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The Cheap Minimal Shoe / Cheap “Barefoot Shoe” Review Roundup

This article is up to date as of June 2014!

Many of us are looking to try barefoot running or other barefoot activities…yet few of us are willing to go barefoot in an urbanized world of hot pavement, road gravel, and broken glass.

Solution: minimal shoes, sometimes known as “barefoot shoes”.

True minimal shoes are made with zero drop (the heel is not raised relative to the toe, as it is with all traditional shoes), no arch support, a thin rubber sole, and zero to minimal padding. The idea is to provide protection against the sharpest rocks and glass shards—but to still let your feet feel some ground texture (“proprioception”) in order to do its biomechanical job of reacting to and absorbing the impact of walking and running. It’s a balancing act.

A Quick Note On Barefoot/Minimal Running Technique

Note that you cannot run in minimal shoes just like you do in “running shoes”, by letting your (well-padded) heel strike the ground first: you must midfoot-strike or forefoot-strike. Go here for an in-depth explanation of the biomechanical differences, from Dan Lieberman’s Skeletal Biology Lab at Harvard.

Meanwhile, here’s a great picture showing the difference between “jogging” and running:

Scott Jurek, on the left, is heel-striking in regular padded running shoes with elevated heels. Arnulfo Quimare, on the right, is forefoot-striking in unpadded huaraches. Also note the difference in leg position! Arnulfo’s front leg isn’t nearly as far out in front of him, and his rear foot is lifted much higher—a more efficient stride.

You’ll find that you naturally run this way on uneven ground: if you try to heel-strike, you’ll usually turn your ankle.

Unfortunately, the classic minimal shoes (Vibram Five Fingers) cost $85 and up, and draw more attention than a rainbow Afro wig…and if you want something more normal-looking like Merrells or Vivos, you’ll pay $100 or more. Just like backpacking or cycling gear, the less a shoe weighs, the more it costs.

Fortunately, it is possible to experiment with minimal shoes without spending maximal dollars! I’ve tried several different options, and listed them below in order of ascending price.

Wal-Mart “Classic Aqua Sock”

Update 6/14: Wal-Mart changes their low-end model every year: here’s this year’s.

Price: $5-$6.
Advantages: Extremely cheap. Good ground feel, with decent tread. Works fine if they fit you.
Disadvantages: Only come in every other size (9-10, 11-12, etc.) Run a bit narrow.
Notes: Only available in the spring and summer: may be out of season at your store.

Verdict: Not bad, if they fit you and your feet aren’t too wide…but there’s a good chance that you will be between sizes, and therefore out of luck.

K-Mart “Athletec” Water Shoes

Update 6/14: Still available at K-Mart.

Price: $10.
Advantages: Cheap. Good ground feel, with decent tread. Has a minimal toe bumper. Much more solid than the Wal-Mart aqua socks, and look like normal slip-on shoes (the contrast stitching in the picture is gone.) Reasonably wide. Come in every size, so much more likely to fit you.
Disadvantages: Wider than the Surfwalker and most aqua socks, but not quite as wide as the Menhaten. Toe bumper isn’t as stout as the Menhaten.
Notes: Runs approximately true to size. As with all big-box water shoes, only available in the spring and summer: may be out of season at your store.

Verdict: My new favorite of the traditional water shoes, and tied for my overall favorite with the Menhaten. As a bonus, they’re more likely to fit since they come in every size, they look like normal shoes, and they don’t have any carpet fluff on the sole. If the toebox were a bit wider they’d be my favorites (though they’re not narrow by any means.)

Wal-Mart OP “Menhaten” Water Shoes

Update 6/14: Still available at Wal-Mart stores, though not online.

Price: $10.
Advantages: Cheap. Good ground feel. Plenty of width for your toes to spread out. Velcro strap keeps your foot solidly in place. Robust toe bumpers, unlike every other water shoe I’ve seen.
Disadvantages: Only come in every other size. (XL=12-13, L=10-11, M=8-9, S=6-7) Part of the sole is covered with this weird carpet-fiber stuff that is a bit slippery (but wears off after a while). Looks a bit goofy. Doesn’t last very long.
Notes: Only available in the spring and summer: may be out of season at your store.

