10 Best Minimalist Running Shoes Reviewed and Tested

Minimalist running shoes are very particular in design and are not for everyone. Although, studies have shown they may provide benefits in that the runner will be able to step more naturally. The minimalist craze is certainly set in stone, in the running industry, and minimalist shoes aren’t going anywhere soon.

best-minimalist-running-shoes-running-on-beach

For those that prefer a more natural run, without the clunkiness of conventional running shoes, we have you covered with the top rated minimalist running shoes of 2017.

Featured Recommendations

Last Updated: August 12, 2017
by Mirisa Jewell :

Criteria/FAQ input was completed. This material includes information on important topics including; Absence of Motion/Control/Stability, Heel-to-Toe Drop, and Flexibility.

Merrell Vapor Glove 2
  • Merrell Vapor Glove 2
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Low-profile trail runner
  • Price: See Here
Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
  • Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
  • 4.7 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Breathable mesh lining
  • Price: See Here
New Balance 20v5 Minimus
  • New Balance 20v5 Minimus
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Vibram sole
  • Price: See Here

Barefoot shoes,  minimalist shoes, FiveFingers toe shoes, and everything in between; this is where less is more. Dive into the world of natural running, and get the best on your feet. We’ve done hours of research and collected data from thousands of wear-testers to make sure that the best see the light.

 

10 Best Minimalist Running Shoes

 

Merrell Trail Glove 3

The Merrell Trail Glove 3 is among the best running shoes prescribed for adventure running. These minimalist shoes are for runners who want comfortable running while feeling that natural pleasure of running on barefoot even during winter. The heel to toe drop is low, and the Vibram outsole well-designed for greater ground sensitivity as well as flexibility.
Expand to see more
Outsole
It features a durable Vibram outsole, which is a sole mainly known for its guaranteed excellent grip on many minimalist shoes. There is a unique trail protect plate on the sole for shielding one’s feet while running on rough and stony surfaces

Upper
The upper is a durable air mesh for maximum ventilation while running for long hours.it has an anti-microbial footbed that plays a big role in keeping the foot dry and prevents it from smelling.

Cost and Value
At an average cost, you can get this best of all Merrell Running Shoes available today. With maximum comfort and durability assured, there is nothing to regret about these shoes, because they give the desired comfort to the feet.
Pros
  • Wide toe box
  • Reliable outsole
  • Cool and dry upper mesh
  • Multiple colour scheme
  • Perfect fit and lightweight
  • Cushioning support
Cons
  • Not suitable for runners who require much support and cushioning.
  • Some slight discomfort after running for a long time.

Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO

The Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO is a minimalist running shoe that offers the best combination of protection and surface connection. The grip and traction are outstandingly perfect, especially for people who are getting into barefoot running. These shoes are very light and give a runner that feeling of running on bare feet. For instance, the men’s size 10 weighs 4.9 oz. They can be easily folded up for packing in small areas while travelling or hill climbing.
Expand to see more
Protection
These shoes are not designed for running on rugged trails. Unlike the Bikila Evo WP, precaution should be taken by runners running on rugged terrains off-road, as medium-sized rocks and roots can be felt by the foot.

Responsiveness.
These shoes particularly shine in this category. There is a maximum connection between the runner and the surface as this shoe features a minimal construction the responsiveness offered by this shoe is only comparable to that of the best lightweight shoes available.

Cost and Value.
Having in mind the value offered by this shoe, its cost is nothing to think of. The responsiveness, the protection, and the comfort weigh much more than the cost.
Pros
  • Very minimal construction
  • Extremely lightweight
  • A perfect quick-lace system
  • High breathability
  • Easily washable
Cons
  • Too minimal for rugged terrains
  • Not adapted for use under extreme weather conditions.

Merrell Vapor Glove 2

These are light and breathable that have been designed particularly for runners who want to experience a minimalist barefoot running. It offers a very secure fit, though the flexibility mimics the natural movement of the feet. Its toe I well protected which makes it perfectly suitable for running on rugged trails.
Expand to see more
Breathable Upper
The upper unit of this shoes has an air mesh which is highly breathable and lightweight to allow a runner to go for miles without experiencing hot or sweaty feet.

