CrossFitter’s Guide to Barefoot or Minimalist Shoes

I’m a CrossFit instructor and gym manager in Thousand Oaks, CA at Live Train Play CrossFit and as such I am hard on my shoes. Some days I will be on my feet for a large portion of 14 to 15 hours. Throughout any given day I teach six classes, do a couple personal training sessions, and frequently do two to three of my own workouts. I’ve been wearing minimal shoes for years now, and I am still struggling to figure out what shoes work best for the life of a CrossFitter.

I’m a CrossFit instructor and gym manager in Thousand Oaks, CA at Live Train Play CrossFit and as such I am hard on my shoes. Some days I will be on my feet for a large portion of 14 to 15 hours. Throughout any given day I teach six classes, do a couple personal training sessions, and frequently do two to three of my own workouts. I’ve been wearing minimal shoes for years now, and I am still struggling to figure out what shoes work best for the life of a CrossFitter.

For those of you not in the know, CrossFit can be best described like this: Constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity. This means running, lifting, throwing, climbing, swimming, biking, jumping, swinging, etc. And all of it done for some kind of score (e.g. time to complete the day’s workout or reps). You would be amazed how intense a workout can get when you are chasing “points.” CrossFit has become a wildly popular form of high-intensity training over the past few years and you’re likely to have at least one CrossFit gym somewhere near you if you’re interested in checking it out.

Today I’m going to break down each of the different minimalist shoes I’ve used for CrossFit with the hope of shedding some light on what works and what doesn’t. Read on!


(Yes, that’s right; I mean full-on barefoot)

A certain famous bodybuilder was known to train barefoot.  Can you guess who?

A certain famous bodybuilder was known to train barefoot. Can you guess who?

Pros: Bare feet have the best possible ground feel with nothing encumbering them from doing their job while you move. In particular I like doing max effort strength WODs (Workout Of the Day) barefoot. You don’t get any of that squishing down into the sole when you try and hoist up that 400+ lb. deadlift.

Cons: Your feet are in constant danger from all sides. Drop a plate and you’re looking at not only broken bones, but probably a bloody mess too. And don’t even THINK about doing double-unders this way! Seriously, I’ve done it, it’s a very very very bad idea.


Pros: Depending on the model, a pair of Vibram FiveFingers can feel about as close to barefoot as you can get while still wearing shoes. They provide great ground feel and very little encumbering your foot. Heavy lifting in these also avoids the “sole squish” mentioned before. No noticeable change in my running gait either.

Cons: Still no protection from falling weights, and double-unders are still a really bad idea. Again, trust me on that one. And if we’re talking KSOs, you can forget about a 4 Cone Drill, or a Suicide sprint unless you want your butt and the ground to become better acquainted. Try sprinting and do a quick cut and redirect and you will end up slipping and sliding, no question. Komodo, TrekSport, or Bikila can handle those well enough, but you also add some weight and lose some ground feel.


Nothing like a heavy squat to break a sweat in NB Minimus Trail shoes.

Nothing like a heavy squat to break a sweat in NB Minimus Trail shoes. (photos by Jennifer Rau)

Full Minimus Trail (MT10) review here.

Pros: Good grip for agility sprinting, decent protection for toes on double-unders, no sole squish on heavy lifting, and the New Balance Minimus Trail still weighs in at under 6 ounces in my size. Still little-to-no change in my gait that I am aware of.

Cons: You will sacrifice a significant amount of ground feel with the MT10, and there is a slight heel drop (4mm).


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.

Read full Minimus Cross (MX20) review here.

Pros: Decent grip on the floor for sprinting, good protection for double-unders, and dropped weight. Also a great looking shoe style-wise, if that matters to you.

Cons: Little-to-no ground feel. The sole is much stiffer than the Trail, and the toe box has very little vertical room for toes to bend and flex. My foot feels heavily inhibited in these shoes from its normal range of motion, and my gait is noticeably altered.


Teva Zilch Barefoot Minimalist Sandals - The design is cool, futuristic even

Teva Zilch Barefoot Minimalist Sandals – The design is cool, futuristic even

Read full Teva Zilch review here.