Verdict: These are tied with the Athletecs for my favorite. They have plenty of room for your toes, robust toe bumpers in case you kick a rock, and they stay on your feet without feeling “tight”. If they ditched the carpet fibers on the sole, made it thicker under the ball of the foot, came in every size, and didn’t look like goofy fake VFFs, they’d definitely be my favorite.

Speedo Surfwalker Pro Water Shoes

Price: $22 at Amazon.com. (Also available in womens’ sizes.)

Advantages: Look almost like a normal slip-on shoe if you black out the “Speedo” logo on top. Excellent ground feel. Quite comfortable due to moderately wide forefoot and evenly stretchy fabric.
Disadvantages: They’re a bit heavier than you’d think, though still lighter than traditional shoes: about 19 ounces per pair in size 12. No laces and stretchy fabric means they can move around a bit on your feet.
Notes: These run almost a full size large. The newer version (not pictured) has a better-designed sole that lasts a lot longer.

Verdict: Comfortable and can almost pass for a street shoe. Fine for running, but perhaps not the best for agility sports due to the slightly imprecise fit. I used to wear these every day, but I’ve switched to the Menhatens (above) because they’re wider and more confortable, even if they don’t look quite as sleek.

Speedo Seaside 2.0 Water Shoes

Price: $25 at Amazon.com.

Advantages: Fits more precisely than the Surfwalker due to the bungie laces and heavier fabric.
Disadvantages: Not quite as comfortable as the Surfwalker.
Notes: This is the sole and lower from the Surfwalker Pro, with a more ‘shoelike’ upper. Like the Surfwalker, it also runs nearly a full size large.

Verdict: I like the minimal look and feel of the Surfwalker better, but these are better for anything requiring agility and a more precise fit.

Modified Big-Box Skate Shoes or Chuck Taylor Clones

Making a barefoot shoe from cheap skate shoes

If you can do this, and the sole underneath is flat, thin, and reasonably flexible, the shoe will probably work fine.

Price: $12-$25.

The cheapest low-end skate shoes (found at big-box stores like Wal-Mart) and Chuck Taylor knockoffs (also found at big-box stores) usually have a minimal insole — just a foot-shaped piece of flat foam held inside the shoe by very little glue. It’s often possible to pull it right out, leaving you with a plausible minimal shoe: a thin, flat rubber sole with zero drop.

You may have to add a minimal insole or a piece of fabric in place of the foam insole, depending on how much internal stitching and glue is left over. And if you can’t pull out the foam, it’s often so cheap that it’ll crush down to nothing in just a few miles of walking.

Advantages: Robust toe bumpers, so you won’t stub your toes when hiking on rocks: I hiked Mount Whitney in a pair of these! Looks like a normal shoe, because it is.
Disadvantages: Takes a little bit of work to modify. Some outsoles are too thick to be minimal, even after pulling the insole. Some insoles are glued in too well to remove.

Verdict: Ground feel isn’t quite as good as the water shoes, but they’re much more suitable for hiking due to the added protection. Definitely worth checking your local big-box store…but make sure to check whether the insole will come out before you buy a pair.

Speedo Shore Cruiser II

Price: $30 at Amazon.com.

Advantages: Very sleek and stylish. Grippy tread. High-quality feel. Lightweight: about 15 ounces per pair for size 12.
Disadvantages: Narrow in the forefoot. Fit very tightly over the top of the foot, which is great for control but not so great for everyday comfort. Sole is very hard, which is good for protection but not so good for ground feel.
Notes: These run about 1/2 size large.

Verdict: Though they look good, they’re too tight on my feet to enjoy, and the sole is too hard to give me good ground feel. Not really a minimal shoe, in my opinion, and I can’t recommend them.

“Invisible Shoes”

Price: $25-$30 (currently on sale) from invisibleshoe.com.

These are sandals, not shoes (technically they’re huaraches), and they’re about the lightest thing you can put on your feet that still gets you into a restaurant. (Size 13 weighs about 9.4 ounces per pair.) Furthermore, they’re not a sandal so much as they’re a sandal kit: you’ll need to buy or borrow a leather punch to make the toe hole (and/or the other holes, depending on how you tie yours), and you’ll have to spend some time figuring out how to tie them in a way that makes your feet happy.

