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For some people, there are few better feelings than the freedom of running barefoot. It is hard to argue that the feeling of the ground, whether it be grass or sand, under your feet is not an appealing one. However, as the ground can be covered in pebbles, fine glass and other potential underfoot hazards, it’s a smart idea to keep at least a small protective barrier between the earth and your feet. Barefoot running shoes are the answer for people who want to run with that freedom but maintain a level of safety.
What Are Barefoot Running Shoes?
Unlike traditional sneakers and running shoes, which put a noticeable barrier between your feet and their surroundings, barefoot running shoes try to keep things to a minimum. Rather than a sizable sole, barefoot running shoes sport designs which feature smaller, thinner soles and uppers, resulting in a lighter, closer-to-your-skin feel when on. And while placing any footwear on your feet means you’re never really going to achieve a 100% barefoot feel, this minimalist style still goes a long way to achieving that desired feeling.
When it comes to identifying barefoot running shoes, you can expect the design to incorporate several, if not all of the following elements. They include:
- Toe Box – Sometimes continuous and sometimes broken down into individual toes, this reinforced barrier gives your toes enough room to spread out while providing protection at the same time.
- No-Drop Sole – The sole on the shoes should remain the same thickness from toes to heel. The thickness of the sole can vary from brand to brand, with the thinnest options coming in at around two millimeters.
- Minimal Arch Support – While you may find one or two options with a minimal amount of arch support, the majority of barefoot running shoes let your feet naturally deal with the stresses and strains placed upon them during use.
- Flexible Sole – A flexible sole lets your shoes bend with your feet. This greater flexibility helps to deliver the natural, barefoot-like feel users are shooting for.
Together they provide the closest thing you’ll find to running without anything on your feet.
Why Do People Like Barefoot Running Shoes?
From general comfort and improved health to a more natural feel, there are a number of reasons people choose barefoot running shoes over more traditional footwear.
By removing a padded sole from inside your shoes, over time it may actually help increase your foot strength and muscle size. It can also encourage a more low-impact gait. Because of this lack of padding and support, wearing barefoot shoes can act as a mini-workout, even when you’re not hitting the track or the gym.
Barefoot running shoes are also a lot lighter, more flexible and take up less space than normal shoes. This makes them a great choice for people who travel and need to pack on the lighter side. And, of course, some people like to stand out from the crowd, which is definitely achieved when it comes to the fingered, glove-like styles of barefoot shoes.
It is important to note that switching to barefoot running shoes does require a little bit of adjustment. The sensation is different, as is the pressure put on your joints and muscles. For these reasons, barefoot shoes should be introduced gradually to naturally build up foot strength and prevent potential injury.
Below, you’ll find 16 of the best barefoot running shoe options available online. Styles include everything from the more eye-catching fingered models and versatile generalists to water-ready options and extra-lightweight shoes. In short, there’s a pair of barefoot running shoes to suit everyone’s needs.
1. WHITIN Barefoot Shoe
The WHITIN Barefoot Shoe sports an anatomical design that provides natural support and comfort to your feet. It’s available in a range of colors and styles, including black, blue and green. The minimalist construction and adaptive materials make it feel like you’re not wearing anything on your feet, while the drawstring closure ensures a secure fit. There’s also zero drop between the heel and toe for a more natural stride, and the production of the shoe is completely vegan friendly.
2. Vibram Men’s V-Run Running Shoe
Vibram is the most popular brand for barefoot shoes, and their V-Run is one of the brand’s most popular models. The VI-Lite Midsole and stretch mesh construction mean that you’ll barely feel these shoes on your feet, allowing you to fly along whatever path you’re running. Plus, the pull tab makes it easy to put these tight-fitting shoes on, while the cord closure ensures a snug fit and means you’ll never need to stop to tie your shoes.
3. WateLves Outdoor Athletic Shoes
Want to walk, run, swim and generally keep your shoes on your feet all day? Then these WateLves Outdoor Athletic Shoes will do the job. They come with over 6,000 five-star ratings from Amazon users and are available in over 40 different styles. For greater traction and grip, the shoes sport an extra-durable and unique design which also includes a thick arch for better support and in-shoe comfort. The shoe’s elastic upper further adds to your comfort. In addition to running, these versatile shoes can be used for swimming, river trekking, beach days, zip-lining and a range of other activities.
4. ALEADER hiitave Unisex Minimalist Trail Shoes
The ALEADER hiitave Unisex Minimalist Trail Shoes tick all the boxes when it comes to a reliable pair of lightweight, barefoot-style running shoes. The five-toe, box design gives you the near non-existent on-foot feel users are after, while the rubber sole provides you the protection you want from potential hazards underfoot. For greater comfort, the shoes also include a mesh and TPU upper which is both flexible and breathable. In addition, you’ll find a handy hook-and-loop closure for a more secure fit around your feet.
5. Body Glove Men’s 3T Barefoot Cinch Water Shoe
BEST FOR WATER
If you’re going to be exercising near or in water a lot of the time, you may want to invest in a pair of these Body Glove Men’s 3T Barefoot Cinch Water Shoes. This stylish, aquatic footwear choice comes in four different styles as well as being backed by over 1,300 five-star ratings from existing customers. The shoes include a three-toed design that maintains integrity while delivering the barefoot style which users desire. You’ll also find the lightweight, flexible and breathable materials used in the shoe’s construction are ideal for use in watery environments and also help to quickly drain and dry your shoes after use.
