Best Minimalist Running Shoes Reviewed and Tested
The minimalist craze is certainly set in stone within the running industry; thereby, these best minimalist running shoes are particular in their design and aren’t going anywhere soon. Studies show that minimalist running shoes have the ability to provide benefits for the runner, making them a fantastic addition to have on hand. With each step, you submerge into a vibrant world bringing a wonderful, more-natural feel to your feet. Moreover, there’s a chance of improving your overall foot health.
For those preferring a natural run, without the clunkiness of conventional running shoes, we have you covered with the top-rated minimalist running shoes of 2018.
- Merrell Vapor Glove 2
- TPU Upper
- M Select Fresh
- Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO
- Vibram Sole
- Toe Splay
- Tesla Knit Pattern
- Knit-grip Outsole
- PU Upper
Barefoot shoes, five-finger toe shoes, and everything in between; this is where less is more. Dive into the world of natural running and get the best shoes on your feet. We’ve done hours of research and collected data from thousands of wear testers to make sure the best minimalist shoes see the light.
10 Best Minimalist Running Shoes
1. Merrell Vapor Glove 2
The upper unit of this pair of shoes has an air mesh which is highly breathable and lightweight. This allows a runner to go for miles without experiencing hot or sweaty feet. Moreover, you will do so with lower fatigue levels when compared to the norm in running shoes.
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, responsiveness, high-quality outsole, grip and traction, and the comfort offered by the Merrell Vapor Glove 2 shoe, the value is way above the cost.
- Maximum Toe Protection
- Good Ground Feel
- Good Temperature Control
- High Breathability
- Attractive Design
- A low volume toe box that may not fit wide feet runners
- Delicate upper material
2. Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO
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.
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 responsiveness; 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, protection, and comfort far outweigh the associated cost. Moreover, this pair of best minimalist running shoes is certain to please.
- Very, Minimal Construction
- Extremely Lightweight
- Quick-lace System
- High Breathability
- Easily Washable
- Not good for rugged terrains
- Not ideal for extreme weather conditions
3. Saucony Kinvara 5
Flex Film overlays are molded to the uppers of the sneaker, helping to reduce layers, improve stability, and reduce weight and overall foot fatigue. Mesh uppers are flexible and lightweight, promoting toe splay and ventilation. Pro-Lock technology utilize supportive straps which help to encase the foot in place, so each step will feel stable and supported. HydraMAX lining provides moisture wicking capability, made from a fine fabric, and sure to keep you dry on the hottest of days.
At the base of the Kinvara 5 lies the XT-900 carbon rubber sole, made to be durable and extend the wear of the sneaker, even for longer distance athletes. An EVA midsole has enhanced properties to not only add comfort and support, but maintain the integrity of the sneaker from abrasions and use. Padded tongue and collar help prevent blisters and chaffing, and a PowerGrid midsole provides smooth transition during the gait cycle as well as cushion.
Cost and Value
One the more budget friendly side of the price tag, the Saucony Kinvara 5 is definitely well worth consideration when searching for your next pair of minimalist style running sneakers. Lightweight, durable, and packed full of technology to keep you supported and cushioned, they’re ideal for long distance runners. With a number of great color options to choose from, you’re sure to find one that suits your style.
XT-900 Carbon Rubber Sole
Tongue Can Rub
4. Merrell Trail Glove 3
It features a durable Vibram outsole which is mainly known for its guaranteed excellent grip on many minimalist shoes. There is a unique trail-protect plate on the sole for shielding your feet while running on both rough and stonier surfaces.
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.
- 0 mm Heel-to-Toe Drop
- 10.5mm Stack Height
- Wet and Dry Surface Traction
- Omni-Fit Lacing System
- Minimal color variety
- May not be suitable for narrow feet
5. ON Cloud
CloudTec cushioning activates with each foot strike, and upon transition off, each ‘cloud’ tightens up ready for the next step. This technology utilizes hollowed tubes, or ‘clouds’, similar in function to little ‘stability balls’. They absorb impact and reform to help stabilize your next step, but cushion you for a barefoot feel during your run. This technology also helps to protect the heel and stabilize movements.
