The Best Minimalist Shoes

The best of the barely-there shoes


Posted: 3 March 2011

 1 of 9 

We tested the latest minimalist models at the RW Shoe Lab and on the feet of 24 wear-testers. Seven pairs rose to the top because of their ultralight weight, flexibility and low heel heights. In the reviews that follow, each shoe’s flexibility and cushioning scores are compared with the average range of cushioning and flexibility scores for the running shoes we typically test. (Note: the average running shoe weighs 340g and has a heel height of 36mm.)

Picture credit: Kevin Irby/ Getty Images


Previous article
Great Scottish Run
Next page


barefoot running, minimalist shoes
TwitterStumbleUponFacebookDiggRedditGoogle


Discuss this article

I'd like to have seen a summary by each shoe of things important to a lot of minimalist/barefoot runners; both heel & toe thickness / drop (I know it did say for some), arch support (we don't tend to like), toe spring (we tend to be suspicious of), flexibility, ground feel, internal seems, toe box (e.g. wide & high generally being perceived as good) etc.
I'd also like to know how each shoe copes when just walking on the smooth & flat for a person who toe plants when walking truly barefoot. If these affect your walking gait (e.g. by making you slap the floor) then not so good (as that implies it will affect your running gait too). No shoes seem perfect in this test, most fail completely, I think even a badly fitted/tied huarache will have trouble passing.
Posted: 07/03/2011 at 09:57

I'm suprised by the lack of mention of something like the f-lite 195, which I would have thought was a more popular offering than some of those mentioned.
Posted: 07/03/2011 at 12:57

The heel hight on the VIVOBAREFOOT Evo is not 11.1mm...it's a 4mm thick sole toe to heel.  And, as a barefoot shoe shouldn't, offers no cushioning...so why is "firmer cushioning" being mentioned in the comments?
Posted: 08/03/2011 at 13:46

I too was wondering where they got the 11.1 mm.

On your other point, Emma, I think they're using "firmer cushioning" to mean "less cushioning", but they're using "firmer" in opposition to "softer" rather than using "less" and "more".

Personally the Neo fits me better, and I wish they'd mentioned it (it's also cheaper than the Evo, and I think it would be good to mention there is a second option within this range).


Posted: 08/03/2011 at 15:10

That's the 1st I've heard of the Neo.

The Evo II rubbed my heel too much, how's the heel on the Neo?


Posted: 09/03/2011 at 10:36

What an atrocious 'review'. In fact, where are the 'reviews'? This is just a list with some very basic (and often incorrect - 11mm heel height for the Neo? Have they actually seen this shoe? I've got slippers with thicker soles…) information tagged on. Furthermore, I would argue that not all these shoes are minimalist at all.
Posted: 09/03/2011 at 13:25

Agreeing with most of the comments already - this article is, at best, a good example of publication that doesn't get minimalist shoes. The descriptions and terminology is painfully structured - just like traditional running shoes!

I do agree with the point at the end though; about transitioning gradually to prevent injury. 


Posted: 09/03/2011 at 14:17

I was concerned the Neos would rub on my Achilles' tendons, because they reach higher at the back than the Evos, but I've not had any problems. Reading some of the proper reviews, the fabric is softer than in the Evo, which may make it more comfortable - although I need to try rinsing the mud out the mesh and see how that goes, 'cos it may not be easy.


Posted: 09/03/2011 at 16:29

Abjectly poor journalism and not just a bad review but potentially misleading to the point of risking injury to anyone daft enough to take it seriously. The degree of informed content was virtually nil. Most of these shoes are seriously minimalist (particularly the Vibram's) and do not provide anything approaching stability or structure - that's the whole point of them - to let your feet move naturally with minimal constraints - they are generally best for people who have very good biomechanics and who are relatively light, fast on their feet and definitely not heel strikers. Even then, you would be best advised to limit their use to shorter runs/races maybe up to 10k.  

I happen to own a pair of Nike Free 5's which have modest cushioning and outstanding flexibility (ie no stability) and while I like them a lot (for fast short  runs only) I would NEVER advise anyone who needs a stability shoe to step into these and no the transition would not be easy !


