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"

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 »

Spring 2012 Vibram FiveFingers

Spring 2012 Vibram FiveFingers
Spring 2012 Vibram FiveFingers
Thanks to some sleuthing FiveFingers fans — big hat tip to forum members Dirk, MCvet, and mikez and a few others who tipped me off to this information — I've gotten my hands on some "stock" imagery of the Spring 2012 Vibram FiveFingers… more »

Bormio Vibram FiveFingers Review

Clean lines and premium materials make the men's Bormio boot a great fall casual. Built on a traditional FiveFingers Trek platform, the men's Bormio boot features a fully lined kangaroo upper and rugged EVA and performance rubber sole. Side-zip closures c
The FiveFingers Bormio is the first ankle high toe shoe boots from Vibram. The Bormio is dressed in full kangaroo leather for business (?) or casual wear. They feature double zippers on either side of the ankle and are fully lined for a bit of added warmth. They come in either black or brown and have the Vibram Trek rubber sole.
Toe Shoes Boots? For Fall 2011 Vibram has introduced an ankle high boot to the FiveFingers line for casual wear. The men's toe boots are made of all kangaroo leather that has double zippers on either side of the ankle and features the Vibram Trek sole. Review, photos, more ... more »

Inov-8 Road-x 155 Review

Inov-8 Road-x 155 Review
Inov-8 Road-x 155 Review
strong>These shoes are the real deal. They feel light as a feather, they provide just enough protection from the abuse my feet would suffer if I CrossFitted barefoot, and they breath well enough even in the 90 degree heat/humidity where I work in Pasadena more »

2012 Vibram FiveFingers Spotted! New Toe Shoes for Casual Wear, Running, and Trails!

Photo of some of the 2012 Vibram FiveFingers new models.
Photo of some of the 2012 Vibram FiveFingers upcoming models. Names rumored to be from top to bottom the Sorrento, Rimini LR, and Grado FiveFingers. Taken from the 2011 Friedrichshafen Outdoor Trade show (July 14-17) in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Photo by Linda of nujo.lv. Used with permission.
Who wants more toe shoes? How about a sneak peak at some upcoming 2012 Vibram FiveFingers for casual wear, ultra-light running, running trails? It's time to nerd out on some minimalist footwear that will be hitting the scene next year because as yo… more »

KomodoSport LS Vibram FiveFingers Out!

KomodoSport LS Vibram FiveFingers Out!
KomodoSport LS Vibram FiveFingers Out!
The Vibram FiveFingers KomodoSport LS ("LS" means it's got laces!) is now available for purchase at CitySports! This means that we have a giveaway contest winner (check your email if you were an email subscriber as I will be contacting you directly!).… more »

Women's KomodoSport LS FiveFingers Review

Leah Sakellarides holds up a pair of the Fall 2011 women's Vibram FiveFingers KomodoSport LS toe shoes.
Leah Sakellarides holds up a pair of the Fall 2011 women's Vibram FiveFingers KomodoSport LS toe shoes.
My experience with VFF:It was about three years ago when I purchased my first pair of VFFs. It wasn’t love at first step (or sight) with my Sprints, but the more I wore them, the more I fell in love. After conditioning my legs and body to run in them… more »

Trek LS Vibram FiveFingers Review

The Fall 2011 Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS, all-leather Vibram toe shoes for everyday wear (though you could certainly do an impromptu sprint, dead lift, or tree climb in them if need presents itself!).
The Fall 2011 Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS, all-leather Vibram toe shoes for everyday wear (though you could certainly do an impromptu sprint, dead lift, or tree climb in them if need presents itself!).
For Fall 2011 comes the all leather Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS, a five toed shoe for men that pushes footwear trends to new levels of insanity: toe shoes for everyday wear? Wearing FiveFingers in a business casual setting? Five toed shoes as fashion-forward footwear? Toe shoes for the modern man? more »

Huaraches - Review of the Original Minimalist/Barefoot Sandals

This photo was taken after my first run in my first pair of huaraches made from an Xero Shoes kit.
This photo was taken after my first run in my first pair of huaraches made from an Xero Shoes kit.
Vibram FiveFingers opened my eyes to minimalist shoe running and ever since, I've been on a quest to find the best balance of lightweight protection and comfort without sacrificing flexibility and ground feel. After VFFs… more »

