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"

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 »

Altra Instinct 1.5 Review

Altra Instinct 1.5 Review
Altra Instinct 1.5 Review
In short the Instinct 1.5 is a nice upgrade to the original Instinct. If you liked the original Instinct you’ll love the new 1.5 even more. The overall fit is superb and my toes have never been happier having plenty of room to splay! more »

Fall 2012 FiveFingers Lontra, Speed XC, and SeeYa LS are OUT!

Fall 2012 FiveFingers Lontra, Speed XC, and SeeYa LS are OUT!
Fall 2012 FiveFingers Lontra, Speed XC, and SeeYa LS are OUT!
Cold weather running in minimalist footwear can be challenging. Our new Lontra makes the experience fun and comfortable. A multi-layer laminate upper with fully taped seams provides insulation and water resistance. The micro pile fleece liner is soft ag… more »

Xero Shoes--Huaraches in Color

Xero Shoes--Huaraches in Color
Xero Shoes--Huaraches in Color
Invisible Shoes recently changed their name to Xero Shoes. The name-change came about to focus the brand (50% less syllables!) and better capture in words the awesome quality and barefoot-proximity you get with a pair of the Invisible Shoes Xero Shoes… more »

SeeYa LS Vibram FiveFingers Initial Review

SeeYa LS Vibram FiveFingers Initial Review
SeeYa LS Vibram FiveFingers Initial Review
Any day now the (new for Fall 2012) Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa LS will hit the shelves. When it does, you can expect to hear it here first — you might as well know that one retailer is already taking pre-orders with an expected ship date of October… more »

Vivo Barefoot Oak Review - Business Casual Barefoot Shoes

Vivo Barefoot Oak Review - Business Casual Barefoot Shoes
Vivo Barefoot Oak Review - Business Casual Barefoot Shoes
I have liked the stylish, Wallaby-esque look of the Vivo Barefoot pretty much from the first day I saw them some three years ago. For that matter, I got my first pair of Oaks back in 2010 and did a "first look" on them here. Fast-forward and I pic… more »

ToeSox Ultralite Crew & Ankle Socks Review

ToeSox Ultralite Crew & Ankle Socks Review
ToeSox Ultralite Crew & Ankle Socks Review
Let’s talk about socks. When it comes to wearing them with Vibrams, some people love them and some people hate them. I’m in the “love” camp, and always wear socks when running. I find it keeps me from getting blisters when I’m running mo… more »

Merrell Barefoot Vapor Glove First Look [Exclusive!]

Merrell Barefoot Vapor Glove First Look [Exclusive!]
Merrell Barefoot Vapor Glove First Look [Exclusive!]
A few days back I got a pretty interesting note from BirthdayShoes reader, Gadi. Check this out: I just went to buy the [Merrell Barefoot] Trail Gloves and surprsingly I got some final salesman samples of the [upcoming 2013 release] "Vapor Glove."… more »

2013 True Linkswear Shoe Sneak Peak

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
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
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
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
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
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. So… 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
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 »