Down to earth. It’s the kind of feeling minimalist and barefoot footwear is touted to offer wearers. If you’re not yet familiar with the concept, these styles are designed to bring people closer to the ground when walking or running. Interior cushioning is reduced or eliminated altogether, soles are thin and flexible — all allowing for an enhanced sensory experience between the foot and ground.
While these barely-there shoes had garnered enthusiasm among some members of the running community in the mid-2000s as brands such as Vibram, New Balance, and Nike introduced looks such styles, their popularity slowly started to wane. However, there remains a community of runners and everyday walkers who enjoy the more natural feeling they offer.
What’s the distinction between barefoot and minimalist styles? Softstar Shoes, which produces a collection of minimal shoes for men, women and children in its workshop in Oregon, helps define the two. According to the company, the term minimalist is used to describe a reduction in the cushioning and motion control found in more traditional shoes, especially when it comes to the heel-to-toe drop.
On the other hand, barefoot footwear, notes Softstar Shoes, has relatively flat soles with no heel-to-toe drop or arch support, no rigid toe spring and a generous toebox. Soles are thin with no cushioning, allowing feet to splay out naturally and mimic the feeling and effect of practically wearing no shoes at all.
More recently, small independently owned brands focusing on the category such as Lems, based in Boulder, Colo., have come on the scene. The company is committed to the belief that shoes should be minimally designed, fitting the foot’s anatomy while allowing feet to move like you are wearing nothing at all. Coupled with this, founder Andrew Rademacher built them around the natural shape of the foot, allowing for enhanced flexibility, unrestricted movement and comfort.
Xero Shoes, which also offers minimalist looks, makes a case for this approach to footwear with an anatomy lesson. According to the company, one quarter of bones and joints in the body are actually located in the feet, with more nerve endings in the soles than anywhere but fingertips and lips. The collection features footwear with a non-elevated heel for enhanced posture and patented FeelTrue soles that bend and flex more naturally with the foot.
Although the majority of barefoot styles have athletic or casual influences, there’s a newcomer to the movement that puts the focus on dressier styles for women under the Lisbeth Joe label. Currently crowdfunding through an Indiegogo campaign, company founder Leontyne Ashmore, an accountant, has designed that include a moccasin and ballet flat with ankle strap that feature thin, flexible soles, zero drop heels and wide toe boxes.
Here, FN has curated a range of barefoot and minimalist styles that offer a more natural approach to movement.
1. Vibram Men’s V-Run Running Shoe
This colorblock style offers shock-absorbing cushioning, plus a perforated upper with adjustable cord closures for enhanced breathability and easy adjustments.
2. Xero Pacifica Men’s Wool Shoe
A lightweight style in a cozy wool-blend upper features a moisture-wicking lining and rubber sole for underfoot protection and comfort.
3. Troadlop Men’s Hiking Running Shoe
This breathable and quick-drying style done in lightweight polyester fabric features drainage holes and a non-slip outsole.
4. Inov-8 Women’s Bare-XF 210 V2 Minimalist Shoe
This flexible design is ideal for multiple activities including trail, road, training and hiking, with a zero-drop heel for a close to the ground feeling.
5. New Balance Women’s Minimus 10v1 Trail
Inspired by the original fit and feel of the Minimus Trail 10, this version is done in a lightweight mesh material with a Vibram outsole and flex grooves designed for trail running.
6. Merrell Women’s Vapor Glove 4
This minimal trainer is detailed in Cordura mesh with antimicrobial lining to reduce shoe odor and proprietary Barefoot 2 construction for enhanced stability during movement.
7. Vivobarefoot Women’s Primus Trail
A trail hiking style sports a bungee closure, foam padded insole and puncture-resistant, outsole with multidirectional tread for enhanced traction over off-road terrain.
All products featured have been independently selected and curated by our editorial team. If you buy something through the links included on our site, FN may earn a commission.
9 Shoe Bags Designed to Make Your Next Trip a Breeze
9 Must-Have Men’s Sneakers for Spring
7 Men’s Sneakers to Wear With Joggers