Best Barefoot Running Shoes Reviewed & Rated
The best way for mankind to run is barefoot, and there’s no doubt about this. Why is that? When you run in running shoes, the first part of your foot impacting the ground is your heel, whereas if you run barefoot, it’s in fact the ball of your foot that lands on the ground first, which helps prevent lesser impacts on your feet, ankles, knees, and hips.
Now that we know that barefoot is better, we all know that in today’s world, this could become quite uncomfortable (gravel, shards of glass and general obstacles). That is why a few shoe companies came out with the brilliant idea to create a running shoe that would make you feel like your feet are bare.
- Merrell Vapor Glove 2
- Sticky Vibram outsole for traction
- Vibram Bikila EVO
- Anti-microbial Drilex sockliner
- Merrell Pace Glove 3
- Omni-Fit lacing system
Barefoot running shoes (or minimalist shoes) are lightweight, and like the name says it, they’re minimalist, with basic structure to keep your feet snug and give it enough support during your runs. But don’t worry, the styles and colorways are as diverse as regular running shoes. There are styles for everyone: from toe socks to samurai-style split toes, to a regular front shoe. Below, we are comparing and reviewing the best barefoot running shoes of 2018.
15 Best Barefoot Running Shoes
1. Merrell Vapor Glove 2
The upper unit is made from mesh and TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane – more temperature resistant compared to EVA material) materials that offer more support and breathability for your feet. Not only that, but the mesh has been coated with the M Select FRESH, meaning that all odors are controlled, and bacteria are kept away from the inside of the shoe.
The outsole is made with a Vibram layer: a very light rubber outsole that adapts to the foot and thus gives the runner freedom of movement. Because of its thinness, the foot is in close contact to the ground, the posture is more natural, there is more overall stability and the movements are more effective.
Cost and Value
For their quality and popularity, their price is a bargain. While they are not the cheapest of barefoot running shoes, if you’re looking for something that will last you more than a few months, then these Merrell Vapor Glove 2 should be considered.
- TPU materials for breathability and support
- M Select FRESH for odor control
- Foot bed integrated as one with the outsole
- Because this is a barefoot running shoe, the lightness of it is very important
- Some reviewers mentioned that the upper unit tore after a few months of use
- A mid-sole would have been useful for a more responsive platform for the feet
2. Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO
Each toe is snugged by durable material, taking the exact shape of a human foot. This is to improve the natural dexterity and versatility of the foot’s movements, letting the toes spread-out as they should, without being constricted by socks or regular running shoes, and let the shoe adapt to the runner’s biomechanics.
The soles of the shoes are made of XS TREK technology, providing the runner with an optimum balance of traction and durability. They are responsive to unpredictable terrain, making it perfect for those who prefer off-track runs. They provide added support and comfortability to the feet.
Cost and Value
They can be compared to the Merrell Vapor Glove 2 for the price, but the usage is different. While the Merrell Vapor Glove 2 is more for roads, the Vibram FiverFingers KSO EVO are for terrain runs.
- Good ground feel
- Upper unit is flexible and breathable
- XS TREK Technology
- Fast lacing system
- Fabric wear off quickly
- Toes too tight
3. New Balance WT10V1
The WT10V1 offer a wide toe box that helps with the play of the toes, and because of the anti-microbial foot bed, the odors are controlled. The upper unit is made of synthetic mesh materials, offering the running breathability and stability.
New Balance WT10V1 has the Vibram outsole with flex grooves that gives the runner extraordinary track and elongates its durability, even on rocky trails. What makes the outsoles so surprising is that even though they are made for gripping during off-track trails, they don’t add any heavy weight and bulkiness to the shoe.
Cost and Value
They are on the higher price ranger – they’re the pricier in our top 3, but they offer you everything you’d want and need for off-track running. Some reviewers even said that they used them to walk or do yard work.