Posted: 12/03/2011 at 15:27

This "review" doesn't tell me anything that might be of relevance when trying to select a shoe - and even includes a pair that I couldn't buy here anyway.
Posted: 14/03/2011 at 09:45

And since they've not bothered to put the shoes up individually with reviews, we can't add our own reviews... Well, I suppose we could on this thread...

Grozzlybear; "Most of these shoes are seriously minimalist". I disagree - I think only the first two are "seriously minimalist"; the others are just racing flats or performance trainers. Re: "and definitely not heel strikers", personally I'd recommend minimalist shoes for those wanting to change to mid-foot or forefoot landing, because of the great tactile feedback (in my experience). Of course, you also need to think about shortening your stride, landing with your foot under you not out in front, etc. and yes, you want to build up distance gradually, but I see no reason why they can't be used for longer runs, given time to strengthen the relevant muscles etc. -  after all, some people are already using FFs and othe minimalist shoes for running marathons.


Posted: 14/03/2011 at 13:13

This is a  really interesting thread as  due to injury, someone advised me to try the POSE method of running to take the strain off my knee joint.
Posted: 18/03/2011 at 08:34

Does anyone get the feeling we all know more than RW ?

Since I moved to natural running on Newtons. I've been researching "performance" running shoes (not really minimalist, but this "article" seems to mix them up. Newtons are fine, but twice the price they should be. The Saucony Kinvaras, I loved. Really comfy and light. Until they wore out completely after 120 miles. Mizuno Waver Rider 13s at 243g were a good compromise, but the new "improved" 14s are heavieer by 70g and clumpier. I bought some Asics DS Sky Speeds which are nice and light. Took some running in, as they gave me sore calves, but did 22 v hilly miles last night and they were great.

That's my experience. Has anyone tried any of the Adidas Adizero range ?


Posted: 18/03/2011 at 16:42

I was wondering if there would be any advantage in using minimalist shoes for walking and maybe short distance running (and still log most of the milage in "conventional" shoes). I was thinking in giving my feet/muscles a different workout while using the minimalist shoe. I am not planing to become a barefoot runner ..

For that purpose I was looking at Merrell Trail or Tough Glove but cant decide which one would be the better for me  ...for running obviously the Trail Glove but for everyday walking the Tough Glove ... wondering if the Tough Glove would be ok for short runs or not.   Did anyone did any running in the Tough Glove ? 

Also I found some of the Merrell "barefoot shoes" in stores in London but not the Tough Glove yet. If anyone could tell me where I could try on in London then that would be great.


Posted: 18/03/2011 at 17:07

If anyone's interested, I've listed my spare pair of Terra Plana Evo II size 8 (42) running shoes on ebay.  I get on very well with my original pair but find that now I'm running further and further with my long run being at least 10 miles and I'm planning to run in more off-road events, I need a little more cushioning. http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=220756735656#ht_500wt_1053
Posted: 19/03/2011 at 08:43

Michael Edar, Yes, walking around in/doing some of your running in minimalist shoes will give your foot muscles more of a workout and should strengthen them - and running in them should give your calves more of a workout. Be prepared to change your running style if you're not already landing forefoot/midfoot. Sorry, no idea where to find the new Merrell shoes - I got two pairs of Terra Plana Neos in the last four months (the second pair because they were on offer, so it seemed sensible) so my husband would be less-than-happy if I were looking seriously at yet another pair (I am looking, of course - I want a pair of minimalist trail shoes at some point to complement the Neos).

Sleek Lemur: no experience of the Adidas Adizero range. I've worn Wave Riders but they're too narrow in the toe box for me for long runs (black little toenail - fun), even at a half size up from my other running shoes (and that was with the 13s - I hear the new ones are worse).


Posted: 23/03/2011 at 17:22

I was just wondering about the durability of your average minimalist shoe. I've never used them but I assume that becuase the lack of cushioning they don't need regular replacement. Is this right?

 Many Thanks


Posted: 26/03/2011 at 17:29

Hypothetical question about the best way to do the transition from regular running shoes to minimalist.

Let’s say you currently run 30 miles a week in traditional running shoes and decide you want to be able to end up running 30 miles a week in the same way in Fivefinger shoes – and we’re going to question the rights or wrongs of the reasons for wanting to do this (and I’m just using Fivefingers as an example of near barefoot shoes).

