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"

Luna Sandals ATS Review [Huaraches]

Luna Sandals All Terrain Sandal "ATS"
Luna Sandals All Terrain Sandal "ATS"
Barefoot Ted and Luna Sandals have released another new model adding to their extensive line of huarache sandals. Lunas are sandals inspired by those worn by the Tarahumara featured in Born to Run. The All Terrain Sandal, or ATS for short, adopts many… more »

Roo and Rambler Soft Star Shoes Review

Roo and Rambler Soft Star Shoes Review
Roo and Rambler Soft Star Shoes Review
A review of the Soft Star Shoes Roo and Rambler, two similar but different modern moccasins handmade in Oregon by "elves." Can suede soled shoes stand the test of wear indoors and out? more »

OTZ Troop Boot Review

OTZ Troop Boot Review
OTZ Troop Boot Review
It is winter time. For some of us that means it is time to bust out the winter boots and slosh our way through the winter months. I recently picked up the OTZ Troop Boot a winter weather friendly minimalist boot. I thought I would share with you more »

Bedrock Sandals Huaraches Review

The Bedrock Sandals handled even this rocky terrain
The Bedrock Sandals handled even this rocky terrain
As a fan of huarache sandals for running and casual wear, I welcome the chance to try another interpretation of the classic minimalist footwear. Bedrock Sandals began as a Kickstarter project in which the two friends and founders, Nick and Dan, were su… more »

New Balance Minimus Zero First Look

New Balance Minimus Zero First Look
New Balance Minimus Zero First Look
Tim My background experience with the New Balance Minimus lineup is a bit limited as I have only really extensively used the Minimus Trail shoes for casual wear. I felt the Minimus Roads had too much of a heel on them to get a good feel of the groun… more »

Fila Skele-Toes 2.0 Review

Fila Skele-Toes 2.0 Review
Fila Skele-Toes 2.0 Review
It looks like minimalist footwear and toe shoes are starting to become rather mainstream. The fact that major footwear brads are starting to develop minimalist and toe shoes of their own design is proof that the mainstream public is starting to accept… more »

Luna Sandals LeadCat Review [Huaraches]

Luna Sandals LeadCat Review [Huaraches]
Luna Sandals LeadCat Review [Huaraches]
Luna Sandals LeadCat If you've read Born to Run (if not, please do so!), then you certainly remember one of the more colorful personalities in the book, Barefoot Ted. Barefoot Ted (BFT) has his own huarache sandal company called Luna Sandals drawing… more »

Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa First Look

The Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa is coming Spring 2012 and will be the lightest running-specific pair of toe shoes to hit the market yet.
The Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa is coming Spring 2012 and will be the lightest running-specific pair of toe shoes to hit the market yet.
The Vibram FiveFinger Seeya is one of the new models in the Spring 2012 lineup. Aimed at the running/fitness community, the Seeya is one of the lightest models yet with weight savings coming from a unique sole that only has rubber on the more »

New Balance 10 Minimus Multi-Sport Mini-Review

The New Balance 10 or Minimus Multi-Sport
Above is the New Balance 10 or Minimus Multi-Sport, a water-resistant/waterproof-ish version of the Minimus Trail.
An entirely different approach to all-season outdoor athletics, the New Balance Minimus Multi-Sport MO10 takes the proven versatile durability of a Vibram® outsole and combines it with a fitted, minimalist upper that's comfortable with or without socks. Navigate the trails through the winter months with this water- and odor-resistant Minimus edition. more »

Vibram FiveFingers Jaya LR Review

The women's only Jaya LR FiveFingers from Vibram are geared towards lower impact fitness like yoga, some plyometrics, or Pilates.
The women's only Jaya LR FiveFingers from Vibram are geared towards lower impact fitness like yoga, some plyometrics, or Pilates.
I have to say I wasn’t sold on the Jaya LR at first. Why spend the money on a pair of VFFs that can’t do everything that your KomodoSports can do? After giving them a shot, I can see why I'd buy them. The Jaya LR is an awesome secondary pair to have… more »

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail Review

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail Review
VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail Review
If you’re looking for a sturdy minimalist shoe to use over the roughest terrain, the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trails definitely deserve some attention. The no drop heel and thin soles provide an excellent feel for the ground that will satisfy any discerning minimalist shoe wearer’s requirements and the extra wide toe box gives your feet enough room to move with each step without any feelings of restriction. more »

Elusive Fall 2011 FiveFingers

Elusive Fall 2011 FiveFingers
Elusive Fall 2011 FiveFingers
As most of you know there can be different styles of Vibram FiveFingers released around the world. Sometimes the styles don't make it to your neck of the woods. This is especially true when it comes to some of the European styles. It seems like they… more »

New Balance's NewSKY Minimus Recycled Shoes Review

Introducing the New Balance NewSky, a shoe that is 95% made from recycled materials - specifically plastic bottles turned into fabric for the upper.  And that sole?  It's the Minimus Life sole, meaning the NewSky shoe is another minimalist footwear option
Introducing the New Balance NewSky, a shoe that is 95% made from recycled materials - specifically plastic bottles turned into fabric for the upper. And that sole? It's the Minimus Life sole, meaning the NewSky shoe is another minimalist footwear option (despite having a small heel-to-toe differential).
New Balance recently released a new shoe built on the Minimus platform — specifically the New Balance Minimus Life/Wellness sole. It's called the newSKY. What makes the newSKY interesting as a shoe is less the fact that it has a minimal amount… more »

