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"

Topo Athletic Tribute and Fli-Lyte Reviews

Topo Athletic Tribute and Fli-Lyte Reviews
Topo Athletic Tribute and Fli-Lyte Reviews
Topo Athletic recently released two new models of running shoes. They sent both pairs my way for the purpose of putting them through the paces and seeing what I thought! So that's what we'll be doing today — reviewing the Topo Tribute and the Topo… more »

Soft Star Shoes Hawthorne Chukka Review

Soft Star Shoes Hawthorne Chukka Review
Soft Star Shoes Hawthorne Chukka Review
Overview The Hawthorne from Soft Star Shoes is their latest flagship chukka for casual wear. It has beautiful leather throughout, excellent workmanship, and a durable, resolable Vibram Geo sole that is great for casual users. What Soft Star… more »

Shamma Sandals Old Goat Huaraches Review

Shamma Sandals Old Goat Huaraches Review
Shamma Sandals Old Goat Huaraches Review
Shamma Sandals makes a quality huarache-styled sandal that is built on Vibram sole materials and is styled in various lacing/upper configurations. It's in the same league as other minimalist sandals manufacturers like Luna Sandals. BirthdayShoes… more »

Vivo Barefoot Drake Review

Vivo Barefoot Drake Review
Vivo Barefoot Drake Review
Once upon a time Vivo Barefoot made a shoe called the Oak. The Oak had a Wallaby-esque look to it and to this day is still in my regular shoe rotation (no small feat!). But the Oak was discontinued awhile ago, which left (to my thinking) a bit of a… more »

Sense of Motion SP-L3 Review

Sense of Motion SP-L3 Review
Sense of Motion SP-L3 Review
When I opened the box it smelled like some kind of chemical adhesive. These shoes were handmade, recently finished, and now they were in a cardboard box in my living room. They are so much uglier in person than I thought they'd be... more »

Gladsoles ECO Huaraches Review

Gladsoles ECO Huaraches Review
Gladsoles ECO Huaraches Review
The ECO is an interesting new model from Gladsoles that is made entirely from upcycled car tires. There is 5.5mm of rubber for tons of groundfeel and flexibility. Huarache lovers and “Born To Run” readers should definitely give this one a look! Read on to hear my thoughts on this eco-friendly, custom-cut huarache! more »