Barefoot Running Shoe Guide

By BILL KATOVSKY

This article is excerpted from ZERO DROP, a new blog about barefoot and minimalist running by journalist and author Bill Katovsky. The text comes from Katovsky’s “A-Z Guide to Minimalist and Barefoot Running Shoes.”

The barefoot and minimalist running shoe phenomenon has yet to crest. We’ve edged past the “early adopters” phase. Come this spring (2011), when multiple new minimalist-oriented shoes will come to market, the running world is in for one of its biggest fundamental shifts since Nike first introduced its “waffle” tread in 1974.

barefoot running shoes

Barefoot and minimalist shoes from companies big and small

Maybe I’m exaggerating. But I don’t think so. Not when the big boys of the industry — Asics, Brooks, Saucony, New Balance, Merrell, even Keen! — are now involved. Nike has been in the “barefoot” game for years. Meanwhile, upstarts like Newton Running are capturing a large part of the market, and several other newcomers, most of them small entrepreneurs with a maximalist vision of future success, are striving for momentum and market reach.

What constitutes a minimalist or barefoot shoe? There are several criteria, including an absence of a thick, rigid, overbuilt and unresponsive heel-crash pad; the use of lightweight material for the upper part of the shoe; a flexible sole; a lightweight build; and a footbed that is relatively flat and contains little cushioning support. Another important point — and the namesake of my blog, ZERO DROP — is heel-to-toe height differential.

nike waffle shoe.jpg

1974 Nike “waffle” sole

Here’s what Running Times smartly wrote about the subject of “drop”: “Many traditional training shoes put the foot 22-24mm off the ground in the heel and 10-15mm off the ground in the forefoot. The difference between the two — typically 12-14mm in traditional training shoes — creates a forward-leaning slope designed to reduce stress on the Achilles. Minimalist shoes trend toward being much more level (a 2-10mm slope) with the assumption that the runner will land on the midfoot and use the natural cushioning of the arch, thus the built-up heel only adds weight and gets in the way of an efficient stride.”

If you run without shoes on, you’re going to have “zero drop.” There is no heel-to-toe height differential, and your foot lands naturally on the mid-foot or even further forward. Mimicking this experience is a goal in the barefoot/minimalist/natural-running category, and most of the shoes in this guide reflect that theme.

Masai running shoe.jpg

Masai Warrior “barefoot” running shoe

Below is our list of the 2010/2011 model shoes that belong in the barefoot/minimalist/natural-running category. From Newton to Nike, dig in for a quick and cursory look at all things burgeoning in the world of the “barefoot” shoe.

Adidas — The Adzero is a sleek, ground-hugging model from the three-stripe global shoe behemoth to salivate over. Promises “responsive forefoot action.” www.adidas.com

adidas adzero running shoe

Adidas Adzero

Altra — This Utah-based footwear startup actually coined the term “zero drop.” It has three promising shoes debuting this spring. The company’s Adam model is for the minimalist-minded and possibly a real threat to Vibram FiveFingers due to its more conventional appearance. The Instinct model will be for all-purpose running. And the Lone Peak is made for mountain running and madcap, goat-like trail scrambling. http://altrarunning.com/

Altra Adam Running Shoe

Altra Adam

Asics — The Piranha is a shoe getting a good buzz on the barefoot blogs because it’s featherweight (4.8 ounces!) and has not much daylight drop between an earth-hugging heel and toe box. http://www.asicsamerica.com

Asics Piranha Running Shoe

Asics Piranha

Brooks — The company’s Green Silence shoe is an eco-friendly, entry-level shoe for newly-transitioning runners to midfoot-strike action. Includes biodegradable insole and collar foam + the touted “world’s first-ever biodegradable midsole.” http://www.brooksrunning.com

brooks green silence running shoe

Brooks Green Silence

Feelmax — Never underestimate the Finns when it comes to footwear. Global mobile phone giant Nokia began as a rubber galoshes manufacturer before switching over to electrical and communication products. But Feeelmax has a tougher challenge. An early entry into the minimalist marketplace, it introduced the ultralight Osma to mixed reviews early last year. The pushback was due to a narrow toe box and a super-thin, rigid sole. Then there’s the aesthetic: The Osmas looks like a cross between a golf- and bowling-shoe. http://www.feelmax.com

Feelmax Osma Running Shoe

Feelmax Osma

Grip Socks — Halfway between a sock and a shoe, Sand Socks Inc. has a unique new product in its Grip Socks line. The breathable, neoprene-based socks work inside a shoe or worn alone to go “barefoot” style. A 3mm, wetsuit-quality neoprene sole protects from rough ground, and a thinner material on the uppers lets feet breathe. They are made for beach runners, divers, kayakers, and other enthusiasts who need the water-friendly versatility offered with the neoprene-sock niche. $19.99, www.sandsocks.net

grip socks.jpg

Grip Socks

GoLite — Known for its lightweight, minimalist fast-packing apparel and backpacks, the “less-is-faster” company has branched out with footwear for trail runners. The Amp Lite model promises zero-drop. http://www.golite-footwear.com

GoLite AmpLite Running Shoe

GoLite Amp Lite

Icebug — Based in Sweden, Icebug is known for its winter-oriented shoes with carbide-tip spikes. This year, the company leaps into the minimalist-shoe market with its CELERITAS and SPIRIT OLX shoes, both which have minimal midsole cushion and a lightweight build. Gear Junkie review of SPIRIT OLX shoes: http://gearjunkie.com/icebug-spike-shoe

Icebug Spirit OLX Running Shoes

Icebug SPIRIT OLX

Inov-8 Ltd. — A whimsical name for a pioneering shoe company. But it’s based in England, so that kind of explains its fondness for word and number play. With several models to choose from, the sturdy-looking X-Talon 212, which is designed for serious trail runners, is getting a lot of attention online. A unique outsole on some Inov-8 models have rubber channels made to mimic, flex, propel, and work with a foot’s metatarsals. Gear Junkie review of Inov-8 Roclite 285: http://gearjunkie.com/inov-8-roclite-285-test

Inov-8 X-Talon 212 Running Shoes

Inov-8 X-Talon 212

Invisible Shoe — Unlike the real deal (which would be the Tarahumara running sandals fashioned from old, discarded car tires and leather thongs), the Invisible Shoe uses professional-grade rubber for the soles and colorful polypropylene and nylon laces. Touted as “running sandals worn by the Taruhumara [that] give you the freedom of barefoot running while protecting your feet.” http://www.invisibleshoe.com

invisible shoes Tarahumara running sandals.jpg

Invisible Shoe sandal kit

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