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"

Vibram FiveFingers KMD EVO Review

Vibram FiveFingers KMD EVO Review
Vibram FiveFingers KMD EVO Review
Vibram has expanded their "EVO-fication" of the FiveFingers line with the release of the FiveFingers KMD EVO, which is what we'll be reviewing today. Other "EVO" VFFs to date include the KSO EVO, the Bikila EVO, and the Bikila EVO WP (the waterproof… more »

TUNE Footwear Penny V2

TUNE Footwear Penny V2
TUNE Footwear Penny V2
The TUNEfootwear Penny V2 is the latest shoe in TUNE’s line of lifestyle minimalist shoes. It features a wide toebox, flexible lightweight sole, and preppy looks. If you are looking for the benefits of minimalist shoes for wear at the office then check… more »

Meet Xero Shoes Z-Trek (Chaco-like) Minimalist Sandal

Meet Xero Shoes Z-Trek (Chaco-like) Minimalist Sandal
Meet Xero Shoes Z-Trek (Chaco-like) Minimalist Sandal
Have you heard the news? Xero Shoes has created a new minimalist sandal that truly breaks from their signature huarache innovations and goes toe-to-toe against the uber-popular strappy sandals you likely used to wear (Chacos, Tevas, etc.). It's called… more »

Feelmax Kuuva 3 Boot Review

Feelmax Kuuva 3 Boot Review
Feelmax Kuuva 3 Boot Review
With a waterproof lining, a 2.5mm zero-drop sole and wide toebox, the Kuuva 3 from Feelmax is perhaps the lightest and most flexible waterproof boot in the world! Read on to hear my thoughts as well as a comparison to boots from Lems and Vivobarefoot! more »

Vibram Bikila EVO WP Review

Vibram Bikila EVO WP Review
Vibram Bikila EVO WP Review
Featuring a waterproof membrane, Ice Trek rubber, and a lace system, the Biklia EVO WP is Vibram’s first water-proof shoe! Based on the Bikila EVO platform, Vibram made many design changes for the WP to make it waterproof and relatively weather-proof… more »

ToPo Runduro Review

ToPo Runduro Review
ToPo Runduro Review
The ToPo Runduro is a distance running shoe from ToPo Athletics. It has one of the thicker soles of any “minimalist” running shoe and is geared towards transitioning and long-distance runners. The Runduro features the same super breathable and… more »