Pros: In a lot of ways these are like VFFs. I mean these feel pretty close to barefoot. And I like the open air of the sandal upper: it feels great when you’re sweating up a storm. No change that I could detect to my running gait.

Cons: Come on, you should guess by now, right? Dropped weights and double-unders are your worst nightmare in these. If it’s just a straight heavy lifting day, or something that is mostly gymnastics and sprints, these are fine, but not for much more.


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?

Full Teva Nilch review here.

Pros: Great ground feel, and extremely light weight.

Cons: The sole is somehow thin, but kind of inflexible. And there is very little traction for agility sprints. It altered my gait. Not extremely, but enough that I didn’t workout in them again after the first time.


Lacing up the Inov-8 Road-X 155.

Lacing up the Inov-8 Road-X 155. (photos by Jennifer Rau)

Full Inov-8 Road-X 155 review here.

Pros: Decent ground feel though not great. Very light weight with a flexible toe box and sole. Not a neutral-drop heel, but very close (3mm) and reasonable enough protection for double-unders. No noticeable alteration to my gait that I can feel/see.

Cons: For someone with a job like mine, they don’t seem like they would last very long. The rubber of the outsole is also slightly softer, so while it’s great for general CrossFitting, I would not recommend the Road-X 155 for max effort heavy lifting—you will get a little sole squish with these. Also, since these are a road-model, there is almost no tread on the outsole, so agility sprints can get tricky, especially in wet situations or on grass.


As much as I love my VFFs, I have to be completely honest with you and tell you that as an instructor I don’t wear them very often to work. They tend to stop the newbies in their tracks, and I have to answer a bunch of questions when I have one hour to give them a good thorough workout. Their class time is something they are paying good money for, and shoe-chatting is a distraction that I’d rather not deal with.

Of course, there’s another side to the toe shoes coin: here’s a tip to all you trainers and fitness instructors out there: DO YOUR GROCERY SHOPPING IN VIBRAMS! I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone strike up a chat with me while out and about sporting my Komodos or Speeds. When a stranger hears me speak articulately and passionately about the reasons for wearing minimal footwear, they see me as an authority figure, and immediately want my business card. Seriously, those little hundred-dollar shoes are more effective than any other marketing I have employed. Just make sure you’ve got your facts straight and try to avoid sounding like a sales pitch before you expect to reel them in. I can write a whole separate article all about that, if anyone is interested.

I have been searching for a while, and I don’t think there is one shoe that fits all CrossFit situations. Not yet, anyway. Reeboks new “CrossFit” shoe for the CF Games was a big disappointment in my opinion, but K-Swiss has a new minimal one in the works right now that I’m trying to get a hold of, so we’ll see on that one. Inov-8 is also sending me a sample of a new shoe model that is geared specifically towards rope-climbing, so that could be interesting.

After going through all the shoes I mentioned above, I can tell you the best strategy is to suit the shoe choice with the workout. If I know I want to do double-unders today, I will avoid my VFFs and probably wear either my Inov-8s or my New Balance Trails. If there are double-unders and agility sprints or max effort lifting on the menu, I will rule out the Inov-8 and go with the Trails. But if I know I’m going to do one of the old school staples like “Angie,” “Cindy,” or “Eva” or something like that, I will either go barefoot or throw on my KomodoSports.

FINAL THOUGHTS — “There can be only one”?

Having said all of that, I recognize that most of these shoes cost $100 or more, so I know it’s not realistic to expect all you CrossFitters out there will have a closet that holds thousands of dollars worth of athletic shoes. If I had to suggest the one that I would argue is (at the time of this writing) the best all-around shoe, I would go with the NB Minimus Trail. It’s the only one on the list above that does not have a single specific situation where it is poorly suited. You can lift in it, sprint in it, jump in it, climb in it, and double-unders are particularly nice, since there is that odd lip of rubber that comes up over the front of the toe box to protect your feet from rope-whip. Again, it’s not a perfect shoe, but there’s nothing under the CrossFit sun that you can’t do in them safely and effectively.

Any other CrossFitters out there have a minimalist shoe of choice? Let’s hear it in the comments! And I’ll be updating this guide in the future as I test more shoes out.

