Fastest Barefoot Shoe? Xero ‘Speed Force’ Review

Xero is a brand known for its minimal bent and adherence to ‘natural’ running technique. It touts the just-launched Speed Force as its fastest shoe ever.

An autumn leaf crunches underfoot — I can almost feel it through my shoe. Indeed, the new running shoe from Xero is so thin it leaves little guesswork as to what’s on the trail.

I run up a muddy bank, shoes gripping. Ahead is 2 miles of rolling trail. It’s my first run in a model Xero calls its most minimal shoe to date.

The Colorado company became famous after its sandals were featured on Shark Tank in 2013. (The founder, Steven Sashen, turned down offers for investment.) Today, the brand has a product line with hundreds of SKUs, including youth shoes, boots, and its bread-and-butter sandal line. But the Speed Force shoes on my feet mark something different for the brand.

In short: The Speed Force is a pure running shoe, though not like the mass-market options you may have grown up with. At its core, the shoe is a racing flat. It’s zero-drop and has no midsole; there is a scant 1 mm of material between the footbed and outsole.

You can compare it to the Merrell Trail Glove or the New Balance Minimus. To me, it ran like the former, with a hard “barefoot” feel on pavement that eliminates any chance of sloppy technique.

Review: Xero Speed Force Running Shoe

When it launched the Speed Force this week, Xero touted it as a “slipper on foot.” It does feel that way, with a mesh tongue and a lithe upper. The sole is a mere 4.5 mm thick.

Xero notes this is its “lightest, most minimalist, closest-to-barefoot performance shoe yet.” It weighs about 5.8 ounces in a men’s size 9 and has a removable sock liner for anyone wanting to make the minimal shoe even closer to the ground.

Cushy mesh tongue and lithe upper make the Speed Force comfy and light

For me, the sock liner was good to stay on board. In fact, the shoe can be harsh on pavement and rough gravel, where I wished for more padding underfoot.

But Xero is all about “ground feel” and staying low to the ground as you run. Keep the heels down, no drop allowed, and run like nature intended with a forward-leaning, midfoot stride.

Founder Steven Sashen is a competitive sprinter. He told me he brought this shoe to market as a “racing shoe for track and road, but it can also be used as a trail-running shoe for anyone who likes this template.”

The Speed Force’s unassuming tread certainly does not look trail-ready. But because it’s so flexible, I found the shoe gripped far better than I anticipated.

Altra Vanish XC Review: Fast Off-Road Racer
Altra Vanish XC Review: Fast Off-Road Racer
A new spikeless cross-country shoe from Altra hits the trifecta of performance, comfort, and speed. The company punts on subtle (but effective) design tweaks to a classic off-road design. Read more…

Flexible ‘Barefoot’ Running Shoe

The soul of the $99 Speed Force, available in men’s and women’s, rests in that super flexibility. Hold it in the hand, and you can roll the shoe up like a tortilla.

On the foot, this flex translates to a freer feel. And the minimal tread works well because the sole can mold to and bite the ground from all angles. I ran on a side-leaning stretch of trail, and the Speed Force stuck in place as my ankle angled on a crooked pace.

Bends like a burrito in the hand! Speed Force has a 4.5mm-thick sole — and almost nothing else between your feet and the floor

It fits true to size and is comfortable. The wide toebox is nice to let your pigs spread, though it’s not as generous as some brands. To me, that’s a good thing because too-wide toes can create a loose feel as you run.

Design Origins

Sashen said, “After we put together one of those simple shoes in a workshop, I attached one of our do-it-yourself sandal kit soles, and we were running around in it realizing that it was a super-lightweight, incredible, versatile shoe.”

He said the company then spent the last year and a half commercializing the shoe to turn it into the product launching this week.

Who should buy this shoe? Take a look at the Speed Force if you’re a minimalist adherent and in need of, well, some more speed.

The brand promises “protection plus ground feel” in an ultralight shoe that’s made for dedicated runners. Sprinters will appreciate its lightweight build on the track. Road runners who were into the “barefoot running” revolution might feel harkened back to this shoe; it shares more with Vibram FiveFingers than any common running-shoe mold.

But people used to “traditional” running shoes with heel-to-toe drop and generous midsole foam will find the Speed Force too harsh. It is not a forgiving shoe if your stride lands on the heel.

I asked Sashen, “Who’s the best candidate to buy the Speed Force”? He said it’s not about use, but about “whether you want something comfortable, lightweight, and super-close to barefoot.” He said running, walking, hiking, trail running, or working out are viable use scenarios.

Lastly, the Speed Force is also just a nice shoe that can be worn every day. Its comfort and sporty style will be appealing for people who like the “slipper fit” and the look and feel of being low to the ground.

See specs and more details on the Speed Force here.

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.