- Vibram rubber soles for extra support and grip
- Anti-Microbial foot bed
- Wide toe box
- New Balance Acteva’s midsole gives runner long-lasting cushioning
- Many colorways
- Heavier barefoot running shoes in top 3
4. Saucony Kinvara 7
The upper unit of the shoe consists of the Flex Film Overlays, which is a thin film attached to the upper unit to give the foot a secure and snug fit. Saucony improved the upper unit from Kinvara 7’s predecessor, giving a good lockdown for every step. This film is hot melded on the shoe, allowing less stitching, thus less surfaces for the runner’s foot to rub onto and creating discomfort.
EVERUN Heel Insert
For the Kinvara 7, Saucony uses the EVERUN Heel Insert: it’s an insert that provides extra cushioning during the whole of the run. It provides a better impact protection because they keep their properties 3 times better than EVA heel inserts. It adapts to the runner’s needs, helping the landings by smoothing them out, and reducing the pressure in the forefoot. The heel insert also returns the energy back to the runner.
Cost and Value
Even though these shoes are discontinued, they are still available on Amazon. Their price is situated between the Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO and the Merrell Vapor Glove 2.
- Flex Film Overlays
- EVERUN Heel Insert
- RUNDRY Collar Lining prevents moisture
- 7 colorways
- Heavy feeling for a barefoot running shoe
5. Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO
These VFF Bikila shoes use the Vibram outsoles, featuring a 4mm thick contoured pods that give the runner traction. They were designed to fit the feet, following its contour.
The upper unit of the VFF Bikila EVO has a type of mesh that gives the runner’s feet enough breathability during the run. Even though the material is thin, it provides enough protection against obstacles that could cause bruising. It’s also designed to keep debris from penetrating the shoe. The AEGIS Microbe Shield is added to the mesh for anti-bacterial and odor control.
Cost and Value
These are at the top of the price range for barefoot running shoes, but with so many complimentary reviews and qualities, these shoes cannot be tossed aside. If you want something that will last you a while and if you can stretch your budget a little, then you should definitely consider these shoes.
- 8 colorways
- Superb traction
- Very flexible
- Literally fits like a sock
- Some reviewers would have preferred better cushioning
- For minimalist runners only – Not a transition to barefoot running shoes
6. Merrell Pace Glove 3
Merrell is renowned for their shoes’ durability and quality, and they haven’t skipped the Pace Glove 3. The outsole is made of Vibram’s TC1 Outsole that is one of the most robust and unfailing external sole compounds. The outsole is mostly of rubber, thus protecting the shoe against wear and tear. Merrell even added a Trail Protect Plate for those who decide to take their runs in the wild, where the surfaces are unpredictable and rougher.
The Pace Glove 3 is made out of Air Mesh and Synthetic Leather, providing the runner with a durable, breathable and comfortable upper shoe. For an added snug feeling, Merrell has used their Omni-Fit lacing system: the fabric strips attached to the laces react to the fastening or loosening of the laces, thus making the fit more customizable.
Cost and Value
The Merrell Pace Glove 3 running shoes are at the lowest price range, but they’re on the heavier side of the barefoot running shoes range. This would all depend on whether you want to stick to a tighter budget or if you’re looking for something close to perfect no matter the price.
- Various colorways
- Perfect for trail runs
- TrailProtect pad in underfoot for added protection
- Lightweight - Important feature for barefoot running shoes
- ‘Glove’ feeling is lost in this latest version of the Pace Glove
- The fit is disappointing
7. Adidas Adipure 360.2
This is one of the main reasons why these Adidas are on the list. Adidas kept in mind that the runner has to remain comfortable, with snug and secure feet during exercises. This is why they used the Supercloud technology: a sponge-like material (that doesn’t absorb water!) that takes the runner’s foot shape to add comfortability.
Adidas really thought about everything in this shoe. The outsole is constructed with a soft foot bed. The sole is wrapped to the upper unit, providing excellent comfort and also makes the foot safe from any injury during training.
Cost and Value
These shoes are also on the lower part of the price scale, which is good if you’re looking for a name brand that known for its incredible designs providing the foot with security and comfortability.
