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The 6 Key Features of a Minimalist / Barefoot Shoe

The 6 Key Features of a Minimalist / Barefoot Shoe 

How To Tell When You Are Getting The Real Thing

By Al Gauthier

Many brands now claim to make a shoe that is just like being barefoot, but not all shoes are equal, and not all brands are telling the truth. Keep in mind, there is nothing that is just like being barefoot except actually being barefoot. The closest, next-best thing, is a shoe that provides protection from the ground while sacrificing as little of the natural movements and sensations that the foot feels while barefoot. In other words, you want as little shoe as possible while still maintaining the level of protection you need for the intended activity.
All of the following must be present in order for the shoe to be truly minimalist:

1 – Thin Flexible Sole:  A minimalist / barefoot shoe should have a sole that is anywhere from 2 mm to 8 mm in thickness—nothing more. It should be flexible enough that it can be folded in half, bent along its length, or almost rolled up.

2 – Zero Rise: The rise of the shoe is the measurement of the difference between the height of the heel to the height of the toes. A true minimalist / barefoot shoe should have no difference between these two points, thus a zero rise. Even a very small rise is in our eyes not a minimalist shoe.

3 – Anatomical Shape: The shoe should allow your foot to rest within it without being constricted in any way. In other words, it should be shaped like your foot. If your toes are being squished, or you feel pressure along your foot at any point, it’s not an anatomical shoe, or it’s just not the right shoe for you. The shoe should also be wide enough for your toes to splay naturally as you walk. The shoe should feel securely attached but not constrictive in any way. Look at the bottom of the shoe to see the overall shape of the last. Place your foot along the outside of the bottom of the shoe and compare it to your foot. It will be immediately clear if the shoe is shaped like your foot.

4 – No Support: No minimalist or barefoot shoe should have support. The insole, if there is one, should be absolutely flat and offer no additional support to the arches (you have three) of your feet. The insole should also be removable. A removable insole will allow you to control whether you want a little bit of impact resistance or a more pure transmission of the ground textures.

5 – No Shock Absorption: A minimalist shoe should allow your feet to feel the contours of the ground as much as possible, and they should also allow your feet to feel the true impact of each stride. This promotes correct form by providing important feedback to your feet. A very small amount of cushioned insole may be appropriate to provide a little additional comfort, but the insole should not prevent you from feeling the ground under foot or the impact of your movements.

6 – Light Weight:  Rather than use an actual weight range for this category I prefer to go by feel. There are some minimalist shoes that are much lighter than others. The rule of thumb should really be how heavy they feel on your feet. If you feel, in any way, that the shoes weigh down your feet than they are far too heavy. Shoes should be extensions of your feet, not weights. They should feel a little more like socks.

Choosing the right shoe for you will take some research and some trial and error, but understanding what constitutes a real minimalist / barefoot shoe is important to achieving results. Great minimalist shoes come in different shapes and designs just like our feet do. If you keep these 6 principles in mind you should be able to find the perfect shoe.

If you are ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact us. We review just about all minimalist products over time so chances are that if we haven’t reviewed them or if we aren’t going to review them, they are not a minimalist product.

Other Great Living Barefoot Articles:

Buy Vibram FiveFingers at these quality online retailers:

Rock Creek
Half Moon Outfitters
The Flip Flopper


About Living Barefoot Reviews:

As you read our reviews, please keep in mind that our reviewers review shoes in terms of their suitability for those looking to find the highest quality minimalist shoe products. All reviews are as factual as possible. In an effort to be transparent and ethical, we will point out any defects found, even if these do not affect the usability of the product. Not all defects will be present in final production shoes as we are sometimes offered “seconds” or pre-release products in an effort to provide you with reviews in a timely manor. In the event that serious issues are found with a review sample we will give every opportunity for the manufacturer to replace to explain the review samples before the final review is released. We never accept payments for reviews. We do not guarantee a good review for any products sent to us. We do not review products that do not claim to be minimalist or “barefoot like” unless we receive a significant number of requests from readers or listeners.

Should you have any questions about our review process or would like your product reviewed on our site, please do not hesitate to contact us using our contact page.


Featured Interview: Christopher McDougall – Author of Born to Run

Listen HERE

Christopher McDougall is a well-spoken, humble man who has through the popularity of his book brought about some of the biggest changes in the perception of feet and running in recent years.  Join us in learning about how this talented author wrote his book, discovered his feet, and how he feels about barefooting and running.  This interview should not be missed.
We Talk about:
- Chris’s recent appearance at the TED Conference
- Thoughts on Interviews In General
- His first exposure to barefoot running
- How he came to find the Tarahumara while on assignment for the New York Times.
- He thoughts on his influence over barefoot running and ultra running
- How he struggled with writing Born to Run
- This thoughts on minimalist shoes
- And much more!
To learn more about Christopher McDougall visit his website: http://chrismcdougall.com

Buy His Book: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
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