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.

Last Updated: July 8, 2018
By Carmen Landrum:

The latest update includes the removal of five products that no longer fit our criteria and the addition of three new products (1, 4, and 6) for the list to give you even better options.

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.

Featured Recommendations

Merrell Vapor Glove 4
  • Merrell Vapor Glove 4
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Sticky Vibram Outsole
  • Price: See Here
Vibram FiveFingers KSO
  • Vibram FiveFingers KSO
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Anti-Microbial Sockliner
  • Price: See Here
New Balance WT10V1
  • New Balance WT10V1
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Enhanced Traction
  • Price: See Here

Barefoot running shoes (or minimalist shoes) are lightweight, and like the name says it, they’re minimalist, with the 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.

 

10 Best Barefoot Running Shoes

 

1. Merrell Vapor Glove 4

Need great performance with a simple look and feel? The Merrell Vapor Glove 4 is the latest addition in the Trail series. These vegan-friendly shoes give you the feeling of wearing socks for a more secure fit. Constructed with a mesh lining, you’ll have great breathability in addition to a mesh upper and the Vibram sole gives you performance that is cushioned but lightweight.
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Vibram Sole
The Vibram sole is a popular sole that is found in a variety of shoes. Used as an outsole, the sole provides a light but cushioned support that gives you superb traction for a variety of surfaces and terrain. In addition, it comes with a high level of abrasion resistance helping to reduce wear and tear.

Trail Protect Pad
The Trail Protect Pad is uniquely created by Merrell and is constructed within the midfoot. This feature gives your feet extra protection on the trail from dangerous items such as sharp rocks. The pad also gives you max flexibility in response.

Cost and Value
Up to date with great and unique features to enhance your trail performance at an affordable price. What more could you ask for? Like any high performing shoe, you’ll have to spend more than usual but compared to other shoes of the same type, these are quite the steal.
Pros

Quick break-in

TPU for stability

Secure outsole grip

Breathable mesh material

Lightweight protective pads

Cons

Small toe box

Tight elastic band

2. Vibram FiveFingers KSO

Vibram came out with their own line of barefoot running shoes: FiveFingers. These shoes offer a barefoot-like running experience on all types of terrain, making it great for those who love running on road or off-track.
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Upper Unit - Toe Slots
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.

Soles
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 FiveFingers KSO EVO is for terrain runs.
Pros
  • Good ground feel
  • Upper unit is flexible and breathable
  • XS TREK Technology
  • Fast lacing system
Cons
  • Fabric wear off quickly
  • Toes too tight

3. New Balance WT10V1

New Balance WT10V1 is a pair of barefoot running shoes that can get you almost anywhere on off-track trails. From the many new colorways to the Vibram outsoles and premium lightweight foam, there’s no question why these running shoes came in 3rd place.
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Upper Unit
The WT10V1 offer a wide toe box that helps with the play of the toes, and because of the anti-microbial footbed, the odors are controlled. The upper unit is made of synthetic mesh materials, offering the running breathability and stability.

Off-Road Ready
New Balance WT10V1 has the Vibram outsole with flex grooves that give 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.
Pros
  • Vibram rubber soles
  • Anti-Microbial foot bed
  • Wide toe box
  • New Balance Acteva’s midsole
  • Many colorways
Cons
  • Heavier barefoot running shoes in top 3
  • Expensive

4. Saucony Kinvara 9

4. Saucony Kinvara 9
A Saucony staple, the Kinvara 9 gives you top performance with a maximum light fit thanks to the minimalist design of the upper. With the EVERUN topsole included, you have a shoe that gives you a flexible bounce with every step and the heel-to-toe offset helps to give you a stance that is more natural and comfortable.
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Lightweight Traction
The outsole is constructed with rubber pods that are strategically placed in zones of high-wear in the outsole. This gives you greater durability, support, and stability with adding extra weight to the Kinvara 9.

EVERUN Topsole
This unique sole is constructed with foam beads that have been fused by steam. This gives you a better bounce in your steps that is flexible and quite lively. You receive extreme cushioning without unnecessary thickness and weight added.

Cost and Value
These are actually quite cheaper compared to the other shoes on this list. Since they are a newer model, you receive updated features that focus on performance and quality but without having to spend extra cash. What better deal could you ask for?
Pros

Midsole is EVA

Flexible outsole

Snuggly heel cup

Topsole is EVERUN

Supportive woven heel

Cons

Tight toe box

Lengthy break-in

5. Merrell Bare Access 4

5. Merrell Bare Access 4
Merrell is back with a new version of the oh-so-popular Bare Access. This 4th version features mesh lining and a mesh upper to prevent irritation of the foot and to provide more breathability. The soles are of a flexible rubber and the midsole is cushioned, but it still lets the runner have a feel of the ground.
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Upper Unit
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.

