Best Minimalist Running Shoes
Right off of the get-go, it is important to note that not all of you reading this currently may be fit for a pair of minimalist running shoes. Now, while this guide is not being created to detail who among you should be seeking this type of footwear, it is vital to know that they will not be for everyone. Specifically, if you have had foot injuries in the past that have plagued you then you may want to stay away. But, for those of you who know that this is what you are after, this guide is for you. After you are done here, the hope is that you will have absorbed enough of this information to wisely be able to choose your next pair of minimalist running shoes.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 9.5 hrs of research
Designed specifically to promote a barefoot experience
There is an adequate amount of protection
It will withstand tough use
- VIBRAM V TRAIL RUNNER
- TOPO ATHLETIC ST-2
- INOV-8 TERRACLAW
- ALTRA SUPERIOR 3
- MERRELL VAPOR GLOVE 3
- MERRELL VAPOR GLOVE 2
- MERRELL TRAIL GLOVE 4
- ALTRA ONE 2.5
- NEW BALANCE MINIMUS
- BROOKS PUREFLOW 5
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Frequently Asked Questions
OUR TOP PICKS FOR THE BEST MINIMALIST RUNNING SHOES
1. VIBRAM V TRAIL RUNNER
Designed specifically to promote a barefoot experience
There is an adequate amount of protection
It will withstand tough use
It may take a while to break it in
Some buyers noted that this can run narrow
As you can see from the photos, this right here is a true barefoot shoe. The V Trail Runner is among the fabled FiveFingers lineup of footwear from Vibram and is perhaps the best of them all.Read more
Even though there have been some buyers who have noted that this can run tight and narrow, it is designed to mimic barefoot running and that means you should measure your exact foot size.
In addition to the subtle amount of cushioning that is provided, this also is comfortable enough to be worn without socks (which is a big plus for barefoot running).
There were several previous users who felt that the breathability of this model was exceptional. This is even better if you choose to omit socks.
What is really nice about this model is that it is engineered to withstand tough use. In fact, previous wearers even indicated no signs of wear were shown after several months of use.
Being designed with an optimal sole, this is designed to handle rougher terrains. It will provide traction even on slush and muck.
For a barefoot running experience, it just is not going to get much better than this. While the Trail Runner can take some time to break in, it is brilliant once you do.
2. TOPO ATHLETIC ST-2
It offers fantastic cushioning
The wider toe box is nice
Designed to allow your toes to spread
The response could be a lot better
It is hard to argue that the ST-2 Running Shoe is one of the best. After all, it sports lightweight mesh that enhances the breathability and it is designed with a wider toe box.Read more
One of the best features of the ST-2 is the wider toe box. Too many shoes are tight in this area so it is a huge plus that Topo Athletic took the time to address this. Also, the collapsible heel counter delivers a sock-like fit.
In spite of the fact that there were a few naysayers who felt the sole of the ST-2 lacked sufficient cushioning, a majority of reviewers felt otherwise and noted that the overall cushioning was superb.
In addition to the fact that this is light in weight, to begin with, it is also outfitted with lightweight mesh and printed techniques to eliminate seams. All of this combines for a more breathable shoe.
The best models will last for a good while and it is safe to say you can expect that from the ST-2. Many previous buyers have applauded the sturdy build provided here.
Being designed with a four-millimeter rubber outsole, this is able to deliver traction on various surfaces and also remain comfortable on roads, in the process.
Even though Topo Athletic may not be the first designer you think of when imagining the best minimalist running shoes, they better have your attention now.
3. INOV-8 TERRACLAW
The tongue will keep debris out
Sports a lace-up mesh upper
Uses shockzone technology for enhanced responsiveness
Not ideal for muddy terrain
Does not offer much protection from sharp objects
From a model that is lacking in response to one that nails it out of the park, here is the Terraclaw. In addition to a boatload of other features, this is what makes this shoe so great.Read more
The fitting of the Terraclaw may be the best aspect of the entire design. In addition to the close-fitting heel which helps to lock your heel into place, this is also engineered with a wide toe box.