- Supercloud technology
- Various colorways for everyone’s tastes
- Great comfort during intense workouts
- Wrapped fabric providing extra comfort and security for the foot
- Some reviewers noticed that there is too much room in the toe box, even though their toes touch the tip of the shoe
- Some reviewers said that the heel box is too big
8. Merrell Bare Access 4
This newer model of the Bare Access uses a more robust mesh, which is full-bodied and durable. The façade has holes that are in fact ports of ventilation so that your feet are always cool and dry. This shoe is also seamless, giving the user a non-irritating experience while running.
Thanks to the Mbound technology (delivering ground feedback to the foot of the wearer) adds extra cushioning and lets the runner feel the ground, making the general running experience feel more barefoot.
Cost and Value
For all of the positive feedback and reviews, these Merrell Bare Access 4 shoes are what they’re worth. If you don’t mind paying a little extra for added support, breathability and comfortability, then keep those barefoot running shoes on your list!
- Mesh lining and upper, providing breathability
- Non-irritating to the skin because of the mesh upper and linig
- M Select FRESH odor-control
- Bare Access Outsole for extraordinary traction and efficiency in every step
- Light feel and perfect for competition
- Some reviewers noticed that parts of the shoe wore off quickly
- Not a very good anti-debris because pebbles would get inside the shoe and disrupted the comfort of some reviewers during their run
9. Saucony Virrata 2
Saucony really grasped the context of barefoot running shoes. Their XT-900 outsole consists of a protective layer of high quality carbon rubber that protects the precarious sections of the sole from wear and tear. The part of the sole that is exposed to the ground surfaces has triangular-shaped gripping lugs that gives the outsole some flexibility, that adds cushioning to the under part of the foot, and that also adds traction during the overall run.
The upper unit of this shoe utilizes a mesh fabric to wrap the foot and give it a snug feel. Saucony also added an internal bootie to give a sock-like feel to the runner, making the shoe very comfortable and receptive.
Cost and Value
Even though these shoes are discontinued, they are still available on Amazon for a very good price, both in retail and resale. This is a perfect shoe if you’re looking for something on the lower price range for competitive running, or extreme training.
- Interior bootie fits like a sock, snug around the foot
- Added heel support for added security
- Flexible platform, giving a better range of motion for the foot
- Quick-drying mesh on the upper unit
- Overall shoe feels small to other reviewers
- Not as resistant as expected against water or dirt
10. Newton MV3
Too often, runners have to stop in their tracks to tie their laces because they unraveled. Thankfully, Newton came out with a new technology for laces that are literally slip-proof. No more bending down mid-run!
ETC Sock Liner
If you’re looking for a barefoot running shoe with a sock-feel, then you’re at the right place. Newton added an ETC Sock Liner that prevents friction and irritation of the foot. The sock liner also has an anti-bacterial coating, which gives the interior of the foot a cleaner and healthier feel.
Cost and Value
The Newton MV3 is at the bottom of the list for a reason: its price is probably not worth its durability and performance. This shoe is mainly for short distance runs, and is great for those looking to increase their speed during races.
- Very responsive
- TPU toe cap for extra protection
- Drainage system
- Wider midfoot for more stability
- Some reviewers noted that the outsole wears out quickly
11. Vibram KMD LS
Vibram® XS Trek is a technical compound that helps to achieve an elevated performance. It is highly flexible and provides excellent wet traction. XS TREK is perfect for every terrain, from the trail to the city streets.
A polyester-mesh upper is both lightweight and airy, keeping feet cool and dry for the duration of your training. Bonus, these materials are machine washable which will save time on shoe care.
Cost & Value
The Vibram KMD LS is a mid-priced barefoot running shoe which offers great features. These shoes are lightweight, airy, and flexible, with a durable sole and solid support. Definitely worth the splurge!
