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The Best Barefoot Shoes of 2023: Enhance Your Hiking, Running, Water Activities, and Workouts!

CEO Tinh Phung
A few years ago, it seemed like every major shoe company had their version of a "barefoot shoe." However, most of them quickly disappeared from the market. Today, if you look around at the starting...

Man Wearing Barefoot Shoes

A few years ago, it seemed like every major shoe company had their version of a "barefoot shoe." However, most of them quickly disappeared from the market. Today, if you look around at the starting line of any race, you'll still find the usual cushioned shoes. But fortunately, a few companies remain dedicated to producing low-profile footwear that allows you to feel the earth beneath your feet and truly connect with it. Every day, more people are experiencing a significant "aha" moment when they try on a pair of barefoot shoes.

The Best Barefoot Shoes - Our Top Picks

  • Best Overall Barefoot Shoes: Xero Shoes 360 - Men | Xero Shoes 360 - Women
  • Best Barefoot Gym Shoes: Inov8 Bare XF 210 V3 - Men | Inov8 Bare XF 210 V3 - Women
  • Best Barefoot Hiking Shoes: Xero Shoes Scrambler Mid - Men | Xero Shoes Scrambler Mid - Women
  • Best Barefoot Trail Shoes: Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Weather - Men | Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Weather - Women
  • Best Slip-On Barefoot Shoes: Vivobarefoot Opanka Leather Shoes - Men | Vivobarefoot Opanka Leather Shoes - Women
  • Best Budget Barefoot Shoes: Merrell Vapor Glove 5 - Men | Merrell Vapor Glove 5 - Women
  • Best Barefoot Running Shoes: Altra Superior 5 - Men | Altra Superior 5 - Women
  • Best Casual Barefoot Shoes: Astral Loyak - Men | Astral Loyak - Women
  • Best Barefoot Water Shoes: Astral Brewer Boat Shoe - Men | Astral Brewess Boat Shoe - Women
  • Best Barefoot Shoes for Walking: Altra Solstice - Men | Altra Solstice - Women

Of course, the definition of the "best" barefoot shoe differs based on individual preferences and specific activities. If you're a dedicated weightlifter, hiking shoes or boots won't be suitable for your workouts. For this guide, we consider barefoot shoes to have the following characteristics:

  • "Zero-drop" design, where the heel isn't elevated above the forefoot
  • Minimal cushioning with a stack height (height from ground to foot) of no more than 25 millimeters, preferably less
  • Foot-shaped design with a wide toe-box for natural toe splay

While these choices might not be a perfect fit for everyone, they are likely to satisfy the needs of the most people. So, why not slip into a pair and discover what all the fuss is about?

Why Trust Us?

At ACTIVE.com, we pride ourselves on delivering accurate and authentic content to our readers. Our editorial team consists of fitness and wellness experts, including competitive athletes, coaches, physical therapists, nutritionists, and certified trainers. We rely on their knowledge and experience to ensure that the products we feature meet the highest standards. Additionally, customer satisfaction is a crucial part of our review process, and we only showcase products that receive high ratings.

Best Overall Barefoot Shoes - Xero Shoes 360

Xero Shoes 360

Specs:

  • Weight: 9.2 oz. (M9)
  • Stack Height: 8mm
  • Materials: Rubber sole, mesh upper with rubber grip ribs

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At first glance, the Xero Shoes 360 might resemble a pair of old-school cross-trainers. However, these modern, well-designed shoes pay attention to every detail. With a flat and foot-shaped design, along with excellent grip and reinforced sides for stability, the Xero Shoes 360 can handle various activities. Whether you're hitting the gym or going about your daily routine, these shoes will show you the true potential of barefoot footwear.

What We Like:

  • Serious grip and athletic sole pattern
  • Enhanced lateral stability
  • Suitable for a wide range of activities and sports
  • Less likely to draw "clown shoe" comments

What We Don't Like:

  • May squeak
  • Beginners might find them too minimal at first

Buy: Xero Shoes 360 - Men

Buy: Xero Shoes 360 - Women

Best Barefoot Gym Shoes - Inov-8 Bare XF 210

Inov8 Bare XF 210 V3

Specs:

  • Weight: 7.4 oz.
  • Stack Height: 4.5mm
  • Materials: Rubber outsole, mesh upper

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Inov-8, based in the United Kingdom, is well-known among CrossFitters and fitness enthusiasts. The Inov-8 Bare XF 210 is their minimal training shoe, perfect for heavy lifting, sprints, and everything in between. With its lightweight and flexible design, this shoe feels like an extension of your lower body. The sticky outsoles and lateral stability enhance strength, balance, and body awareness during fast movements in any direction.

