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"

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 »

Vibram Alitza, Entrada FiveFingers are Here!

Vibram Alitza, Entrada FiveFingers are Here!
Vibram Alitza, Entrada FiveFingers are Here!
It's now clear that the Vibram FiveFingers Entrada and Alitza are out — at least one retailer (TravelCountry.com)is now stocking all five colorways of Entrada (The Classic-like one) and four colorways of Alitza (The Sprint-like, strappy one).… more »

Vibram FiveFingers Sorrento Review

Vibram FiveFingers Sorrento Review
Vibram FiveFingers Sorrento Review
Above is the men's Vibram FiveFingers Sorrento, leather loafer-ish-yet-casual five toe shoes we last buzzed about in the Fall (here). In fact, the Sorrento has actually been available now for months—just not in the United States. And on that f… more »

Black El-X FiveFingers Out!

Black El-X FiveFingers Out!
Black El-X FiveFingers Out!
The wait for the all black men's Vibram Fivefingers El-X is over! You can get them now with free two-day shipping (through Feb. 10) here for $75. more »

Tune Footwear Penny Loafer Review

Tune Footwear Penny Loafer Review
Tune Footwear Penny Loafer Review
Before I even I started writing for BirthdayShoes, I?d been searching for a pair of minimalist dress shoes to wear for work. I?ve had a couple good options from VivoBarefoot that I can wear on casual Fridays, but I?ve been waiting for someone to come a… more »

Luna Split-toe Tabi Socks + Leadville Huaraches Review

Luna Split-toe Tabi Socks + Leadville Huaraches Review
Luna Split-toe Tabi Socks + Leadville Huaraches Review
When I signed up for my first marathon in March, I stupidly did not consider that such timing meant I'd be doing all of my training in the winter. Mercifully, the southeastern United States has had a rather mild winter. I've had no problem running in my… more »

Bedrock Sandals Earthquake V2 Review

Bedrock Sandals Earthquake V2 Review
Bedrock Sandals Earthquake V2 Review
About a year ago, I reviewed the original Bedrock Sandals followed by a review of the Earthquake Sandals. Nick and Dan, the barefoot running friends who Kickstarted Bedrock Sandals the company in 2011, have released an updated pair of Earthquake Sa… more »

Running In Off Road Crocs™

Running In Off Road Crocs™
Running In Off Road Crocs™
I’ve personally witnessed firsthand over the last two years a marathon runner, Alexander Pachev, race the Rocket City Marathon in my home town in a pair of Crocs™. Alexander not only raced in Crocs™ he raced very fast! A brief inspection of his running log shows that he’s run several marathons in the 2:35-2:45 range in Crocs™! more »

Inov-8 BareX 200 Review

Inov-8 BareX 200 Review
Inov-8 BareX 200 Review
For any emotional, spiritual, or otherwise high-energy situation, I've found that there's always some token that stands out to remind me of the whole situation. When going to my grandma's Baptist church, it was the butterscotch lifesavers she gave me to… more »

Feiyue Tiger Claw Review

Feiyue Tiger Claw Review
Feiyue Tiger Claw Review
Like many of you, when I got into minimalist running I went a little nuts. I read all the books and articles I could. I did (what felt at the time like) strange exercises to increase my foot strength. I tried all manner of shoes. And of course I prosely… more »

Vibram FiveFingers El-X First Look

Vibram FiveFingers El-X First Look
Vibram FiveFingers El-X First Look
Vibram just released the most minimalist pair of FiveFingers since the (discontinued and limited-use/indoor-only) Moc. It's called the FiveFingers El-X. It's a men's model that rivals (beats?) the original Classic FiveFingers in terms of ground feel,… more »

Merrell Bare Access 2.0 Review

Merrell Bare Access 2.0 Review
Merrell Bare Access 2.0 Review
The new edition of the Merrell Bare Access is a complete overhaul of the original and mostly for the better. The coarse mesh upper with synthetic leather overlays has been exchanged for a two-layer mesh with plastic overlays. The midsole con… more »

The FiveFingers El-X is EARLY!

