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"

Nike Zoom Waffle Racer VI Review

Waffle Racer
Nike Zoom Waffle Racer VI
Only a few months back, lightweight racing flats were one of the few non toe shoe options for barefoot minimalist runners. Though they still may have a place as a transitional shoe, the recently released Merrell Barefoot and the New Balance NB Minimus li… more »

New Balance NB Minimus Trail Photos and Video

The New Balance Minimus Trail in black (or very dark grey) and neon yellow.
The New Balance Minimus Trail in black (or very dark grey) and neon yellow.
We've reviewed the New Balance Minimus Trail already, but I got my feet into a pair of the dark grey (I might call them black) and neon yellow New Balance NB Minimus Trails recently and figured I'd do a little video overview and snap some photos to share… more »

Vibram Five Fingers Kid's KSOs for Sale!

Vibram Five Fingers Kid's KSOs
Vibram Five Fingers Kid's KSOs
. . . and 7% off FiveFingers at Massey's Outfitters with code BIRTHDAYSHOES7!Vibram Five Fingers Kid's KSOsThe Kids KSO Vibram FiveFingers are finally available for sale! This release marks not only the last of the Spring 2011 Vibram Five Finger… more »

Review Fila Skele-Toes - Four Toed Shoes

The Fila Skele-Toes - toe shoes with four toes!
The Fila Skele-Toes - toe shoes with four toes!
A few weeks back we took a sneak peak at a new brand of toe shoes—as in, not Vibram Five Fingers—they're the Fila "Skele-toes." Comet Shoes hooked me up with a pair to examine, review, and share with BirthdayShoes readers, so that's what I'l… more »

Review NB Minimus Life by New Balance

The New Balance NB Minimus Life (men's version)
Two shots of the New Balance NB Minimus Life barefoot shoes being released by New Balance for Spring 2011. These are meant for casual, everyday wear or light fitness (nearest I can tell).
I've been wearing a pair of the NB Minimus Life shoes almost exclusively since I got them about a week ago. I'd say this was for testing purposes only (Disclaimer: New Balance sent me these to test), but truth is, I just really like these shoes. more »

Vibram Five Fingers Bikila LS - Review

Vibram Five Fingers Bikila LS - Review
Vibram Five Fingers Bikila LS - Review
A few days ago, I received a pair of the new Vibram Five Fingers Bikila LS toes shoes and want to share my first impressions. So far, I've only taken them out on one 2+ mile run, but can already tell they perform very much like my standard Bikilas and in… more »

Teva Zilch Preview - Barefoot Friendly Sandals

Teva Zilch
The Teva Zilch.
Here's a quick look at the new Teva Zilch sandal which will be available March 1, 2011 retailing for $80. It is being billed as the "thinnest, most minimalistic sport sandal" that Teva has ever made. It is designed to be very thin and flexible while offe… more »

Soft Star RunAmoc Review

Soft Star RunAmoc
Soft Star RunAmoc.
Matt is an avid minimalist hailing from the great state Oregon, home of the minimalist shoe company Soft Star. He recently set out on an adventure that put his Soft Star RunAmocs to the test. Enjoy Matt's take on these elegant but durable minimalist shoe… more »

Fila Skeletoes Toe Shoes Exclusive Sneak Peak

Black Turkish Sea Men's.
Fila Skeletoes Black Turkish Sea Men's.
AvailabilityHere is a sneak peak at a new barefoot shoe offering from Fila with an expected release date of Februaury 1st, 2011. Our friends over at Comet Shoes are taking orders now! Five Fingers Look Alike?Though they look conspicuously similar… more »

2011 Fall Vibram FiveFingers Boots, Laces, Leather and More!

Vibram Five Fingers Fall 2011
Previews of just some of the new models in the Vibram Five Fingers Fall 2011 line-up.
The above pictures are a sneak preview of some of the shoes and boots in the Vibram Five Fingers 2011 Fall line-up. As you can see, boots and leather are emphasized to give Five Finger wearers more options for work and casual wear while providing more pr… more »

Review: Women's KSO Trek

Review: Women's KSO Trek
Justine at Lake Tahoe in her KSO Treks.
Consultant Justine Lam was instrumental in putting together Ron Paul's online fundraising campaign. She is also a big fan of Vibram Five Fingers. You may remember the interview she did about her KSOs here on BirthdayShoes. Now she has put together a revi… more »

Winter Running with O'Neill Reactor Reef Boots

Minnesota in Winter
Northern Minnesota in Winter.
Photographer, filmmaker and author, Dudley Edmondson, found that barefoot running in the chilly winters of Northern Minnesota can be a real challenge. Then he discovered O'Neill Reactor Reef Boots provide a near barefoot feel while being warm and inexpen… more »

Vibram Five Fingers for Winter: Review of the Cortina

Dirk in his Cortinas.
Dirk in his Cortinas.
Perhaps you have followed Dirk Verelst on the BirthdayShoes forum or his previous blog post on Denim Classics in the Vibram Five Fingers 2010 European Line-up. Dirk is very knowledgeable about all things Vibram and quite a collector of unique Five Finger… more »

Stem Footwear Barefoot Shoes

Stem Footwear Barefoot Shoes
Stem Footwear 2011 Outdoor Retailer Show Flyer
STEM Footwear has put out preview of their new line of minimal footwear to be available Fall 2011. Here is what Andrew Rademacher, STEM Footwear Inc., President of Sales had to say about STEM's new shoes:I'm excited to announce that STEM Footwear wil… more »

New Balance NB Minimus Trail Review

The NB Minimus Trail running shoe in orange.  This is a wear test pair provided by New Balance to test out and share with BirthdayShoes.com readers!
The NB Minimus Trail running shoe in orange. This is a wear test pair provided by New Balance to test out and share with BirthdayShoes.com readers!
An initial review of the Spring 2011 New Balance NB Minimus Trail minimalist/barefoot running shoe. more »

New Balance MT101 Review

New Balance MT101 Review
New Balance MT101 Review
An uptight yuppie of the 1980s, I always envied the laid back, hippie lifestyle, but the closest I ever got to living it was an occasional trip to Whole Foods. Lately though, bored with running through the concrete jungle, I heard the call of nature and… more »

New Balance Releases High Res Photos of Minimus

NB Minimus
NB Minimus
This past Friday, New Balance released high resolution photos of each shoe in their upcoming Minimus line of shoes. This is the latest in their "controlled leak" trickle of marketing information designed to build up interest in the line. Apple Computer h… more »

Review: Nike Air Zoom Streak XC 2

Review: Nike Air Zoom Streak XC 2
Review: Nike Air Zoom Streak XC 2
The Streak XC 2 is a very minimal running shoe that doesn't try to simulate a barefoot feel. It implements advanced Nike technology that cushions and protects the foot with a firm but springy sole. Yet, it is very minimal with its low heel-to-toe drop an… more »

Saucony Grid Type A4 Racing Flat Review

Saucony Grid Type A4
The Saucony Grid Type A4.
A Minimalist AlternativeBack in April, I started running consistently after about, uh, a 30 year layoff. I learned about barefoot running here on Birthday Shoes and I decided to give it a try. I had tried running on and off through the years, but was an old s… more »