You give yourself 2 years for this full transition to happen (this is a very sensible hypothetical person after all!). That just over 100 weeks.

Is it better to:

A - Buy some Fivefingers now and start by running 29.7 miles in your normal shoes and 0.3 miles in the Fivefingers in the first week. And over the next 100 weeks gradually, ever so slowly, increase the distances covered in the Fivefingers and reduce that in the regular shoes. In practice, in the early weeks, you might want to make even smaller changes in the distances but larger changes in the final stages.

OR (if there were enough types of shoes out there to make this theoretically possible and you had and unlimited budget)

B - You find a pair shoes that are the same as your current ones but ever so slightly more ‘minimalist’ – i.e. fractionally thinner midsole, fractionally less heel to toe drop, fractionally less support etc. Let’s say that you can get away with immediately doing all your 30 miles in this shoe and not notice the difference. Once month later you do the same again. And for next 24 months, doing all your miles in shoes getting ever so slightly more minimalist – until by month 25 you’re running in Fivefingers.

Which approach is better? Is there a proven answer? Does it matter?

I know some say A because they say as soon as you put on the Fivefingers, you immediately banish all your old bad running form habits. By adopting B you could drag all those bad form habits along for the ride.

Any thoughts?

Posted: 26/03/2011 at 18:40

After reading the book Born to Run by Christopher Mcdougall, I changed to minimalist trainers, from running in structured trainers which I was advised to wear by running shops. I started running again from scratch, just doing a few miles a week and forgot all previous info about what shoes I needed ie structured/support/cushioning, and started running from scratch. After more research into forefoot running I adopted the pose method and haven't looked back. I no longer get any knee or joint pains that i suffered before. The transition period was brief and my weekly milage was soon back to where it had been, only now faster. I would suggest that if you do change, at the start of your transition you spend some time working on your core muscles as this will help you maintain your posture when running. If you look at all elite athletes, they all wear minimalist shoes. They must know something!. After all, when we were hunter gatherers we managed without special trainers... because we were born to run. Ive got a pair of Vibram 5 fingers and tried various other light weight shoes, found them all to be pretty good and currently I'm wearing Inov8 f-lite 195's, which I would recomend to anyone. Hope this helps, don't rush the change, you'll find it transorms your running for the better.  


Posted: 26/03/2011 at 19:42

I missed the article under discussion here, but the thread is pretty useful by itself!

Looking for advice: could any of these minimalist trail shoes  be described as "affordable"? Anything much under £75?

It feels like I have to pay more for shoes with less cushioning than the shoes I've bought in the past - I'm not after hi-tech superlightweight, just something without the bulk that gets in the way of forefoot running

( I want a basic car without air-con and leather seats - not a carbon-fibre Ferrari! )



Posted: 06/06/2011 at 19:46

There's the Terra Plana Ultra at £58 from barefootathlete.co.uk, or the Neo at £80. I'm expecting my Neos to last quite a time, not need to be replaced after 500 miles or whatever.

Cheap and chearful is a pair of aqua shoes (I bought a pair to use as slippers, at Lidl for 4.99, I think it was). Aqua shoes tend to be relatively narrow in the forefoot and are not likely to last so long. Or go find a pair of old-fashioned plimsoles with a thin flexible sole - probably cost about £10 or less.


Posted: 06/06/2011 at 23:04

I've ben told that the Asics Hpyerspeed are a re very good minimalist shoes with no heel-toe slop. Run and Become sell them for £61 or you can get them on amazon for under £50.

I'll be buying a pair next week as I've started barefoot running and would like to use them to supplement my BF runs.


Posted: 09/06/2011 at 08:47

Thanks guys. £60 is more my game!

(As an aside, I've done quite a few miles in my Merrell casual sandals with no ill effects, but they're so useful, I don't want to wear them out by running!) 


Posted: 09/06/2011 at 10:13

Really helpful comments, Jeff.  Can I ask whether you think weight and weekly mileage affect choice of minimalist shoe?  I'm 142 pounds and run about 20 - 30 miles a week at the moment.   Would you recommend a particular minimalist shoe to start off with?
Posted: 12/08/2011 at 08:02

I have had a pair of Terra Plana Evos for a year and whereas I can now comfortably run (truly) barefoot for up to an hour, I find that when I use the Evos they leave me with sore achilles and calves and as I am scared of getting injured I hardly use them. Can anyone explain/ give any tips to stop this? Is it just a case of persevering?

