Minimalist running shoes began creeping into local gyms only a handful of years ago. They were initially limited to the hardcore Crossfit corner, where they seemed to be more of a symbol of one’s commitment to fitness than properly useful gear. But now, these odd-looking running shoes have quickly converted fans quicker than an Age of Empires monk.
Part of their popularity has to do with the now-established studies showing the benefits of keeping your spine upright and of providing extra resistance for your calf muscles. But let’s face it; the absolute pleasure of feeling the ground right beneath us, as if we were five-year-olds in our backyards, is often their most powerful sales argument.
The truth is that once you hit the treadmill with a high-quality pair of minimalist running shoes, it is really hard to go back to your 90s space sneakers – even if you really need the extra half an inch added to your height.
However, minimalist running shoes remain relatively expensive when compared to traditional models (If you prefer that style, here’s some under $100.), and while worth it, they are an investment worth studying. We are big fans of studying where your money goes and of ensuring we get the best, more lasting bang for our buck.
With this in mind, we have prepared a list of the top 10 minimalist running shoes available.
Vibram was probably the first mainstream brand to popularize minimalist running shoes, and their name remains synonymous with the most extreme models. Thanks to them, we became able to count toes even in low-key neighborhood gyms.
Ever since they first became iconic, they have launched a wide variety of models and makes. Out of all of these, however, the KSO EVOs are one of the top performers. Originally marketed for serious runners, their superb resistant materials offer good value for pretty much everyone – even if you are more of a treadmill guy than an avid trekker. Their ridged rubber soles offer a grip similar to that of rain tires, which will ensure you don’t slip off the yoga mat or the sparring ring. The extra safety features in the soles are compensated by very breathable materials on top, which keep the shoe light and flexible. It only weighs 4.1 ounces. Also, their thin laces won’t tangle and can be adjusted easily.
Their extreme lightness means that you may need an adjustment period when you first start wearing them, though. The lack of a dead weight beneath you will be noticeable.
Vivobarefoot aims to become the next great name in the active shoes market in general, and not only in the naturalistic barefoot shoes one. So, obviously, they have pulled out their greatest and shiniest guns when designing their latest model.
The discreet mesh and flat soles of the Primus Trail FG hide one of the top-performing shoes for this season, eager to maximize the results of runners and weightlifters alike. All the materials are synthetic, recycled, and vegan-certified. However, Vivobarefoot has managed to turn this into an extra opportunity to go for a high-tech make rather than only a hindrance brought on by their commitment to nature. The mesh is airy and dries quickly while at the same time providing enough environmental protection from the next rainy spell.
The discreetly placed logo on the side is, we think, well on its way to becoming as recognizable as Nike’s. That being said, when buying a pair of Primus Trails, you are not paying for an advertising campaign or a team endorsement. You are getting one of the lightest and most resilient trail shoes available.
Customizable colors and a wide selection of shoelaces round out the offer and ensure you’ll be able to make them look just right.
You may also be interested in some of the best packable running shoes for travel. Check them out.
The Bare Access line by Merrell offers a comfortable compromise between knee-protective cushioning and ballet-worthy lightness.
This model combines the classic Vibram sole with a more traditional-looking cover and a hint of cushioning close to your heel. While they won’t provide the full paleo barefoot experience, they will still keep you protected during jumpier workouts. Muay Thai, volleyball matches, or even outdoor sprints won’t leave your joints burning the morning after.
This middle-of-the-way appeal also minimizes the initial adjustment period and makes them ideal for those who are transitioning towards minimalist shoes for the first time.
The Bare Access is made from fully breathable, vegan-friendly mesh. They were clearly made with outdoor roughness in mind. Antimicrobial inner linings will prevent them from stinking even if you take them into the mud, and their reflective stripes are very useful during evening workouts.
This lightweight running shoe is available in three color schemes: dark slate, volcanic Folkstone gray, and black. The brand’s sizes run a bit large and go from 7.5 to 15.
Who said minimalist running shoes have to look odd? If heads turning at the sight of your fingered Vibrams is a bit too much for you, give the Xero Prios a chance. The Xero Shoes brand is a relative newcomer to the sports apparel scene, but they make up for this with high-quality materials and sensible designs.
The Prio has chosen to play up on this unassuming advantage by keeping the top half of the shoe as close as possible as a normal tennis shoe, or even a good pair of reliable hospital shoes. The sole, however, does meet every requirement that the minimalist philosophy stands by. Very thin, with almost no drop, and providing your feet with the opportunity to adapt to the ground beneath them of every step, the Prio will let you stretch and bounce to your heart’s content while at the gym while still staying acceptable on the way out should you want catch a movie without causing a fuss.
The Prio is available in four colors: yellow, imperial blue, charcoal red, and black.