Thanks to the integration of the shockzone technology, the Terraclaw is able to achieve an optimal combination of responsiveness and underfoot protection. Oh yeah, and the lace-up mesh upper also enhances the comfort.
Speaking of the lace-up mesh upper, this also comes into play when assessing the breathability. Indeed, the implementation of mesh will improve the airflow.
Overall, this is a model that is designed with high-quality materials and it certainly shows.
If there is one caveat to the Terraclaw it is its sole. It does sport triangular lugs that help to release gravel and debris but it lacks suitable traction on muddy and sloppy terrains.
With a better sole design, this could have possibly secured the top spot on this list. Yet, third is certainly not bad and nobody is going to scoff at the overall design of the Terraclaw.
4. ALTRA SUPERIOR 3
Provides reliable traction
Designed with a more durable mesh upper
The comfort has been lauded by users
Many buyers have had sizing issues
Altra is a brand that many of you have probably heard of and there is a good reason for that. It just so happens that their Superior 3 is an extremely lightweight shoe that offers enhanced stability.Read more
Unfortunately, there have been a number of reviewers who have commented on the narrow fit of the Superior 3. Plus, there are no additional widths available (which would have helped resolve the issue).
While the fit can be troublesome, the overall comfort provided is quite good. This is thanks to the lightweight nature and comfortable fit (for those who do not have wide feet).
In addition to the lightweight nature of the Superior 3, it is also outfitted with a durable and breathable upper.
One of the most talked-about aspects of the Superior 3 is the improved mesh upper that was integrated as it is much more durable. Additionally, the outsole appears to be durable, as well.
Due to the small lateral flare that is built into the sole of this shoe, the overall stability is improved. All in all, several users were satisfied with the reliable traction.
If you do not have wide feet, then the Superior 3 needs to make the cut for your final decision. With that said, it may be too unbearable otherwise.
5. MERRELL VAPOR GLOVE 3
The arch support is improved
The comfort is fantastic
Several users appreciated the lightweight nature
Durability has been a common issue
The Vapor Glove series from Merrell has delivered some awesome shoes but all of them have the same issue. Merrell was not able to address the durability issues but without question, their Vapor Glove 3 is utterly superb while it lasts.Read more
A couple of reviewers have criticized the fit of the Vapor Glove 3. One user noted the toe box was small and another one that the midfoot area had an inaccurate fit.
When it comes to comfort, Merrell nailed it with their Vapor Glove 3. Past the lightweight and flexible nature of it, it also sports improved arch support over its previous generations.
As with most minimalist running shoes, the Vapor Glove 3 is specifically designed with lightweight materials to enhance the breathability.
It was alluded to earlier and yes, the Vapor Glove 3 has notable durability concerns. It has been reported by various users that the outsole has separated after a few uses and that the upper mesh can quickly deteriorate.
Thanks to the integration of the Vibram sole, you can take comfort in knowing that optimal traction will be provided on most terrains.
The million dollar question is could the Vapor Glove 3 really be worth it? It really is a tremendous model but the noted longevity issues are well-documented.
6. MERRELL VAPOR GLOVE 2
Sports a 100 percent vegan-friendly construction
The mesh lining enhances the breathability
The footbed is integrated into the outsole
Durability can be a concern
Lacks a solid cushioning system
One would think that the Vapor Glove 2 would be obsolete with the Vapor Glove 3 but it is still an excellent model that deserves its praise. However, it too does have documented issues with its durability.Read more
Do note that there have been a few testers who have advised to order a size larger here (you could go with just a half-size). That is because the fit can be tight if you order your normal size.
Although the Vapor Glove 2 is far from uncomfortable, it has been noted by some buyers that a midsole cushioning system would have helped to improve the overall response.
Wow, this is where the Vapor Glove 2 shines. It has been designed with an upper unit made of mesh and a mesh lining that has been coated with odor-wicking technology.
Though the sole of this shoe is made with an extremely durable Vibram layer, it has been documented by various users that the upper unit can tear after a few months of use.
The same Vibram layer of the sole that enhances the durability also improves the overall traction you receive.
