Best Zero Drop Running Shoes Reviewed & Tested for Performance
Back in the day, people would go about their business without any shoes at all. Then somebody got the bright idea to invent shoes, and everything started to go wrong for our feet. Shoes, particularly modern shoes, don’t often take your foot’s natural anatomy or movement into account. In particular, heels can cause a variety of problems for your feet, legs, and back. Thus, in an attempt to go back to a more natural way of moving, zero drop running shoes have become more prevalent in the running community.
For the uninitiated, zero drop shoes are shoes that have no height difference between the heel and the rest of the foot. This is said to be better for your feet for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it allows your feet to strike the pavement in a more natural fashion while you’re running.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 14 hrs of research
Unique Traction Pattern
Wide Toe Section
- Altra Escalante
- Altra Torin 3.0
- Vibram Bikila EVO
- Nike Flex Fury 2
- Asics 33-M 2
- Vibram Spyridon MR
- Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
- Merrell Vapor Glove 3
- Brooks PureFlow 7
- Merrell Pace Glove 3
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Frequently Asked Questions
Top 10 Picks
1. Altra Escalante
Unique Traction Pattern
Wide Toe Section
Limited Long-Term Durability
The Escalante from Altra is a stunningly attractive zero-drop runner packed with features and technologies that work with your foot and overall gait to improve your run. Footpod technology allows the shoe to flex naturally with you. An Altra EGO midsole, as opposed to traditional EVA, promotes a healthy balance between support and energy return.Read more
Footpod technology is probably one of the most impressive features of the Escalante. Over time it will learn the layout of your feet, down to your bones and tendons. This will allow for a truly custom fit that moves and flexes with you. The unique traction pattern also promotes a strong grip.
We were quite surprised by the price of the Escalante, which costs markedly less than other zero-drop shoes, even other models made by Altra. These shoes not only stand out for their price but their stylish sock-like fit and advanced features.
2. Altra Torin 3.0
Wide Toe Section
Limited Long-Term Durability
The Altra Torin 3.0, like its predecessor, is a unique zero-drop shoe that also features a thick sole. The cushioned footbed promotes support and comfort, while the mesh upper allows for breathability to keep your feet comfortable throughout your run.Read more
A thick sole is uncommon in zero-drop shoes, though some people do prefer them. This is why Altra used such a sole in the Torin series. A thicker outsole is heavier, but it has more long-term durability and shock absorption than thinner soles tend to. Thicker outsole also further protect your feet from feeling any hard or sharp objects on the ground, making rocky trails a breeze.
We talk about EVA midsoles a lot, huh? They are, after all, one of the most common midsole materials. EVA is a foam polymer that promotes energy return, resist compression making them last longer, and are flexible and lightweight. So it's no surprise that EVA is a prized material for footwear. It can also be used in the insole as well, though the Torin features it in the midsole.
Cost and Value
While they may seem expensive on the surface, it's worth noting that zero-drop shoes are often considered specialty, meaning they are inherently more expensive than other kinds of runners. In comparison to other products on this list, the Torin is priced similarly.
3. Vibram Bikila EVO
Strategically Placed Rubber Pods on Outsoles
Some Might Want A Thicker Shoe
A minimalist running shoe designed with medium distance runners in mind. This thin-soled toe shoe is so thin and flexible you’ll feel as comfortable as you would going barefoot. The MegaGrip soles allow for better traction and protection on rougher terrains. The antimicrobial sock liner will keep these running shoes from smelling like they’re your running shoes.Read more
The lightweight soles and separated toes will curl and flex along with your feet, allowing for a more natural and comfortable run without forgoing the protection of wearing shoes.
Vibram MegaGrip Pods
The strategically placed rubber pods on the outsole will allow for a stronger grip on the track. They are light enough to provide all the benefit of a heavier duty tread without adding on all of those extra ounces.
Cost and Value
These shoes are relatively inexpensive. If you’re looking to make the transition over to a minimalist shoe, it could be worth looking into buying a pair of Vibrams.
4. Nike Flex Fury 2
- Wide Variety Of Colors
- Lower Priced
- Flywire Cables
- Rubber Outsole
- Fit 1/2 Size Small
Nikes' Flex Fury 2 is a lightweight runner which provides as much flexibility as possible. Flywire cables at the lateral and medial sides offer an enhanced fit, while the cushioning system helps make these a comfortable and durable shoe. Available in a wide variety of colors so there will be something for every taste in style.Read more
Dual-Density Foam Midsole
These midsoles are contoured for cushioning and provide supportive flexibility for every step. A superior midsole for anyone who enjoys long runs.
