If you’re not a fan of all the padding and thick soles that some running shoes showcase, you may want to give minimalist shoes a try. The best minimalist running shoes you can find will let your feet, ankles, and legs do more work while taking the spotlight off of your shoes.
Best Minimalist Running Shoes
What Are Minimalist Running Shoes?
Minimalist running shoes are shoes that don’t have comfy cushioned heels, arch support, or stiff protective soles.
You won’t find heel cushioning with these shoes and the soles are quite thin, so if you step on a small rock in the road during mid-run, you’ll feel it more than you would with heavier cushioned shoes.
Here are some of the criteria that minimalist running shoes meet so you can understand what features many of these shoes have.
They should be lightweight: This is one of the most appealing things about minimalist running shoes for many athletes. You’ll truly feel like you have nothing on your feet when you wear these shoes. You may even feel less tired further into your run. Most minimalist shoes weigh under 9 ounces for men’s shoes and under 8 ounces for women’s shoes.
There’s not a lot to these shoes: You won’t see much of what you see with bulkier running shoes -- these have flat outsoles and little cushioning. Unlike other running shoes that have raised heel areas, you’ll see very little to no change in the height of a minimalist running shoe when you’re comparing the heel to the toe area.
Where Can I Use Them?
You aren’t limited to any certain type of terrain while you’re using minimalist running shoes. You can use them on trails, tracks, treadmills, and roads.
As far as distance is concerned, you can use them for shorter training sessions or longer distances, like marathons or ultras. The key is to allow yourself time to adjust to these shoes and the ones you’ve typically been using.
The importance of building your way up to longer runs with these shoes can not be stressed enough. Properly increasing your distances with them can be the difference between loving your new shoes or ending up with a stress fracture.
What Are the Benefits of Minimalist Running Shoes?
People who embrace minimalist running say that these shoes allow your foot to flex properly compared to more structured running shoes.
That foot-flexing feeling is exciting for some runners who are looking for ways to become more in tune with their runs. They don’t like any constraints getting between them and their run -- they want to live fully in the moment.
Some research has found that runners’ feet and lower legs have greater muscle mass when they use minimalist running shoes.
Would Minimalist Running Shoes Be Right for You?
Not everybody is a fan of minimalist running shoes. Some people prefer way more stability and cushioning in their shoes. But, others hate putting that much shoe between them and the road so they would rather use minimalist shoes.
Neither style is right or wrong. It all depends on your personal preference and the needs of your feet.
But, if you’re considering making the leap, there are some things you should consider about minimalist running.
If you’re currently running in a shoe that offers a lot of support, you can still try running in a minimalist shoe if you want. But, you should start off slowly. You don’t want to take your new shoes out of the box and head off on a 10-mile run. It can take months to transition to minimalist shoes, so if you’re considering using them for an upcoming race, you’d better get started.
You’ll need to keep in mind the amount of work your race is requiring you to do. If you’ve never run in minimalist shoes and you’ve already upped your mileage while training for a marathon, now isn’t the time to make the jump to these shoes. After your marathon is over, then you can think about using these shoes.
You need to be willing to put in the work and put up with some initial pain. When you switch shoes, you’re going to have to tough out the discomfort you’ll have at times. If being uncomfortable makes you want to throw in the towel, you may want to stick with your current shoes.
If you have a solid heel strike when you run, you’re going to have to change that if you want to successfully use minimalist shoes. You’ll want a midfoot or forefoot landing because otherwise, you’ll be setting yourself up for injury if you switch to minimalist running shoes.
Should I Consult a Professional Before Using Them?
You may want to talk to a trainer or a doctor before using minimalist shoes if you’ve had certain injuries or running-related problems in the past.
Those who have plantar fasciitis, flat feet, bunions or tendonitis should check with a professional before making the switch to minimalist shoes.
Quick Look: Our Top Picks
1. Merrell Men’s Vapor Glove 2 Trail Running Shoe
- Low-profile trail runner featuring...
- Breathable mesh and thermoplastic...
- Sticky Vibram outsole for traction
- 10.5 D(M) US
These shoes are so light you’ll forget you’re wearing any.
- The breathable mesh upper part of the shoe will keep the air circulating inside your shoe, so your foot will stay cool as you run.
- Vegans will like that these shoes don’t use any animal products.
- These shoes have great traction, so you won’t find yourself slipping and sliding when running in wet conditions.
