Best Barefoot Running Shoes
If you are an avid runner then you know that getting the best shoes for your feet and running style is one of the best investments you can make. Many people do not understand the different styles of running and how different footwear can provide you with different features and advantages depending on the style of running you will be doing. Barefoot running shoes are a style of shoe that is meant to mimic the feeling and nature of running barefoot. The benefit of wearing this type of shoes is that it can improve your arch functionality and also build foot strength. Eventually, if you desire, you can graduate to actually running without the need of shoes safely.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 14 hrs of research
The mesh lining is treated with odor-reducing technology
Features a microfiber footed that has been treated for freshness
The upper materials deliver a breathable membrane
Top 10 Picks
1. Merrell Vapor Glove 2
The mesh lining is treated with odor-reducing technology
Features a microfiber footed that has been treated for freshness
The upper materials deliver a breathable membrane
For more response, there could have been a midsole cushioning system
Be prepared to see Merrell a lot on this list and as impressive as they are as a company, their Vapor Glove 2 are probably their best. Perhaps the only aspect Merrell whiffed on was the lack of a midsole cushioning system, but it does not affect the overall quality too much.Read more
Not only are the upper materials of this shoe crafted from mesh and TPU, but the lining is also treated with an odor-reducing technology. While your feet are allowed to breathe, they will not stink you out.
With its zero-drop performance, which creates a nearly weightless feel, your running motion feels more natural and comfortable. However, some reviewers have claimed that a mid-sole cushioning system would have been a good integration to improve the response.
Merrell implements a Vibram outsole on their Vapor Glove 2 Shoes. The reason why is this specific outsole delivers an excellent amount of grip and traction, even in hazardous conditions.
Both men and women have a specific version with different colors and sizes. For women, there are options such as black and castle rock, liberty, and bright green and purple. Men, meanwhile, can select between blue and bright green, Folkstone, and dark orange, among others.
Women, you can select sizes between 5 to 11 while men, can select from 7 to 15, with half sizes available as well. As they should, these shoes tend to run true to size.
The Vapor Glove 2 excels in breathability and odor-reducing technology. Plus, with all the size and color options available, everyone should be able to find a perfect pair for them
2. Merrell Pace Glove 3
Features a protection pad that provides comfort underneath your feet
The integrated lacing system provides a secure fit
It is vegan-friendly
They tend to run a little small
As opposed to previous versions, it fits less like a glove and is not as snug (which may be good for some)
Merrell is one of the best shoe manufacturers in the world, especially when it comes to developing minimalist running shoes. Their Pace Glove 3 may just be their best; thanks in large part to its excellent stability and superb combination of breathability and comfort.Read more
With the integrated mesh and synthetic upper section of these barefoot running shoes, breathability is of the essence here. The mesh lining is also key in ensuring your feet do not overheat.
To enhance the stability when you are running, the uppers of the Pace Glove 3 mold to your feet. Past this, the inside pad offers a great amount of comfort underneath your feet. With a 0mm drop and 4mm heel cushion, the loft is also ideal.
Just like with their Vapor Glove 2, Merrell utilizes the Vibram outsole to provide ample grip and traction. They have had extended success for a reason and that is because they know when they have a good thing.
A few color options are available for you to glance through including black, gray and purple, turquoise, and crown blue.
With increments of 0.5 for every size between 5 to 11, most women will be able to find a size that adapts to their feet. The sizes tend to run a little small and it is less “glove-like” as opposed to other versions.
No, this is not a perfect barefoot running shoe. But, it lands in the top five thanks to Merrell’s brilliant craftsmanship when it alludes to the outsole, comfort, and the lining system.
3. Saucony Kinvara 8
Has a sleeker and more streamlined look than previous versions
The feel is incredibly soft
Integrates an internal strap system to embrace the midfoot
A rubber outsole would have been nice
Tends to fit small
There have been many iterations of the Kinvara running shoe from Saucony over the years and they have done everything in their power to make their 8th model their best ever. Guess what, they succeed in what they set out to do.Read more
As opposed to prior editions of the Kinvara, the 8th version has superior breathability thanks to its new mesh design. Plus, the Flexfilm overlays are super lightweight.