Midsole
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!
Pros
  • Mesh lining
  • Non-irritating
  • M Select FRESH odor-control
  • Bare Access Outsole
  • Light feel
Cons
  • Parts of the shoe wear off quickly
  • Not a very good anti-debris

6. Merrell Pace Glove 4

6. Merrell Pace Glove 4
It doesn’t take a lot to achieve a lot and with the Pace Glove 4, simplicity reigns. As with other models, this model is constructed with the awesome Vibram outsole to give you a closer terrain feel. The upper is crafted from mesh for breathability and greater protection and the underfoot has lightweight cushioning only in the places it’s needed.
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Omni-Fit Lacing
Omni-Fit Lacing are laces that are integrated with the tongue and upper. This gives you a very secure fit that wraps around the midsection of your feet. If you have high arches, this will give you additional arch support without being too snug or tight.

Shock Absorption Plate
The Shock Absorption Plate is placed within the midsole helping to absorb any shock received via the other layers of the shoes when running. This goes from heel-to-toe giving you even absorption and a run that is comfortable and pain-free.

Cost and Value
The Merrell Pace Glove 4 usually breaks even at $100; not too low and not too high. This is perfect for barefoot runners on a budget but who do not want to skimp on quality and performance.
Pros

Very comfortable fit

Protective pad lining

Secured supportive lacing

Breathable mesh materials

Cons

Limited color options

Slippery on wet surfaces

7. Vibram KMD LS

7. Vibram KMD LS
The Vibram KMD LS is the ideal training and fitness shoe. It offers a more solid structure than other models while providing the same flexible feedback of a barefoot shoe. With their Vibram® XS Trek sole and polyester-mesh upper, the KMD LS provides a multi-functional experience and is ideal for both off-trail and city running. These shoes are vegan-friendly and machine washable for ultra convenience.
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Vibram® XS TREK
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.

Polyester-Mesh Upper
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!
Pros
  • Vibram® XS TREK
  • Solid Structure
  • Polyester-Mesh Upper
  • Machine Washable
Cons

Can Feel Stiff

8. Merrell Trail Glove 4

8. Merrell Trail Glove 4
These minimal shoes offer maximum performance. The Trail Glove 4 offers a sock-like feel for a comfortable fit and a Vibram® sole for light cushioning comfort. Made with a mesh and TPU upper and airy mesh lining, these breathable trail shoes are going to keep feet cool and dry. A built-in TrailProtect™ pad provides superior underfoot protection and stability to protect your feet from harsh off-trail conditions.
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Vibram® Outsole
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.

TrailProtect™ Pad
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
Merrell's 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.
Pros
  • Vibram® Outsole
  • TrailProtect™ Pads
  • Superior Grip
  • Tested Under Extreme Conditions
  • Added Underfoot Protection
Cons
  • Material Has A Sheen Effect

9. Xero Prio

9. Xero Prio
The Prio is a lightweight performance shoe which is perfect for trail or road running. Their foot-first design and wide toe box let your toes relax, while a flexible sole allows for natural bending and movement of the foot. These shoes offer excellent traction and a solid level of protection, reducing the overall risk of injury.
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FeelTrue® Sole
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.

Wide Toe-Box
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.
Pros
  • Wide Toe-Box
  • FeelTrue® Sole
  • Multi-Surface Wearability
  • Flexible Rubber Sole
  • Superior Traction
Cons
  • Sizes Run Small

10. Skora Phase-X

10. Skora Phase-X
Skoras’ Phase-X ensures you stay visible in low-visibility thanks to a highly reflective digital camouflage pattern. A blown rubber outsole provides the slightest bit of cushion while maintaining that barefoot feel. The upper is made from a closed mesh which helps to regulate foot temperature. A traditional EVA midsole won’t distract from the barefoot feel runners are seeking, but is just enough to take the edge off paved surfaces.
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EVA Midsole
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.
Pros
  • EVA Midsole
  • Reflective Digital Camouflage
  • Blown Rubber Outsole
  • Light Cushioning
  • Closed-Mesh Upper
Cons
  • Do Not Keep Feet Warm When It's Cold Outside

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

Comfort

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.

Performance

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 a 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.

Material

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;

  • 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.

Sources

  1. Edward Lane, Does Barefoot Running Make You Faster, Article, Feb 11, 2015
  2. Quora, What Do Professional Distance Runners Think Of The Barefoot Running Movement, Q & A, Feb 01, 2018
  3. Leo Babauta, The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Barefoot Running, Article, Jan 10, 2018
  4. Merrell, Details, Dec 01, 2017


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