- Vibram® XS TREK
- Solid Structure
- Polyester-Mesh Upper
- Machine Washable
Can Feel Stiff
12. Merrell Trail Glove 4
Vibram® soles are some of the best rubber soles in the world. They’re made from innovative rubber compounds and are tested in the harshest conditions to ensure the best performance possible.
Merrells unique TrailProtect™ pads offer an added level of midfoot protection from rocks and other hazardous materials that may be encountered when running off-trail.
Cost & Value
Merrells Trail Glove 4 is a reasonably priced option and is an excellent value for anyone planning to run off-trail. Their Vibram® outsole and TrailProtect™ features provide an extra level of comfort, support, and stability while protecting your feet from harsh elements. These lightweight and stylish shoes are a top-choice amongst off-trail runners everywhere for a reason, they perform the way that they should.
- Vibram® Outsole
- TrailProtect™ Pads
- Superior Grip
- Tested Under Extreme Conditions
- Added Underfoot Protection
- Material Has A Sheen Effect
13. Xero Prio
The only outsole specifically designed for barefoot running, the FeelTrue® sole adds superior traction and comfort. These soles are flexible and strong without the need for unnecessary support. They contour to fit the shape of your foot and give a slight ‘toe spring’ which holds the sole closer to your foot.
A wide toe-box improves comfort levels and promotes better toe alignment which is helpful for alleviating foot and knee pain. Wearing a wide toe-box also discourages numerous physical problems, such as ingrown toenails, shin splints, and neuromas.
Cost & Value
Xeros’ Prio is available at a price you expect for a shoe with so many features to offer. They sit in the mid-level price range and are worth every penny, thanks to the added comfort and security they present you. These shoes are multi-functional and are great for running on both trail and paved surfaces.
- Wide Toe-Box
- FeelTrue® Sole
- Multi-Surface Wearability
- Flexible Rubber Sole
- Superior Traction
- Sizes Run Small
14. Skora Phase-X
EVA is a soft man-made rubber which is flexible and resistant to cracking. It offers comfort, water-resistance, and is resistant to UV-radiation.
Blown Rubber Outsole
A blown-rubber outsole is lighter and cushier than traditional outsole material. It is water-resistant and breathable for a comfortable running experience.
Cost & Value
The Skora Phase-X may be a bit costly compared to other models similar in price. These shoes offer comfort, cushion, and reflective protection, but are lacking in some key features which similar shoes of the same price-range offer.
- EVA Midsole
- Reflective Digital Camouflage
- Blown Rubber Outsole
- Light Cushioning
- Closed-Mesh Upper
- Do Not Keep Feet Warm When It's Cold Outside
15. Mizuno Wave Universe 5
The Wave Universe 5 weighs in at a surprisingly low 3 ounces, making this one of the lightest racing flats available to date.
The U5 offers an incredibly spacious forefoot area which will accommodate all sizes comfortably. This means no more suffering in uncomfortably tight racing flats.
Cost & Value
These racing flats come considerably more expensive than other options on the list, though the utter barefoot experience they offer is well worth it to many runners. These shoes provide a seriously light-weight run and are designed to be as close to barefoot as possible.
- Weigh Only 3 Ounces
- Bare Minimal Design
- Ultra Thin Sole
- Open Mesh Upper
- Comfortable Ankle Support
- Can Be Expensive
In conclusion, we have to say that barefoot running shoes should be considered by everyone. Not only can they more comfortable than regular running shoes, but they offer the runner a barefoot-running experience that’s out of this world. After all, it’s how Neanderthals walked and ran, so it’s in our nature to be barefoot. These kinds of shoes offer you protection against the harsh impacts on your lower body when your foot hits the ground. These shoes definitely show you how to run properly (not heel first). We give the barefoot running shoes two bare thumbs up!
Criteria Used To Evaluate The Best Barefoot Running Shoes
Drop: The drop of a shoe is the height difference, or drop, from the heel to toe. Traditionally, a standard running shoe will have a drop of between 10 to 12 millimeters, whereas if we were to run without shoes there would be no difference in height from the heel to the toe.