By Joey

I'm a strength and conditioning coach, running coach, and Owner of a [url=]CrossFit Gym in Thousand Oaks, California[/url]. When I first discovered the "barefoot" movement, and minimal shoes in 2009, I jumped in too far, too fast and messed up some toes. I needed a transitional shoe to ween myself off a 30 year addiction to cushion and padding. Yes, I said addiction. Bad shoes are like a drug. It's time to break the habit!

17 replies on “CrossFitter’s Guide to Barefoot or Minimalist Shoes”

Great article. Empirical data at my CF box ( says Innov8s are the shoe of choice, with V5Fs second. We do a fair amount of O-lifting (a strength component is a typical element every day – not all boxes do that) and most of us switch to O-lift shoes for that part of the training. You can keep them O shoes on for a lot of indoor metcons (good for DUs, for example). I walk in to the gym in my KSOs, carrying my O-shoes and can handle just about anything between those. Oh, and for metcons that combine lifting with running outside, depending on the lift, I wear my V5Fs and put 10# plates under my heels to get the proper angle, if I think it’s needed. Your actual mileage may vary.

@Dave. Nice to meet you, brother. We are on the same page, in that we do a strength component in every class. I love it, and I think that is what many CF gyms are missing.

I have tried O-lifting shoes too, and I have to respectfully disagree on that. I will sometimes recommend the plate under the heel to clients who have poor ankle flexion, but with good, open dorsiflexion in your ankles, there isn’t any lift where that should be necessary. Myself, I prefer doing my strength lifts sans shoes as often as possible, like Arnold in the above pic.

I have always found it strange that we in CrossFit always say that we promote “functional” strength and yet many among us strap on specialty shoes when we want to lift something heavy. We talk about all of our training applying to real life, unlike a bicep curl, or lateral raise, or other body building junk, but if you’re in a real life situation where you have to lift something heavy off the floor in your day-to-day, are you really going to go change your shoes first? Doubtful. Just a thought.

Having said all that, I fully recognize that if you plan on competing in any juried weight-lifting competitions, O-shoes are important and useful, but neither myself not any of my clients plan on that, as far as I know.

Thanks for the overview – nice and thorough! I’ve been Crossfitting in Australia for 2yrs now and have got progressively more minimalist in shoe choice. Initially went to Onitsuka Tigers (Asics I think) which were a great allrounder compared to previous cloud shoes (far from barefoot though).
Not brave enough for VFFS (be nice!) so got Merrell Ture Gloves – awesome grip, light and moulded to foot so my choice for running/bodyweight metcons (esp burpees).
We also do strength almost every session, and I find the Merrell’s a touch unstable (rounded heel) for this.
I’ll throw another into the mix – Vivobarefoot Ultras. I have their Neoas well which is a good allrounder, but the Ultra is so light and low it’s totally different again. Very soft compound but so thin there is little squish. Good for running, bodyweight, fine for O-lifting, just not the cone-runs etc as shoe flexes a lot.
Even wore them without the sock-liner for a holiday WOD involving HSPUs and laps of the pool as the water drains straight out!

I don’t think this dilemma is unique to CrossFit (whatever that is? 🙂 ). In just about every sport there is no “be all” shoe. The best we can do is find a shoe that best matches it’s intended use. For trail running I go for my Inov-8 trail shoe, sure they’re not perfect in all situations but they work most of the time. Same with runs on the road or hybrid XC runs. I don’t worry about it because it’s not about the shoe but about the activity.

What is your opinion of the rest of the Inov-8 line-up, in particular the F-lite 195 and 220? I own a pair of 220’s and to me they are a good all around CrossFit shoe. I’ve had no issues with double unders, max lifts, climbing or running. I also own pairs of VFF Bikilas LS, Merrell’s Glove and Inov-8 Road-X 155’s, which may be replacing my 220 soon. Surprisingly, my next shoe of choice would be NB Minimus Trail, however NB is supposed to come out with a new minimal shoe called the Zero I believe.

I have not yet tried any of the other Inov-8 models. There are a couple other models of theirs that I am supposed to be receiving samples of at some point, but not sure when.

As far as the Minimus Zero, it’s essentially an update of the Minimus line where they kill the 3mm heel drop, and zero out the sole. Other than some cosmetic changes, that seems to be the only change of substance, but Justin may know more about that than I.

