?zero drop, huge toe box, low stack height sole, and no arch support.  On the left above you can see a the Mariner in the cam
Lems Mariner is a new "barefoot casual shoe" that favors the "boat shoe" design ported to a minimalist/barefoot style and function?zero drop, huge toe box, low stack height sole, and no arch support. On the left above you can see a the Mariner in the camel colorway; on the right you see the Mariner in sand. Note the colors are a bit saturated/stylized in this photo.
http://birthdayshoes.com/toes/Lems_Mens The Shoes The Lems Mariner boat shoes come in two colorways. On the left are the Mariners seen in the "Camel" colorway. On the right, you can see the Mariners in the "Sand" colorway. Here you can see a… more »

Barefoot B.E.R.B.S. Minimalist Golf Shoes Review

Barefoot B.E.R.B.S. Minimalist Golf Shoes Review
More and more companies are releasing barefoot style shoes, and it should come as no surprise to see more being offered to golfers. We've previously reviewed barefoot golf shoes by TRUE linkswear and Vivobarefoot. Another option in this minimal golf c… more »

Minimalist Shoes on Sale Here

Nobody wants to maximalist prices for minimalist shoes. Thankfully, if you're here you're well on your way to hooking up a sale or two on some of the most popular minimalist shoes around. Let's dive in: Merrell Barefoots 40% off!EMS has var… more »