Barefoot-style Running Shoes

This article is an excerpt from Stephen Regenold’s story on covering “Five Gear Innovations” from the past five years.

Christopher McDougall’s best-selling “Born to Run” book has seriously ramped up interest in a trend that was already soaring quite high. The phenomenon of barefoot-style running shoes — embraced now by the likes of Nike and New Balance as well as niche purveyors such as Inov-8 Ltd. — has resulted in a deluge of new footwear that incorporates less padding in the midsole and little or no arch support. The goal with these shoes is to allow the foot to flex and feel the ground as you go — just like if you were barefoot.

Inov-8 F-Lite 230 shoes

About four years ago, the barefoot style completely changed the way I run. After switching from heavily-padded traditional running shoes to more minimal models, I went from long strides and heel strikes to shorter strides and midfoot strikes. My running style became faster, more efficient, and easier on my body as a result.

Where to begin? For shoe styles, Vibram’s FiveFingers (touted as the first footwear to offer “the sensation of going barefoot with the protection and security of a sole”) is essentially a glove for your foot. Less extreme, shoes like the New Balance MT100 or Nike’s line of Free shoes decrease padding and add flexibility to the sole. Deep grooves in the sole grant the Nikes the flexibility to move naturally with your foot and “activate” foot muscles, as the company puts it.

Vibram FiveFingers

One of my favorite brands, Inov-8 Ltd., applies a barefoot philosophy to trail-running shoes. Models like Inov-8’s F-Lite 230 offer a low-profile midsole and mesh uppers to create a shoe that promotes natural foot flex on the trail — and weigh half as much as the competition.

Caveat: Got knee issues? You might think twice before pounding in a pair of Vibram FiveFingers. Barefoot style needs to be embraced slowly for runners used to the extra support of a traditional running shoe. —Stephen Regenold

“Five Gear Innovations”

Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.