Although I think running barefoot is fantastic for improving form and eliminating knee strain (at least it has been for me) I don't want to run barefoot as a matter of course. It takes a brave person to run barefoot on city streets, not just because of the glass, abrasive tarmac etc. but also the looks and comments from passers-by. And I certainly don't want race barefoot where I am going all-out.  I still use my old Saucony cushioned stability shoes for races and general running, which seems to me to kind of undermine the idea of improving form through barefoot drills.  

Can anyone suggest durable race shoes that allow for good form, while also giving some protection in case form breaks down under pressure during the race, particularly in longer events like half-marathon?

Incidentally, I firmly believe that one should not even think about using a so-called "barefoot" or minimalist shoe before learning to run properly barefoot.  Running barefoot imposes a natural limitation to overdoing it - it is just too painful to heel-strike barefoot so you have to get the style right in order to continue.  But a minimalist shoe would mask this effect allowing the runner to run badly for longer with little protection, potentially leading to injury - worse than running in properly cushioned shoes. 


Posted: 16/08/2011 at 22:55

I've been experimenting with trying to run with more of a "natural" style for a while now. Initially I was too far up on my forefoot which I think gave me shinsplints and tight calfs.

I recently found this program which really helped me get onto my midfoot properly. I found the videos and session plans really explained the process well: http://www.kinetic-revolution.com/sixweekprogram/

No problems with the shins or calfs now so I must be doing something right.

In terms of shoes, I'm now using a Nike Free 3.0 which seems to do the trick for me, although they don't last too long! 


Posted: 27/09/2011 at 21:03

For a transitional shoe, look at the the Brooks Green Silence. Sweatshop do it for £44 atm and it's not too narrow like a lot of racers, plus it still has a bit of cushioning. Funky colours too!
Posted: 08/10/2011 at 11:16

I remember reading the 'review' in question and agree with all the comments earlier on this thread. It was very poorly researched and written, missing the point entirely. Someone earlier listed the salient points which should have been covered for each shoe and was spot on.

It would be nice if RW read these comments and responded, and even better if they published a proper review. I wouldn't expect an apology.

I was surprised by comments here regarding the Saucony Kinvara - I've done 250 miles in mine and they show virtually no signs of wear. Having got used to them I have also bought a pair of NB RC130X, which go a step further towards 'barefoot', I've only done 50 miles in them so far, but am loving them for shorter races and speed sessions (PBs up to 10k are tumbling!)

I just got a pair of VivoBarefoot Evo's, but had to return them as one of the outer shoes was of a different size!


Posted: 09/12/2011 at 09:16

runboy wrote (see)
For a transitional shoe, look at the the Brooks Green Silence. Sweatshop do it for £44 atm and it's not too narrow like a lot of racers, plus it still has a bit of cushioning. Funky colours too!

Well, my LRS had just 1 pair of these in stock, but they were a good fit, and rather cheap. (A mere £10 due to minor mouse damage that I spotted - no, really ... )

They've been really good so far, certainly better than my 'conventional' shoes for forefoot running, so thanks for the tip.

However, now I'm moving to longer runs I really want to get off-road, and all my local paths are muddy grass. Neither the Brooks nor my conventional shoes work well - I'm not naturally agile on my feet, so can't deal with lack of grip the way many folks do. Can anyone recommend something with the right soles to deal with soft stuff?

(I'm a bit bemused by many reviews I've seen on fora - people seem to be using shoes with very shallow tread in mud. I was sort-of expecting something closer to studded footy boots, so probably need some guidance here ... )


Posted: 11/12/2011 at 19:18

For what it's worth I tried the Terra Plana / Vivo "Neo" shoes out and have been using them for some time now. They do solve the Achilles tendon rubbing problem that I had with the Evo II shoes.

My main complaint is that the Neo does (or didn't) come in half sizes. I find that I am unable to take the inserts out & then run down hill without my feet slipping about too much for comfort. Other than this I like the Neo but come on, bring out the half size option too please.


Posted: 21/06/2012 at 19:14

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.