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

2013 True Linkswear Shoe Sneak Peak

2013 True Linkswear Shoe Sneak Peak
Fans of the site may know by now about the availability of barefoot/minimal golf shoes. We've highlighted a couple of recent barefoot options from True Linkswear (tour and phx) and more recently Vivobarefoot (hybrid). One of the great things about the… more »

Speed LR Vibram FiveFingers First Look

Speed LR Vibram FiveFingers First Look
The Vibram FiveFingers Speed LR is in a nutshell a reboot of the Trek LS from Fall 2011. What's changed? A few details and styling elements, namely.
We announced a week ago that the Speed LR Vibram FiveFingers had hit the market via REI (see here) in what seems to be an exclusive, limited U.S. release. What is the Speed LR, you ask? Well, it's basically a reboot of the all-black Trek LS FiveFi… more »

Skechers Go Bionic Review

Skechers Go Bionic Review
In my review of the Skechers GO Run Ride (include link) I likened the overall feel as being a marriage between the Saucony Kinvara and the Nike Free. This time around there is no marriage of shoes, the Skechers GO Bionic is a breed apart though if I had… more »

Review Vivo Barefoot Hybrid Golf Shoes

Review Vivo Barefoot Hybrid Golf Shoes
Over the past year, we've seen the barefoot shoe market expand to golf. While almost any barefoot shoe can be used for golf (and I've golfed in most of mine), the nature of their minimal design means barefoot shoes are often missing several key attribu… more »

Meet Tune Footwear: Barefoot-Friendly Dress Shoes

Meet Tune Footwear: Barefoot-Friendly Dress Shoes
A few months back BirthdayShoes became aware of Tune Footwear. They are a nascent minimalist shoe manufacturer focused solely on bringing to market men's footwear that could fit in in the office environment — in the form of the age-old men's style, the loafer. more »

Review Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lite Shoes

Review Vivo Barefoot Aqua Lite Shoes
If you're after a good-looking barefoot/minimalist shoe that has everyday versatility, top-notch ground feel, and allows you to preserve your natural bio-mechanics, posture, and "barefoot" movement, the VIVO BAREFOOT Aqua Lite is worth your serious consideration. more »

Is KEEN going barefoot?

Is Keen releasing a "barefoot" or minimalist shoe?  One thing is sure, the upcoming KEEN CNX will be a more diminutive version of prior KEEN shoes.
Is Keen releasing a "barefoot" or minimalist shoe? One thing is sure, the upcoming KEEN CNX will be a more diminutive version of prior KEEN shoes.
Is KEEN getting into the barefoot shoe/minimalist shoe market? They're certainly reducing their standard shoe profile with the upcoming release of the KEEN CNX with a 4mm heel-toe offset and a lower stack height. But is this a barefoot shoe? more »

Saucony Kinvara 2 Running Shoes Review

Saucony Kinvara 2 Running Shoes Review
We understand that the Saucony Kinvara 2? has been out for quite a while and as of this writing the Kinvara 3? has just recently hit the stores. Actually, due to the release of the Kinvara 3, you can pick up the Kinvara 2 on the cheap right now.… more »

Vibram FiveFingers Inventor Robert Fliri Talks Ultra-minimal FiveFingers Prototype for 2013

Robert Fliri holds up a prototype ultra-minimal Vibram FiveFingers (a reboot of the original Classic?) being worked on for a 2013 release (so it seems!).
Robert Fliri holds up a prototype ultra-minimal Vibram FiveFingers (a reboot of the original Classic?) being worked on for a 2013 release (so it seems!).
I've recently received some scuttlebutt surrounding a new Vibram FiveFingers style for 2013 (not the dressy leather Capri toe shoes we saw last week). All the information has come by way of Robert Fliri. If you're a fan of five toed shoes, you sho… more »

FiveFingers Capri - Dressy Toe Shoes on Tap for 2013 from Vibram

Vibram FiveFingers Capri 2013
Above is an image of a potential 2013 Vibram FiveFingers model called the Capri. This leather-clad toe shoe is probably the dressiest, most professionally-inspired FiveFingers so far.
Dressy, professsional toe shoes (FiveFingers) on tap from Vibram for 2013? Meet the the five-toed Capri, which is debuting in Pitti Uomo in a few weeks! Is your office ready for leather-clad shoes that look like feet? more »