- These shoes use M Select Fresh, which helps prevent sweat from making your shoes smell -- no one will be able to tell just by their noses that you use your shoes for running.
- Some runners have had issues with the outer fabric of the shoe starting to tear after a couple of months.
- The toe box on this shoe is a bit narrow, even if you don’t have wide feet.
2. Vibram Men’s KSO EVO Shoe
- Runs small, Go up a size
- Lightly padded tongue & speed...
- Serrated blade lug design.Select...
- XS Trek Outsole
- Zero Drop
- These soles are thin, but they still offer some shock absorbency too.
- If these shoes get wet from your sweat or if you step in a puddle on your run, they’ll dry quickly.
- These are zero-drop shoes.
- These shoes are surprisingly odor-resistant, which is nice since you likely won’t be wearing socks with them.
- They have a lace system that lets you adjust the tightness of the shoe without having to re-tie it every time you put it on.
- It may take a little time to get used to the feeling of having material between your toes.
- They run a bit small when it comes to sizing.
- If your second toe is longer than your first or if you have long toes in general, you may have some discomfort with these shoes
3. Vibram Women’s Bikila Evo Road Running Shoe
- Lace-up minimal running shoe built...
- 0mm heel-to-toe drop
- Anti-microbial Drilex sockliner
- EVA foam midsole
- Vibram XS Run outsole
- They have a zero heel-to-toe drop.
- They come in five colors, including three bright ones that will increase your visibility when you’re on the road.
- They have an anti-microbial sock liner, so even though you may exercise without socks, your shoes won’t necessarily smell like it.
- These soles are slightly thicker than many other Vibram shoes, which is good for runners who want to make a smaller step toward shoes with less padding and structure.
- This shoe offers great grip and durability because of the megagrip rubber pods on the sole of the shoe.
- The upper mesh part of the shoe means you’ll have some breathability with this shoe, which will help keep your feet cooler and dryer.
- These run on the small side.
- The shoes are narrow.
- Mesh and TPU upper
- Traditional lace closure
- Reflective details for increased...
- Breathable mesh lining
- 0mm Drop / 8mm Heel Cush / 12.7mm...
- These don’t have drawstring closures like some minimalist shoes -- they have traditional laces which some runners may prefer.
- The mesh lining offers air circulation to keep your foot cooler.
- You can toss these shoes in the washing machine on the gentle cycle -- just make sure to let them air dry instead of putting them in the dryer.
- These are a zero drop shoe and they offer slight heel cushioning as well.
- They only weigh 5.8 ounces, which means you won’t be losing energy just by lifting your heavy shoes.
- You’ll get your choice of five colors.
- These offer great traction, even on wet surfaces.
- No animal products are used for these shoes, which vegans should like.
- These also run a bit on the narrow side.
- Some runners have had issues with the sole coming unglued after several weeks of use.
- You may want to size up a little with this shoe.
5. New Balance Women’s WT 10v1 Trail Running Shoe
- Acteva midsole. Heel pull loop
- Antimicrobial treatment to reduce...
- 4 mm drop, Vibram outsole
- With an upper made of flexible...
- This women's trail running shoe...
- These shoes have been given an antimicrobial treatment to cut back on funky foot odor.
- You get three dark colors to choose from -- they won’t show the dirt and grass stains you can sometimes get from trail running.
- They have a flexible outsole that has grooves to let you have great traction when you hit rockier trails.
- These shoes have a lightweight foam to give you a little support and comfort so you don’t feel every single rock you step on.
- The curve of this shoe will match your foot, giving you a comfortable segue into the world of minimalist running.
- You can wear these either without socks or with thin socks.
- These shoes are super flexible, so you’ll feel like you aren’t wearing any shoes at all.
- Consider sizing up a half size or a full size since these run a bit small.
- These also seem to be a bit narrow, even when barefoot.
- These are pricier than some other minimalist shoes.
And the Winner Is …
Vibram makes great shoes and one of their best minimalist running shoes is the Bikila Evo.
While they may not be the most attractive shoes on this list, running isn’t a fashion show.
These shoes have a wonderful grip whether the pavement is dry or wet. You’ll get breathability, meaning your feet will feel cooler, which is important for those hot summer runs.
The anti-microbial sock liner will keep you covered in case you truly hate running while wearing socks. They won’t have much padding, so your legs and feet will get to flex and do more of the heavy lifting during your run.