The Best Minimalist Shoes

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

'Barefoot'' Shoes

If you want to feel as if you're wearing practically nothing on your feet, these two shoes put little between you and the ground. Whether you're walking or running, they're excellent tools for strengthening your feet and legs.

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila

162g / Heel height: 7.2mm / £115 / vibramfivefingers.com

The first of Vibram's "toe shoes" designed from the ground up for running, the Bikila features a segmented outsole and a thin layer of padding that provides mild protection to high-impact areas. 

Compared to the average running shoe: Firmer cushioning, increased flexibility.

'Barefoot' Shoes

Terra Plana Evo

247g / Heel height: 11.1mm / £102 / terraplana.com

The Evo uses thin, durable materials (such as nylon and rubber) to create a rugged, flexible shoe that keeps the foot in close contact with the ground as long as possible.

Compared to the average running shoe: Firmer cushioning, significantly more flexibility.  

Performance Trainers

More cushioned than racing flats and offering features typically found in structured shoes, performance trainers are ideal for speedwork. Runners used to cushioned or stability should find the transition to these treads easy.

Nike Free Run+

238g / Heel height: 28.4mm / £67 / nikerunning.com

The latest update to the original minimal shoe has a Nike Plus socket, offset lacing and a highly segmented outsole that allows the shoe to flex in any direction.

Compared to the average running shoe: Similar level of soft cushioning, increased flexibility.  

Performance Trainers

Saucony ProGrid Kinvara

218g / Heel height 28.7mm / £85 / saucony.com

This stripped-down trainer has just enough material to cushion the foot while providing a level landing for a midfoot-striking running style.

Compared to the average running shoe: Similar level of soft cushioning, similar level of flexibility.  

Performance Trainers

Brooks Green Silence

210g / Heel height: 31.1mm / £55 / brooksrunning.com

This eco-friendly trainer has the least amount of material needed for a typical cushioned shoe experience. The result: a light, fast ride that's not too firm. 

Compared to the average running shoe: Similar level of soft cushioning, similar level of flexibility.  

Racing Flats

With a lower heel than everyday trainers, a thin, airy build, and little outsole tread, racing flats offer as much as you need for race day and nothing more. Runners not used to flats should ease them into their routine slowly.

Mizuno Wave Universe 3

105g / Heel height: 16.8mm / £75* / mizuno.com

This extremely lightweight racer is popular in Japan (and with our testers) due to its stripped-down yet balanced design that harkens back to shoes worn during the first running boom. (*Approximate - only available in US)

Compared to the average running shoe: Firmer cushioning, increased flexibility.  

Racing Flats

Zoot Ultra Speed

190g / Heel height: 24mm / £90 / zootsports.com

This crossover from the triathlon world seamlessly wraps the foot like a generously cut compression sock and puts just enough resilient cushioning underfoot to make the ride comfortable.

Compared to the average running shoe: Firmer cushioning, increased flexibility.