Barefoot Running Shoe Guide

KEEN Known for its toe-protection athletic sandals and hiking shoes, this relatively young (but highly successful) footwear company is ready to jump feet first into the minimalist mosh pit. Product literature claims that its A86 trail shoes, with a moccasin-style design and a removable molded footbed, will let “you choose just how much you want to feel the terrain beneath your feet.” Gear Junkie review:


Kigo — With unisex slip-on styling, the Kigo is more of an active lifestyle surf-and-turf slipper than a real barefoot running shoe. Yet where else can you find a shoe that you can roll up and stash in your cargo pants pocket when you really do want to go barefoot?

Kigo Footwear

Li Ning — The Chinese footwear giant is best known for its basketball sneakers sold in Asia. But when it recently decided to expand into the U.S., its marketing game plan was fairly obvious: “Just Do It To Nike!” Li Ning’s logo looks like an awkward knock-off of the swoosh, and its Portland showroom and store is less than a mile from the flagship Niketown. Hoping to score big with its minimalist sneaker, the 7-ounce Fremont shoe has a heel-toe drop of 10mm. In Asia, Li Ning’s running shoes are called “Flying Feathers.”

Li Ning Fremont

Merrell — As a leading outdoor footwear and apparel brand, it made sense for Merrell to migrate over to minimalism in a big way by partnering with Vibram. Probably as a result of this marketing alliance, each of the three new Merrell minimalist shoes has “glove” in its name— Trail Glove, True Glove, and Tough Glove. All have that stripped-down, less-is-cool styling and functionality. This could be a trifecta winner.

Merrell Trail Glove

Mizuno — At a touted 3.8 ounces, the Wave Universe 3 is among the lightest shoes of its kind. A neat entry by one of the world’s top shoe companies. Features (or lack thereof) include no arch, flat design (with just the slightest heel lift), and “printed” overlays touted to “provide just the right amount of support.”

Mizuno Wave Universe 3

New Balance — The NB Minimus line is one of the most talked-about newcomers on the barefoot and minimalist scene. NB is serving up three flexible, featherweight Minimus models — everyday, road, and trail builds included — that will all have a 4-mm drop. Gear Junkie review:

New Balance Minimus

Newton Running — Sir Isaac was known for scribbling down math formulas sitting under a tree. What the several models of Newtons encourage you to do is move about by using natural running as your body’s guiding principle. The shoe’s unique design — which includes rubber tabs that protrude from the forefoot on the sole — forces you to land on the midfoot or forefoot, avoiding a heel strike. Gear Junkie review:

Newton Running shoe

Nike — Introduced in 2004, Nike’s Free line of shoes helped promote a more natural running stride with a super flexible, deep-channeled foam-like sole that conformed to where the foot landed. Nike had tried going with three separate Free versions with varying heel-to-toe drop, but is now banking on just one model, the Nike Free +, to appeal to runners who are wisely transitioning to midfoot striking.

Nike Free +

Paper-Feet — Described as “minimalist barefoot sandals made with upcycled billboard material,” these $30 sandals are likely not ideal for running. But they are a “barefoot” build, plus the sandals are upcycled and handmade in Michigan. Men’s, women’s, and children’s models available. The company cites that the sandals “feel barefoot and fit like a second skin.”

Paper-Feet sandals

Roman Caligae Sandals — Why not go really pre-modern for your barefoot fix, like nearly 2,000 years back in time? Roman legionary soldiers often fast-marched 20 miles a day in their flat sandals while carrying heavy battle gear. An old-time British leather-maker by the name of Brian Woodward makes these distinctive sandals.

Roman Caligae Sandals

Saucony — The progressive-minded folks at Saucony have a winner with the light, low-to-the ground minimalist ProGrid Kinvara shoe. The foam outsole is bare-bones, with triangles of sturdy carbon rubber for traction. This spring, watch as Saucony goes more sleeker and slimmer with its zero-drop Hattori model. Gear Junkie review:

Saucony ProGrid Kinvara

Soft Star — This small Oregon-based company has been around for 25 years, but its forte was selling custom, handmade modern-looking moccasins. It’s now come out with the RunAmoc shoe, which is designed specifically for runners. It has a wide toe box, ventilated leather uppers, and a thin durable rubber sole. Definitely a barefoot running shoe, but you might look and feel like Robin Hood or Peter Pan wearing them.

Soft Star RunAmoc

Terra Plana — So pricey and glam-stylish that you’d expect to see them on the feet of “Dancing with the Stars” contestants. The company has already been selling several models with its “Vivo Barefoot Technology,” but the new EVO — short for evolution? — is constructed from a forgiving, soft plastic cage interlaced with a thin mesh fabric and a minimal footbed.

Terra Plana

Vibram — The FiveFingers line is now so popular that you can write an entire book about them. There are fan sites dedicated to the VFF. And let’s not forget all of VFF’s “BFFs” — over 100,000 Facebook fans! FiveFingers were a radical concept when first introduced in 2006 — separate sleeves for each toe! But the shoe that fits like a glove soon caught fire, and the rest is history. With several models to choose from, runners are busy hopping over to the Bikilas whose 4mm Vibram outsole gives grounded feet plenty of protection. Gear Junkie review:

Vibram FiveFingers

Zem — A beach and volleyball shoe hoping to score big with runners. There are full and split-toe versions, but the Zem is basically an aquatic sock with earth-like aspirations.

Zem shoe-sock

—Bill Katovsky is a journalist and author. He is founder and editor of ZERO DROP, a new blog about barefoot and minimalist running.