The idea behind barefoot running shoes stems from the theory that running barefoot is more natural and poses less risk of injury to the knees and hip. When a runner wears a traditional shoe, the drop will force the foot to strike at the heel instead of the forefoot. This is considered to be unhealthy and to increase the risk of running related injuries, as well as, decreasing overall performance.
In order to begin training in barefoot shoes, the runner must take the time to transition into the lower drop. This will prevent leg and foot pain, as well as, possible arch collapse or discomfort. It is best to slowly reduce the drop of your shoes over a period of several months and work your way down to barefoot level running shoes. Transitioning your legs and feet from a 12 millimeter drop to a zero-drop takes some time but if done correctly the result will be stronger legs, reduced risk of injury, and a better overall performance.
Outsole: Vibram® soles are available as an upgrade to any pair of shoes. Vibram® soles are perfect for any terrain and will actually improve the wearers overall performance. They are designed with innovative rubber compounds and are tested in extreme conditions to ensure the best possible wear. You can send in your shoes and have them returned with custom Vibram® soles, or you can purchase one of the many brands which come complete with Vibram® soles right out of the box!
Ideally, the outsole of a barefoot running shoe will be minimal, providing the lightweight and natural feeling of running without shoes on. The benefits of running in minimalist shoes versus running without shoes are; protection, comfort, and stability.
Running without shoes at all increases the chance of injury and exposes feet to all sorts of hazards, but if a barefoot running shoe is worn the shoes’ outsole will act as a layer of protection. A rubber outsole is ideal for running on slippery or off-trail terrain, it is water-resistant and offers excellent grip
The level of grip needed varies with the type of terrain the runner trains on. Flat, level surfaces require far less grip, whereas off-trail running requires a strong grip in order to allow for maximum speeds without worrying about injuries. Pavement can also pose a risk dependent on weather conditions. When it’s snowing, or there is heavy rainfall the pavement can become quite slippery and falling on cement can cause all sorts of painful injuries, cuts, and scrapes.
This is why it is very important to assess the outsole of a shoe before purchasing it so that you can decide whether or not the design has the type of traction you require in order to stay safe while running.
Closures: The two most common types of closures are strap closure or a quick-lace system. A lacing system offers more access to the toe pockets for easy on and off, and it does a better job accommodating high arches. Whereas, strap closures are often preferred for their convenience.
Speed: Researchers believe that when a runner strikes with their heel instead of the forefoot, this is an unnatural adaption to the added cushion in running shoes. When a person runs barefoot the foot naturally strikes on the forefoot which makes for faster running speeds.
The technique of landing on your forefoot, before rolling back to allow your heel to barely hit the ground, lowers contact time with the floor which results in less muscular effort. This technique paired with proper posture, will benefit the runners’ performance and boost overall speeds.
Distance: For any distance runner, avoiding injury is a key part of their training regime. Barefoot running requires shorter strides which eliminates the need for concern over certain knee and leg problems that could result from an overextended stride. Running barefoot puts less impact on the heel because the other parts of the foot connect with ground simultaneously.
However, barefoot running has its drawbacks too. For example, after running many miles the soles of the foot will become hard and the bones of the foot will become more relaxed. Relaxed bones in the foot widen over time which will make it difficult to fit into normal width shoes in the future.
Therefore, it may be advisable to incorporate barefoot running shoes into your training regime, in addition to regular running shoes. Incorporating both barefoot running shoes and traditional shoes with padded cushioning will prevent undue strain on the foot.
Protection: Barefoot running shoes are designed to create a more natural, zero-drop running experience fully engaging the runner with nature and the outdoors. This is why many runners enjoy the minimalist approach because this type of shoe allows you to connect with yourself and the surrounding environment.
That being said, many runners worry that barefoot running shoes will not properly protect their feet from various hazards including, sharp rocks, sticks, or broken glass. The fact is, that minimalist shoes offer just as much protection as your everyday running shoes. They are designed to be both flexible and lightweight, while still maintaining a protective barrier between your feet and the ground.
