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"

Altra Samson Review

Altra Samson Review
Altra Samson Review
Altra Footwear made a splash in 2011 as they brought to market a handful of shoes designed to accommodate a natural running style — shoes that were neutral from heel-to-toe (Altra coined the term "zero-drop") with an anatomically correct design an… more »

New Balance Minimus Zeros Released for Sale!

New Balance Minimus Zeros Released for Sale!
New Balance Minimus Zeros Released for Sale!
For all of you eagerly awaiting the first "zero drop," neutral-from-heel-to-toe minimalist/barefoot running shoes to arrive from New Balance, I'm happy to announce that the NB Minimus Zero Road (MR00 and WR00) and NB Minimus Zero Trail (MT00 or WT00) ha… more »

New Balance Minimus Trail Zeros for Wide Feet

New Balance Minimus Trail Zeros for Wide Feet
A look at two NB Minimus Zero Trails (MT00) - wide (4E) on the left and regular (D) on the right.
The release of the next generation of New Balance Minimus minimalist shoes — the "Minimus Zeros," so called for being the first "zero-drop" or same sole thickness at the heel as at the ball of the foot — is imminent. One exciting aspect of… more »

Merrell Barefoot Bare Access Review

The Merrell Barefoot Bare Access is a zero-dropped "transition" shoe from Merrell intended to be used as an intermediate tool to go from regular, heel-lifted and more cushioned running shoes to a more minimally soled, cushion-less shoe.
The Merrell Barefoot Bare Access is a zero-dropped "transition" shoe from Merrell intended to be used as an intermediate tool to go from regular, heel-lifted and more cushioned running shoes to a more minimally soled, cushion-less shoe.
Is there room for a "transition" shoe in the toolbox of the would-be natural or barefoot runner? Is the shortest distance to learning barefoot-style running going straight to full-bare feet? Or is there room for shoes like the Nike Free or the Reebok RealFlex? Enter the Merrell Barefoot Bare Access - a review. more »

Altra Instinct Review

A zero-dropped running shoe with an anatomically correct, upsized toe box, the Altra Instinct is a formidable running shoe, albeit not the most minimalist shoe around.
A zero-dropped running shoe with an anatomically correct, upsized toe box, the Altra Instinct is a formidable running shoe, albeit not the most minimalist shoe around.
Introducing the Altra Instinct, the first shoe to truly marry the form-improving benefits like a zero-drop sole of the minimalist/barefoot running shoe with the comfort, cushioning and support of a traditional running shoe. more »

New Balance Minimus Road Zeros for Wide Feet

New Balance Minimus Road Zeros for Wide Feet
New Balance Minimus Road Zeros for Wide Feet
In a follow up to the first look at the New Balance Minimus Road Zeros (the red pair in these photos), I’ve recently had the opportunity to test out a wide version of the Minimus Road Zeros in a lime green/yellow colorway. It's exciting that the Mi… more »

Body Glove Toe Shoes: 3T Barefoot Technology

Coming in Spring 2012 is this three-toed shoe from Body Glove - the Body Glove 3T.
Coming in Spring 2012 is this three-toed shoe from Body Glove - the Body Glove 3T.
The toe shoes market is soon to get another contender from none other than Body Glove, one of the leading manufacturers of water sports apparel, in the form of a three-toed shoe. You read that right. Three. First you had FiveFingers with, well, of co… more »

Swiss-Made Toe Socks to Evolve Toe Shoe Concept?

Swiss-Made Toe Socks to Evolve Toe Shoe Concept?
Swiss-Made Toe Socks to Evolve Toe Shoe Concept?
A number of readers have emailed in about Swiss Barefoot Company's "Swiss Protection Sock," a five-toed sock made of 50% Kevlar, 32% polyester, 8% spandex, and 10% cotton is cut resistant but, being made out of fabric, will get you even closer to barefo… more »

Zem 360 Barefoot Running Shoes Review

A review of the Zem 360 Ninja Split Toe (photoed left) and Round Toe (photoed right) barefoot-style running shoes.
A review of the Zem 360 Ninja Split Toe (photoed left) and Round Toe (photoed right) barefoot-style running shoes.
ZEMs are fun, colorful, minimalist shoes made by ZEMgear with the motto, "Less Shoe. More You." I've been wearing ZEMs from their 360 series for a few months now to see how well they work both for everyday use and for running. more »

Women's SeeYa Vibram FiveFingers Review

Women's SeeYa Vibram FiveFingers Review
Women's SeeYa Vibram FiveFingers Review
As soon as I saw my pale blue SeeYas, I thought they looked very aquatic. There’s a water droplet design on the upper and along the velcro strap that gave me the initial impression that they are some kind of footwear meant for the water. But they’re a… more »

New Speed FiveFingers Colors Available!

New Speed FiveFingers Colors Available!
New Speed FiveFingers Colors Available!
The new 2012 Vibram FiveFingers Speed colorways are out! In what is certainly a sign of things to come with regards to the imminent release of the SeeYa and Spyridon LS FiveFingers (there's still a chance to subscribe to win a pair! See the SeeYa re… more »

Altra Adam Review - A KSO-Like Shoe Sans Toes?