Much like with its successor, the Vapor Glove 2 does have durability concerns. Yet, it is a highly breathable and lightweight model that is designed to perform.
7. MERRELL TRAIL GLOVE 4
There are several appealing color options
Designed with a breathable mesh lining
It is more flexible than other models
The mesh is quite thin
The sole does not offer the best grip on muddy trails
This is the third straight model from Merrell and that should go to show you the quality of the company. Their Trail Glove 4 is a part of a different brand of shoes and is quite good in its own right.Read more
Although there were some users who noted this can fit loose in the ankle area, others claimed that the fit was like a glove. Also, the laces and tongue do provide a secure fit.
The laces and tongue also enhance the overall comfort, for the record. Adding on to this is the flexibility of the Trail Glove 4 as it improves the overall experience.
To ensure their shoe would not be unbearable to wear during hotter climates, Merrell designed it with a breathable mesh lining and a mesh and TPU upper.
Now, the integrated mesh upper is great and all but it is thin. Gee, Merrell sure likes to design shoes with durability issues, huh?
Overall, the grip that is provided from the sole could have been better. On slippery terrains, you will probably not get too much traction.
Just because this is the third straight model from Merrell to have documented longevity issues, it does not mean the company is incompetent. It just means that users who want to run on a daily basis may want to look elsewhere.
8. ALTRA ONE 2.5
It accommodates toe splay
The midsole is partially made from recycled materials
The breathability is superb
Offers less cushioning and arch support than its predecessor
The toe box is a bit tight
If you can deal with a shoe that offers a little less cushioning and arch support than its predecessor, then you can enjoy an extremely breathable and durable improvement from Altra.Read more
Both the heel area and the toe box of the Altra One 2.5 are narrow, based on consumer feedback. You know the deal here; those of you with wider feet may want to pursue other options.
Some testers felt that the Altra One 2.5 offered less cushioning and arch support than its predecessors. But, for the record, it is designed with a midsole that delivers a balance between flexibility and cushion.
Altra integrated quick dry air mesh into their design and it does wonders to improve the overall breathability.
It seems that Altra was able to design a more durable shoe with their One 2.5, according to various testers of the product.
To improve the ride, flexibility, and overall traction of this model, it has been designed with a blown rubber sole.
Although the One 2.5 skimped out a bit on the arch support and the cushioning, it does boast improved build quality and excellent traction for various terrains.
9. NEW BALANCE MINIMUS
The antimicrobial treatment reduces odor
The breathability is great
It offers a tremendous amount of support
The toe box is rather narrow
The upper mesh section has been known to break down quickly
If nothing else, you know that you will get a high-quality running shoe from New Balance. While their Minimus model has a bit of the Vapor Glove syndrome (durability issues), it is great.Read more
It is noted by New Balance that their model runs small. In specific, various users have reported that the toe box is quite narrow.
When it comes to comfort, support, and ample cushioning, it seems that the Minimus from New Balance is the best of them all. It has been raved about in all three areas.
In addition to the antimicrobial treatment that has been applied to reduce odor, this is also a very breathable shoe in and of its own.
There is good news and bad news. It seems that the sole of this model is very durable but the same can’t be stated for the upper mesh. According to a few runners, this section rips far too easily.
Not only is this designed with a Vibram sole but this same sole also sports flex grooves. This combines to provide you with stellar traction on rocky terrains.
What is most impressive about the Minimus is its excellent combination of comfort and breathability. Some slight flaws aside, this is what sells this bad boy.
10. BROOKS PUREFLOW 5
Includes a midsole that enhances the cushioning
The 3D overlays offer increased support
It is easy to transition from heel strike to toe-off
The heel area is quite narrow
Users have noted that the sole can wear down within a few months
In spite of some slight durability concerns, the PureFlow 5 is a great option that sports blown rubber pods for improved traction and breathable fabric lining.Read more
Much like with the previous New Balance shoe, Brooks makes mention of the fact that their PureFlow 5 runs small. This time, though, it seems that it runs small in the heel area.