Responsive Midsole.
Since minimalist shoes are not known for much cushioning at the midsole, the Merrell Vapor Glove 2 offers a durable cushioning for the underfoot. Even though the traction is not like that of working boots, it features a lightweight molded EVA foam for flexible support to the feet.

Cost and Value
Keeping in mind the appearance and fit, the responsiveness, the high-quality outsole, the grip and traction, and the comfort offered by the Merrell Vapor Glove 2 shoe, the value is way above the cost.
Pros
  • Maximum toe protection
  • Good ground feel
  • Lightweight- men’s size eight weights 5.5 oz.
  • Good temperature control
  • High breathability
  • Attractive design
Cons
  • A low volume toe box that may not fit wide feet runners
  • The delicate material used for the upper section which requires careful handling.

Vivobarefoot EVO Pure

First, unlike its competitors, the Vivobarefoot EVO Pure looks just like the normal running shoes. It has very thin soles which give it a low profile. It has a normal lacing system just like is the case with other running shoes. It features a spacious toe box which offers a perfect fit around the heel and midfoot.
Expand to see more
The Construction
The construction of these shoes shows no sign of sloppy, rushed construction. Instead, they are light at 271g and 243g without the insole, and with no heel elevation. The upper features a highly breathable TPU cage.

The Performance
The performance is outstanding. The shoe naturally protects your feet from any form of friction or coarseness on the road. The thin soles try to soften the landing on larger rocks though not as much as the Vibrams would do.

Cost and Value
These shoes cost a little bit higher. Considering its performance, construction, fit, comfort and uniqueness it costs a little high, possibly due to a minimum competition.
Pros
  • Quality build and design
  • Thin soles with no heel lift for perfect ground feedback
  • They are wide towards the forefoot.
  • No support anywhere
  • They look exactly like normal running shoes
Cons
  • The price is a bit high.
  • Slightly narrow in midfoot.

Vibram FiveFingers KMD Sport

While many Vibram shoes focus on the common running shoes, the KMD Sport has positioned itself as a multi-sport shoe. Its ability to resist tough terrains and its lightweight are among the most appreciated features it has in store. It perfectly accommodates runners and weight trainers all the same. It is machine washable and boasts of stretchy uppers and innovative toe pockets.
Expand to see more
Traction
The minimalist running is not designed as a trail running shoe. However, it performs well on a soft trail. It is also not very good for use under cold and extremely wet terrains.

Comfort
Just like any other barefoot running shoe, these shoes are well designed with comfort in mind. Cushioning is added to the footbed for running on rugged terrains. These shoes also boast of the strap system whose main function is to keep the feet in place while running or working out.

Cost and Value
Vibram uses new technology in all their products and particularly on this product. The price is also set accordingly and competitively. In general, the quality here is worth the cost incurred.
Pros
  • Lightweight design
  • New and enhanced footbed to ensure maximum comfort
  • Stretchy uppers which make it easy to wear or remove the shoe
  • Toe slots are comfortable
  • It features an Anti-microbial treatment for odour.
Cons
  • Not good for cold and extremely wet weather conditions
  • Not very durable.

New Balance 20v5 Minimus

This minimalist running pair is among the best New Balance Running Shoes. The shoes are incredibly comfortable and lightweight. The vibram outsole is also amazing and greatly enhances performance and traction.
Expand to see more
Comfort/ Stability
Most runners have preferred the New Balance 20v5 over other minimalist shoes due to the level of comfort it exhibits. The interior is velvety soft while the upper is stretchy and breathable.

Quality and Durability
There has been a great feedback on the quality and durability of this minimalist shoe model. The outsole is rugged and strong and somewhat survives harsh conditions

Cost and Value
Keeping in mind the appearance and fit, the responsiveness, the high quality outsole, the grip and traction, and the comfort offered by this shoe, the value is way above the cost.
Pros
  • Breathable lining
  • Cradles foot to improve support
  • Durable rubber sole
  • EVA footbed ensures maximum comfort
  • IMEVA midsole enhances support.
Cons
  • They get dirty so easily

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila Evo

Originally designed for long distance running, the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila Evo serves very wall for long walks and daily use. With their minimalistic design, these shoes boast of a bundle of great features, which make them admirably unique, lovable and trustworthy
Expand to see more
Comfort
These shoes ensure your feet are kept dry and comfortable all through your exercise by the taped seams and its waterproof properties, as it is difficult to find running shoes that are waterproof.