VivoBarefoot Off Road Hi Boot Review

VivoBarefoot Off Road Hi Boot Review
Sometimes you just need an old fashioned hiking boot. But you don?t have to settle for the traditional kind. The Off Road Hi boots are VivoBarefoot?s minimalist version. I was intrigued by the minimalist boot idea since boots tend to drag… more »

Spyridon Vibram FiveFingers First Look

A first look at the Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon, a new model that is reminiscent of the original KSO that features the new Spyridon sole.
A first look at the Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon, a new model that is reminiscent of the original KSO that features the new Spyridon sole.
Vibram has snuck one on us here in the U.S. — well in advance of a Fall 2012 release, it seems that at least one retailer (REI) has gnabbed the laceless Spyridon FiveFingers. Yeah, they're out right now (for $110). You'll recall that these pup… more »

Laced SeeYa LS Vibram FiveFingers for Fall 2012

I'm liking the black/grey or the grey/green personally.
Coming in October 2012 are the SeeYa LS Vibram FiveFingers (LS tacked on to any FiveFingers model means that it's got laces). These are a surprise release for 2012!
We got a glimpse of what must have been a Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa LS (laced!) prototype a bit over a month ago. With nothing to go on but speculation, I guessed that these laced SeeYas were going to show up sometime in the Spring of 2013. Well what… more »

Skechers GO Run Ride Review

Skechers GO Run Ride Review
If I had to compare the Skechers GO Run Ride? to another shoe of my recent experience, I?d say it?s very much like the marriage between the Saucony Kinvara2? and the Nike Free?. It?s like the Kinvara2 in terms of low heel-to-toe drop (4mm),… more »

Xero Shoes Huaraches Review (and Connect vs. Contact)

Above pictured are the Xero Shoes Connect 4mm Huaraches with black nylon laces.
Above pictured are the Xero Shoes Connect 4mm Huaraches with black nylon laces.
Xero Shoes are hardly shoes, at all — they're sandals. But they're not just any sandals, they're ultra-minimalist huaraches sandals—you know, the "sandal tech" worn by the Tarahumara Indians of the Copper Canyons and made famous via Ma… more »

Review of the New Balance Minimus Trail Leather Shoes (MT10)

New Balance recently released the popular Minimus MT10 Trail shoe with a leather upper.
New Balance recently released the popular Minimus MT10 Trail shoe with a leather upper.
New Balance's first minimalist shoe offerings hit the market back in the Spring of 2011. Perhaps their most popular "Minimus" style then, and perhaps even still, was the MT10 or the Minimus Trail (which we've reviewed in depth here and with video here)… more »

Altra Provision Running Shoe Review

Altra Provision Running Shoe Review
?Modeled after The Instinct? platform, The Provision? adds a firmer midsole and a removable varus stability wedge to assist men with fallen arches, excessive overpronation and knock knees. Built for moderate and high overpronation, the Zero Dr… more »

Unshoes Pah Tempe Review

The Unshoes Pah Tempe is a minimalist sandal that utilizes a unique webbing design to secure the ultra thin Vibram rubber sole to your foot.
The Unshoes Pah Tempe is a minimalist sandal that utilizes a unique webbing design to secure the ultra thin Vibram rubber sole to your foot.
If you've been around ultra-minimalist running and walking for a while you've probably seen more than most of the huaraches available these days typically involve a strap that runs between your big toe and its neighbor. more »

Minimus 3090 Connect from New Balance

Minimus 3090 Connect from New Balance
New Balance teased yesterday on their Facebook page a new shoe in their Minimius line -- the Minimus 3090 Connect. Here's a first look at the shoes, which seem aimed at the high-intensity fitness crowd. I hadn't heard a word about this new release from New Balance so I was intrigued. What more, there was a spastic, 30-second You… more »

Laced SeeYa LS FiveFingers Spotted in the Wild?

Can you spot the prototype model of Vibram FiveFingers?  Is that a 2013 SeeYa LS (laced) we're seeing?
Can you spot the prototype model of Vibram FiveFingers? Is that a 2013 SeeYa LS (laced) we're seeing?
Anything jump out at you from the photos above? Sure there are the crazy gold and green FiveFingers Speeds (More on those here), but the real eye-catchers are what appear to be the Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa with laces. Both our men's and women's re… more »