If you are interested in some affordable options, check out our guide to the top budget running shoes.
Eye-catching like no other, the name Tesla just spells premium engineering and cutting-edge design, no matter the industry. The shoes themselves may look subdued and modest enough at first glance (unless you go for the turquoise one, in which case we are assuming you are comfortable with a couple of stares).
In an alternate reality, the Tesla Knit Pattern is the signature shoe for next summer, and while this may still become true, it is undeniable that they were created by someone who loves beaches as much as treadmills.
The soles provide good grip for flat, wet, and irregular surfaces, and the Vamp surrounding the top of the show will keep everything airy and fresh even under the most extreme heat.
Overall, these shoes are an excellent and budget-friendly option for those who are looking for a pair of all-terrain, reliable shoes that can fit inside a backpack and serve you for an entire trip.
On the other side of the fashionista spectrum are the Kinvara 8 running shoes by Saucony. Bright and bold, these fast, all-terrain shoes are only fit for those who are not afraid of making a statement whenever they enter a room.
Made from 100% synthetic materials – guilt-free is the name of the environmentalist game here – the Kinvara 8 is a fast, bouncy shoe. The high-grade rubber soles provide enough cushioning to ensure your metatarsal bones stay protected even during long distances or fence jumping, and will provide you with soft landings and energetic takeoffs. Combined with the hidden internal strap located just around the midfoot, these shoes go a long way in improving your stride and cadence.
These shoes are also ideal for those rainy or chilly mornings when you need to ensure you stay protected from the elements. They have achieved this not just through the enhanced ridges on the sole, but by adding an extra hard shell on top of the shoe.
The available color combinations are ever-changing, so let your feet embrace some uniqueness when looking for your perfect fit. Sizes run from 7 to 15.
Here are some reliable waterproof running shoes you may like. Check them out.
Do you remember why humans started wearing shoes in the first place? Whether you love to feel like a Hobbit or are eagerly chasing after the benefits of the paleo lifestyle, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that sometimes, shoes are a matter of life and death.
Of course, if you are a mountain trekker, the chances are you never forget about the importance of high-quality foot protection. But does that mean you need to skip the benefits of good drop and improved balance completely?
Of course not! Especially not if you keep a pair of Altra Lone Peaks around. These are the Vibrams that cheated on their spouses with wildling snow boots and produced a competent royal bastard of a trekking shoe.
Their grip is unparalleled, and while it will lift you off the ground a bit more than normal city shoes, it won’t sacrifice your cadence or your spinal health. They also possess Altra’s signature Zero Drop platform, which ensures your heel and forefoot stay at the exact same height, guaranteeing anatomical landings.
Sizes run the standard 7.5 to 15, but, as is usual when it comes to trekking shoes, remember to order at least half a size bigger. You want enough room for fatigue and thick socks!
Hardcore city joggers – the kind who are running 5Ks three times a week – are better served with durable and stylish trail shoes rather than paying extra for off-road features that they won’t take advantage of (or worse yet, that will actually cause more than only some long-term soreness).
ON is a cult brand for hardcore runners precisely because they understand this, and the Cloud makes a complete statement out of this. Comfortable and durable, these shoes will add an extra skip to your step thanks to its wide variety of bright colors and superbly bouncy soles. Speed Lace closures and breathable materials with an extra bit of hidden arch support will take your feet to a spa in all the good ways (and not the sweaty kind).
This shoe also has a couple of hidden features that can help you optimize your forward strike. The flexible heel straps will keep everything in place while you jump around, and the “clouds” or stability balls hidden within the sole will delay fatigue. Give them a try!
New Balance has long been offering some of the best budget cross-trainers, and the Minimus is no exception. The steady drop that these shoes offer will keep even the most demanding barefoot runner happy while still providing some much-needed extra stability when pushing the envelope when weightlifting.
The key behind their versatility is that little bit of extra memory foam near the midsole, which can be removed if you need to go back to the absolute basics but should never be left behind during a long trip.
The shoe itself is made from anti-odor, breathable mesh, and it’s available in all the typical bright options favored by New Balance. This was never a brand afraid to show off a little, and those with an outgoing spirit will enjoy the camo, lime green, and silvery color schemes.
A common hindrance for those looking for minimalist shoes is finding a way to keep your feet properly aligned, even if your gait is not naturally the best.
Overpronators, in particular, tend to steer away from the minimalist models as they can have a reputation for causing that unpleasant tenderness right in the middle of your arch if not worked in properly.
The Pure Cadence model by Brooks was made precisely with the goal of bypassing this objection. Despite their incredible light fit, they equip the brand’s BioMoGo DNA cushioning technology, which subtly keeps your joints aligned without becoming a bother.
Right now, the male model is only available in two color schemes, although we are hoping to see more options soon.