Rubber outsoles offer a lightweight yet durable wear. Rubber is water-repellant and resistant to abrasion, while also giving total protection.
Cost & Value
The Nike Flex Fury 2 is a low-cost shoe which offers flexibility, comfort, support, and durability. There are tonnes of colors to choose from which makes it easy to find a style that you will love. The Flex Fury 2 is a great, lower-priced zero drop which is stylish and trendy.
5. Asics 33-M 2
- Solyte Midsole
- ComforDry Lasting
- Various Color Options
- Moisture Control
- Antimicrobial Properties
- Sizes Run Small
The 33-M 2 is made to maintain durability at softer densities and provides comfort, flexibility, and platform adaptability. Their Solyte midsole material is lightweight and enhanced cushioning makes these a runners dream. Designed with plush underfoot material which absorbs moisture for a dry running experience.Read more
Solyte midsole material is lighter than the traditional EVA and SpEVA midsole materials. It also provides enhanced cushioning and is a very durable material.
Lasting material which gives plush underfoot comfort, as well as, providing superior moisture control and breathability.
Cost & Value
These Asics are reasonably priced and considerably more affordable than other options on the list. They are available in several colors so finding the perfect look won't be a challenge.
6. Vibram Spyridon MR
- 3D Cocoon Rockguard Midsole
- Wavegrip Outsole
- Bungee Lacing
- Fivefinger Separated Toe Technology
- Seam On The Big Toe
A minimalist shoe that is perfect for everything from mud runs to your daily errands. Vibram has found the perfect balance between a nearly barefoot feel with a tough protective sole that will keep rocks and debris from throwing off your stride. Vibram’s FiveFinger design allows for your toes to flex and splay naturally as you run.Read more
You’ll feel as good as barefoot with this lightweight Rockblock nylon mesh midsole protects your feet from the elements while remaining thin enough that you can feel the ground beneath your feet.
The multidirectional wavegrip outsole permits stronger traction even on the slipperiest of surfaces. Even steep muddy trails should be no problem with these shoes on your feet.
Cost and Value
The price tag is nothing to sneeze at, but given the quality of the product, it is a reasonable price. If your wallet can take the hit, your feet will thank you for spending the extra money on these quality shoes.
7. Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
- Extra Cushioned Heel & Toe
- 8mm Cushioned Footbed
- Odor-Control Fabric
- Machine Washable
- Uncomfortable For High Arches
These shoes are perfect for people looking for an extra-cushioned zero drop shoe. 8mm of cushioning in the footbed, along with extra cushioning in the heels and toes ensures a comfortable run. This shoe was treated with odor protection, and these shoes are machine washable. They are easy to keep looking and smelling as fresh as the day you bought them.Read more
These are excellent shoes for your first pair of zero drop running shoes. 8mm of cushion will carry your feet through your longest runs. The extra cushioning in the heel and the toe ensures comfort as you get used to the feel of a zero drop shoe.
Odor Control Lining
No matter how sweaty or muddy your shoes get, they odor-control fabric will keep the worst of the stench at bay. The shoe is machine washable for easy cleaning.
Cost and Value
These shoes aren’t terribly expensive for a high-end running shoe. If you’re looking for your first zero drop shoe, these will give you the most bang for your buck.
8. Merrell Vapor Glove 3
Vulcanized Rubber Outsole
Improving on the design of its predecessor, the Vapor Glove 3 by Merrell is a flexible and lightweight shoe designed for those who don't like bulky soles. The Vibram outsole features multidirectional lugs for traction, while the mesh upper promotes breathability and temperature management.Read more
Vibram soles were originally designed for mountaineers, and have since their inception has become a staple of both fashion and athletic shoes. The original tread design was based on tank treads but has expanded to include designs like multidirectional lugs, which allow for superior traction while keeping a lightweight design. The sole itself is made of vulcanized rubber- a process that involves combining rubber with sulfur- to give you the most in durability.
