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Barefoot / Minimalist Running Shoes: How to Choose


Interest in "barefoot running" has exploded in recent years. While a few hardy folks are truly running barefoot, most of us opt for minimalist footwear.

This article will help you to find the right minimalist shoes.

Why go minimalist? Read the REI Expert Advice article, The Basics of Barefoot Running, for more info. Remember to always ease into barefoot running slowly and gradually to reduce the potential for injury.

Shop REI’s selection of men's minimalist running shoes and women's minimalist running shoes.

Types of Minimalist Shoes

There are two basic types of minimalist shoes.

Barefoot Running Shoes

So-called “barefoot shoes” offer the closest feel to running truly barefoot. Soles provide the bare minimum in protection from potential hazards on the ground. Many have no cushion in the heel pad and a very thin layer (as little as 3-4mm) of shoe between your skin and the ground. Others offer a bit more cushioning.

Most significantly, all feature a “zero drop” from heel to toe. (“Drop” is the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the toe.) This encourages a midfoot or forefoot strike. Traditional running shoes, by contrast, feature a 10–12mm drop from the heel to the toe.

With any barefoot running shoe, people with high arches tend to have the shortest break-in time and fewest problems. Heavily pronating runners—those whose feet flatten during weight-bearing exercise—may struggle to adjust to the lack of arch support.

Minimalist Running Shoes

These are a hybrid of barefoot shoes and traditional running shoes—an excellent way for most runners to ease into barefoot running. They feature extremely lightweight construction, little to no arch support and a heel drop of about 4–8mm to encourage a midfoot or forefoot strike, yet still offer cushioning and flex.

Some minimalist styles may offer stability posting to help the overpronating runner transition to a barefoot running motion.

The toebox is generally roomy to allow toes to splay inside the shoes, enhancing grip and balance.

Barefoot / Minimalist Shoe Tips

Fit: Unlike with traditional shoes, you do not want any extra space in the toes of barefoot shoes. Heels and toes should "fit like a glove."

Socks: Minimalist shoes can be worn with or without socks. The benefits of wearing socks include extra warmth, odor deterrence and blister protection.

Closures: While some styles feature strap closures, others offer a quick-lace system. Typically, a lace system offers better access to the toe pockets for easy on and off, and it does a better job accommodating high arches.

Care: Many barefoot shoes are machine-washable for easy care; see specific product information pages for details.

Related Articles

Running Shoes: How to Choose

The Basics of Barefoot Running

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