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.

  • minimalist sandals!

    Xero Shoes - Barefoot Running Sandals

Category: "Barefoot Shoes"

ZEM U Cross Ninja/Split Toe

ZEM U Cross Ninja/Split Toe
For the last month, I have been lucky enough to try the latest trainer split toe from ZEM GEAR, the U Cross Ninja/Split Toe. I believe this shoe is fantastic for those getting into minimalist running and want to hone their form, while enjoying the… more »

Feelmax Niesa 3 and Panka 2 Review

Above, photoed, are the Feelmax Panka 2 (left) and Niesa 3 (right)
Above, photoed, are the Feelmax Panka 2 (left) and Niesa 3 (right)
I recently got the chance to test out the Feelmax Niesa 3 and Panka 2 running shoes and today I'll be sharing a full review of both. What makes these shoes special is that they just might be the lightest, thinnest running shoes in the world (at 2.7 oz… more »

Lems Nine2Five Shoes Dress Up with Mocha!

Lems Nine2Five Shoes Dress Up with Mocha!
The Lems Nine2Five "Mocha" provides a dark-brown soled option for the Nine2Five work line that will fit right in at a business casual work environment.
I'm a big fan of what Lems has brought to the minimalist footwear world—comfortable and stylish shoes that are zero-drop and foot-shaped! Men's options we've reviewed include the Primal 2, the Mariner, the Boulder Boot, and of course, the Nine2Five. more »

Soft Star Portlander Review

Soft Star Portlander Review
The Portlander is a newer design from Soft Star, which is based on their popular Dash RunAmoc style. The Portlander features the same upper style, but the major and most obvious change is the way the upper is attached to the sole. The shoe uses a… more »

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 »