What We Like:

  • Very light and breathable
  • Excellent for deadlifts
  • Reinforced for rope climbs
  • Thin and flexible 4.5mm sole

What We Don't Like:

  • May be too narrow for some feet
  • Insole can be slippery

Buy: Inov8 Bare XF 210 V3 - Men

Buy: Inov8 Bare XF 210 V3 - Women

Best Barefoot Hiking Shoes - Xero Shoes Scrambler Mid

Xero Shoes Scrambler Mid

Specs:

  • Weight: 11.3 oz. (M9)
  • Stack Height: 7mm
  • Materials: Michelin Fiber Lite® sole, TrailFoam™, mesh upper, two-layer toe cap, welded sidewalls

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Xero Shoes teamed up with Michelin to create the Scrambler Mid, an ultra-light hiking boot with outstanding performance. These boots feature grippy soles that excel on wet and dry terrains. With a combination of protection and flexibility, the Scrambler Mid weighs only 11.3 oz., half the weight of most hiking boots. This could revolutionize your perception of mountain travel forever.

What We Like:

  • Great for ultralight backpacking and camping
  • Super comfortable
  • Easy to pull on and off, even with thick hiking socks

What We Don't Like:

  • No waterproof option available
  • Insoles may shift

Buy: Xero Shoes Scrambler Mid - Men

Buy: Xero Shoes Scrambler Mid - Women

Best Barefoot Trail Shoes - Vivobarefoot Primus Trail

Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Weather

Specs:

  • Weight: 8.2 oz. (M9)
  • Stack Height: 8mm
  • Materials: Recycled rubber outsole, mesh textile upper

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Vivobarefoot, a pioneer in barefoot shoe design, continues to impress with their Primus Trail line. These shoes feature a durable, lugged outsole suitable for outdoor sports and hiking. The lightweight, form-fitting upper uses sustainable and vegan materials. Vivobarefoot Primus Trail shoes have gained the nickname "ninja shoes" among wearers due to their excellent construction and exceptional performance on trails.

What We Like:

  • Well-constructed with a durable and toothy sole
  • Available in mesh and all-weather variations, including kids' sizes
  • Also suitable for fitness and casual wear with the Primus Lite model

What We Don't Like:

  • Relatively high price point
  • Stitching and uppers may not be as durable as the soles
  • Multiple models can make choosing confusing

Buy: Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Weather - Men

Buy: Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Weather - Women

Best Slip-On Barefoot Shoes - Vivobarefoot Opanka

Vivobarefoot Opanka Leather Shoes

Specs:

  • Weight: Unlisted
  • Stack Height: 7mm
  • Materials: Rubber outsole, Portuguese leather upper

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Vivobarefoot Opanka is the epitome of comfort and style. These slip-on shoes are as light and flexible as it gets, providing a perfect fit without any laces or tying. While they may appear small and unassuming, they offer unparalleled comfort. Vivobarefoot Opanka shoes are suitable for any occasion, whether it's a casual outing, a business meeting, or an evening at a cocktail bar.

What We Like:

  • Convenient slip-on design
  • Perfect to wear at the end of the day, reminiscent of Mr. Rogers
  • Exceptionally light and flexible

What We Don't Like:

  • Relatively high price for minimalist shoes
  • Men's color options may appear unappealing to some

Buy: Vivobarefoot Opanka Leather Shoes - Men

Buy: Vivobarefoot Opanka Leather Shoes - Women

Best Budget Barefoot Shoes - Merrell Vapor Glove 5

Merrell Vapor Glove 5

Specs:

  • Weight: 10 oz.
  • Stack Height: 6.5mm
  • Materials: Vibram ecostep rubber, mesh and polyurethane upper

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Merrell, known for its sturdy hiking boots, also offers barefoot options. The Vapor Glove 5 is the latest iteration of their popular Vapor Glove line, featuring a more durable upper and improved sole texture. These shoes provide a glove-like fit, excellent grip, and an unobtrusive design. With a wallet-friendly price tag, the Merrell Vapor Glove 5 is a fantastic option for budget-conscious individuals.

What We Like:

  • Glove-like fit with excellent grip
  • Sleek design and color scheme
  • Half the price of many barefoot shoes

What We Don't Like:

  • Inconsistent sizing between generations
  • On the narrower side, may feel snug

Buy: Merrell Vapor Glove 5 - Men

Buy: Merrell Vapor Glove 5 - Women

Best Barefoot Running Shoes - Altra Superior 5

Altra Superior 5

Specs:

  • Weight: 8.8 oz. (M9)
  • Stack Height: 21mm
  • Materials: Rubber sole, mesh upper, removable polyurethane rock plate

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Altra offers a diverse range of foot-shaped, flat-soled footwear, including models with more padding. The Superior 5, their most minimal offering, is a lightweight trail running shoe suitable for road running, everyday wear, and as a first barefoot shoe. With its luxurious and silky upper, this shoe strikes a perfect balance between the benefits of barefoot movement and the comfort of a traditional shoe.

What We Like:

  • Strikes a "barefoot-esque but still shoe-like" sweet spot
  • Posh and silky upper, available in cool colors
  • More durable than previous models
  • Lightweight like other minimalist shoes

What We Don't Like:

  • Cushioning may be too much or too little for some
  • Altra sizing can be challenging to determine

Buy: Altra Superior 5 - Men

Buy: Altra Superior 5 - Women

Best Casual Barefoot Shoes - Astral Loyak

Astral Loyak

Specs:

  • Weight: 7.5 oz. (M9)
  • Stack Height: 11mm
  • Materials: Siped G.15 rubber outsole, hydrophobic canvas upper, stretch mesh tongue

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Originally known for their kayaking and watersports gear, Astral Designs expanded into hiking and lifestyle products. The Astral Loyak, with its canvas upper and water-friendly features, perfectly balances style and functionality. These shoes excel in both dry and wet conditions, providing an ultralight and flexible experience. Whether you're on land or in the water, the Astral Loyak won't disappoint.