The upper of the topsole was stripped down to provide you with a more comfortable form fit. Also, the internal strap system embraces the midfoot
What is terrific about this outsole is that it offers a high range of flexibility. Thus, your feet are given greater freedom of movement and much better impact on the ground.
Saucony provides its customers with a plethora of color options including burgundy, black, black and citron, blue, gray, and navy orange.
A wide range of sizing options is available for you from 3.5 up to 15. While not every size is halved, you will find that most of them are. Overall, these shoes tend to fit slightly small. If you are in-between sizes, it would be a good idea to size up.
Saucony set out to improve their Kinvara Running Shoes and they did so with flying colors. What is most impressive is that they leave off where they left behind with the Kinvara 7, but add superior meshing and comfortability.
4. Vivobarefoot Stealth 2
Pro5 extra resistant sole
European sizes can be confusing
Not ideal for rocky or uneven trails
The Stealth is a comfortable and breathability addition that only separates your feet and the ground by 3mm. Weighing in at only nine ounces, these shoes won't slow you down and tend to be very comfortable.Read more
Even just by looking at this shoe, you can already see the great breathability that is built into this shoe. It features a hex-mesh upper made from synthetic multi-ply materials. These materials make the shoes very lightweight and breathable.
These shoes are very versatile. They work well for walking, running, jumping, and weight lifting. At only 255-grams or 9-ounces, these shoes won’t weigh you down. The insole features 10% BLOOM, which is an environmentally friendly algae-based alternative to EVA. One thing to mention is that these shoes, like all barefoot shoes, do have a transition period if it is your first time using them. You may want to start out using them for only short periods of time and build-up a routine.
The non-marking TPU outsole of the Stealth is 3mm thick. Vivobarefoot claims that this Pro5 sole is five times more puncture resistant than a regular sole of the same thickness. While there hasn’t been much mention about they perform on wet surfaces, they shine on flat and even surfaces.
As for the style of the shoes, some people love it and some hate it. They have minimal decoration and are available in four different colors. You can choose from black on black, black with orange accents, black with red accents, or indigo.
Luckily, these shoes tend to fit true to size. The only issue here is determining your European shoe size. The Stealth features built-in stretch zones that adapt to the shape of your foot and provide great control.
The Stealth shoe lives up to its name. With a light weight and a thin sole, you can sneak around anywhere with these shoes. While the style isn't for everyone, we kind of like it.
5. On Cloud
They provide foot support in all the right locations
Features reflective details to make them more visible in low-light conditions
The integrated speed board shields your feet from water and soil
Loose debris and stone enter inside too easily
No doubt, the Men’s Cloud Running Shoes from ON does an admirable job of delivering top-of-the-line comfort and cushioning. All in the meanwhile, being breathable enough to provide a cool climate for your feet.Read more
What allows your feet to breathe while inside the Cloud Running Shoes is the breathable mesh lining that has been designed inside.
A lot of time and energy was put into the comfort of these shoes, that is for sure. First of all, the sole has a high-profile which allows it to provide support in both vertical and horizontal forces. Also, there is enough foot support to keep the impact pressure evenly distributed.
There are deep flex grooves on the outsole which give you a natural range of motion and extreme flexibility while you are running, no matter the terrain that you are running on.
Every man on this planet will find a design that they find appealing, which is not an opinion it is a fact due to the sheer amount of options. Some colors include moss, storm, sunset, diver, and lime, black and white, red and flash, and black and Malibu.
Again, there are plenty of sizing options available to accommodate as many people as possible. You can select from size 7 to 14, with most half-sizes available. These shoes have a great reputation for fitting true to size. They are very lightweight and comfortable for both walking and running.
These seem like they are flawless, but, unfortunately, some users have griped that loose stones can easily make their way inside of the shoe. Thus, leaving you constantly ridding the shoes of debris. But, for pure performance, this is hard to beat.
