The Top 10 Barefoot Running Shoes Reviewed

Has it ever occurred to you how recent the wearing of shoes actually is in terms of the countless millennia of human evolution? A tiny fraction, right?

Now take that thought further by considering the ever-growing list of foot and limb problems we shoe-wearing primates suffer from in the 21st century. Could there perhaps be a connection?

The increasing numbers of ‘barefoot runners’ would certainly argue that there is. Read on to find out what’s behind the barefoot running movement… 

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Product Name
Type of Shoe
Colour Options
Price Guide & Amazon Rating
View Product
Saucony Men’s Kinvara 7 Running Shoe

Saucony Men’s Kinvara 7 Running Shoe

Running Shoe

10 Options

$$$

Vibram Men’s KSO EVO Cross Training Shoe

Vibram Men’s KSO EVO Cross Training Shoe

Cross Training Shoe

Black/Red, Black, Blue/Black, Gray/Black

$$

Merrell Men’s Vapor Glove 2 Trail Running Shoe

Merrell Men’s Vapor Glove 2 Trail Running Shoe

Trail Running Shoe

Racer Blue/Bright Green, Black/Castle Rock, Gray/Spicy Orange, Dark Orange, Folkstone

$$

Xero Shoes Barefoot-inspired Sport Sandals – Z-Trek – Men

Xero Shoes Barefoot-inspired Sport Sandals – Z-Trek – Men

Sport Sandal

Mocha/Coffee, Multi-blue, Charcoal/Coal Black, Charcoal/Patriot Blue 

$$

Xero Shoes Casual Canvas Barefoot-inspired shoe – Men’s Hana

Xero Shoes Casual Canvas Barefoot-inspired shoe – Men’s Hana

Canvas Shoe

Black, Brown/Black, Black/Rust, Sand/Chocolate

$$$

YALOX Women’s and Men’s Barefoot Water Shoes

YALOX Women’s and Men’s Barefoot Water Shoes

Water Shoe

25 Options

$

Vivobarefoot Gobi II Men’s Classic Desert Boot

Vivobarefoot Gobi II Men’s Classic Desert Boot

Desert Boot

Black/Hyde, Ox Blood

$$$$$

Vibram Women’s KMD LS Cross Training Shoe

Vibram Women’s KMD LS Cross Training Shoe

Cross Training Shoe

Grey/Black/Pink, Black

$$$

Merrell Women’s Glove 4 Trail Runner

Merrell Women’s Glove 4 Trail Runner

Trail Running Shoe

Black, High Rise, Aleutian, Very Grape/Astral Aura, Persian Red

$$$

New Balance Women’s WT10V4 Trail Shoe

New Balance Women’s WT10V4 Trail Shoe

Trail Running Shoe

Black, Dragonfly

$


What is barefoot running?


You may well have gazed in wonder at television footage of the legendary indigenous barefoot runners who leap effortlessly like gazelles over rocky terrain.

By contrast, our modern running shoes seem cumbersome and awkward and we may ponder wistfully on the wonderful freedom that running barefoot would offer.

Barefoot running is claimed to be an excellent way to improve your running posture, efficiency, speed and foot strength, though it’s clearly not for everyone and needs careful a transition period.

The structure of the foot is infinitely complex with your feet having 25% of all the bones and joints of your whole body.

This myriad of bones and ligaments is designed to move, to bend and to flex in a particular way and don’t cope well when that natural movement is restricted or altered.

Added to that, there are more nerve endings in the soles of your feet than anywhere else in the body except lips and fingertips, making them hypersensitive.

Followers of the barefoot running movement believe that the foot’s complexity and super-sensitivity is not assisted by the advanced technology and materials in modern running shoes but hampered by them.

They claim that ‘natural’ running helps to reduce the risk of damage caused by today’s highly technical running shoes, such as repetitive stress injuries caused by heel strike. Furthermore, they believe that the tendons, muscles and ligaments of the foot become stronger and allow the runner to develop a more natural gait.

Better yet, barefoot runners point to evidence that the more anatomically correct way of moving lessens the onset of the typical runner’s conditions: Achilles pain and plantar fasciitis.

Barefoot runners ask the question: ‘What would be better for your foot, a shoe that elevates your heel unnaturally and is stiff and inflexible or one that lets your foot flex, bend and move naturally and actually feel the ground beneath?’

Almost every positive has a negative, of course, and the lack of protection from impacts with rocks, glass or thorns is a significant consideration.

Another factor to note is the long adaptation phase needed when you switch from wearing running shoes to barefoot running as the muscles and ligaments adapt to the change in gait. 

What are barefoot running shoes?

It’s a surprising fact that running-specific shoes were unheard of until the mid-Sixties. Prior to that, generic sports shoes fit the bill.

Gradually, the burgeoning science of biomechanics started to influence the design of running shoes and these days there are shoes for every type of gait and for different types of running: track, trail, road, etc.

Devotees of barefoot running argue that, rather than assisting our gait and protecting our feet and limbs from injury, modern highly-technical running shoes actually weaken them.

Their belief is that a snugly-fitting shoe, with cushioned insole and outsole, an unnatural ‘drop’ from heel to toe and often with a rigid shank in the midsole, acts like a type of ‘plaster cast’ by preventing the foot’s natural movement.

We all know that an injured limb in such a cast becomes weaker over time, so it’s not difficult to appreciate the sense of their argument.


Less Impact?


The fact is, when you run barefoot, the front of your foot naturally tends to lands first, lessening the impact on heels, ankles, knees and hips.


By contrast, running shoes are designed to encourage heels to hit the ground first, thereby maximizing the concussion absorbed by the foot and joints. No wonder that repetitive stress injuries are so common in runners.

In a perfect world, then, to be kind to our feet and limbs we should all run barefoot, as our physiology is designed that way.

Since running barefoot is impractical in most places in the modern, urbanized world but clearly beneficial, a few forward-thinking footwear manufacturers have created running shoes which make you feel like your feet are bare.

At the same time, these shoes minimize the chance of discomfort from running on uneven surfaces like gravel or injury from encounters with shards of glass, etc.

The best barefoot running shoes (also known as minimalist running shoes) are lightweight and designed to keep your feet snug and protected.

They also allow the foot’s complex structure to function naturally, chiefly by featuring a ‘zero drop’ from heel to toe which encourages a forefoot or midfoot strike.