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"

Gladsoles Original and Trail Huaraches Review

Gladsoles Original and Trail Huaraches Review
Gladsoles Original and Trail Huaraches Review
The Gladsoles Original and Trail running sandals are lightweight, very comfortable, and versatile huaraches that can pretty much handle anything you throw at them. Custom-made from tracings of your foot and made in the USA, they are what I consider to… more »

Woolby Slipper-Sock Cashmere "Boots" Review

Woolby Slipper-Sock Cashmere "Boots" Review
Woolby Slipper-Sock Cashmere "Boots" Review
The founder of Woolby & Co, an eco-friendly footwear company you'll find over at Etsy, reached out a couple months back to talk to me about her reclaimed cashmere and suede slipper boots. She sent me a pair of the men's slipper sock boots (these… more »

Earth Runners Alpha X and Circadian X Running Sandals Review

Earth Runners Alpha X and Circadian X Running Sandals Review
Earth Runners Alpha X and Circadian X Running Sandals Review
For the last month, I have been testing out two of the latest sandals from Earth Runners: The Alpha X with leather laces and the Circadian X with leather laces and conductive inserts. I believe they are some of the most handsome-looking huaraches on… more »

VivoBarefoot Gobi 2 Hopewell Boot Review

The Vivo Barefoot Gobi II Hopewell.
The Vivo Barefoot Gobi II Hopewell.
Almost exactly two years ago I reviewed the Vivo Barefoot Gobi on this site. The Gobi is a desert boot that took the ever-popular Vivo Barefoot Ra clean-cut style and made it a boot. (Note: You can find some heavily discounted Vivo Gobis and Ras — the… more »

Soft Star RunAmoc with Bullhide Soles Review

Soft Star RunAmoc with Bullhide Soles Review
The SoftStar RunAmoc Dash with Bullhide leather soles!
This shoe is a game changer. That was a bold statement—especially since we are talking about the minimalist market, which is known for innovations and “game-changers”—but this is no ordinary shoe. The Soft Star RunAmoc Dash with the bullhide sole is… more »

Vibram FiveFingers CVT Hemp Review

Vibram FiveFingers CVT Hemp Review
Vibram FiveFingers CVT Hemp Review
Earlier this year Vibram released the CVT Hemp—a FiveFingers model that was an alternative to the 2013-introduced CVT LS. The whole CVT thing stands for "convertible" due to the original CVT LS allowing you to flip the heel of the CVT LS flat and make… more »