Everything you need to know about Barefoot Shoes
Whether it's hiking, running, walking, or casual footwear, let your feet be a kid again.
Remember when you were a kid, and you didn't have a care in the world? Most kids prefer to run around barefoot, and why not? It's the way nature intended. Most of us cannot wait to get home and take our shoes off after a long day, but why? If shoes are built for comfort, why can we not wait to remove them?
The answer is easy; big shoe companies have sacrificed natural movement and weakened our overall foot health for their healthy bottom line. Thankfully, the natural footwear movement is becoming more popular over the past decade. More companies are focusing on what is best for our overall health leading to more natural shoes. This leads to the question, "What is natural footwear? Is it simply minimalist? Or is it actual barefoot shoes?"
What are barefoot shoes?
Of course, no shoe is truly "barefoot," but thanks to recent progress, shoes are becoming as close to barefoot as possible. In order to achieve a close to barefoot feel, you need to find footwear with a “zero drop.” A zero-drop shoe should mimic the natural state and motion of your foot when walking around barefoot. This means there should be NO angle to the shoe's support from the heel to the toe.
Barefoot shoes also tend to feature thin soles. Why is that? The thinness results in flexible soles that let the foot flex and bend in a natural movement. In contrast, a thick sole gives your foot a much more limited range of motion.
The best barefoot shoes also give your toes room to move and spread out naturally by incorporating a wide toe box.
Barefoot shoes come in a wide variety of styles. There are barefoot sneakers, barefoot sandals, barefoot hiking shoes, and even barefoot winter boots. When made correctly, these are comfortable shoes. Try them, and they might soon become your favorite shoes.
Standard shoes are not natural, and a perfect example of how unnatural shoes have become is evident when watching a child learn to walk. At first, a child starts to walk barefoot, but then as we put typical shoes on the poor child, they have to relearn how to walk all over again. Why is that? Because your feet have thousands of nerve endings and are meant to help guide you around the world.
We at the Barefoot Alliance want everyone to get back to barefoot living or as close as possible. That’s why we are promoting brands of barefoot shoes to help you regain natural walking and running motion and maintain healthy feet.
Everything you need to know about Minimalist Shoes
What is a minimalist shoe?
If you look into shoes that promote a more natural walking and running experience, you'll soon come across not only the term "barefoot shoes" but also "minimalist shoes." You may have wondered what the difference is.
It can be a little confusing because the terms are not used the same way by all users or manufacturers. One barefoot shoe brand may mean the same thing by the two terms, while another may make a distinction between them.
We tend to use the terms interchangeably, but you'll sometimes see "minimalist" to describe shoes that are closer to barefoot than standard shoes. For example, they may not be zero-drop shoes but only very low drop. They may also have other features like a highly flexible sole and a roomy toe box that gives space for your toes to spread out.
In our view, there's no need to worry over the terminology. Instead, be clear about what you're looking for on your barefoot journey, and then look carefully at the specs for any barefoot or minimalist shoes to make sure you're selecting the right shoe for you.
How to choose the right shoe?
There are a few things to consider here. For one, you'll want to think about how you plan to use your new footwear. Are you going to be hiking? Or will you be wearing them at work? Or maybe you just want them for casual, everyday wearing. Then there are also the conditions to think about. Will you be wearing them in wet weather? Cold weather? There are different barefoot shoes, barefoot sneakers, and barefoot sandals designed for each of these applications.
Of course, you'll also want to familiarize yourself with the philosophy behind minimalist footwear so you know what you're looking for if you desire this type of shoe. (You'll want a shoe with zero drop, ample toe box, flexible soles, and the ability to feel the ground beneath your feet.)
Materials are important, too. You can find barefoot shoes in classic designs using leather. You can also find breathable, durable synthetic fabrics. These vegan materials are often used in minimalist shoes, since a concern for environmental impact often goes along with a desire to return to natural ways of walking and moving. Some shoes have a rubber sole, while others opt for alternative materials.