What We Like:

  • Exceptional grip on dry and wet surfaces
  • Remarkably light and flexible
  • Can be used as water or boat shoes if required

What We Don't Like:

  • May not be wide enough for individuals with wider feet
  • Sizing can be challenging

Buy: Astral Loyak - Men

Buy: Astral Loyak - Women

Best Barefoot Water Shoes - Astral Brewer

Astral Brewer Boat

Specs:

  • Weight: 9.3 oz.
  • Stack Height: 17mm
  • Materials: Siped G.15 rubber outsole, hydrophobic canvas upper, stretch mesh tongue

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Whether you're walking on wet rocks or crossing riverbeds, the Astral Brewer and Brewess are award-winning water shoes for both men and women. These shoes are tough enough to withstand multiple seasons, while providing a soft and comfortable feel. With excellent drainage and gentle materials, blisters and hotspots will become a thing of the past. The Astral Brewer is the ideal tool for specific water conditions, and a great choice for unwinding with a beer after an adventure.

What We Like:

  • Incredible grip on wet rocks
  • Effective drainage capabilities
  • Durable and gentle on the skin

What We Don't Like:

  • May develop an odor over time
  • Some individuals prefer sandals for water activities

Buy: Astral Brewer Boat Shoe - Men

Buy: Astral Brewess Boat Shoe - Women

Best Barefoot Shoes for Walking - Altra Solstice XT2

Altra Solstice

Specs:

  • Weight: 8.4 oz.
  • Stack Height: 23mm
  • Materials: Rubber outsole, mesh upper

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The Altra Solstice XT2 is an excellent choice for individuals who prioritize walking as their primary form of fitness or daily commute. These shoes provide exceptional traction, combined with a luxurious and form-fitting upper. The cushioning offers firm support while ensuring comfort during long days on your feet. Ideal for high-impact sports and racquet activities, the Altra Solstice XT2 provides stability and lateral support.

What We Like:

  • Suitable for high-impact or racquet sports
  • Upper fits foot well, providing lateral stability
  • Can withstand long hours on your feet

What We Don't Like:

  • Not the most stylish appearance
  • Slightly bulkier compared to other "barefoot" options

Buy: Altra Solstice - Men

Buy: Altra Solstice - Women

What to Look for in Barefoot Shoes

The most crucial factor when choosing barefoot shoes is finding a pair that feels right for your foot. Everyone's feet are unique, so it's essential to try on various models and sizes. Ask questions and explore different options. Remember that your preferred barefoot shoe may change over time, and that's perfectly normal!

Size: Sizing among barefoot shoe brands can vary, so be sure to read customer comments and reviews to understand how a particular model fits. If possible, try on shoes in person or take advantage of return policies to find your perfect fit.

Weight: While shoe weight is not the most critical factor, it's worth considering. All the models in our guide are lightweight compared to traditional hiking boots or shoes. Don't fixate on weight alone; select a shoe that matches your specific needs, whether you prefer a more durable hiking model or a lighter option.

Materials: If you plan on wearing your barefoot shoes without socks or in hot weather, prioritize breathable uppers made of mesh or similar materials. For winter or wet conditions, consider options with waterproof and insulated features. Pay attention to sole styles too, as they can range from thin, flat rubber for casual wear to deep-lugged soles suitable for hiking. Read buyer comments and reviews to get a sense of each shoe's durability.

FAQs About Barefoot Shoes

Are barefoot shoes suitable for everyday use?\ Absolutely! Barefoot shoes are perfect for everyday casual wear. They help build the neglected muscles in your feet and lower legs while improving body awareness. Even if you wear sport-specific shoes for activities like basketball or weightlifting, the hours spent in barefoot shoes still benefit you.

How often should I wear barefoot shoes?\ When starting out, wearing barefoot shoes for a few hours a day is recommended to allow your lower legs to adapt gradually. This helps prevent soreness and discomfort. However, the benefits of barefoot shoes accumulate over time, so gradually increase your exposure. Eventually, you can wear them all day long.

How tight should barefoot shoes be?\ Barefoot shoes should not be too loose or too tight. A snug and stable fit across the top of the foot is ideal, with a spacious toe box for natural toe splay. Take the time to find the right fit and don't hesitate to make adjustments until you find your perfect match.

Should I wear socks with barefoot shoes?\ Wearing socks with barefoot shoes is a personal choice. Some individuals prefer the barefoot experience without any additional layers, while others find wearing socks more comfortable and hygienic. Experiment with both options to determine what works best for you.

Remember, finding the right barefoot shoes is a personal journey. Choose a pair that aligns with your needs, preferences, and the activities you love. Whether you're hiking, running, or simply enjoying a casual day out, embracing the benefits of barefoot shoes can enhance your overall experience.

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