6. Xero Shoes Prio
Adjustable and eye-catching straps
Optional 2mm insole included
Durability could be improved
Heavy for a minimalist shoe
Most popularly known for their running sandals, Xero Shoes is breaking into the sneaker world. The Prio is a great shoe for many different activities. It is highly adjustable, thanks to the heel and instep straps, and quite comfortable overall.Read more
The mesh upper of the Prio provides great breathability. These shoes would be a comfortable choice in warm or humid environments.
While we love the adjustability of these shoes, there’s no getting around the outsole that allows you to feel the cracks and bumps of the ground below you. There is an optional 2mm insole included. This is great for runners who are transitional form traditional to minimalist running shoes. There is a wide toe box that gives your feet a comfortable and natural position. These shoes are quite heavy for a minimalist shoe, weighing about 15-ounces for the pair.
The Prio features a 5.5mm Feel True rubber sole. It is very flexible and perhaps is TOO barefoot feeling for beginners. As mentioned before, you will feel just about everything on the ground beneath you. It has been noted by reviewers that the traction of this sole does not perform well on wet surfaces. Xero Shoes provides a 5,000-mile sole warranty.
These don’t look like your typical zero-drop shoes. They are bit bulkier and heavier than we would expect. Style-wise, they are available in four different colors. You can choose from black on black, black and white, blue and gray, or red and gray.
In the past, these shoes had a reputation for running a half size small, but the company has fixed the issue and now recommends ordering your regular size. They are available in a wide range of sizes from 6.5-15. There are straps on the sides that look like they are part of the style design, however, they are functional. The heel and instep straps can be locked into place with laces to secure the ankle, heel, and instep.
Even though this doesn't look like your traditional minimalist shoe, it has great features. We love the optional 2mm insole and adjusting straps. If you are looking for something a little different, or currently transitioning to this style of running, the Prio is a great choice.
7. Vibram KSO EVO Training
Has moisture-wicking technology
The reinforced speed lacing system allows for an easy entry
The individual toe slots do enhance your dexterity
Placing each toe in correctly can be a hassle
If you walk on rough pavement, the thin sole will begin to show its weaknesses
The manner in which this is designed is either a huge caveat or a major reason to invest in this particular shoe. The toes of the shoes are shaped and contoured to the natural shape of your individual toes. Great? Maybe, but it really depends on your preference.Read more
With the polyester lining, the upper portion of this barefoot running shoe is both highly breathable and ultra-lightweight. Again, polyester is a terrific material for both.
The antimicrobial Drilex nylon encapsulates the EVA midsoles for cushioning underneath your feet. Plus, it also wicks away moisture to prevent heat build-up.
The Trek rubber Vibram outsole that is utilized in this shoe makes it an ideal choice for a multitude of terrains as the traction it delivers is superb. Though, it may be too thin to handle terrain such as desert trails with small stones and pebbles everywhere.
Both men and women have a separate version and each has different color options. For men, most of the designs resemble blue or black. The women’s version, on the other hand, has a focus on gray and pink.
Men’s sizes range from 8.5 to 12.5 (with some stranglers outside that range) while women’s sizes go from 6.5 to 10. They tend to fit true to size and are flexible enough to accommodate narrow or wide feet. The only area that you may find trouble with is if you have unusually fat toes.
The bottom line is this, you will either fall in love or despise the individual toe slots. On one hand, they improve your dexterity but they can be a hassle in terms of placing your toes inside.
8. Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
There are reflective details for visibility at night
Features both a mesh upper section and synthetic side overlays
The insoles deliver an excellent amount of ground feedback
After a while, the soles tend to tear up
Allows debris and small pebbles to enter inside
Did you really think you saw the last of Merrell? They truly are masters of their craft and yet again, they secure a spot on this list with their Base Access Arc 4. While it could have been designed better in a few areas, it still succeeds in most areas that runners need the most.Read more
Besides having a mesh and TPU upper for breathability, the implemented Select Fresh technology ensures that the shoes do not give off a potent odor when your feet begin to sweat.
When you strike down with these shoes, the insoles provide a hyper-response that will give you an optimal amount of stability and control. Thus, increasing the overall comfort over the long haul.
Merrell sticks to the Vibram outsole here and it adds 2mm of lug depth, meaning, for you, that the traction and control are increased.