Adidas Toe Shoes: AdiPure Trainer Review

The Adidas Adipure Trainer are the first toe shoes from sports shoe manufacturer Adidas and they're aimed squarely at the weight-lifting, gym, and fitness community.
The Adidas Adipure Trainer are the first toe shoes from sports shoe manufacturer Adidas and they're aimed squarely at the weight-lifting, gym, and fitness community.
Adidas shook the minimalist footwear/"barefoot shoes"/five toe shoe world a couple months back with the announcement that they would be releasing their own take on toe shoes called the Adidas Adipure Trainer come Fall 2011 (some time in November is the… more »

Women's KomodoSport Vibram FiveFingers Review

Leah sits atop Yosemite's Half Dome after a 17 mile day hike. She wore Vibram FiveFingers KomodoSports for the trip.
Leah sits atop Yosemite's Half Dome after a 17 mile day hike. She wore Vibram FiveFingers KomodoSports for the trip.
As soon as I put one foot into the Vibram FiveFingers KomodoSports I knew they were going to be good. They are designed to be an all purpose running/cross training VFF. I’ve been hiking, trail running, and doing Crossfit in them for two months now and… more »

KSO Kids FiveFingers Review

Alex is sporting the boy's Vibram KSO Kids FiveFingers (in blue).  Alex likes the "toe massage" he gets when wearing his Vibrams.
Alex is sporting the boy's Vibram KSO Kids FiveFingers (in blue). Alex likes the "toe massage" he gets when wearing his Vibrams.
"They feel like I have a toe massage ... well not when I first got them, they stung a little when I first got them." And we'll end the review with Alex demonstrating a punt in his KSO Kids FiveFingers: more »

Trek LS FiveFingers Video Review

Trek LS FiveFingers Video Review
Trek LS FiveFingers Video Review
The other day I took a few minutes to do a quick video review of the recently released Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS (See my full review of the Trek LS Vibrams here). In the review I cover things like: Ground feel of the Trek LS Different la… more »

New Balance Minimus Zero Has Got No Sole

A couple close-ups of the outsole on the 2012 New Balance NB Minimus Zero Trail (left) and Road (right).
A couple close-ups of the outsole on the 2012 New Balance NB Minimus Zero Trail (left) and Road (right). Both feature Vibram rubber "pods" that are separated from each other to improve sole flexibility while adding some rubber protection at high points of impact.
A look at the outsole design of the New Balance NB Minimus Zero - the first zero-dropped New Balances that cater to the trail and road barefoot/minimilist/natural running communities! more »

New Balance NB Minimus Cross Review (MX20)

A few photos of the New Balance NB Minimus Cross (MX20).
A few photos of the New Balance NB Minimus Cross (MX20) in red and black.
For me the NB Minimus Cross (the "MX20") were "Like-At-First-Sight." When I first opened the box I grinned at the design. We've got simple, clean lines, no flashy distractions or garish colors, and a cool contrast from the upper to the sole. I actually… more »

Branca Barefoot Running Sandals Review (Minimalist Sandals)

Branca Barefoot Running Sandals are a new type of minimalist sandal that features an innovative strap design (reminiscent of huaraches).
Branca Barefoot Running Sandals are a new type of minimalist sandal that features an innovative strap design (reminiscent of huaraches).
Guest review by James Savage Fortunately for those interested in minimalist shoes, we're seeing not only an explosion in closed toed minimalist footwear, but we're also able to choose from an ever widening selection of open toed sandals inspired by t… more »

More New Balance NB Minimus Zero Leaked Photos?

Building on the intentionally leaked (by New Balance PR), ultra-close-up photos of the upcoming 2012 New Balance NB Minimus (Trail) we saw a few weeks back comes new photos of the entire Minimus Zero Trail and Road shoes from a BirthdayShoes reader from… more »

Adidas Toe Shoes? Meet the AdiPure Trainer Barefoot Shoe

Coming Novemeber 2011 is the Adidas AdiPure Trainer, a five-toed shoe clearly taking aim at Vibram as it will be coming to market at a price of $90 at large-scale distribution via retailers like Dick's Sporting Goods, Foot Locker, and The Sports Authority
Coming Novemeber 2011 is the Adidas AdiPure Trainer, a five-toed shoe clearly taking aim at Vibram as it will be coming to market at a price of $90 at large-scale distribution via retailers like Dick's Sporting Goods, Foot Locker, and The Sports Authority.
See "update" section below! Everyone is getting on the barefoot bandwagon these days. What more, given the burdgeoning success of Vibram FiveFingers — the original toe shoes — not to mention the uber-economical-(though-functionally-infer… more »

True Linkswear Minimalist Golf Shoes Review

Photos of the TRUE Linkswear golf shoes, barefoot-minded footwear for golfers who want to "feel the course" through their feet.
Photos of the TRUE Linkswear golf shoes, barefoot-minded footwear for golfers who want to "feel the course" through their feet.
Overview The TRUE tour is a zero drop golf shoe with a very thin 2.5 mm sole and good ground feel even with 4 mm lugs and stability bars. The foam insert, some toe spring, and a stiff leather toe cap detract a little from a ?barefoot? experience, but… more »

Minimalist Shoes from Skechers? Or is the GoRun Yet Another Nike Free or Reebok RealFlex?

Christian Burke, an ultrarunner from California, has been tapped by Skechers to promote their upcoming entry into the (wannabe?) barefoot shoes/minimalist footwear category, the Skechers GoRun.
Christian Burke, an ultrarunner from California, has been tapped by Skechers to promote their upcoming entry into the (wannabe?) barefoot shoes/minimalist footwear category, the Skechers GoRun.
In what will come as no surprise to anyone (Who's paying attention) is a new "minimalistic" shoe from Skechers — the Skechers GoRun. That Skechers would introduce a new shoe that rides the coattails of the barefoot/natural running movement was… more »