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"

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 »

Skechers GO Run Ride Review

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 »

True Linkswear Phx (Minimalist) Golf Shoes Review

True Linkswear Phx (Minimalist) Golf Shoes Review
True Linkswear Phx (Minimalist) Golf Shoes Review
In early 2011, TRUE linkswear brought barefoot shoes to the attention of golfers everywhere with the first golf shoe designed to be "the closest thing to a barefoot golfing experience as possible." The shoes received rave reviews from golfers as they w… more »

Flag-Styled Vibram FiveFingers Classics

Flag-Styled Vibram FiveFingers Classics
Flag-Styled Vibram FiveFingers Classics
The Olympic classics will be using the UK, Italy, Australia and Denmark flags on them. Only available in Europe and the US Vibram store on Newbury for in store purchase only. No phone orders. 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
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
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 »

Altra Eve Review

The women's Altra Eve from Altra (Zero Drop) Running are Altra's women-specific ultra-minimalist/barefoot running shoe.
The women's Altra Eve from Altra (Zero Drop) Running are Altra's women-specific ultra-minimalist/barefoot running shoe.
The Altra Eve is a customizable minimalist shoe designed specifically for a woman’s foot. In the product video on Altra’s website, they mention that it has a narrower heel, longer arch, higher instep, and a wider toebox. Not much of a fan of the… more »

Rare Vibram FiveFingers Classics

Two rare pairs of Classic FiveFingers - rare because they can only be purchased through Europe, and one pair (the floral variety) were one-off VFFs made a few years back and are only available via eBay.
Two rare pairs of Classic FiveFingers - rare because they can only be purchased through Europe, and one pair (the floral variety) were one-off VFFs made a few years back and are only available via eBay.
Covering some rare Classic Vibram FiveFingers, my all-time favorite toe shoes, in a crazy floral and black colorway as well as the awesomely white-soled with navy upper colorway only available in Europe. more »

Olympic-Themed FiveFingers Classics

Denmark flag-styled Olympic Classic FiveFingers ... coming sometime summer 2012?
Denmark flag-styled Olympic Classic FiveFingers ... coming sometime summer 2012?
If there's one FiveFingers model that garners more of a following all others, it'd have to be the Classic. It's my all-time personal favorite style of Vibrams and I'm not alone: just take this fan's 20+ pairs for reference. Unfortunately though, i… more »

SKORA BASE & FORM Review

Reviewing the REAL RUNNING shoes from new running shoe company Skora. On the left, the Skora Base; on the right the Skora Form.
Reviewing the REAL RUNNING shoes from new running shoe company Skora. On the left, the Skora Base; on the right the Skora Form.
The BASE and FORM models reviewed here today are SKORA’s first foray into an increasingly crowded minimalist shoe market. But as we pointed out, SKORA prefers to eschew terms like “minimal”, “natural” or “barefoot” in favor of their marketing tagline “run real.” more »

Luna Sandals Catamount (Plus Original) Review [Huaraches]

The Luna Catamount Huaraches from Luna Sandals is quite possibly the nicest pair of huaraches you could ever have; photoed here with leather laces and a cordovan leather/Vibram rubber sole.
The Luna Catamount Huaraches from Luna Sandals is quite possibly the nicest pair of huaraches you could ever have; photoed here with leather laces and a cordovan leather/Vibram rubber sole.
We've reviewed a number of huaraches here on BirthdayShoes. "Huaraches," is simply Spanish for "sandals." While huaraches may refer to Mexican sandals of all varieties, here we're specifically talking… more »

BeNat Shoes First Look

BeNat shoes are an ultra-minimalist shoe out of Germany that is almost like a mix between a pair of huaraches on steroids and a Roman boot.
BeNat shoes are an ultra-minimalist shoe out of Germany that is almost like a mix between a pair of huaraches on steroids and a Roman boot.
[gallery] [gallery] Availability BeNat shoes can be purchased off the BeNat website for €89. They size in European sizing (my FiveFingers size is a 43; my BeNat size is the same). more »

Vibram FiveFingers Trek Flip Preview

Vibram FiveFingers Trek Flip Preview
Vibram FiveFingers Trek Flip Preview
I was able to get my hands on a test pair of Vibram FiveFingers Trek Flip, a Europe-only model slated for release in Fall 2012. I just wanted to share some pictures of what I was able to get my hands on. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a pair… more »

Fila Skele-toes Voltage: Nike Free,Toe Shoes Lovechild

Allow me to introduce the Skele-Toes Voltage; the bastard lovechild of Nike Frees and Vibram FiveFingers (toe shoes).
Allow me to introduce the Skele-Toes Voltage; the bastard lovechild of Nike Frees and Vibram FiveFingers (toe shoes).
What if the grid-foam-soled shoe, as pioneered by Nike via the "Nike Free x.0," somehow copulated with a pair of toe shoes? What would you get? The Skele-Toes Voltage; a four-toed Frankenstein toe-shoe-slash-sneaker-slash-Nike-Free-wannabee. But… more »

SKORA BASE & FORM (Real) Running Shoes First Look

SKORA BASE & FORM (Real) Running Shoes First Look
SKORA BASE & FORM (Real) Running Shoes First Look
SKORA is a brand new company entering the minimalist running shoe arena. Just don’t call it minimalist. SKORA’s tagline is “Run Real” as the company goes on to explain in their marketing material, "We reject the terms “minimal”, “natural”, or “barefoo… more »