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"

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 »

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 »

Skora Core & Phase Minimalist Running Shoes Review

Skora Core & Phase Minimalist Running Shoes Review
Skora Core & Phase Minimalist Running Shoes Review
It’s been over a year since I got my hands on Skora’s first entries in the minimalist market, the Base and Form. In that time the Portland based company has been hard at work updating and revising their lineup and has come out with the new Core and Pha… more »

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

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 »

What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?

What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?
What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?
If you've got kids, you're familiar with bedtime routines. Part of our nightly bedtime routine is reading books. My almost-four-year-old Avi gets to pick out a couple of books before it's lights out. So I was excited when author John McClung reached… more »

Earth Runners Circadian Review

Earth Runners Circadian Review
Earth Runners Circadian Review
I love huaraches. I've raced in the bare minimum clothes and bare minimum shoes you could have without being naked. I wore them for my first marathon. Heck, huaraches have even started to take over as my default CrossFit shoe on days where any running i… more »

Lem Primal 2 Review--A Fantastic, Casual Barefoot Shoe

Lem Primal 2 Review--A Fantastic, Casual Barefoot Shoe
Lem Primal 2 Review--A Fantastic, Casual Barefoot Shoe
Lems not only recently released their "barefoot shoe boot" ? a.k.a. the Lem Boulder boot (reviewed here) ? they also updated their original shoe, the Primal Origins with the "Primal 2." You can read my original review of the Primal Origins* here or… more »

LEM Boulder Boot Review

LEM Boulder Boot Review
LEM Boulder Boot Review
Lems Shoes (the barefoot shoe company formerly known as Lemming formerly known as Stem Footwear) recently dropped their new boot for Spring 2013—the Boulder (see Meet Lems Boulder, the Barefoot Shoe Boot for the original release announcement).… more »

Teva Zilch Minimalist Sandals for Toddlers/Kids Review

Teva Zilch Minimalist Sandals for Toddlers/Kids Review
Teva Zilch Minimalist Sandals for Toddlers/Kids Review
Buying footwear for your growing babies, toddlers, little boys/girls, or kids would be simple if there weren't so many shoes out there that were clunky, narrow, heavy, stiff, or high-heeled. Unfortunately, outside of the moc-like slippers worn by infan… more »

New Balance HI-REZ Minimus Review

New Balance HI-REZ Minimus Review
New Balance HI-REZ Minimus Review
In practice, the ground feel of the Hi-rez is absolutely tremendous. Surprisingly you can’t really feel the individual hexagons underfoot, but rather it feels like one uniform sole. In a side by side comparison with the Vibram El-X, running on a varied terrain of asphalt, grass, and dirt, there was virtually no noticeable different in ground transmission. It’s really just amazing what New Balance has been able to pull off in this regard. more »

Breatho Trail Vivo Barefoot Shoe Review

Breatho Trail Vivo Barefoot Shoe Review
Breatho Trail Vivo Barefoot Shoe Review
I'm planning on doing a GoRuck Challenge (GRC) in a few months, and I was at a loss for what type of shoe to use. For those of you not familiar with the GRC, it is a 12 hour "adventure" designed by the GoRuck company to test their back packs, which… more »

Merrell Pace Glove Review - Original and Version 2

Merrell Pace Glove Review - Original and Version 2
Merrell Pace Glove Review - Original and Version 2
I've been hassling my poor girlfriend for months to try minimalist running, experiment with form, try on some of the weirder shoes at the running store. Mostly she's resisted. But I finally got her to try out a few and write about them. So here's her re… more »

Luongo Footwear Review

Luongo Footwear Review
Luongo Footwear Review
I'm rather partial to slip-on shoes. Especially slip-ons that are thin but tough and exceedingly functional. A big part of this is that I like to get moving as soon as possible. I own several pairs of huaraches and the ones I wear most are rarely the be… more »

FiveFingers Maiori, Signa For Sale with Free 2-Day Shipping

FiveFingers Maiori, Signa For Sale with Free 2-Day Shipping
FiveFingers Maiori, Signa For Sale with Free 2-Day Shipping
Vibram's Spring 2013 FiveFingers line-up include two wholly new models that are geared towards wetwear—they're called the FiveFingers Maiori and the FiveFingers Signa (seen above). We've yet to review these new offerings. This is mostly due to… more »

