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"

Mizuno Wave Universe 3 Racing Flats Initial Review

Wave Universe 3
Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flat.
Guest Post by LindseyRacing Flats as a Minimalist AlternativeI'm no marathoner (far from it!), but lately I've been looking for the best alternative to VFFs. I've been running in VFFs for several months now, and throw in a little barefoot running… more »

Vibram Five Fingers Smackdown, Classics vs. Bikilas [Review]

Vibram Five Fingers Smackdown, Classics vs. Bikilas [Review]
Vibram Five Fingers Smackdown, Classics vs. Bikilas [Review]
Tripp, from Austin, was previously seen here on BirthdayShoes when he first got his Vibram Five Fingers Classics, then later when he ran a 5k in them. Recently, Tripp purchased a pair of Bikilas from City Sports and sent us a nice comparison to his… more »

Vibram FiveFingers Speed Review

The Vibram Five Fingers Speed, the first-ever laced pair of Five Fingers, new for Spring 2010, and only available from retailers in Europe and the United Kingdom.
The Vibram Five Fingers Speed, the first-ever laced pair of Five Fingers, new for Spring 2010, and only available from retailers in Europe and the United Kingdom.
Here I am striking a pose in the Vibram Five Fingers Speed. Yes, not only do laced Vibram Five Fingers exist, but I confess: the retro styling in black and white make them downright stylish. Mrs. BirthdayShoes already calls them the best-looking Vibram… more »

Unboxing the Vibram Five Fingers Bikila (in Blue/Yellow)

A close-up shot of the Vibram Five Fingers Bikila - the new barefoot running shoe from Vibram - showing off the front and back toe design on the sky blue, yellow, and grey Bikilas!
A close-up shot of the Vibram Five Fingers Bikila - the new barefoot running shoe from Vibram - showing off the front and back toe design on the sky blue, yellow, and grey Bikilas!
Photos and a video unboxing of the new Vibram Five Fingers Bikila in the Sky Blue, Yellow and Grey style. The Bikila is the new barefoot running shoe by Vibram designed specifically for runners. It is a new contender in the minimalist running scene! more »

Vibram Five Fingers Bikila First Look Photos and Impressions

Vibram Five Fingers Bikila First Look Photos and Impressions
Vibram Five Fingers Bikila First Look Photos and Impressions
Initial review of the Vibram Five Fingers Bikila barefoot running toe shoes that encourage a natural forefoot stride. The Bikila features a new strap and heel design and minimal seams on the interior of the toe shoes. Tons of photos and design explanation of the FiveFingers Bikila! more »

Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Oaks Review

The Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Oak Lace-up Wallaby shoe.  It's minimalist status comes from it's diminuitive sole - only 4.5 mm thick.  It is also foot friendly with a wide toe-box.
The Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Oak Lace-up Wallaby shoe. It's minimalist status comes from it's diminuitive sole - only 4.5 mm thick. It is also foot friendly with a wide toe-box.
I bought a new pair of minimalist shoes I hope to wear for more work-like dress — the Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Oak lace-up Wallaby a.k.a. Vivo Barefoot Oaks or just Oaks. I got them from Endless on sale for about $100, and if you've ever bought T… more »

Vivo Barefoot Evo Barefoot Running Shoe Review

The Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Evo Running Shoe - Just released in Spring 2010
The Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Evo Running Shoe - Just released in Spring 2010
A review and first look at the new barefoot running shoe from Terra Plana, the Vivo Barefoot Evo, which provides a minimalist shoe with no arch support that fosters a natural running form. more »

Reviewing the Vivo Barefoot Aqua from Terra Plana

Above, in the box, is a pair of Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aquas.  Nice packaging for a nice barefoot shoe alternative to Vibram Five Fingers.
Above, in the box, is a pair of Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aquas. Nice packaging for a nice barefoot shoe alternative to Vibram Five Fingers.
The market for "barefoot shoes" is small. It's in this context that it doesn't take long to discover the main minimalist footwear options and manufacturers. You've got Vibram Five Fingers, but you've also got companies like FeelMax or perhaps you're he… more »

Meet Tuck's Shoes. Custom Russell Moccasins / Minimalist Shoes

Meet Tuck's Shoes. Custom Russell Moccasins / Minimalist Shoes
Meet Tuck's Shoes. Custom Russell Moccasins / Minimalist Shoes
I did an hour hike up and down a back-country ski trail the other day in a custom pair of minimalist shoes. Packed snow, nine degrees Fahrenheit, and my feet were toasty the whole way. They have no heel lift, no cushioning, an anatomically correct desig… more »

Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek Review

Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek Review
Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek Review
Review of the Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek leather barefoot toe shoes for hiking and trail running. Complete with photos and discussion of design, sizing, and performance and where to buy. more »

Soft Star Moccasins Review

Soft Star Moccasins Review
What's that on my feet? Those are Soft Star Moccasins — giving my Classic FiveFingers a break and enjoying the comforts of a soft soled, sheepskin inner footbed, "barefoot shoe."
Soft Star Shoes are handmade leather moccasins manufactured by a small company in Oregon. In this review, I talk about my experiences with the Soft Star Grippy Roos, a barefoot shoe that provides a great deal of ground feedback while keeping your feet exceedingly comfortable! more »

The Classic, Everyday Greatness of Classic Fivefingers

My two pairs of Classic Vibram FiveFingers—my all-time favorite, go-to VFFs!
My two pairs of Classic Vibram FiveFingers—my all-time favorite, go-to VFFs!
Why Classic Vibram Five Fingers barefoot shoes are the most comfortable toe shoes produced. Explanation of their benefits as compared to other Vibram Five Fingers, and discussion of the Classic as the flip flops of the Vibram line-up. more »