6. Oranginer Men’s Barefoot Shoes
BEST FOR WIDE FEET
These Oranginer Men’s Barefoot Shoes are a great option for anyone who struggles with finding footwear to accommodate their wider-than-average feet. The wide toe box gives your feet enough space to spread out and relax, delivering everyday comfort as well as better balance when compared with shoes that don’t properly fit your feet. The barefoot style of these shoes is designed to strengthen the accessory muscles in your feet, and the mesh upper and insoles keep feet dry, even in sweaty conditions.
7. Weweya Barefoot Shoes
BEST REMOVABLE INSOLE
Every foot is different. Some have high arches, some are wide and some are flat. That’s why the Weweya Barefoot Shoes feature a removable insole, so you can add extra arch support if you need it. The wide toe box ensures most feet widths are comfortable in these shoes, which are ideal for gym training, yoga and some ball sports. We also love that there are seven different colors to choose from, including red, blue and black.
8. SKINNERS Minimalist Barefoot Sock Shoes
They may look a lot like a pair of socks, but the SKINNERS Minimalist Barefoot Sock Shoes provide far more protection for your soles while delivering the same level of comfort. They are available in a range of colors and include anti-odor technology to help them stay fresh wear after wear. The underside is water-resistant for bad weather days, while the exterior is made from SKINNERS StretchKnit material along with antibacterial fibers for a clean and comfortable ride.
9. Merrell Vapor Glove 5
The Merrell Vapor Glove 5 is a durable and rugged human foot-mimicking shoe that is ready to come with you almost anywhere. The Vibram MegaGrip sole provides all the protection you need and includes a textured toe guard at the front. Inside, the textile lining and insole keep your feet comfortable while maintaining minimal distance between your feet and the ground. You’ll also find a lace-up closure to ensure a secure hold when on and a stretch collar which makes it easier to slip the shoes on and off. Plus, the shoes are available in three different colors.
10. Vibram Men’s KSO EVO Cross Training Shoe
The Vibram Men’s KSO EVO Cross Training Shoe is one of the options on our list which sport a “split-toe” design. It’s a design some runners swear provides a balanced mix of comfort, protection and flexibility. The rubber sole, which is less than five millimeters thick and has zero drop to deliver the barefoot feeling, gives you more grip on slippery surfaces than your feet alone. It also helps promote good running form while still giving enough shock absorption to feel comfortable. These shoes are available in a range of colors, including brightly colored options to make you more visible.
11. Vibram FiveFingers EL-X
If you’re looking for a pair of shoes that fit like a glove, the Vibram FiveFingers EL-X are a great choice. When you put these on, you’ll feel nothing but the earth under your feet. They’re ideal for both fitness and casual wear, so this is a great everyday shoe. The top part is made from a breathable mesh, while the two-millimeter microfiber footbed with integrated Dri-Lex technology will keep your feet comfortable throughout the day.
12. Merrell Trail Glove 5 Sneaker
There are two main selling points for the Merrell Men’s Trail Glove 5. The first is that it’s incredibly designed to deal with the rigors of trail running. The technicians at Merrell began studying the foot in motion to create a shoe that helps the foot stabilize the body in conditions where there are frequent, rapid changes in movement. The second selling point is that Merrell used only vegan materials when building this shoe, so it’s a great choice for people who don’t want to have any animal products on their feet.
13. New Balance Minimus 10v1
If you’re after a lightweight shoe for running on roads and on trails, the New Balance Minimus 10v1 is a solid option. It provides neutral support and minimal cushioning while giving your feet all the flexibility they could need. The upper exterior is a combination of mesh and synthetic material for a secure and breathable ride. There’s also a heel pull loop and lace-up closure to ensure your feet are snug inside. Plus, you’ll find the inside, tongue and collar have also been lightly cushioned to improve comfort without detracting from the barefoot feeling.
14. Vibram FiveFingers Men’s V-Trail 2.0 Trail Running Shoes
Trail running in barefoot shoes is one of the small pleasures in life. The fact that the soles allow you to feel the earth beneath you is what being out in nature is all about. If you want a shoe that’s designed for trail running, look no further than the Vibram FiveFingers Men’s V-Trail 2.0. Unlike other barefoot running shoes, these have a slightly thicker rubber sole in order to protect your feet from sticks and stones. Don’t worry, though, you’ll still get all the benefits of a barefoot running shoe.
15. L-RUN Athletic Water Shoes
If you need a pair of shoes for running, boating, kayaking, swimming and more, the L-RUN Athletic Water Shoes are the right choice for you. These versatile shoes are available in over 30 different colors and designs, and include a drawstring closure for a snug fit around your feet. The thickened outsole provides protection from the ground and grip on slippery surfaces. There’s also a heel loop to help you slide the shoes on with ease, and the exterior is made from a breathable and lightweight material to complete the barefoot feel you’re after.
16. Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III
The Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III may be the most expensive shoe on our list, but the brand is dedicated to making an eco-friendly product that is also comfortable to wear. Vivobarefoot is, in fact, a Certified B Corporation, which means they utilize sustainable products and practices. The shoes themselves are designed to get you as close to the ground as possible, allowing you to make a connection with the earth below your feet. They’re available in both men’s and women’s designs.