Review New Balance Minimus 10v2 Trail and Road

Above are the New Balance Minimus 10v2 Trail (left) and 10v2 (right)
Above are the New Balance Minimus 10v2 Trail (left) and 10v2 (right)
If you’re like me, then it’s time to replace those original Minimus Trails that you picked up back in 2011 just a few weeks after they were widely released. Luckily, New Balance has come through with a reboot and update of the Minimus 10 in both the Ro… more »

Luna Mono Huaraches Review

Luna Mono Huaraches Review
Luna Mono Huaraches Review
It's no secret that I love me some Lunas. I've tested their socks for the first time on race day with no prior experience with them, because I trust Luna that much. Then I ran my first marathon in Luna Venados. But I'll be honest: I wasn't entirely… more »

Merrell Vapor Glove Available for Sale!

Above photoed — Men's Merrell Vapor Glove in black; Women's Merrell Vapor Glove in Orange/Blue
Above photoed — Men's Merrell Vapor Glove in black; Women's Merrell Vapor Glove in Orange/Blue
http://birthdayshoes.com/toes/W_Vapor_REI http://birthdayshoes.com/toes/M_Vapor_CS http://birthdayshoes.com/vapor-glove-merrell-barefoot-initial-review more »

SeeYa, Speed FiveFingers Back in Black!

SeeYa, Speed FiveFingers Back in Black!
SeeYa, Speed FiveFingers Back in Black!
Did you know that Vibram has snuck out two new colorways of the men's SeeYa and Speed FiveFingers? Yep! And the colorways are likely to please as the Speeds are now available in a flat black (see above) and the SeeYas in a black/grey mash-up (al… more »

Soft Star RunAmoc Moc3 Review

Soft Star RunAmoc Moc3 Review
Soft Star RunAmoc Moc3 Review
I've been transitioning to minimalist a piece at a time over the course of the last two years. First was the gradual change in my actual training shoes. Then casual and business wear -- still an ongoing process. Oddly the only persistent holdout was the… more »

Meet Lems Boulder, the "Barefoot Shoe" Boot

Meet Lems Boulder, the "Barefoot Shoe" Boot
Meet Lems Boulder, the "Barefoot Shoe" Boot
I got good news from Andrew Rademacher, founder of upstart minimalist/barefoot shoe manufacturer Lems Shoes* ("Light. Easy. Minimal.") — the first batch of the much-anticipated Lems Shoes Boulder Boot are now available for order! I say "first batch" be… more »

FiveFingers EL-X Review for CrossFit and Other Thoughts

FiveFingers EL-X Review for CrossFit and Other Thoughts
FiveFingers EL-X Review for CrossFit and Other Thoughts
I was a relative latecomer to the FiveFingers game. My first pair were the Trek Sports, and most of those I came to own since then were still newer styles. As such, I never experienced the collective heartbreak that came from the discontinuation of the… more »

EL-X FiveFingers – Running Review

EL-X FiveFingers – Running Review
EL-X FiveFingers – Running Review
When Vibram discontinued the original FiveFingers “Classic” last year, they rebooted the series with a completely redesigned model called the EL-X that has only been out for a few weeks. This is one of the most minimalist outdoor FiveFingers to date.… more »

New Balance MT 110 Winter Boot Review

The New Balance MT110 Winter Boot.
The New Balance MT110 Winter Boot.
I should start off by admitting that I avoided trails for a while there. Especially organized single-track trail runs, when the fire of competition pushes me to run harder than I might normally. My first real running injury was on the Philosopher's Way… more »

Belleville Mini-Mil Minimalist Boot Review

Belleville Mini-Mil Minimalist Boot Review
Belleville Mini-Mil Minimalist Boot Review
When the UPS guy dropped of the box of the Mini Mil boots by Belleville I could hardly contain my joy. I talked about these boots a little while ago and really hoped they would meet the need for boot with more protection while still being quite minimal… more »