Quality and Durability
These shoes perform quite well in wet terrains. However, prolonged heavy use of this shoe may have an effect on its longevity. The waterproof membrane construction performs well until when exposed to prolonged heavy use.

Cost and Value
The cost of purchasing these shoes is worth the comfort and responsiveness it gives back. Its average cost is perfectly at par with the waterproof membrane construction.
Pros
  • Abrasion-resistant Tricot Lining
  • Great grip even on ice
  • A flexible stretch waterproof fabric.
  • Zero-drop sole
Cons
  • Not ideal for cold weather conditions

Merrell Bare Access Arc 4

The Merrell Bare Access Arc 4 is one minimalist running shoe featuring a hyper-responsive insole. This insole gives the runner full control during exercise or while running. Regardless of its few drawback, it still manages to give a satisfying, comfortable ride. It is well cushioned, making it one of the best shoes for daily running.
Expand to see more
Comfort
This shoe boasts of a mesh lining and a mesh upper. This upper is breathable and does not irritate the skin. Thus comfort is assured while running.

Cushioning
Much has been invested in the cushioning technology employed on this pair. This cushioning give ground-to-foot feedback which enhances faster movement over the terrain.

Cost and Value
With the cushioning technology employed and the mesh lining and upper, the cost of this shoe is nothing to complain about because it is worth the value. It is very affordable.
Pros
  • Mesh lining and mesh upper which is breathable.
  • Improved cushioning
  • It is light
  • M-select FRESH treatment for odour treatment.
  • Extreme traction from the bare access outsole
Cons
  • Some parts of the shoe get worn out quickly.
  • The anti-debris components not very efficient.

Mizuno Wave Universe 5

This shoe provides the best blend of lightweight performance and minimalist cushioning. It is very useful, as a minimalist shoe, in providing strength training for the ankle and feet muscles. This shoe is tested and guaranteed to improve your running speed as a barefoot runner. It has also been voted among the best Mizuno shoes.
Expand to see more
Midsole
As is always the case with Mizuno shoes, they employ wave technology in the midsole, which refers to the inclusion of an extended wave plate made of flexible thermoplastic material.

Traction
The G3 sole ensures maximum traction which prevents you from slipping while running. An array of dots has been placed in the forefoot region for efficiency while running.

Cost and Value
The cost of this shoe is fairly placed. This price has been attributed to the breathable synthetic upper material, the wave-technology midsole, and the G3 sole.
Pros
  • Extra flexibility for faster running
  • Comfortable fit form the breathable upper, the sock liner and the intercool tech.
  • A resilient midsole
  • Superior traction
  • Lightweight for great performance.
Cons
  • It provides little support or stability.
  • Very little cushioning meant for performance running.

Inov8 TerraClaw 220

The Terraclaw 220 is one minimalist running shoe whose performance is great on the widest range of trails one can think of. Its lug is uniquely made to release debris and grit, while at the same time ensuring maximum protection to the runner. Weighing just 220g, this shoe is the most flexible footwear for running. It is very comfortable and durability is nothing to worry about.
Expand to see more
Optimum Grip
The Inov-8 TerraClaw 220 features a Dual-C rubber sole which is sticky and made of hard rubber that enables it to grasp even slippery terrains. It has a multi-directional lug pattern that perfectly complements the natural movement of the foot.

Lightweight
At only 220g, this shoe has been designed for speed during racing. Its drop is just 4mm and it has been made using a lightweight material.

Cost and Value
The cost of this shoe is averagely at par with the value. Given the synthetic sole, the lightweight mesh upper, the lug design and the sticky rubber outsole, the value actually exceeds the cost, it is worth buying.

