A Review Of Various Barefoot Shoes
I firmly believe that if someone wants a healthy posture, strong feet and ankles, a confident and natural stride, and better kinesthetic sense, going barefoot is the only way to be. I’ve written before about the logic behind not wearing shoes. Bestowed upon us is a pair a feet and ankles, filled with numerous little bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves. They are truly pieces of complicated ingenuity.
So why immobilize them with shoes (as if they were in a cast) and deaden the astute sense of touch they have, when being barefoot allows us to fully take advantage of what our feet are capable? Why not at least take a minimalist approach to shoe-wearing?
That’s the purpose of this blog post today. We’re going to take a look at different products on the market that cater to the barefoot-style runners and athletes. These barefoot shoes (or minimalist shoes) were made to achieve the closest possible experience to actually being barefoot.
The perfect barefoot shoe should:
– Weigh next-to-nothing, as being barefoot means having zero additional weight on our feet
– Have a sole that’s thin as humanly possible, as being barefoot means putting nothing between the bottom of your feet and the ground.
– Have zero difference between the height of the heel and the forefoot (known as heel-drop), as the heel is never naturally raised when just standing barefoot on the ground.
– Allow the toes to spread apart without any restriction, as being barefoot means never having your toes squished together.
– Be as flexible as possible, allowing the feet and toes to bend/flex/extend in the directions they naturally can without shoes.
So, let’s review each pair of minimalist shoes and examine how they meet the criteria listed above: weight, sole thickness, amount of heel-drop, and room for toes. (Note: links to women’s versions of the shoes will be listed at the end).
The “Starter” Barefoot Shoe – Nike Free
Nike started their “Free” line of shoes a few years back when the barefoot-craze just began. They started out with the 3.0, the 5.0, and the 7.0. The smaller the number, the more minimalist the shoe is. Nowadays, Nike created running- and trainer-versions of the “Free” shoes.
Now, here are the Nike Free 5.0+ Running Shoes. These are what I call “transitional” barefoot running shoes. That’s because although the shoe strives the achieve the barefoot experience, they are still conventional shoes. They’re closed-toe, laced, ordinary looking shoes, yet are lighter, more flexible, and closer to than ground than conventional shoes.
The Nike Free’s weigh in at 8 ounces per shoe, which is a significant reduction in weight when compared to “normal” running shoes and sneakers. For someone already experienced with minimalist running, however, these might be a tad heavy for his or her liking.
The thickness of the soles on the Nike Frees is about 27mm at the heel, and 18mm at the toes. I give credit to Nike as this is an improvement on regular shoes, but that is darn thick, especially at the heel. I’m not even happy about the thickness by the toes, either. This is still a considerable amount of cushioning.
The amount of the heel-drop is about 9mm, which will be 9mm too much for those experienced with barefoot and minimalist shoes. For those just starting out with barefoot shoes, the Nike Free shoes will probably be much better than most other traditional running shoes or trainers that have large, clunky heels. Traditional running shoes and trainers will have a heel-drop that is well above 9mm.
The amount of room in the toe-box for the Nike Frees is okay. At first glance, it appears that the design of the shoe tapers towards the toes, but it in fact isn’t really that much of a narrowing. So, when compared to standard shoes, there’s definitely more room for the toes.
Surprisingly, the Nike Frees are incredibly flexible, being able t be rolled up from heel to toe. This is a major upgrade compared to traditiional running shoes that have very little flexibility.
The Nike Free 5.0+ Running Shoes, while not the best option for running shoes, are good a pair of shoes for those who want to experiment with slightly more minimalist footwear.
The Well-Rounded Shoe – New Balance Minimus
The New Balance Minimus line of shoes has been a contender in the minimalist-shoe market for quite some time now. There are numerous makes and models of the Minimus shoe (seriously, there are tons of different Minimus models), but let us examine the New Balance MX20v3 Minimus Cross-Trainer.