Altra Adam Review - A KSO-Like Shoe Sans Toes?
Altra Adam Review - A KSO-Like Shoe Sans Toes?
Altra Running is a new zero-drop running manufacturer based out of Utah. It was born out of necessity: the founders, themselves long-time runners and owners of a running shoe store, had been chopping off the heels of running shoes effective… more »

Merrell Barefoot Edge Glove Review

Merrell Barefoot Edge Glove Review
The Merrell Barefoot Edge Glove is a new shoe from Merrell for 2012 that is built on the road glove sole (made by Vibram) and geared towards casual or perhaps even business casual wear.
Feel grounded and enjoy life in our edge glove barefoot shoe Its minimal cushioning and Vibram® sole give you just enough underfoot protection, while letting your feet land flat to feel the earth beneath your feet ? stimulating the senses, strengthening… more »

Spyridon LS vs. KSO Trek Vibram FiveFingers

Spyridon LS vs. KSO Trek Vibram FiveFingers
What better way to compare Vibram's two trail running toe shoe offerings - the original KSO Trek (right) vs. the new Spyridon LS FiveFingers - than to wear one on either foot and go for a muddy trail run?
A comparative review of the new FiveFingers Spyridon LS trail running shoe versus the original KSO Trek FiveFingers from Vibram. more »

SeeYa Vibram FiveFingers Review

No longer are we limited to “one type fits most situations” but now there are VFFs to suit your specific activity. It’s clear that the SeeYas are design for pavement running and racing and while they excel at this task, I don’t think I’d wear them for much else. more »

Water-Resistant Vibram FiveFingers for Fall 2012

Take a sneak peak at some of the upcoming releases for Fall 2012 from Vibram FiveFingers!
Take a sneak peak at some of the upcoming releases for Fall 2012 from Vibram FiveFingers!
The Fall 2012 Vibram FiveFingers line-up features water-resistant toe shoes in a big way! The Lontra, Speed LR and XC, Classic Fresca, and Spyridon are all coming to the U.S. and Europe is getting two new versions of the KSO Trek as well as a laced Lontra! FiveFingers Trek Pro FiveFingers Trek Flip FiveFingers FiveFingers FiveFingers FiveFingers Check out this press release from Vibram Italy: Do you like water but only for bathin… more »

Altra Adam First Look

The Altra Adam, a zero-drop ultra minimalist shoe for men.
The Altra Adam, a zero-drop ultra minimalist shoe for men.
I was fortunate enough to meet the guys from Altra at the 2011 CrossFit Games. They were very friendly, and very staunch advocates of a wide toe-box, and zero heel drop. All of their shoes, they explained, are built on variations on those two themes. Th… more »

Bedrock Earthquake Sandals and Merino Ninja Socks Review

Bedrock Earthquake Sandals and Merino Ninja Socks Review
Bedrock Earthquake Sandals and Merino Ninja Socks Review
I reviewed the original Bedrock Sandals back in December and found them to be a solid option for a basic huarache sandal suitable for both casual wear and running. I'm pleased to report that based upon feedback, Nick and Dan have tweaked the design to… more »

Altra Lone Peak Review

Altra Lone Peak Review
“Blending cushioned protection with the benefits of barefoot freedom, Altra footwear is designed to reduce injury and promote proper technique for the most natural run. Every shoe features Zero Drop™ and a foot-shaped, gender-specific design so everyone can find the right fit and run better and healthier.”
“Blending cushioned protection with the benefits of barefoot freedom, Altra footwear is designed to reduce injury and promote proper technique for the most natural run. Every shoe features Zero Drop™ and a foot-shaped, gender-specific design so everyone… more »

Lems Shoes Primal (Earth Brown) Quick Review

Lems Shoes Primal (Earth Brown) Quick Review
Lems Shoes Primal (Earth Brown) Quick Review
Stem is getting a good bit of press here on BirthdayShoes and while I've pointed out a few nits above in this review, my overall take on these shoes is glowingly positive: if you're looking for a casual mono-toed barefoot/minimalist shoe, the Stems are worth serious consideration. more »

K-Swiss Blade Foot Running Shoe Review

Introducing a new zero-drop shoe from K-Swiss coming in 2012 - the K-Swiss Blade Foot!
Introducing a new zero-drop shoe from K-Swiss coming in 2012 - the K-Swiss Blade Foot!
As the minimal/barefoot movement gains momentum and traction it seems every shoe maker is jumping at the chance to get in on it. K-Swiss has now thrown their hat into the ring... er, well, they are about to. The Blade Foot won't be out until early 2012,… more »

Merrell Barefoot Road Glove Review

Merrell Barefoot Road Glove Review
Merrell Barefoot Road Glove Review
It's 2012 and Merrell is on round two of their Barefoot line. We've previously reviewed their flagship minimalist shoe, the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove, and since shoe design tends to be iterative, this review is going to be doing some comparisons to the Trail Glove. Also, I'm going to leverage a few barefoot blogging, running friends' reviews to highlight different perspectives on the Road Glove as a running shoe — so this review is going to be broken up into my assessment of the Merrell Barefoot Road Glove based on it's new design and barefoot feel/function; then I'm going to dive into some perspectives on it from around the web. more »

Spyridon LS Vibram FiveFingers Review

Spyridon LS Vibram FiveFingers Review
Spyridon LS Vibram FiveFingers Review
The Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS is a new Vibram FiveFingers model specifically built for trail running. It’s named after Spyridon Louis, the Greek shepherd who won the first modern-day marathon in the 1896 Athens Olympics. The course was run on dir… more »