To keep you firmly fastened, a speed lace system closes the sneaker, and flexible heel straps adjust during movement to your unique gait, cutting down on heel lift. The CloudTec sole adapts over time to each individual’s movements, and provides a fit tailored just to you. Plus, with their colorful array of options, you’ll want to wear these when out and about on the town, not just your next training session!
Cost and Value
Slightly more expensive than others noted here, it’s similarly priced to other quality brand running shoes. However, if you’re in search of something different for your minimalist style, and love advanced technology in new running sneakers, this one is well worth a look. Swiss born, On Cloud sneakers are the next new thing for comfort, while keeping minimal styling in a training sneaker!
Speed Lace Closure
Not For Off Road
6. Tesla Knit Pattern
Vamp material is a step above your average knit. This allows an improved environment conducive to further breathability. With this pair of best minimalist running shoes, you will remain cool while you enjoy your run.
With these shoes, you do not have to worry about traversing multi-terrain types. They are designed, specifically, for both wet and dry surfaces. Moreover, the multi-directional groove pattern helps to promote stability when transitioning.
Cost and Value
These minimalist shoes are very, budget-friendly. Furthermore, they are ideal for multi-terrain types and have a beautiful style to them. As such, these shoes are worth the purchase price. This pair of best minimalist running shoes would make a great addition to your footwear.
- Flex Groove Outsole
- Multi-surface Traction; wet & dry
- Multi-directional stability
- Knit Vamp
- Size may run larger than normal
7. New Balance MT10V1 Minimus
The midfoot wrap and lightweight foam work in conjunction to provide you with both comfort and the added bonus of a personal fit. Furthermore, this pair of shoes takes stability into consideration; at least, with regard to transitioning.
The Vibram outsole is created with the trail runner in mind. There are flex grooves and lugs to help with the demanding pressures of rocks under your feet, per se. Moreover, this design helps to promote better traction and stability.
Cost and Value
These minimalist shoes range from mid-to-upper with cost association. With that being stated, these shoes are well-equipped to handle rockier terrains and the quality of materials high. As such, this pair of best minimalist running shoes is worth every penny; especially, if you are considering rocky trails for your runs.
- Bungee Lacing
- Antimicrobial Treatment
- Acteva Midsole
- 4 mm drop
- Vibram Outsole
- Minimal Color Variety
- Size may run smaller than normal
8. Altra Lone Peak 3
At the base of the Lone Peak 3 lies a carbon rubber trailclaw outsole, mimicking toe grip when running, this sole has sturdy lugs medial to toe for uphill battles. Aggressive styling allows you to feel confident in your pursuit to the top with the Sandwiched stone guard to prevent debris from catching you off guard. Ventilated mesh uppers give ample breathability to stay cool during hotter days on the trail.
Zero Drop Comfort
A dual layer EVA midsole lies within the Lone Peak 3 for comfortable cushion. New and improved outsole construction gives superior shock absorption, and a 5mm Contour footbed will keep you going stride after stride. Foot shaped toe box promotes proper toe splay when running, and with a zero drop differential, you’re free to run to your hearts content.
Cost and Value
For a similar cost of a normal quality brand running sneaker, the Altra Lone Peak 3 packs rugged durability with comfort on top of an aggressive stable sole to help get you off the road into paths less travelled. Quick Dry Trail Mesh allows for stream crossings without getting too damp, and it’s protective outer shell will help you tackle rocky terrain unlike any other sneaker out there. A great purchase for trail runners who enjoy zero drop comfort!
9. Nike Free 5.0+
This system involves soft cables which wrap around your midfoot area (including your arch) from underneath. In doing so, these minimalist shoes offer a glove-like fit which, also, adapts to your stride. Moreover, you will experience a custom fit for your feet.