You can generate a lot of energy when running, which translates into heat. If this heat has no way to escape, it can cause issues like sweaty feet and odors, which are both uncomfortable and embarrassing. The Vapor Glove 3 shoes have a mesh upper for this reason, as it promotes breathability and keeps your feet cool and dry even on the warmest days.
Cost and Value
While prices will vary based on size and color offerings, the Vapor Glove 3 is priced similarly to its predecessor. These are competitively priced, meaning that they are priced similarly to other zero-drop shoes that are available. Where these shoes stand out is the vulcanized Vibram outsole, the wide range of size options, and durable construction.
9. Brooks PureFlow 7
- BioMoGo DNA LT Midsole
- Flexible Response
- Lightweight Cushioning
- 3D Fit Print Upper
- Narrow Fitting
Brooks' PureFlow 6 offer lightweight cushioning and gives a flexible response. They are a sleek, neutral running shoe, which offers 3D Fit Print upper technologies. The PureFlow 6 come equipt with a removable articulated sock liner and full-length BioMoGo DNA LT midsoles, which deliver adaptive cushioning at a lighter weight. Their rounded heel promotes better alignment which will reduce stress on the muscles and joints.Read more
3D Fit Print Upper
A revolutionary process that uses screen-print technology to apply engineered structure to the uppers, maintaining the shoe structure with increased flexibility and lighter weight.
BioMoGo DNA LT Midsole
A cushioning system that adapts to runners of all sizes and speeds, providing a unique and comfortable wear.
Cost & Value
These shoes are a good price and offer great features. They are designed to provide unique cushioning while maintaining a lightweight and breathable feel. The Pureflow 6 is not the cheapest on the list, but it is definitely worth the cost.
10. Merrell Pace Glove 3
- Deep Lugs For Traction
- Flexible Arch
- Breathable Mesh Lining
- Omni-Fit Lacing System
- Padded Collar
- >Run Narrow
The Pace Glove is a trail running shoe with a breathable mesh lining and a padded collar for maximum comfort during those runs on difficult terrain. This shoe’s main claim to fame is its special tread. 3mm deep lugs and TrailProtect pads allow for a safer and more comfortable run on even the rockiest of trails.Read more
Omni-Fit Lacing System
The Pace Glove has specially designed laces allow for a more secure and comfortable fit. No more worrying about your shoes slipping off at an inopportune moment.
Trail Specific Tread
The tread has been designed specifically for trail running. The lugs measure 3mm deep, allowing for better traction on both wet and dry ground. There are no lugs on the arches, allowing the sole enough flexibility to flex with your feet.
Cost and Value
These shoes run the gamut from very inexpensive for a specialty shoe to quite pricey, depending on your shoe size. If you have smaller feet and are looking for a quality shoe for trail running, these might be too good of a bargain to pass up.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
Zero Drop running shoes allow the heel to sit level with the forefoot, providing a more natural run. To achieve this, all additional padding is removed from the shoe, which can leave the foot more exposed to rough terrain. This is why the outsole of a Zero Drop shoe is so important because it acts as the only level of protection between the foot and any external hazards like sharp objects, or rocks.
Additionally, the outsole must compensate for the support and cushion which is lost with this type of shoe. There are many features and styles of outsole available and knowing how to choose the best option may be difficult. The following is a list of different outsole variations available in Zero Drop style footwear;
When choosing which type of outsole to purchase, it is important to consider what type of activity you will be wearing the shoes for. Will you be running on the sidewalk or off-trail? Will you require water-resistance, or are you in need of a more supportive option? These are all questions to ask yourself before deciding which pair of Zero Drop running shoes are the right ones.
Traditional running shoes are designed to provide additional arch support and heel sculpting, whereas the Zero Drop does not. This is why a secondary footbed may be necessary to facilitate individuals with certain requirements.
For example, a supportive insole would offer some of the arch support and heel sculpting of a regular shoe, without adding the incline from the forefoot to the heel. This type of footbed would be beneficial for runners with a flat, or low arch.
A completely flat footbed, which offers less support, would be preferable for those who desire to strengthen the muscles in the feet. This can also be achieved by removing the insole that came with the shoe.
Lastly, a runner may require an insole which offers additional support, especially if their legs and feet collapse inwardly. Stability wedges can be inserted into a Zero Drop running shoe without pushing the arch upwards, which could potentially weaken feet over time.