Terrain: Different types of terrain require specific features from a running shoe and this should be taken into consideration when making your selection. The following list breaks down the different styles of barefoot running shoe to help you decide which is best suited to the type of activity and terrain you will be working with;
- Long Distance/Mountainous: Involves running on steep mountainous terrain, rocky paths, and treacherous declines. The best type of shoe for this terrain will offer superior traction with some cushioning to shield your feet from impact.
- Road & Trail: This type of shoe is suited to runners who enjoy transitioning from the trail to city streets. The best shoes to look for will offer enough traction to handle trail runs, as long as they’re not too bulky for running on pavement.
- Bare Access: These types of barefoot running shoes are designed for runners who require better protection from impact. They should offer a natural stride, along with uniform heel to toe cushion which will adequately absorb impact.
- Road: Running on pavement requires a lightweight shoe with slight cushion and solid shock-absorption. It is best to avoid bulky shoes which pose a risk of tripping or slowing you down.
While selecting our list of the top barefoot running shoes, careful consideration was placed on the outsole and protective features of each shoes’ design.
The materials used to construct a shoe are very important to the overall performance. Some materials are more lightweight and flexible than others, while some offer superior weather resistance and durability.
So, which materials should you look for when choosing a new pair of running shoes? The following is a breakdown of the most commonly used materials and their features;
- Mesh: Mesh is breathable and lightweight making it an excellent upper shoe material. It allows the foot to ventilate and prevents moisture from accumulating on the foot.
- TPU: Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) is a mixture of soft silicone and harder plastic which creates a very smooth synthetic rubber material. TPU is extremely durable, elastic, and resistant to abrasion.
- TPR: ThermoPlastic Rubber (TPR) is a material with similarities to both plastic and rubber. TPR compounds are weather resistant and lightweight while providing excellent temperature regulation to keep feet cool or warm as needed.
- Rubber: Rubber falls into two categories, natural and synthetic, although both are similar in many ways they’re made by very different processes.
- Natural rubber is made from latex a milky white substance derived from certain plants when they’re cut down.
- Synthetic rubbers are made with using petrochemicals like acetylene and hydrochloric acid.
Care: Caring for barefoot running shoes properly is an important factor in maintaining the shoes overall performance. Most barefoot runners are conveniently machine washable, while others will have to be hand washed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Should I still wear socks with my barefoot running shoes?
A: If you do not wear socks regularly already then there is no need to start just because you’ve purchased a pair of minimalist running shoes. However, if you prefer to wear socks that’s okay too. It is best to wear a lightweight and non-restrictive pair of socks, which may also help with moisture wicking to prevent sweaty, smelly shoes.
Q: How long does it take to transition from normal to minimal running shoes?
A: The amount of time recommended to transition from a standard 10 to 12-millimeter drop to a barefoot runner is at the minimum, five weeks. When you first start training in barefoot running shoes only run short distances and increase by 5 to 10 minutes weekly or so.
Q: Will my feet hurt after I run in such a flat shoe?
A: When you first begin lowering the height of your shoes drop your feet may feel slightly flat after running. This effect can be reduced by taking an adequate amount of time to transition your feet properly.
Q: Does running barefoot really reduce the risk of injury?
A: While there is no conclusive evidence which states that running barefoot reduces the risk of injury, many runners find that when wearing minimalist shoes they do not suffer the same problems as when traditional running shoes are worn.
One of the reasons runners prefer to wear barefoot running shoes is because it promotes a more natural footstrike. Instead of striking at the heel, barefoot running encourages striking with the forefoot which puts less pressure on the heel. This is said to alleviate many physical discomforts experienced by runners.
- Does Barefoot Running Make You Faster, Article, Feb 11, 2015 ,
- What Do Professional Distance Runners Think Of The Barefoot Running Movement, Q & A, Feb 01, 2018 ,
- The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Barefoot Running, Article, Jan 10, 2018 ,
- Details, Dec 01, 2017 ,