Flex Groove Outsole
Both vertical and horizontal deep-cut grooves within the rubber allow you to remain flexible. In addition, this design helps to provide a natural range of motion within your stride. Furthermore, this outsole is designed to help maintain a balance between flexibility and protection.
Cost and Value
This pair of best minimalist shoes is midrange to upper-high, in terms of cost. This may not be an ideal situation for a starter pair, as it were. For the serious minimalist, however, they would make a great addition to your footwear.
- Natural Barefoot-like Feel
- Sock-like Fit
- Textured Mesh Inner Sleeve
- Stride Adaptability
- 8mm Offset
- A bit pricey
- Minimal Color Variety
10. Newton Running Fate
Designed with seamless mesh, the Fate allows for breathable lightweight running without worry from chaffing or irritations due to seams, but maintains structure in key areas for support. These Overlays give structure to the shoe which support lateral movements and torsion. Newtons’ Heel lace lock provides a snug fit, to help lock down the heel and Achilles to help transfer power into motion.
In addition to the ETC sockliner, the footbed is treated with anti-microbial and attaches to the uppers with a Strobel Last, providing all around comfort and barefoot feel. Midsole utilizes a dropped EVA midsole compound to give shock absorbing support, and Action/Reaction Technology on the sole provides smooth strides from heel to forefoot. In addition, tapered lugs recess into chambers of the shoe filled with air giving a cozy and responsive feel.
Cost and Value
Pricing can vary based on color options and sizing options, but by no means is the Newton Fate expensive in terms of a running shoe. It’s packed full of comfort and cushion features to help you go longer with lightweight durable construction, and minimalist drop to keep a fluid feel. Great for beginners or advanced runners alike, it’s well worth the purchase for your next new pair.
Lack Arch Support
In conclusion, if you ever want to get yourself a perfect pair of minimalist running shoes consider the cushioning, comfort, breathability, weight, stack height, flexibility, transitioning, heel-to-toe drop, and the absence of motion control and stability. Oh, and of course, pricing. 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; whereas, others work in dry and rough trails. With all of these factors in mind, be sure to get a perfect pair of Minimalist running shoes from the list above. After all, these minimalist shoes made our ‘best of’ list for a reason.
Criteria Used to Evaluate the Best Minimalist Running Shoes
Minimalist running shoes should be 125 grams (4.4 oz) and not over 325 grams (11.5 oz). Although ‘running’ sandals do exist, you should avoid the idea of ‘running in sandals,’ as this can cause your risk of injury to elevate. You should, also, exclude any excess utilities and gimmicks which may appear in other running shoes; that is, minimal is better. The ‘foot gloves’ are a good example of how light the minimalist running shoes can be.
The Thickness of a Sole (Stack Height)
The soles need to be less than 8 mm and not to exceed 32 mm. (Here’s a nifty measurement sidenote: An inch is about 25.4mm). Less than 8 millimeters, however, seems to be pushing it; especially, when considering a sharp object like a loose Lego piece, sharp nail, broken glass, and/or a wayward weed which could slice through your outsole and into your skin.
The Heel-To-Toe Drop MUST be less than 1 mm. 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.)
The Absence of Motion Control & Stability
The idea of minimalist running shoes is to avoid relying on cushions; that is, you are training yourself to use the muscles, naturally, within the realm of shock absorption. So, any Michael Bay-directed explosive-sounding gimmicks, podiatristically loud bells and whistles, and/or futuristic athletic technologies will not exist in the best minimalist running shoes. In other words, they are minimal in design.
The shoes must be able to move as your feet do; folding at the metatarsal, turning with the toes, and having enough room for the toes to freely move. The minimalist running shoes come in many awesome styles and colors with high levels of breathability and sturdiness. Flexibility is not sacrificed; regardless, of whatever style you choose.