Pros
  •  Comfortable fitting
  • The design is impressive
  • Optimum grip is ensured by the Dual-C rubber outsole
  • High breathability and comfort is assured by an added drainage on the upper.
  • The tongue is diagonally sewn to ensure protection against rocks and debris.
Cons
  • The price is moderately high
  • Limited color choices

In conclusion, if you ever want to get yourself a perfect pair of minimalist running shoes, consider the cushioning, comfort, breathability, the heel, drop and of course price. You should also consider the surface on which you are going to use the shoes. Some specific minimalist shoes are perfectly adapted for wet conditions while others work in dry and rough trails. With all these factors in mind, be sure to get a perfect pair of Minimalist running shoes from the list above.

 

Criteria Used to Evaluate the Best Minimalist Running Shoes

 

Weight

best-minimalist-running-woman running

Minimalist running shoes should be 125 grams (4.4 oz) and not over 325 grams (11.5 oz). While “running sandals” exist, they should stayed clear from the idea of “running in sandals.” They should also exclude any excess utilities and gimmicks that come in normal running shoes. The “foot gloves” are a good example of how light the minimalist running shoes can be.

Thickness of Sole (Stack Height)

best-minimalist-running-stack height

The soles need to be less than 8 mm, yet not over 32 mm. (Here’s a nifty measurement note: An inch is about 25.4mm.) “Less than 8 millimeters” seems to be pushing it, though. If you’re not paying attention when you’re running; a sharp object like a loose Lego piece, a sharp nail, broken glass, or a wayward weed would slice through your outsole and into your skin like a knife.

Heel-To-Toe Drop

best-minimalist-running-shoes-heel to toe drop

The Heel-To-Toe Drop MUST be less than 1 mm. Under 13 mm is okay. Minimalists want to be able to feel their whole feet on the insole as they hit the ground running. (This is a good opportunity to remind everyone that running in high heels is not good for your feet and lower legs overall.)

Absence of Motion Control & Stability

best-minimalist-running-shoes-vibram fivefingers

The idea of minimalist running shoes is to avoid relying on cushions; to (train yourself to) use the muscles as natural shock absorbers. So… Any Michael Bay directed explosive-sounding gimmicks, podiatristically loud bells and whistles, or futuristic athletic technologies either backed by scientists from foreign countries or created by inventors who came from places that eventually became war zones? You will not find much of these gimmicks in the minimalist running shoes.

Flexibility

best running shoes flexible running shoes flex grooves

The shoes must be able to move as the feet moves; folding at the metatarsal, turning with the toes, and having enough room for the toes to move freely. The minimalist running shoes come in many awesome styles and colors with high levels of breathability and sturdiness. Flexibility had not been sacrificed regardless of whatever style you choose.

VivoBareFoot says that they’re coming out with new shoes that work well in water as well as on land; the Ultra 3 Bloom. Their algae-based foam, used as material for their shoes, is billed as an alternative to the synthetic materials and petrochemicals used today. And then there’s “Earth Runners,” a start-up company that’s making shoes based on the Tarahumara Native American tribe in Northern Mexico. With a few set of copper buttons placed around them, and a jigsaw puzzle-esque strap the feet slides through; the creators of these “running sandals” have stated that they “can give your feet access to the harmonizing effects of Earth.”

Transitioning

Minimalist running shoes should not be considered a “magic bullet” to cure any of your running/marathoning woes; like runner’s knee, shin splints, stress fracture, Achilles tendinitis, and muscle strain. Going from traditional running to minimalist running can cause problems for your feet and legs; creating new problems and exasperating the problems you have already.

So follow these three steps: 1) Check with a professional or an athletics doctor about your running form and how to assess it. 2) Strengthen your feet and legs by walking around barefoot first. And 3) make your progress slowly by walking around in minimalist shoes.

 

Mileages may, can, and will vary from person to person. But the most common rookie mistake is to push forward without knowing where one’s limits are; then painfully pass by them before the realization sets in.

 

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who should/can wear minimalist running shoes?

A: The “minimalist;” those who want “less shoes” for the sake of strengthening their ability to run, but they want enough of the shoes to protect their feet from the elements. And while this isn’t some magic bullet for the ailments suffered by those that come from more traditional running shoes, anyone who’d want an alternative to “running with absolutely nothing on their feet” should know that they have a choice.