While this is indeed a minimalist running shoe, it does not sacrifice comfort or cushioning. This is thanks to the full-length BioMoGo LT midsole that is built-in as this delivers adaptive cushioning.
The soft and breathable lining is what enhances the overall breathability of the PureFlow 5 to prevent your feet from overheating.
After only a few months of average use, the sole began to break down on a few buyers.
It is pretty obvious just by looking at the photos but the blown rubber pods that are integrated into the outsole help to improve the overall traction.
If you are looking to switch to a minimalist style but do not want to sacrifice the cushioning, then the PureFlow 5 is an excellent choice all around.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
When it comes to any type of footwear, the fit is going to be the be-all and end-all.
This section should be a piece of cake, right? After all, these types of running shoes will fit in the same manner as the ones you are wearing currently, right? Well, only if you are currently wearing minimalist models. The reality of the situation is this type of footwear is going to fit a little differently than traditional running shoes. Mainly, you want the minimalist pair you buy to fit like a glove. In other words, they should be snug and secure with not a whole lot of space around your toes. Of course, the toe box still needs to be wide enough to be comfortable. Oftentimes, you will find models with narrow toe boxes and heel areas and this can be problematic if you have wider feet.
In addition to this, you can also pay attention to the closure system. The more preferred option is probably going to be a lace-up closure system but some models will sport integrated strap closure systems. The choice is ultimately up to you.
While this type of footwear will cut down on the comfort a bit, you still need to look for it.
Along with the fitting, this is where minimalist running shoes are much different than traditional models. First off, understand that a typical pair of minimalist shoes is going to be right in-between a full barefoot shoe and a traditional one. A primary difference with minimalist models, though, is that the heel-to-toe drop will be reduced and there will be a reduction in the arch support, as a result. Now, in regard to comfort, here are a few things to keep in mind when you go to buy a model such as this.
Firstly, you ideally want to look for a model that has a strong balance of certain traits to suit your running style. Beginners may be looking for enhanced cushioning as there is an adjustment period that will take place when you switch to a minimalist approach of running. Of course, going back to the arch support, some models will offer enhanced arch support and this can be helpful if you roll your ankles inward or outward when you run.
Do you really want to run and feel your feet become clammy due to overheating? No; then look for a model that is breathable.
Now, here is where things should be a little familiar to you. If you have taken the time to buy a high-quality pair of running shoes in the past, then you should be fully aware that their breathability is one of the most critical characteristics. The same applies here and just because these models will be outfitted with a minimalist mindsight, it does not necessarily automatically mean that all models will be breathable. Thankfully, most designers understand the importance of the breathability and do everything in their power to ensure that their model is. As for what makes this possible, it comes down to a few features.
Firstly, the best designs will sport integrated mesh uppers. Mesh itself is a fabric that is extremely porous and this allows it to maximize airflow. As for what the upper is, this is a term that is used to reference the part of a shoe that covers the toes. So, that makes a mesh upper a match made in heaven. Also, you can look for mesh linings as this can also enhance the breathability. And, of course, never forget to look for shoes that are lightweight.
Come on now; who really wants to replace their shoes within a few months?
Raise your hand if you are looking to buy a new pair of shoes that are made with cheap materials that will maybe last you a few months? Everyone’s hand should be down unless you enjoy investing in a new pair of running shoes every other month. Now, with that being said, there were a few models that appeared on this list that had notable durability issues. What gives with that? Well, a lot of it does depend on various outside factors and how you run. For example, the terrain you run on can accelerate the wear of the sole and how hard you land can also put extra stress on the heels. In both of these instances, you buy the same exact model as someone else and find that theirs lasted longer than yours.
However, it still goes without saying that the model you buy should integrate high-quality materials and high-quality craftsmanship. Two key areas to keep an eye on are the uppers and the sole, specifically. For the upper section, the mesh that is integrated should be durable enough to last. If it is thin and deteriorates and wears quickly, you may or may not want to buy that model. As for the sole, look for high-quality rubber and even Vibram as you do not want to skimp on it.