Men can select from a vast amount of colors including blue and red, gray and blue, blue, yellow and blue, etc. Meanwhile, women can select from colors such as violent storm, liberty, and sleet and coral.
While men have a limited amount of sizes (from 8 to 9.5), women have a little more variety with size choices from 5 to 11. Most reviewers have found that these shoes fit comfortably and true to size.
As great as these are, a few concerns are present. One, the soles are not extremely durable and two, it has issues with keeping out debris and small pebbles. Still, Merrell proves through its overall design and comfort that their Base Access 4 belongs on the list of their greatest shoes.
9. Mizuno Wave Universe 5
The laces and non-slip lining deliver a stable fit
Integrated G3 sole provides superior traction
As opposed to previous versions, it has more durability
When you wear socks with these shoes they can be too tight
The design may be appalling for some
Let’s just get this out in the air, this shoe has a unique and tasteful design. By “tasteful”, this means that you will either love it or hate it (depending on your taste). If you fall in the crowd that loves the design, this could be your next running shoe.Read more
Mostly, what enables the Wave Universe 5 to excel in breathability and weight is the midsole. Because it has an extremely lightweight feel, your feet will not suffer from bulkiness.
Mizuno designed their running shoes with Wave Plate technology and this allows it to deliver plenty of impact protection and cushioning. What more could you really ask for?
Not only is the midsole lightweight but the outsole is, as well. This aids in creating a pure connection to the ground, but there is also enough traction provided to give you control.
Either way, you look at it, you will either love or loathe the visual design of this shoe. No matter, you can select between either black, white, and rainbow or white, blue, and orange.
Not too many options are open to the public. With that being said, women can select from sizes 6 to 11. They have a reputation for fitting about one size too small. However, once you find your correct size, they should still be tight, but great as a minimalist shoe.
If you do not want to stick out from the crowd, stay away from these shoes. The design can be startling to some, while very appealing to others. Still, there is enough performance here that even if you are not a huge fan of the design, it can still be worth an investment.
10. Topo Athletic ST-2
Due to the wider toe box, you have more freedom of movement
Even after extended runs, the shoes hold up well
Features a 0mm drop for the most natural running experience possible
The sizing is inconsistent and the shoes are narrow
Not the best sole in the world as it has cushioning and responsive issues at times
The end of this list features the ST-2 Running Shoes. While its placement indicates it is not the best in the world, Topo Athletic should take pride in their craftsmanship that is on display here. After all, it still made it into the top 10, and that says a lot.Read more
Overall, all the materials that were used in the design process offer a “2nd skin” fit which significantly aids in breathability.
There is a wide toe box present with this model which allows your toes to move freely inside. Plus, the printed upper pattern manages to eliminate the need for seems reducing the weight.
While the outsole is thin, it is not so thin that you feel rocks penetrating. Plus, this gives your feet a lot of flexibility.
A strong amount of color options are available and this includes aqua and ice, black and raspberry, blue and white, and gray and green.
Made for women, you can select from size 6 to 12. Many have stated that the sizing for these shoes is inconsistent and that the sole has response issues. But, if you find the proper size, it still has enough quality to satisfy most runners.
With excellent breathability and great comfort, how could we leave this shoe off of our list? If you can manage to find your correct size before getting frustrated, you may just love the Topo Athletic.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
During your tenure with your new barefoot running shoes, there are probably going to be occasions where you wear them in harsh conditions (say in hot weather). As such, specifically in hotter weather, sweat and moisture are going to build up quicker and if your feet are not allowed to breathe they will begin to feel clammy and overheated.
This is exactly what you are looking to avoid when running, which is why breathability is such an important factor. To achieve a breathable nature, you will most likely see designers integrate both a mesh lining and TPU materials. The mesh lining is rather self-explanatory and allows proper ventilation and air to come into the shoes. But, the TPU materials also aid in breathability as they are extremely lightweight.
Yes, besides ventilation, the weight is the other vital component to breathability. If your feet are engorged inside of heavy and bulky shoes, it is only natural that more heat will build up. Having lightweight soles and specific portions of the shoe will add up (or drop for lack of better words).
