Barefoot Shoes

What are “barefoot shoes”?

“Barefoot shoes” can refer to footwear including both shoes and sandals that are designed to minimally impact a foot’s natural function. Also known as “minimalist shoes,” these shoes or sandals enable the wearer’s feet to move, flex, and function as they would barefoot.

How do feet function naturally?

  • Feet are full of nerves. They’re sensitive to heat, texture, and pain.
  • Feet are flexible. Feet can move in all kinds of ways. They can point up and down, twist around, and toes can be stretched, clencheed, and wiggled.
  • Feet are resilient. Feet are tougher than they look! Anyone could go outside barefoot and walk or run right away. You probably do not want to run a long distance barefoot on your first attempt, but with a little retraining, you could!
  • They are strong. Feet are strong! They’re full of muscle, bone, and ligament. Do they really need exterior support? Well that really depends, doesn’t it?

Minimalist and barefoot shoes support bare feet by making it possible for feet to do what they are capable of doing! Typical attributes of barefoot or minimalist shoes and sandals include things like:

  • Wide toe box – they don’t squish your toes!
  • Flexible soles – the soles are able to contort easily
  • Sensitive – flexible soles are often thin enough to transmit more sensations to the wearer, passing on surface texture
  • Zero drop – the soles of the shoes lack a difference from heel to toe
  • Lightweight – they don’t add a lot of heft to your foot, making it easy to forget you’re even wearing them

There other common traits that you’ll find in typical barefoot and minimalist shoes. There is no “official” definition for these kinds of shoes—no requirements that make a shoe or sandal “barefoot” or not. But like the elephant test, you’ll know them when you see them—or feel them on your feet.

Now for a special case:

What are Vibram Five Fingers? They’re toe shoes!

Vibram Five Fingers—so-named because in Italian the word for “fingers” is the same as the word for “toes”—are the first-ever toe shoes to be manufactured by Vibram (pronounced Vee-brum), a world-renowned Italian company know for manufacturing high-quality rubber soles. “Vibrams” are at the forefront of the emerging minimalist footwear and natural running (and by extension barefoot running) movement, a movement that has gained huge momentum thanks to Christopher McDougall’s national best-seller Born to Run and barefoot runner Ted McDonald.

Not a sock nor quite a shoe, “Vibrams” or “VFFs,” are one of the strangest-yet-intuitive, compelling products to ever be created for feet. What exactly are they? FiveFingers are little more than a foot glove composed of a five-toed Vibram sole with a thin-fabric (or neoprene or leather depending on the model) upper. Vibram Five Fingers have zero arch support and minimal to no “cushioning” or “padding” (“EVA” or polyurethane). Because they allow your toes added freedom, because they lack structure, and because they transmit sensations from the ground to the foot, Vibram Five Fingers allow your feet to be feet!

Learn more about the Vibram Five Fingers story.