Flexibility can be described in the realm of pivoting. Without shoes on, you can pivot your foot up-and-down or side-to-side, generally speaking. Also, when you are standing flat-footed, you can shift your weight from heel-to-forefoot with generalized ease.
When it comes to flexibility in shoes, however, your foot becomes more-restricted just by putting them on. For example, a more-flexible shoe might be found in a ballerina shoe; whereas, a more-restricted shoe might be found in a pair of cowboy boots when the two are compared. Dependent on the job and the corresponding correct shoe, flexibility must fall into the correct mathematical amount. In other words, a cowboy boot which flexes like a ballerina shoe might cause more harm than good; especially, when the person wearing the shoe is knee-deep in their hard day of work and/or play. Likewise, I can’t recall ever seeing a ballerina team wearing cowboy boots.
The job dictates the type of shoe you need. Furthermore, the type of shoe dictates the correct amount of flexibility for security, comfort, and stabilization. The wrong shoe for the job, in essence, means the wrong amount of mathematical flex for your feet; thereby, negatively impacting your ankles, knees, and hips. The correct shoe for the job matters.
So, when it comes to the best minimalist running shoes and the corresponding flexibility
factor, we are searching for a shoe which naturally flexes. More so, a shoe which flexes in a barefoot-like manner while running barefoot. After all, the point of minimalism is to return to the roots of our ancestors; barefoot racing; only, without the sharp rocks cutting our feet.
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/or muscle strain. Going from traditional running to minimalist running can cause problems for both your feet and legs; creating new problems and exasperating the problems you may already have.
So, follow these three simple steps:
- Check with a professional or an athletics doctor about your running form and how to best assess it.
- Strengthen your feet and legs by walking around barefoot first.
- Approach your progress, slowly, by walking around in minimalist shoes.
Mileages may and/or can have varying results from person to person. The most common rookie mistake is to push forward without knowing your limits. Painfully, before the realization sets in, you might push too far. This is why it is important to approach your progress slowly, and only after you are assessed by a healthcare professional. You matter, and so do your feet.
“Barefoot running has a number of documented benefits. It has been shown that removing support (as provided by modern footwear) from the arch of the foot during running strengthens the foot. This is evidenced by an increase in the cross-sectional areas of both intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscles following a period of running in minimal shoes that mimic barefoot running,” this according to a research article written by the Journal of Sport and Health Science (2017. Vol. 6, Issue 2).
This article furthers the concept of minimalist shoes in that it is better for the overall health of our feet to run with an FFS (forefoot strike) upon harder surfaces. The problem for runners, however, is the fact that non-minimalist shoes can cause runners to run with an RFS (rearfoot strike, or heel strike), more times than not.
So, when we are discussing cushioning in the realm of the best minimalist running shoes, we are talking about the bare minimum. This is in order to provide you with sufficient protection from sharp and/or dangerous items you might, otherwise, pierce your foot with when running barefoot. But at the same time, there needs to be a likeness to barefoot running. This is to allow our feet to handle the cushioning factor. As such, our body becomes stronger and more efficient. Luckily, minimalist shoes (especially, those with a little-to-no drop) do help in returning us to our roots of an FFS; a method our ancestors have proven works well in maintaining healthy arches, stronger ankles, and an overall increase in foot health.
Comfort matters when doing anything; let alone, running. Running, in and of itself, can be a fun and enjoyable activity. With that being stated, running is capable of causing high-fatigue levels and other sorts of issues, if we are not careful (e.g. dehydration).
Comfort, in the realm of the best minimalist running shoes, offers us more than just a good feeling when first putting them on our feet. Comfort provides us with the ability to focus on our run, as it were. When we can remain focused on our favorite activity, we are more likely to catch the subtle hints our body may give us; those hints which say, ‘Hey, I am tired and thirsty. I am not ready for ten miles. We just started running, yesterday.’