Brand power is an important consideration when choosing a Zero Drop shoe, in part, because there are a smaller number of manufacturers than for other types of shoes. This is why there are now a select few ‘big names’ that pop up in conversation and come highly recommended by runners everywhere.
The following is a list of the five biggest names in Zero Drop manufacturing;
Altra started off in the back room of a Wasatch Mountain running store. Founded by running store managers and elite athletes, Altra is a brand that delivers shoes which let you run the way that you were made to. They are the only shoe company that provides a cushioned Zero Drop platform and FootShape™ toe box.
Merrell has been manufacturing shoes for over 30 years and is currently one of the world’s top manufacturers of outdoor sports equipment and apparel.
Vibrams’ FiveFingers are a minimalist shoe which is meant to replicate being barefoot. They manufacture shoes with thin, flexibles soles, which contour to your foot to provide the ultimate minimalist experience.
Nike has been manufacturing sports equipment and apparel for over 50 years. They are a trusted brand for a wide array of clothing items, Zero Drop shoes are just another thing to add their list.
New Balance aims at helping athletes achieve excellence and their Zero Drop running shoes do just that! 2018 alone will see nearly 10 original Zero Drop styles from New Balance, all of which are guaranteed to pump up performance.
The ‘Drop’ of a shoe is the height between the heel to forefoot and is traditionally around 10 to 12mm. Zero Drop or minimalist running shoes are designed to provide a more natural experience for the runner, which mimics the feeling of running barefoot.
Zero Drop running shoes facilitate a better run by discouraging a heel strike, whereas, a 10 to 12mm drop actually encourages the heel to unnaturally strike. Minimalist shoes are preferred by many runners, in part, because they are thought to reduce the risk of running-related injuries.
The drop of a running shoe can range anywhere from zero to 16mm, but the best drop for you will depend on your own foot structure. The following list breaks down the different drop sizes available and explains the type of foot each would be best suited to;
When it comes to running shoes, comfort is a big deal, especially for long runs and uneven terrain. An ill-fitting or uncomfortable shoe will quickly cause pain and faigute, which can hinder performance and motivation, as well as increase the risk of possible injury.
Zero-drop shoes are by nature more comfortable as they guide your feet into a natural striking pattern. Most of us, however, are used to shoes with a moderate or high drop. Going straight from a high-drop to a zero-drop shoe can be difficult or even uncomfortable in the short-term, as your feet now have to adjust to the lack of drop. This is why it is advised to gradually lower the drop in your shoes, allowing your feet a few months to fully adjust before moving down.
A lot can go into the comfort of a shoe. Things like support, cushioning, and breathability come to mind. It's important that all of these different factors combine together to provide the comfort you need. A well-cushioned shoe is nice and all, but if it doesn't have the right amount of breathability you will likely still find them uncomfortable. This is the same if the shoe has great breathability, but is lacking in support. Comfort is relative, and you have to consider what is most important to your unique feet and running style.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
If you're used to wearing sneakers or other shoes that have a heel to them, getting used to wearing or working out in zero drop shoe can take a bit of time. You may notice soreness in your Achilles tendon, due to the added bit of stretch the tendon gets with zero drop shoes.
Give yourself a bit of time to get used to the shoes first, and ease into running or other workouts.
Zero drop shoes have grown in popularity with sport enthusiasts over the years for a number of reasons. One being better foot and tendon health, as have no drop in your shoes helps keep the Achilles tendon strong, and flexible, and minimizes odds of ankle strains or sprains.
Frequently Asked Questions
You have spent your entire life running in shoes with lifted heels, which has neutralized the Achilles and lower calf muscles. It will take time to redevelop them. This is why runners may experience lower calf soreness for the first few weeks when transitioning to a Zero Drop, but once your muscles adjust, your lower legs will be stronger and more powerful.
The benefits of a zero drop running shoe are;
A large number of runners who wear minimalist shoes report that they achieve greater speed when running, in part, because they experience less knee and leg pain. There are no indications that a zero drop shoe will cause any reduction in the speed at which the user achieves.
Transition times will vary based on the level of cushioning. Models with lighter cushioning will strengthen the legs more but will require a longer transitional period. Moderate cushion levels allow for an easier initial transition, usually two to four week.
If you have high arches, these shoes may not be comfortable for you at all because they lack the cushion of shoes that are meant for high arches. You may find that shin splints and foot pain reappear when wearing zero drop running shoes.