The bestselling book Born to Run brought to light an idea that many runners had been talking about for years, but now had hard evidence to prove: running barefoot might be the optimal way to run. If that is not possible, then thin shoes to protect the foot were the next best thing.
A slew of barefoot running books followed, with most recommending what are called minimalist running shoes over terrain that would tear an unprotected foot to pieces. Thus, a new industry in this footwear was born almost overnight, going against the grain of more traditional bulkier shoes.
Many runners and authors believe that running has come full circle — from huge, stuffed and padded shoes to thin, light footwear that feel as if you are wearing nothing at all below the ankle. These new lighter models often also feature a 0 heel drop, which means that your heel and toes are at the same level, which gives you a much better chance of landing on the balls of your feet, rather than your heels, which is the source of many jogging injuries.
What are the top 5 best minimalist running shoes? Let’s take a look…
1. Vibram Fivefingers Running Shoe
This popular MT10v1 model has drawn raves from most of its wearers and looks like you might picture an ultra-minimalist shoe to be, with its five distinct “fingers.” (Although surely they should be called toes?!)
Wearers love the fit and feel of these shoes, which weigh just two pounds and are available in a wide variety of colors. The shoe and sole are rubber, with a seamless 2 mm footbed sole that has no stitches, making them more comfy and reducing friction as well. The 4 mm rubber outsole gives outstanding grip and protection.
Fans of the Vibram fivefingers say that it is quite durable and has demonstrably helped their various aches and pains, from taking away chronic knee pain to eliminating their shin splints. Take a look at the different colors here. This shoe has a wide price range, with the less popular models on sale. Available, of course, for men and women.
If you want to go whole hog minimalist with the five finger look, buy these.
2. New Balance Minimus Trail Running Shoe
If you’re not quite ready to go all the way with a minimalist running shoe, and you don’t want to spend $200+ to find out if you like them, this is a great option.
New Balance has long been trusted as a quality manufacturer of running shoes, and they provide this footwear for runners who either need more protection for the foot or are not yet willing to adopt the five-finger look. This product looks like a fairly standard running shoe, but it is incredibly light and features a Vibram sole, with an Acteva midsole, a durable foam that is extremely light weight.
The $105 price tag makes it appealing as well. The interior has been designed to receive a bare foot, so no socks are necessary. Fans of this shoe love it because they dislike the radical look of other minimalist shoes, and they appreciate the greater protection against gravel and other rough terrain as they run.
This model is available in orange/black, grey/yellow and silver/green.
3. Merrell Trail Glove
This Merrell model is another alternative to the five-finger style. It is available in a wide range of colors and you can buy some models for under $60.
Features of the shoe that make it stand apart are its textile body and synthetic sole, its fused toe rubber bumper and room flex plate for the forefoot. The mesh upper allows your foot to breathe well and enhances the barefoot feel, but your foot will get wet if you ever dip into water on a run. If you are a fan of rubber soles, then this model might not be up to your standards.
Advocates of the Trail Glove say it truly does fit like a glove and that the traction is excellent. They also like the versatility of the shoe—it does fine in the gym as well as on the trail. One comment that comes up again and again from Trail Glove wearers is they revel in the amount of space their toes have in this shoe.
If your digits feel squeezed by other shoes, this might be the pair for you.
4. Brooks PureDrift
This entry might look the least like one of the best barefoot running shoes, but don’t be fooled by appearances. Brooks has been a favored (and less expensive) brand that millions have loved for years.
This shoe has a few features that set it apart, including an all-synthetic construction and a high back, which bothers some runners but others find comfort in. The removable sock liner enables you to customize the shoe from a 4 mm to a zero drop, depending on your preference. That versatility might be a godsend for you if you are not ready for the zero drop that is standard on many other minimalist shoes.
This is another model that gives ample toe room and comes in three colors: black/blue, neon green/black and bright orange/silver, color combos you don’t find in other minimalist models.
This Brooks model is fairly new to the market, so few customer reviews have been compiled thus far.
5. Skora FORM
Skora scores again with this this minimalist shoe that doesn’t look like the others and uses different materials, which the manufacturer and fans of this shoe would swear make it better. If you’re not a fan of synthetic materials, the FORM might be your best choice.
It combines a leather body with a true rubber sole. The upper is made of performance goatskin, believe it or not, and the lining is soft sheepskin. The white model of this shoe looks like a typical tennis shoe suitable for a casual game on grass, but this baby is meant for long-distance running. Its better materials translate into longer durability.
The price is a bit higher than some of the other models on this list, but it will probably last longer than those cheaper shoes, too. You must prefer the zero heel drop if you buy this Skora shoe—there is no way to adjust it to a more standard drop.
The FORM comes in black/blue, royal blue/yellow, white/red and natural/grey, a different assortment of colors than most other minimalist shoes.
Just about any barefoot shoe produces reactions that are anything but minimalist. Runners love the light weight and feel, “like slippers,” that eliminate the time needed to break in a new pair. If you buy a pair of minimalist shoes, you might not ever take them off, either because you love them so much or you forget that you have them on!