About 5 years ago, I was introduced to barefoot / minimalist shoes while shopping for a pair of running shoes.

The salesperson showed me a pair of Nike Frees and explained to me the concept behind this new/old technology.

Since then, I have been a big fan of minimalist shoes. And I’m not the only one. In the past few years, these weird anti-shoe shoes have nudged their way into the mainstream athletic shoe market.

And while the bulk of the market is dominated by Nike Frees and Vibram Five-Fingers, there are a ton of other manufacturers making a wide variety of different minimalist shoes. But since they don’t have big advertising budgets, you have probably never heard of any of them.

That stops now.

A few months back I contacted some of the most interesting manufacturers to see if they would be interested in having their minimalist shoes reviewed by yours truly. And most of them said yes.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting the reviews.

For today’s post, I thought I should outline the criteria I will be using to review the shoes as well as a brief intro to the theories behind barefoot / minimalist shoes & running.

Why should you wear barefoot / minimalist shoes?

Our ancestors covered their feet to protect them from physical damage (puncture) and unpleasant temperatures (Canadian winter). Since that time, shoe manufacturers have “improved” upon our footwear to the point they have more technology in them than your iPad.

As a result of this shoe tech, humans have modified their jogging/running/sprinting gaits to look more like a natural walking – heel-toe – gait. Instead of using the natural shock-absorbers built into our feet, we rely on our shoes to absorb the shock of a longer heel-toe stride. And this has resulted in a whole bunch of aches, pains & injuries.

The makers of minimalist shoes are creating shoes that:

  1. Protect your feet from puncture & cold temperatures
  2. While still allowing your feet to function as originally intended
  3. And hopefully helping you correct all of the postural and impact related damage you have inflicted upon yourself by running in your cool Nike Shox.

Review Criteria

  • Protection – If you’re not going to develop thick natural calluses by actually running barefoot, you need to wear a shoe that will protect you from the occasional sharp stone or chunk of glass.
  • Proprioception – A bare foot provides immediate feedback to the surface it rests upon. A thick spongy sole…not so much. This can be crucial when it comes to avoiding ankle sprains and wiping out while trail running.
  • Natural Foot Movement – Does the shoe allow or  prevent your foot from flexing & spreading in order to distribute the load uniformly over the entire foot. This analysis will address shoe width (especially the toe box), arch support, shock absorption, etc…
  • Weight of the Shoe – Who wants a heavy, clunky shoe?
  • The Drop – Most running shoes raise the heel 22-24mm off the ground while lifting the front of the shoe only 10-15mm off the ground. This difference creates a forward leaning slope which changes your posture and leads to a heel-toe gait which leads a bunch of problems. Long story short, a flat shoe is more natural.
  • Shape of the Sole – As your foot spreads, does the protective sole continue to protect your foot from physical damage
  • Comfort – Do they feel good on your feet?
  • Ease of Use – Are they easy to put on?
  • Appearance – Do you look like a freak wearing them? Do you care?
  • Ventilation – Vibrams are notoriously stinky shoes…what about the others?
  • Durability – I only tested the shoes for a few weeks, so this test is pretty inconclusive.
  • Price – Due to my Scottish background, cost is always a factor.
  • Application – Is the shoe applicable for everyday use, running, sports, yoga, weight lifting, water sports, beach sports, etc?

Okay, that’s it for today. I should have the first review online this Friday.

Shoe Reviews

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  1. Cool thing and it would be great to try them…but like the launch of toe socks if you have webbed toes you cannot enjoy these innovative products… Lol! I have two web toes on my right foot … Oh well!

  2. Hey, How do I get to actually read the reviews you are writing? I only saw the one for the Reebok Realflex, and can’t find direct links to any others…


  3. I will be updating this page with links to the shoe reviews as I post them.

    Next up is Sockwa

  4. I just recently switched shoes from ASICS (nice and cushy) to the NB Minimus Trail … It took a little adjusting and about two weeks of thinking I made a mistake but I love them now. I think the few aches and pains I had were my feet readjusting to how I should be walking and running.

    Great shoe!!