Q: Barefoot / Minimalist Running Shoes Vs Traditional Running Shoes

A: Those who run barefoot or with minimalist running shoes tend to hit the ground with the balls of their feet. Those who wear running shoes will hit the ground with their heel first. Also; there’s more cushioning and sole layers added to the running shoes than minimalist shoes. All for the sake of comfort and such. But by-and-large, it depends on the type of person and how much one can take.

Q: Is cushioning important?

A: Those who buy, or plan on buying, minimalist running shoes had chosen some form of cushioning over the “barely there” type of minimalist shoes. They wish for some sort of protection because this is not the age of Rome anymore. Anybody who gets a “runner’s high” will stop paying attention to their surroundings And they’ll step on some broken bottle glass, sharp object, or even worse.

Q: How long do they last?

A: Because of newer technology, the treading on the shoes (the material used for the shoes) tend to break down before the soles do. It’s been reported that minimalist running shoes can go for about 1700 miles before they need to be replaced. An impressive improvement from the 300-600 miles one can get from regular running shoes.

Q: Where can you buy minimalist running shoes?

A: Minimalist running shoes are considered “specialty shoes.” So you might find them in any mall-based specialty shoe store, any “brick and mortar” store attached to a mall, or any “outlet” store. Another choice is to go online where they can be specially made. Many of the start-up companies that make “minimalist running shoes” take pride in creating the best shoes and, successfully, the better chances of getting more clients. A fair warning; they’re pricy.

The one store that pops up constantly is REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated). Another is Fleet Feet Sports. Zappos is a good online shop that sells minimalist shoes as well.

Q: What’s the best brand for minimalist running shoes?

A: Vibram seems to be a popular name brand. Other names include (but aren’t limited to): Merrell, Inov-8, Saucony, Brooks, Nike, New Balance, ASICS, and VivoBareFoot. (Again; be on the lookout for how and where they’re made, because mileage may vary.)

Q: Best American-made minimalist running shoes?

A: Most of these companies are successful start-ups: Carson Footwear (based in Oregon), ToPo Athletic (helmed by the former CEO of Vibram USA), Xero Shoes (based in Colorado), Luna (based in Seattle, Washington); and California based companies like Be Real, Earth Runners, and Altra.

Q: What are the trends for minimalist running shoes?

A: As of 2013’s writing; minimalist running shoes consisted of only 11% of all shoe sales in the US running shoes market. The people who mainly buy minimalist running shoes are those who are in need of guidance, people who ultimately care about “running mechanics” and are looking to become better and stronger.

Q: Isn’t this all just a bunch of crock?

A: In 2009; Harvard’s Dr. Daniel Lieberman started a “barefoot running movement” via Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run. He stated that there’s no scientific backing behind most of the excess bells and whistles placed in running shoes at that time. “You can have trampoline outsoles and laces made [from the hair of goddesses]. But 50% of runners and 80% of marathoners get injured each year.”

“You land on the cushions at the end of your feet, the shock from the landing will be absorbed in the wrong parts of the body. But if you land on the ground without anything covering your feet, the shock will be absorbed naturally; your muscles, tendons, and ligaments will absorb the shock.” This realization had caught many a runner or marathoner off guard; ditching their running shoes altogether and started running barefoot.

Of course; what’s been going on had naturally and financially hurt the shoemaking industry. So, while they’re having press releases about how “running barefoot is actually bad for you,”  they simultaneously created the “minimalist running shoes.”

And despite cries of “This Ain’t Backed By Science Either,” people were buying them and doctors did recommend using them. The small heel-to-toe drop, the lack of arch support, the wiggle room for toes… That’s what the American College of Sports Medicine stated as the requirement, but not the norm.

The panels about “minimalist running shoes,” and their practical uses, were less “pitchforky and lynchmobby” than one would assume. There was hardly any expert, or so-called expert, that was against running barefoot (without the experience or research to back it up).

To answer the question, minimalist running shoes are just like everything else: A ride on the bandwagon by companies who don’t want to go out of business. But this bandwagons manages to get success stories and phoenixes rising from someone else’s ashes.