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Top 7 Minimalist Shoes: Which Is The Best?

CEO Tinh Phung
Chances are you've already seen toe shoes at the gym, on the street, or even at work. Those sock-like creations with individual pockets for each of your little piggies are turning up everywhere these days....

Chances are you've already seen toe shoes at the gym, on the street, or even at work. Those sock-like creations with individual pockets for each of your little piggies are turning up everywhere these days. But footwear like the popular Vibram Five Fingers is just a small sign of the much larger movement towards minimalist or "barefoot" shoes.

Even mainstream brands are getting in on the act, catering to the growing number of people (especially runners) who are ditching their thick-heeled, designer sneakers for less-restrictive minimalist shoes like the Nike Free or Merrell Trail Glove. And there's a good reason for it.

Recent research on barefoot running shows that the heavily-padded footwear we're accustomed to actually causes us to walk and run in an unnatural way, leading to more injuries than their slender counterparts. It may seem counterintuitive - after all, more cushion should mean less injury, right? But adding a thick sole to the heel of your shoe introduces a couple of problems:

Two Types of Minimalist Shoes

The ultimate goal of minimalist shoes is to provide protection while still allowing your foot to move naturally. Humans have been walking and running around this planet for as long as we've been here and have done pretty well without the latest pair of super-sneakers strapped to our feet. That said, minimalist designs mostly fall into two main categories:

  1. Barefoot shoes - these shoes are designed to provide a close-to-barefoot experience while still offering protection from road debris. They feature super-thin, flexible soles and zero drop from heel to toe. Most are meant to fit like gloves and often have individual pods for each toe, allowing for a greater range of motion.

    Minimalist Shoes

  2. Minimalist running shoes - these shoes are somewhere between the barefoot experience and traditional running shoes. They typically have a single, closed toe pod and a slightly thicker sole to provide more protection. Though not zero drop like barefoot shoes, these hybrids still have minimal heel-to-toe decline and allow for a more natural midfoot or forefoot landing.

    Minimalist Shoes

Minimalist Shoes | What's Most Popular

The minimalist shoe scene has exploded in recent years, with big players like Nike, Adidas, Vibram, and VIVOBAREFOOT flooding the market with minimalist footwear. Let's take a look at some of the hot names in minimalism:

VIVOBAREFOOT (affiliate link)

Introduced in 2003, VIVOBAREFOOT pioneered the modern barefoot movement with their moccasin-like footwear. They offer the most comprehensive line of minimalist shoes on the market, including dress-casual loafers, heavy-duty hiking boots, and light and sporty huaraches (running sandals).

Vibram Five Fingers

Originally known for their rubber soles for hiking boots, Vibram introduced the Five Fingers Classic in 2006. These toe shoes quickly gained popularity and have been a staple in the minimalist scene ever since. Vibram now offers a wide range of Five Fingers styles, catering to different preferences.

Merrell Barefoot (affiliate link)

Last year, Merrell introduced their own line of low-profile, zero-drop running shoes featuring a specially-designed Vibram sole. The Barefoot Glove series, led by the sleek Road Glove and sturdy Trail Glove, has already established itself as a contender in the market.

ZEMgear (affiliate link)

ZEMgear's split-toe design, modeled after traditional Japanese tabi, has been generating buzz in the minimalist community. These shoes provide an extremely comfortable, near-barefoot experience and are flexible enough to be rolled up like a sock.

New Balance Minimus (affiliate link)

New Balance is now becoming a serious contender in the minimalist market. The newest member of their Minimus line, the Minimus Zero, features a specially-designed Vibram sole and a true 0mm heel-to-toe drop. These shoes are lightweight, stylish, and reasonably-priced.

Nike Free (affiliate link)

The Nike Free uses deep lengthwise and widthwise grooves in the sole to create flexibility and allow each "block" to adjust individually to your foot as it moves. The Free comes in a variety of flavors, signifying the level of support each shoe gives. Nike also offers a cross trainer line, similar to the Minimus, but with more support.


Whether you're a veteran of the barefoot movement or just getting started, there has never been a better time to get yourself into a pair of minimalist shoes. The number of brands and styles available right now is truly impressive, and there are still more on the horizon.

If you're serious about finding shoes that are right for you, I recommend checking out Birthday Shoes for comprehensive reviews of minimalist gear. And remember, if you've never run in barefoot or minimalist shoes before, start slowly to avoid injury. Consider starting with Nike Frees, then progressing to Minimus or Merrell, and finally trying the least supportive barefoot shoes like Vibrams.

Did I miss any minimalist shoes that you like? Which is your favorite?