They come in two thicknesses: the Connect (4mm sole) and the Contact (6mm sole). Surprisingly, I didn’t find the heavier Contact to offer a substantial increase in foot protection, so I find myself wearing the Connect.

Advantages: Extremely lightweight and packable. Since they’re just a flat sole and a shoelace, they take up almost no room in your luggage or backpack. Pre-cut soles save a lot of time compared to tracing your foot. Decent tread and grip considering how thin they are. Last much longer than they look like they should, and warranted for 5,000 miles.
Disadvantages: Noisy running on pavement…they “slap” a bit due to the hard rubber. Sandals aren’t capable of everything a shoe is capable of. Some assembly required, including the need to buy or borrow a leather punch.

Verdict: The most lightweight and minimal “shoe” in existence. Great for travel because they’re so packable. However, they’re sandals, not shoes, with the limitations of a sandal…and I wouldn’t buy them for running primarily on pavement due to the “slapping” issue.

How Do These Compare To “Real” Minimal Shoes?

I’ve worn VFFs and the Merrell Barefoot series. Here are the key differences I see:

  • Slip-on water shoes will never fit as tightly or precisely as “real” shoes with laces, though the Seasides come close due to the bungie laces. This is great for comfort, but not great for agility-based athletics. (Trail running is fine.)
  • The soft rubber of water shoes gives great ground feel and traction—much better than VFFs, Merrells, or anything else I’ve tried!
  • However, the soles don’t last nearly as long…especially if you do a lot of running on pavement, at which point it’s probably cheaper to buy “real” minimal shoes. I go through a pair every six months or so.
  • Water shoes are designed to let water through, not block it out…so they’re not a very good choice in the snow, or even hard rain. However, neither are most minimal shoes, or running shoes in general—so this isn’t so much a relative disadvantage as an observation about winter.
  • Invisible Shoes are about a million times better than flip-flops. However, the string between the toes still irritates some people, myself included: I’ve invented a new way to tie them, which I can explain if there is demand.

My Conclusion

Even though I can certainly afford the more expensive shoes, I wear either the modified skate shoes or the Athletecs as my daily casual footwear, and for occasional trail-running use, because of their comfort and grip. I use the modified skate shoes for long hikes in rocky terrain, and the “Invisible Shoe” sandals for travel and beach duty.

If I were a dedicated trail runner or played agility sports, I’d want something which fit more precisely and lasted longer: a modified pair of skate shoes, if I could find a pair that fit, or a traditional pair of minimal shoes.

However, for someone looking to try out minimal shoes without committing $80+, one of these options will definitely do the job…and you may find yourself preferring them!

Live in freedom, live in beauty.

JS

(Disclaimer: The Invisible Shoe folks gave me a pair to review. Everything else I bought with my own money.)


Do you know of any other cheap minimal shoes I should try? Do you have your own opinions on the shoes I’ve reviewed? Leave a comment!

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116 comments

Permalink: The Cheap Minimal Shoe / Cheap “Barefoot Shoe” Review Roundup
  • E.C.

    Very timely article for me – I’m still healing a broken baby toe and can’t wear my beloved Vibrams, but likely *can* do some light hiking. Lack of footwear shall not hold me, my husband and Toby down!

  • Phocion Timon

    I started out with a pair of Walmart’s $13 sneakers; they were lightweight and wide enough. The soles became as flexible as skin after a month. After a couple of years they wore out but Walmart had stopped selling that particular wide-enough shoe. If the current shoes would fit, I could really enjoy spending $13 every two years on running shoes.

    I now use the expensive (~$90) Leming Footwear(.com) shoes but man, are they comfortable. Thin, lightweight, and very, very flexible.

  • Danny J Albers

    Was actually about to write up something like this on my own blog as I use a variety of water shoes for the same reason and I totally agree, the ground feel is unmatched in a 10 dollar pair of cheapies.

    Now I will just link to yours LOL

  • Alex

    Ive been running barefoot for about 2 years now, and also run in KSO Trek VFFs when on gnarly trails. I also ocassionaly run in VivoBarefoot EVOs – a great minimalist shoe, very well made, but of course, a little pricy. For work, I wear VivoBarefoot Dharmas – which go quite well with dress/suit trousers. They are extremely comftable and have lasted me 2 years (and still going), so well worth the price tag!!

