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):





Kids models:



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). 



Leming Footwear


Merrell Barefoot


New Balance Minimus


Altra Running


Skora Running


Soft Star Shoes


True Linkswear







Huaraches and Sandals


InvisibleXero Shoes


Luna Sandals


Unshoes Minimalist Footwear


Bedrock Sandals


Category: "Barefoot Shoes"

Golf Review - Speed XC Lite from Vibram

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
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… more »

Merrell Vapor Glove - Running, Crossfit Review

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 »

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO
Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO
Vibram is evolving their flagship running shoe. The "Bikila," which was first introduced in April 2010, is getting a reboot as the Bikila EVO some four years later in Spring 2014. more »

Women's Merrell Vapor Glove Barefoot Shoes Review

Women's Merrell Vapor Glove Barefoot Shoes Review
Women's Merrell Vapor Glove Barefoot Shoes Review
Experience: Putting these shoes on for the first time was similar to what I imagine waking up as a mermaid might feel like. One moment I was standing on the ground barefoot, the next I had almost iridescent green, scale-like wrappings snugly buoying… more »

Review-Speed XC Lite FiveFingers from Vibram

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 »