Teva Nilch Review (Barefoot/Minimalist Shoes)

The Teva Nilch is a recently released thin-soled (6mm) "water booty" from Teva.  Will it work as a barefoot/minimalist shoe?
The Teva Nilch is a recently released thin-soled (6mm) "water booty" from Teva. Will it work as a barefoot/minimalist shoe?
When I first saw the Teva Nilch on the Teva website I immediately thought of Terra Plana’s Vivo Barefoot line, and Justin's review of the NB MINIMUS Life. Though the Nilch are sold as "water booties" these looked simple and nice enough to pass as a nice… more »

Unshoes Wokova Minimalist Sandals Initial Review

Presenting Unshoes Minimal Footwear - the Wokova Minimalist Sandal
Presenting Unshoes Minimal Footwear - the Wokova Minimalist Sandal
Minimalist Sandals Like Huaraches, But Simpler to Put On (That Remind Me of Minimalist Chacos) I recently learned of (another) new minimalist footwear company that is making a splash on the "barefoot shoes" (or sandals in this case!) scene: Unshoes Mi… more »

Vivo Barefoot Achilles Review (Minimalist Sandals)

The Vivo Barefoot Achilles — a modern interpretation of huaraches minimalist running sandals.
The Vivo Barefoot Achilles — a modern interpretation of huaraches minimalist running sandals.
Guest review by James SavageI have been running in homemade 4mm-thick soled huaraches for eight months now and enjoying them very much, but I'm always on the lookout for something even better. I was intrigued when I learned Vivobarefoot would be rel… more »

Teva Zilch Barefoot/Minimalist Sandals

Teva Zilch Barefoot Minimalist Sandals - The design is cool, futuristic even
Teva Zilch Barefoot Minimalist Sandals - The design is cool, futuristic even
Teva is coming around and meeting me somewhere in the middle with their release of the Teva Zilch sandals. While I love my huaraches, I'm still willing to experiment so I purchased a pair of Zilch sandals to see how they perform as running sandals. more »

Vibram FiveFingers Speed For Sale in the U.S.!

From left to right, the Vibram FiveFingers Speed in white/blue (women's), teal/white (women's), and black/white (men's).
From left to right, the Vibram FiveFingers Speed in white/blue (women's), teal/white (women's), and black/white (men's).
The FiveFingers Speed is Coming to the U.S. any day now!Hallelujah!The Vibram FiveFingers Speed a.k.a. the retro-styled, laced-up, limited-release Vibram toe shoes are finally about to be available at large, here in the United States, for purchas… more »

Soft Star RunAmoc Dash Review (Barefoot Running Shoes)

Various photos of the RunAmoc Dash, a minimalist/barefoot running shoe from Soft Star Shoes out of Oregon.
Various photos of the RunAmoc Dash, a minimalist/barefoot running shoe from Soft Star Shoes out of Oregon.
Two weeks ago, I won second place in the 35K division of the Santa Barbara Endurance Race, wearing Soft Star’s new minimalist running moccasin, the RunAmoc Dash, scheduled to be released near Memorial Day. [Insert “Intro.jpg” photo here, titled “Soft… more »

Lems Shoes Barefoot Shoes - Initial Review

A new minimalist shoe is coming to town Fall 2011 from a shoe company built for bare feet - Stem Footwear.
A new minimalist shoe is coming to town Fall 2011 from a shoe company built for bare feet - Stem Footwear.
How did you get into minimalist footwear? In Feb 2009 I was talking with a friend after he read the article "You Walk Wrong" and he explained something to me that I had never heard or understood in my entire life up until that point. He explained tha… more »

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila and Sprint Long-Term Review

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila and Sprint Long-Term Review
Vibram FiveFingers Bikila and Sprint Long-Term Review
1,250 miles later: VFF Sprints & BikilasOver the last two racing seasons, I’ve used Vibram Five Fingers Sprints and Bikilas in training and racing a number of events ranging from 5K running races and sprint triathlons to half marathons, marathons,… more »