The FiveFingers El-X is EARLY!
The FiveFingers El-X is EARLY!
We've learned in the last couple days that the Vibram FiveFingers El-X is for sale now at REI, online only. Seriously, check it out. , which was slated to be released in Spring 2013, Official Product Description:: The EL-X is a thin, breathable… more »

Lontra Vibram FiveFingers Review

Lontra Vibram FiveFingers Review
Lontra Vibram FiveFingers Review
One of the inherent drawbacks to the minimalist nature of Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs) is that, being extra close to the ground, they are highly susceptible to letting in moisture and the cold. While this isn’t really a problem during the summer months, t… more »

Rogue Soft Star Shoes Review

Rogue Soft Star Shoes Review
Rogue Soft Star Shoes Review
The Shoes Soft Star Shoes sent me the Rogues in "Aged Oak," which has a weathered leather deep tan finish (They also come in an Aged Walnut, which is a darker brown leather). Per the product page, these shoes are: [gallery] The upper, inso… more »

Tune Footwear Tassle Loafer Barefoot Shoes First Look

Tune Footwear Tassle Loafer Barefoot Shoes First Look
Tune Footwear Tassle Loafer Barefoot Shoes First Look
Tune Footwear has officially launched! Their dressy loafer-style barefoot shoes are now available for sale via TuneFootwear.com for $99. We previewed Tune Footwear back in late July of this year but that was prior to having seen the final product.… more »

Kickstart Altum's Barefoot Dress Shoes

Kickstart Altum's Barefoot Dress Shoes
Kickstart Altum's Barefoot Dress Shoes
Some of you may have heard early rumblings about another initiative to bring suit- or slacks-ready barefoot shoes — no, I'm not talking about Primal Professionals or Tune Footwear's just arrived loafers (Surprise! Tune's are for sale now! Stay "t… more »

Vivo Barefoot Gobi Boot Review

Vivo Barefoot Gobi Boot Review
Vivo Barefoot Gobi Boot Review
With the success of Vivo Barefoot's ultra-popular "Ra" comes the release of a Ra-like ankle high leather boot called the Gobi. Vivo shot me a pair of these Gobis to test out, and I'm happy to oblige ? these boots are comfortable, make my feet happy, an… more »

Vapor Glove Merrell Barefoot Initial Review

Vapor Glove Merrell Barefoot Initial Review
Vapor Glove Merrell Barefoot Initial Review
Merrell Barefoot is bringing to market an incredible minimalist/barefoot shoe in 2013. It’s called the Vapor Glove and when I first pulled the sample pair out of the box Merrell sent me, I thought “Whoa” followed immediately by “Finally!” Quite sim… more »

Vibram FiveFingers Lontra Initial Review

Vibram FiveFingers Lontra Initial Review
Vibram FiveFingers Lontra Initial Review
The Lontra could be described as a 'roid-raging KSO — outfitted with the most aggressive 4mm rubber, "lightly cleated" "Trek" outsole + 4mm EVA midsole and a wholly new water-resistant, tri-layered upper that's topped off with a very aggressive ankle cuff to seriously keep stuff out. That's how I'd put it, anyway. more »

Initial Review Vibram FiveFingers Speed XC

Initial Review Vibram FiveFingers Speed XC
Initial Review Vibram FiveFingers Speed XC
The Vibram FiveFingers Speed XC started hitting retailers two weeks ago. I got my pair only a few days back and have been scrambling trying to clobber together an initial review of them. At $140 a pair, the Speed XC isn't cheap. It's $10 more tha… more »

Soft Star Shoes RunAmoc Dash for Work Review

Soft Star Shoes RunAmoc Dash for Work Review
Soft Star Shoes RunAmoc Dash for Work Review
I work for a company in Southern California where the dress code for men is slacks and a dress shirt with a tie being optional. I needed to find some barefoot/minimalist zero-drop shoes that still looked professional. But where? more »