Depending on the type of running you plan to do, you may want a sole that offers optimal traction.
The last section left off in a perfect spot as this section right here is all about the sole. The sole (also called the outsole) is the bottom layer of a shoe and it will deliver the traction. That is if it is designed to do so. Of course, the traction you require will also depend on the running that you plan on partaking in. For example, if you plan to do some trail running in diverse terrains then you will probably want a rubber sole that sports flex grooves.
Even if all you plan on doing is running on pavement, though, you will still want to look for an exceptional sole. This is where Vibram comes into play. Vibram soles have been touted as being extremely durable and slip-resistant. And, even on the toughest of terrain, they have been known to deliver top-notch traction.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
Even though these are going to need to fit your feet differently than traditional running shoes, it should not be much of a surprise that this is the top criterion. After all, first and foremost, you need to ensure that any footwear you ever buy fits your feet correctly. So, how is a minimalist running shoe supposed to fit your foot, then? Well, we detail that for you.
This is also where things can be a little different for you. If you are accustomed to the comfort of regular running shoes, then you may be in for a bit of a surprise here. Now, this is not to say that comfort is not important and that this type of footwear is devoid of it. Instead, this footwear merely has less arch support and cushioning than you are probably going to be used to.
Is there anything worse than clammy feet when you are in the middle of a run? In certain climates, this is not going to matter but most of the time, a breathable shoe is going to assist with this. As with any type of footwear, there are certain features that you need to look out for here. The weight and if any mesh is integrated come to mind immediately, though.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: What if you overpronate?
This is going to be a problem for several of you but there is a remedy to the issue of overpronation. Now, you do need to be aware that the transition is going to be much longer because of this. However, there is a solution and this is what it is. If you feel that your feet rotate inward over the arch (while you are in the act of running), then you should opt for models that offer enhanced support. Not all minimalist models will be designed in this manner, clearly, so you will need to make this a specific criterion for yourself.
q: During the transition, what happens if your feet ache?
If you think that it is going to be easy to adopt the minimalist style of running then you are wrong. If it does happen to be a breeze for you then consider yourself highly skilled or very lucky (probably both). The reality is for most of you that are reading this right now; the process is going to be tricky. Over your first couple of runs, you may even notice that your feet will be left aching. This is probably because you are trying to do too much too quickly. You see, with this type of running, your calves, feet, and Achilles tendons need to work harder to control your landing. Slow it down and take a more casual approach when first starting out.
q: Does your running style need to change?
To answer this question with a brief answer, it all depends on your current running style. It sounds really obvious, right? Well, it will really dictate if you need to change it. One of the main differences with this type of footwear is they sport heels that are less bulky. So, if you are a runner that lands heavily on your heel, your style will need to be adapted. You will need to train yourself to land towards your forefoot. Clearly, if you already do this then you will not need to change your style that much.
q: When is it time to retire running shoes?
Sometimes, it can be hard to let go and this is a problem that some runners can have. Due to the stress and the strain that is put on running shoes, though, all of them will need to be replaced eventually. You have probably heard experts give a range of around 300 to 500 miles and this is because it is going to vary depending on the person. If you land hard on your heels (which was alluded to earlier) then the shoes will wear out quicker (and the terrain will also play a role). It is not too hard to tell when your pair is overdue as if you see noticeable signs of wear, it is time.
q: Will the surface you run on dictate the longevity?
Okay, so this question was already given away. Yes, indeed, the surface that you run on is going to dictate the longevity (in some capacity). There are other factors that will come into play but this is certainly one of them. In regard to road running versus trail running, the former is going to wear your shoes down quicker than the latter. This is due to the aggressive nature of cement and gravel.
q: How do you know if minimalist running is right for you?
It is difficult to answer this question because it really depends on you and you alone. It has been said a million times but it fits perfectly here; everyone’s body is different and everyone has their own preferences. One thing is for sure, you may not have an answer within a week or two. The better you get at running with this type of footwear the more bearable it is going to be. Now, if you never reach that point and you become exhausted from trying, then perhaps minimalist or barefoot running is simply not for you.