Ah, this one is quite obvious and a mandatory for any type of shoe that you intend to wear. However, these running shoes are special as they are designed to mimic the properties of running on your bare feet while adding protection and comfort.
While we are not going to go in-depth into the scientific backings of barefoot running as compared to other types of running, these types of shoes provide more of a form fit and some prefer the comfort they provide. But, no matter, designers still must integrate specific elements into their shoes to make them effective in terms of comfort.
For example, the impact absorption technology (whether through cushioning underneath your feet, having a sole with a high-profile, etc.) that is implemented. When you run, your feet are constantly striking the ground at high speeds and without this technology, the pain will become evident quickly. Of course, the feel and overall cushion can also aid in general comfort. This is especially important if you plan on running for extended periods of time.
Perhaps you are wondering why each sole did not receive special recognition. Even though all soles are important, the outsole is special as it is literally the sole on the outside of the shoe (on the bottom). This is what provides you with traction and control while you run, which is important when you are running over slippery and uneven terrains.
When you walk, you may be paying closer attention to staying upright on your feet without falling flat on your face. However, your concentration is elsewhere when running and that is a good thing; as you should not need to worry about the terrain under your feet.
But, the outsole is designed for more than just traction and stability. Also, look for outsoles that are designed to offer your feet a wide range of flexibility. What this delivers is a more natural range of motion and more freedom of movement. This can, in turn, add comfort over the long haul.
You could go out and recruit a thousand people and conduct a study about the preferences of specific shoe color. If you displayed ten different shoes without telling one of them the design features or reviews, they would choose differently based on the visual appeal. In other words, how cool they think they look.
As humans, it is a natural tendency to prioritize certain clothes, products, vehicles, furniture, etc. based on how appealing the design is. Even though it may seem shallow, you are lying to yourself if you say it does not matter. After all, why else do you think that manufacturers craft several different variations of the same shoe? They know that everyone’s tastes are different and to sell as many as possible, they must adapt to their user’s tastes.
However, be aware not to take this too seriously. The visual appeal is important , but the performance is clearly the most important aspect of running shoes. Do not select one over the other (that clearly is inferior in terms of the performance) just because the color is better. But, instead, use this as a tiebreaker when you can’t decide between two shoes.
Color options may be an optional and “tasteful” design factor, but the sizing options are 100 percent mandatory. To achieve the best run and most comfortable fit, the shoes must contour to your foot in a specific way. Shoes can be tricky because you obviously can’t have them be too small, but having too much room can result in sloppy and uncomfortable running.
Thankfully, most designers understand this and design many sizes for their shoes. However, anyone who has ever purchased new shoes (which should be everyone) knows that some fit differently than others. Also, when you initially wear a pair of shoes, it takes a bit to wear them in.
As such, they may fit different once you wear them multiple times. So, do not be too concerned if they are too stiff at first as over time, they should loosen up (although, these types of running shoes do not do as good a job of breaking-in as others).
Expert Interviews & Opinions
Because you will likely be going from a high heel to no heel, it may help to do this gradually. Finding a transitional low-heeled running shoe and using it for a month before switching to barefoot will help you adjust. You will notice a change in which muscles are being used and deal with a few days of sore muscles.
Barefoot running is best on hard, even terrain. While you may think that a softer area, such as grass or sand, would be better, these areas are often uneven, have surprises waiting to trip you, or sharp (seashells) items lurking in the shadows. It is best to start out on a clean, hard, paved road.
Knowing your BMI is important, especially before you start engaging in high-impact exercises. If your BMI is over 25, you may want to focus on other exercises first or continue to run in highly cushioned shoes before making the transition. The abundance of unhealthy weight will put more strain on your untrained joints and muscles and is not recommended.
Other Factors to Consider
As most of the shoes on this list should be, a flexible minimalist shoe is important. The purpose of this type of shoe is to mimic running without shoes on, right? When you are barefoot there is really nothing holding you back, besides muscle aches and unforeseen obstacles on the ground. You want to make sure that the shoe is flexible all-around, in the toes, the sole, and the upper. It should feel as though you are not even wearing a shoe. For this reason, you'll find a lot of mesh uppers in these types of shoes. Besides great flexibility, the mesh also aids in providing great breathability.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: How do you wash barefoot running shoes?