As funny as that may sound, it is of vital importance we listen to our body. Again, as previously mentioned, running can take its toll on us. If we combine that with an addition of lowering our comfortability levels; then, there is an off-chance our body might scream about our feet more than our thirst-rate, for example. As runners know, ignoring your thirst-rate can yield very, poor results.
If a shoe is truly designed for rocky trails, let’s say; then, the comfort levels of running rocky trails will not be interfered with by rocks and such underneath our feet. If our feet hurt from the rocks, however, then the shoes are not adequate in the area of comfortability for rocky terrain. In other words, the shoes are not really designed for rocky trail running. In this case, no matter how painful it might be we purchased this particular pair of shoes, we must come to realize they are not trail-ready. Comfort does matter, and so do you. Listen to your body, it always knows best.
Comfort, also, is in direct relation to the fit of a shoe when placed on our foot. If a shoe is too big, there can be added stress placed upon our ankles. This, in turn, can cause ankle sprains and/or dislocations. Toe jamming is another negative with wearing too big of a shoe. As with shoes that are too small, big shoes can, also, yield skin irritations and bruises in the short-term. In the long-term, both can yield a change in our foot shape. In some cases, deforming of the foot can be the result (2012). In these situations, corns, calluses, bunions, and hammertoes can be the exchange for wearing improperly-fitted shoes. Sometimes, surgery may even be needed to correct the problem.
Breathability is a term in relation to airflow. Those suffering from tinea pedis (Athlete’s Foot) can benefit highly from shoes which promote a breathable environment. Feet sweat. It is not the sweat, however, which causes smelly feet and/or tinea pedis. It is the resulting dampness left behind when feet do sweat; microbes enjoying their new environment, per se.
Runners are, especially, prone to foot sweat. Miles upon miles are being chased down; thereby, body heat remains elevated for long periods. Furthermore, sweat is pouring from your head down to your toes, in a literal sense. Therefore, shoes for runners must have high breathability; otherwise, an unhealthy environment is begging to take over your feet. Minimalist running shoes are no different, in this regard.
A breathable shoe will contain an element of airflow circulation within the upper. A highly-breathable shoe will contain a lot of airflow in the upper. Also, there may or may not be an element of breathability within the lining. Shoes, with a high-breathability factor associated with them, tend to implement both lining and upper as part of the airflow construction. In doing so, they create a shoe which promotes a healthier environment for your feet. Furthermore, a highly-breathable shoe can help raise comfortability factors, as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Who should/can wear minimalist running shoes?
A: The ‘minimalist;’ those who want ‘less shoe’ for the sake of strengthening their ability to run but they still want enough of the shoe to protect their feet from the elements. And while this isn’t some magic bullet for the ailments suffered by those coming from more traditional running shoes, anyone who’d want an alternative to ‘running with absolutely nothing on their feet’ should understand they do have a choice.
Q: Barefoot / Minimalist Running Shoes Vs Traditional Running Shoes
A: There’s more cushioning and sole layers added to the running shoes than minimalist shoes; all for the sake of comfort and such.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, however, will hit the ground with their heel first. But by-and-large, it all depends on the type of person and exactly what they desire from their run.
Q: Is cushioning important?
A: Those who buy, or plan on buying minimalist running shoes choose 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, as it were. Anybody who gets a ‘runner’s high’ may stop paying attention to their surroundings. As such, they are more likely to step on some broken bottle glass, sharp object, or something even worse. Within this regard, cushioning is important.
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 making minimalist running shoes take pride in creating the best shoes. When doing so, successfully, they better their chances of getting more clients. A fair warning, however, they’re pricey.
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 startups: 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, such as 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 shoe 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 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 in exchange for barefoot running. 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 ‘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, lack of arch support, wiggle room for toes, and etc.; 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 “pitch-forky and lynch-mobbish” than one might assume. There was hardly any expert (or so-called expert) who was against running barefoot; at least, 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 bandwagon still manages to get success stories; albeit, though phoenixes are rising from someone else’s ashes.
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