  5. Are you still running “heel-toe” in them or have you shifted to landing on the front of your foot – barefoot style?

  6. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  7. At the top of this blog post was an image with a black minimalist shoe with white stripes. Labeled “gazelle”. Is this a shoe sold somewhere? How could and I find this? Love the design. I have been running in top of the line asics and every other brand but still have knee problems. I would love to convert to minimalist but need a shoe that “looks like a normal sneaker”.

  8. Sorry RunnerGirl, that’s not a real shoe – someone painted their feet to look like they’re wearing a pair of old-school Adidas Gazelle shoes.

    Take a look at the Skora running shoes. I am posting a review (good review) tomorrow. It’s a very unique minimalist shoe.

  9. I run with the new balance Minimus zero. They are simply awesome. I love everything about them. Definitely look into reviewing the NB minimalist products.

  10. Very well written. I’d also recommend anyone thinking about this read a copy of Born To Run which explains everything with a bit of history, bare with the book as its a slow starter and comes together nearer the end.

  11. Agreed – There’s no point in buying “barefoot” shoes if you’re not going to learn how to run “barefoot”

  12. Great reviews. I am reading or should I say listening to born to run. As a novice u have given me great insite into what to buy. Thank you

  13. Hey TS,

    Thanks for the article link. After reading it, I still don’t see any argument supporting a heel landing running technique.

    While the contends “that all of the barefoot runners in the above videos are using natural running form. They are using the form that is working for them in their current situation, with zero assistance from footwear or other technology. That’s really how I would define natural running. It’s not some ideal, archetypal running form, it’s what happens when you let your own body figure out what works best for you when you minimize interference between the foot and the ground”. – I agree 100% with this

    “It’s what happens when you let your own muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones do all or most of the work. It will vary depending on the type of ground under your feet, how fast you’re running, and so forth. It could hurt you – just because it’s “natural” does not necessarily mean that it’s always good. It could also help you – some people have overcome chronic injury by going “natural.” It’s a form employed by you, not necessarily a form employed by all. And your natural running form can change with time and practice. It might reach a comfortable steady state, or it might continue to change in small ways.

    I also agree with this point. Natural doesn’t mean best. Especially when we consider that most natural/barefoot/minimalist runners have spent decades building up neural pathways, muscle development and skeletal adjustments based on the “normal” heel striking pattern. The switch to a natural running style is NOT as simple as switching to a fore/midfoot landing pattern….and I don’t “think” I am saying that in the article (maybe I should take a harder look at my text and consider a re-write).

    The author continues…”The form employed by the barefoot runners in the videos above is their current “natural form” while running easy on asphalt, but it may not be the “best” form that they could be using given the situation. If they are inexperienced, their form may change over time as they continue to practice. There may be some residual baggage in the form of ingrained motor patterns from running “un-naturally” with the assistance of footwear for many years (and yes, for good or for bad, I absolutely believe that shoes, even minimal shoes, change the way we run). Practice may be a required element to finding one’s natural running form”.

    Agreed – my natural running form has changed significantly over the past few years..but the most significant & initial shift was a move away from heel-striking. The rest of the adjustments have come as a result of practice and deliberate fine tuning.

    It’s worth considering, however, that given that the individuals in the above videos came to a barefoot running event (some traveled a long distance to attend), we might assume that they have at least some experience running barefoot. Furthermore, unless they jumped in after the race started, these videos are taken of people running a second loop around Governor’s Island (i.e., they had already run a few miles on asphalt). Maybe heel striking is “natural” for them.

    I disagree with the use of the word natural here. Without splitting too many hairs, I would substitute conditioned. A long-time heel striker is going to have mechanical and neuro-muscular patterns which will predispose him or her towards continuing their heel-striking form. This doesn’t make it natural. At this point, what the heck is natural for that runner anyway? If you walked on your toes for the next 10 years, that would grow to feel natural too.

    Still, I want to thank you for the comment…and I am going to take a look back over my text and see if I need to make some edits.

    Read more at http://www.runblogger.com/2013/06/natural-running-what-heck-does-it-mean.html#PLkeUahePym1lW4T.99

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