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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.
Vibram Men’s V-Run Running Shoe
The Vibram Men’s V-Run offers shock-absorbing cushioning, plus a perforated upper with adjustable cord closures for enhanced breathability and easy adjustments. Shoppers suggest purchasing a size down for a proper fit.
Xero Men’s Minimalist Barefoot Trail and Road Running Shoe
Enhance your posture with Xero men’s Minimalist Barefoot Trail and Road Running Shoe. The shoes feature a foot-first design with wide toe boxes that allow your toes to spread and relax. The zero-drop, non-elevated sole helps with posture and the flexible, low-to-the-ground sole encourages balance and agility.
Troadlop Men’s Hiking Running Shoe
Troadlop’s Running Shoe is not only stylish, but practical. The shoes are designed with breathable and durable mesh uppers and feature drainage holes, making them quick-drying. The shoes are completed with non-slip outsoles that offer a secure grip.
Inov-8 Women’s Bare-XF 210 V2 Minimalist Shoe
Invo-8’s Bare-XF 210 V2 for women is ideal for multiple activities including trail, road, training and hiking. The shoes are equipped 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, New Balance’s Minimus 10v1 Trail is done in a lightweight mesh material with a Vibram outsole and flex grooves designed for trail running. Customers have called this the best running shoe ever, revealing that they are light and stylish. Shoppers, however, suggest going a size up when ordering.
Merrell Women’s Vapor Glove 4 Trail Shoe
Merrell’s Vapor Glove 4 Trail Shoe gives runners the feeling of freedom without sacrificing stability. The trainer features a Barefoot 2 design for underfoot connection and the Vibram TC5+ sole for added stability.
Vivobarefoot Women’s Primus Trail
Vivobarefoot’s Primus Trail shoe for women feature a foam padded insole and puncture-resistant, outsole with multidirectional tread for enhanced traction over off-road terrain. The shoes are also water-resistant and equipped with breathable Recycled PET Mesh that keeps feet cool.
8. Brooks Women’s PureFlow 7
Brooks’ PureFlow7 sneakers for women make running a bit easier due to the shoe’s lightweight and flexible construction. The shoe is equipped with a stretch-woven upper and soft internal bootie, creating a sock-like fit that allows your feet to feel comfortable and unrestricted.
9. Allbirds Men’s Tree Dashers
If you’re looking for something eco-friendly, then Allbirds’ Tree Dashers are for you. The shoes are made with durable and breathable tree material and are designed for maximum energy return. Shoppers have praised the shoe for being comfortable, with some going as far as saying they feel like “slip-ons” made for sport activities.
Tsla Men’s Trail Running Shoes
Tsla’s Trail Running Shoes, which are designed for barefoot performance, feature a slightly cushioned zero-drop sole that stimulates and develops the bottom muscles of the foot for better stability. Shoppers raved over the shoe, sharing that when wearing they feel sturdy and secure.
11. Within Men’s Cross-Trainer Barefoot & Minimalist Shoe
Within’s Cross-Trainer Barefoot & Minimalist Shoe for men is an Amazon top choice and features adaptive materials and a zero drop from the heel to toe for a natural stride. The shoe is also made of vegan material and come in a variety of vibrant colors.