Then you'll want to identify the best brands that make high-quality shoes. As you'll notice on this site, we're a huge fan of Xero Shoes. Their products are well-designed, well-built, and offered at a great price point. They stay true to the minimalist philosophy and even offer a 5,000-mile sole warranty. You can check out their selection of minimalist shoes, minimalist sandals, and minimalist boots for men, women, and kids here.
Many find that once they start wearing minimalist shoes, it makes their feet happy. You can even have a few pairs to make sure you always have the right, stylish barefoot shoes for any occasion.
- Natural Flexibility -
- It’s no accident that the bottom of your feet has more nerve endings than your fingertips. With over 25% of the joints and bones of your body in your feet, it’s only natural you’d want your feet to be able to flex and move naturally. So why not start with your footwear? Make sure you are providing your feet with the most flexibility possible to promote better overall health and posture. Barefoot shoes are designed to have a super flexible sole for exactly this reason.
- Natural Fit -
- Do your current shoes provide a "natural fit"? You will want your shoes to offer a wide toe box so that your feet can spread out and move as they're naturally supposed to. Traditional shoes often squeeze your feet into a cramped, unnatural position. Further, you need to ensure your shoes are not "elevated" with unnecessary cushions. Your shoes should have a non-elevated sole and flex naturally to encourage proper posture and prevent unnecessary strain on your back and joints.
- Natural Feel -
- Not only should your footwear have natural flexibility, but it should feel natural. Traditional shoes have a thicker sole that restricts natural motion and puts a lot of distance between your foot and the ground. Your feet should be helping you explore the world. But in today's modern world, you can't go barefoot in the board meeting. That's why products like Xero's Alston Dress Shoe provide you with the best of both worlds. Just because you grew up doesn't mean your feet have to.
Brands That Make “Barefoot” Shoes:
- Xero Shoes
- Vivo Barefoot
- Vibram Five Finger
- New Balance
- Body Glove
- Barefoot Ted
With so many brands, you'll be able to find a pair of barefoot shoes or boots in a great variety of styles. Many vendors offer things like free shipping or free returns.
Buying barefoot shoes has become easier than ever. Not only can you find them online, but now more and more brick and mortar stores are carrying these types of shoes.
One of our favorite companies, Xero Shoes, has stores worldwide and is adding more rapidly. So if you want to go into a store and check out Xero, you can look here XeroShoes.com/stores for the one closest to you. They stock shoes in both child and adult sizes.
For many, it started with Born to Run by Chris McDougall. McDougall was intrigued to notice that an indigenous tribe in Mexico, the Tarahumara, had many people who were able to run long distances while avoiding many injuries that commonly occur among active runners. How is this possible?
His hypothesis was that it is their natural movement that prevents injury. They run with very simple, thin, flexible sandals called huaraches. The best way to get back to that kind of natural running (and walking) is to go barefoot or as close to barefoot as possible.
With the popularity of his book, many people were intrigued and wanted to try out this kind of natural shoe that allows for ground feel and easy movement of all parts of the foot. Several companies were founded to supply this demand.
Most people assume that a thick cushion and different types of support are necessary to avoid injury to the foot, ankle, or other parts of the body. But we are discovering these things aren't necessary, and even the major brands are shifting towards a more “minimalist” design that allows the foot to flex naturally. Xero Shoes has several articles on some of the most common injuries and how authentic barefoot or minimalist shoes help avoid such injuries as:
People often ask if barefoot or minimalist shoes are the best when they learn about the natural footwear movement. If you've read everything else here, you know that it's important to find out what a particular barefoot shoe brand means by these terms. Barefoot shoes and minimalist shoes for one manufacturer might be the same thing but differ for another. Do your homework and make sure you're selecting the shoe that's right for you.
As we've explained, quality barefoot shoes promote natural fit, natural feel, and natural movement. They conform to the shape of your foot, are comfortable, and provide a great ground feel. But a barefoot shoe is worn just like you would wear any other shoe.
Sometimes people will ask if it is okay to wear socks with them. (They're taking the barefoot part very literally!) You'll be happy to know the answer is yes. People even like to pair socks with a minimalist sandal for walking or hiking in cold weather to keep their feet happy.