The weight of the New Balance Minimus is pretty awesome – only 5.5 ounces per shoe. This is a huge improvement on other traditional running and cross-training shoes. It also takes an edge over the Nike Frees, coming in at about 65% of the weight Nike’s shoes. We’re seeing some good numbers, here.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any numbers the the sole-thickness of this model of the New Balance Minimus. I was able to find measurements for the other models, but they are vary significantly from each other, so I wouldn’t base it off of that. From comparing it to the Nike Frees, the MX20v3 shoes look like they’re no thicker than 20mm at the heel. Maybe they’re around 16mm at the heel, and 12mm at the toes. While this thickness does not bring the soles of your feet to the ground, these numbers are much more impressive than those of the Nike Frees.
Fortunately I was able to find the numbers for the amount of heel-drop for the Minimus. It is around 4mm, which is very, very close to zero heel-drop. This is extremely significant when comparing this to clunky running shoes. It will be very noticeable for first-timers as they try these shoes on.
The width of the toe-box is immediately seen in these shoes. I would say that the amount of room for toes in these shoes is good. These minimalist shoes can be improved up if the big-toe area was even wider, but New Balance Minimus shoes include an amount of space that should be comfortable for most people’s feet.
Just like the Nike Free, the Minimus is very flexible and can be rolled up into a ball, as well.
The New Balance MX20v3 Minimus Cross-Trainer Shoes provide a barefoot-experience that is more true than of that of the Nike Frees. These shoes are perfect for those who are experienced with being barefoot and want a better barefoot shoe, while still maintaining the appearance of a shoe.
The Barefoot Expert – Vibram FiveFingers
Vibram Fingers has taken this country by storm. People are awestruck when they see person walking around with these foot gloves! Vibram revolutionized the shoe industry by being one of the first companies to implement toe-pockets for the user’s toes. By individually separating the toes, as well as being super-light and thin, Vibram FiveFingers give its users an incredible barefoot experience.
The Vibram FiveFingers KSO running shoes are one the “flagship” models of the VFF brand, alongside the currently-discontinued Vibram FiveFingers Classics.
First off, the weight of the KSO shoes are at 5.7 ounces per shoe. Technically (and shockingly), the Vibrams are heavier than the New Balance Minimus shoes. However, I highly doubt any runner or athlete could possibly detect the difference in weight. In fact, the snug, glove-like fit of the Vibram FiveFingers shoes could potentially reduce the felt-weight that the athlete experiences, because the shoe is held as close as possible to the foot. I certainly don’t feel a thing when I wear my Vibrams, that’s for sure.
The total thickness of the sole is outstanding – only 8mm from heel-to-toe. 8mm is TINY! For an absolute newbie to barefoot shoes and barefoot running, he or she could imagine that they actually can feel the floor with their feet! Vibram did a great job here. Also, Vibram makes other models that are even thinner!
Like I said before, the sole has the same thickness from heel-to-toe, thus its heel-drop is zero. Again, this is nothing short of awesome. In terms of heel-drop, this 100% emulates the barefoot-experience.
Finally, let’s look at the roominess for toes. The Vibram FiveFingers KSO running shoes are unique in this aspect, because each toe has its own pocket and is separated from the other toes. For some people, this may seem uncomfortable. In my humble opinion, however, this is an ingenious concept. The toes are spread out, which should already occur if you’ve been barefoot most of your life, yet the toes are still covered and protected by the shoe. It’s the best of both worlds for athletes. The room for toes is excellent.
This shoe, just like the other two, is very flexible and can be rolled up easily.
The Vibram FiveFingers KSO Running Shoes are an excellent product, which I can personally attest to. I find them to be awesome. These shoes are perfect for anyone who want to take the barefoot-shoe experience to a higher level, but still want the protection of a rubber sole and mesh top-foot.
For the Ladies
For the women’s-equivalent of the shoes I just reviewed, continue to the following links: Nike Lady Free 5.0+ Running Shoes, New Balance Women’s WX20v3 Minimus Cross-Training Shoes, and Vibram Five Finger Women’s KSO Running Shoes Bookmark the permalink.