Has anyone tried The Instinct or The Adam by Altra? If so, what are your thoughts and would they be a good all purpose shoe for CrossFit/trail running?

These may be a good shoe to review next! 🙂

Altra sent me the Instinct, and they said they were going to send the Adam to Justin. I will say that I like the Instinct more than I expected to. It’s a good shoe, but the sole is too stiff and thick for my tastes.

The Adam looks like it’s the answer to that problem since it’s everything I like about the Instinct, but with a thinner, more flexible sole. I haven’t tried one on, but I had a smaller size in my hands at the CF Games this past summer, and it looks legit to me. Kind of like a KSO without toe pockets. I say go for it, Craig! Drop back on this comment thread and let us know how you like it if you do.


We don’t strap on speciality shoes because we are not functionally strong. If you read any crossfit journal on oly lifting it says that Oly lifting is a specific skill that you use in crossfit.

Sorry to call you out!

So I run barefoot most of the time. I wa s an olympic weightlifter and competed for years.
Now that I am specifically doing crossfit I believe in my opinion that Metcons that require running and lifting that the minimus mx20’s. You do need some heel! The lift in the heel is to help place the bar over your center of gravity. The use of oly lifting shoes for oly lifting is just common sense! I don’t like using them in a metcon WOD because they are not meant for that!
Reebok just came out with a hybrid, and I have seen videos where guys are running in them for a 400-800m! If you go to fitbomb they have pics they will be out in Dec maybe?
VFF are not a good choice to do oly lifts.


You said: “If you read any crossfit journal on oly lifting it says that Oly lifting is a specific skill that you use in crossfit. Sorry to call you out!”

…I’m not sure what you think you’re calling me out on, but I never said Oly lifting isn’t a CrossFit skill. Nobody who identifies as a CrossFitter would say that. I am merely politely disagreeing that you need special shoes or even any shoe with a raised heel for lifting. And keep in mind that I already made the concession that if you’re going to compete in an O-lifting specific competition with a purse and judges, then I fully understand the need for the shoes. Every little edge can make the difference between a failed lift and a P.R. and I get that. But I myself will never be in that situation because I am not interested in competing at that level. I lift to build strength, and keep in shape. I don’t need the shoes to do that, and neither does the average CF box member.

IMHO one of the greatest things about the CrossFit community is the “open-sourced” nature of it. We are allowed to disagree, and we often do. There is disagreement among CF Journal contributors sometimes from one article to the next. There is disagreement between the way USAW teaches a snatch and the way CrossFit level one teaches a snatch. Do they both work? Yes. Is one better than the other? Maybe. When deciding if something is “right” or “wrong” you only need to ask if it’s safe. Can I safely O-lift without O-lift shoes? Yes. Can I do so without increased risk of injury? Of course I can. And that’s all I need to know.

Joey I guess I came off wrong.
It has been my experience as coach, most that athletes/crossfit that go to oly shoes find it better.
Apologizes if I came off harsh.

Hey Joey,

Thanks for the article. Do you have any thoughts on what minimalist shoes are best for rope climbing? After a few months of owning my NB Minimus Trails and a few rope climbing wods the soles got ripped up (I do Spealler’s style of rope climbing). I currently use my KSO’s for rope climbing, and I try to have the rope locked between the velcro strap and sole, but I’ve painfully missed that mark a few times and have gotten burned.

I’m looking to order another pair of minimalist shoes sometime soon, but I don’t want it to waist more money. I was looking at Inov-8 Bare-X 180 through Again Faster.

Thanks for any advice,

Yeah, rope climbing seems to be the bane of the minimal shoe movement. The materials we tend to like get chewed up badly and quickly on the rope. Inov-8 has a rope climbing shoe that they are sending me. I have had a pair in my hand at the Games, but it wasn’t in my size, so I haven’t been able to give them a whirl yet. As soon as I know more about them, I will post something.

I’m using the NB MT20 CT2. It’s an excellent shoe for CrossFit. It does everything I ask of it and more. I would recommend it to any athlete.

Have you ever tried SOM Footwear’s shoes for Crossfit? Personally I love them- they have zero drop and a roomy toe box so it feels just like being barefoot. Oh and they are made in Colorado which I think is AWESOME!

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