Yeah, your running shoes are going to need a good scrubbing from time to time. Considering you are wearing them with your smelly feet, with 250,000 sweat glands, for extended periods of time, it is hard to avoid needing to wash them. It really is not an issue as they are not that difficult to wash.
Now, washing these shoes is like skinning a cat: there is more than one way to do so. So, if you prefer a method over the one that is about to be given, that is perfectly fine. But, if you want a surefire way to rid your shoes of the funky smell (and dirt, mildew, etc.) follow this method. To start, place your running shoes in your washing machine and place a box of baking soda in conjunction with a small amount of laundry detergent inside. Allow this to agitate for a few minutes and then allow it to soak overnight. Then, run it through a normal wash cycle.
q: How long does this style of shoe generally last?
It is difficult to provide a straight-up answer to this question, as it does depend on a few factors. However, there is not one pair of barefoot running shoes in the world that will last you forever (and there never will be). If you factor in how much abuse they are taking when you run, it is hard to expect them to last for too long.
However, an individual who runs for one hour a day as compared to one who runs for one hour a week will see their shoes deteriorate quicker. Again, for each person, this will vary (and it also depends on the durability of the specific shoe). But, there are some warning signs that you can search for that will indicate it may be time to replace your current pair.
For starters, pay close attention to the tread as the minute that begins to wear down it will affect the manner in which your foot strikes the ground. Also, if you notice that the upper sections are beginning to fray and come apart your foot will not stay in place and you risk injury to yourself.
q: How should you transition from regular running to barefoot running?
If you have not experienced running in these types of shoes before and are making the transition, it is important to understand that it is a very different type of running style. As such, you need to make a smooth transition and not rush into anything. A few ways to make this transition as smooth and proper as possible, follow a few of these recommendations.
Firstly, whatever your current running schedule is cut it in half, at least. You want to start off slow; so, if you run an hour every single day in regular shoes only run around 15 minutes a day with your new barefoot running shoes (to start). Once you make the transition, you can return to your normal pace.
Also, be sure that you start off running on hard surfaces and even terrain. Running on harder surfaces will force you to heel strike and if you do not do it correctly, you will be able to tell thanks to the pain. As far as running on even terrain, running uphill can produce stress on your Achilles tendon and to begin, you should avoid overstressing this tendon.
q: Is it possible for barefoot running to cure flat feet?
For people who have it, they know that flat feet are not enjoyable. People who suffer from it can also suffer from other foot ailments. But, it has often been wondered if barefoot running can cure or help flat feet. While there is not a definitive yes or no answer, there have been anecdotal reports in the past that have proven that barefoot running can raise the arch of your foot and reverse the properties of flat feet. So, technically, with the way this question is worded, the answer is yes. However, it is not necessarily proven that flat feet can always be cured by barefoot running.
q: Can you clean barefoot running shoes in the dishwasher?
As crazy as it sounds, you actually can get away with cleaning your running shoes inside of your dishwasher. But, you need to take caution and understand the settings of your dishwasher as you can easily ruin your brand-new shoes. First off, clean as much dirt and mildew as you can off of the shoes before you place it inside (as you do not want to clog your drain).
Next, take out all the soles that you can and wash them by hand. Also, ensure that all other dishes and contents inside of the dishwasher are removed as you should wash your shoes alone. Finally, use mild dishwashing soap and you are ready to go. However, the next step is the most important step to follow so do not ignore it: Make sure that you turn off all the heat as this will destroy your shoes.
q: How do you dry wet barefoot running shoes?
Just as you will need to eventually wash your running shoes, they will eventually succumb to water. When they get soaked, there is a proper way for you to dry them. For starters, you want to remove all the insoles, loosen up the laces, and pull the tongue forward (this will allow air to circulate through the shoe).
However, for the best results, perform this in a dry place. But, you should never place an artificial heat source in front of the shoe (such as a radiator or blow dryer) to dry it. For an extreme amount of wetness, place some dry newspaper inside of them to soak the moisture.