  • Dave

    I’ve had a pair of Vibram KSOs for a couple of months. They certainly seem durable, though I feel like I should have gotten at least one size larger. Everything fits like a glove, but my big toes really don’t like being compressed for more than a few hours of casual use. I have to wear Injinji socks or apply pieces of paper tape to select locations on my feet when running in them because the seams on the inside are irritating and sometime cause pain and blisters.

    I also have a pair of flat soled sneakers that cost $12 at Wal-Mart similar to the ones in the photo above on the right. They could be used for running, I suppose, but they would not last very long. The uppers on mine are starting to separate from the soles after a couple of months of easy use.

  • Jamie Fellrath

    Here’s an article I wrote a while back on the solution to this problem that I found: Japanese Tabi.

    http://www.paleomental.com/2012/03/new-thought-for-minimalist-footwear.html

  • Jamie Fellrath

    Sorry, for some reason my link didn’t work.

    Trying again.

  • Sue

    Jazz shoes–the kind of shoes dancers wear for performance and practice–work well, too. Cost runs about $25-$35 per pair, they come in leather or fabric, and while they don’t come in a rainbow of colors (no need for distracting colors on footwear when you’re dancing in line as a Rockette). There are styles for women, styles for men, and unisex styles.

    They have very thin soles that feel barefoot for walking. They sre thin enough to roll and put in your pocket. No arch supports or hard shanks, because dancers need maximum flexibility for their moves. They look great enough to wear on the streets of NYC without attracting negative attention over ugly footwear. The only problem is they tend to run small, so it is best to try them in person at a brick and mortar store (or by ordering 3 or 4 sizes at an online store that is liberal about returns). Just google “jazz shoes” to see what the possibilities are.

  • Ruby

    Thanks for acknowledging the chuck-taylor/converse option! I wore a pair to walk/run all over Europe last year and they pack small, are inexpensive and don’t look so “sporty” that they can’t be worn with normal clothes.

    I laugh when people spend $85 on fancy five toe shoes when my shoes have essentially the same “features” – no false arch, no extra padding, no heel lift. There’s plenty of room to spread my toes out and they’re flexible but firm enough to protect me from bits of glass and rocks.

    As for “jazz shoes” – most are designed to be worn indoors, on hardwood floors… often with suede soles. This is a terrible surface for street-walking! And, lots of folks are likely to run into jazz shoes that have a thin footbed, but an added heel lift, or the terrible split-sole blochs that were marketed in the mid 90′s.

  • Kerstin

    While they are not cheap, I have to admit I love my SoftStar shoes – also extremely minimalist, and they also work as both workout shoe and look good with clothing. Just another idea…but yes, water shoes often seem to work well for minimalist shoes. I read one article where someone who ran in the winter wore waterproof socks and then dive booties or something similar – let his feet stay warm, yet kept them dry as well while still giving him a pretty good minimalist/road feel cover for his feet.

  • Some good advice!  I picked up a pair of cheap 'water shoes' a couple of years ago.  They are of a very basic neoprene design and give a good 'barefoot' experience whilst in and around water.  I do use my VFFs in water as well.

     

    My main footwear is a pair of cheap canvas deck shoes (not unlike Vans in appearance), that cost be £15.  They are very comfy and do the job well.  Thin soles and low 'collars' around the ankle give full mobility.

     

    When trekking in the hills I still stick with my trusted VFFs.  They've proven time and again that they are up to the job, come snow or rain.  The only problem is with cold ankles but I've a mind to get and old wetsuit and cut off the ankles to make myself a pair of gaiters suitable for them.

     

    As for my weekly sprint sessions, again come rain or snow, I am physically barefoot.  I sprint on a road that is well maintained and that I trust won't have anything lurking underfoot.  Nothing feels like that fast-foot feeling of barefoot sprinting.

  • Chris B

    I, for one, would love to see your “no-string-between-the-toes” way of tying your Invisible Shoes. I am a full-time barefooter and have been for well over a year now. Since I don’t run, I have more chance to carefully place my feet on trails and therefore can get away with it easier. (grin)

    For those few places with vigilant “shoe police” though, the sandals would be easiest – especially since they can fold up and fit into a pocket or purse, but I find myself sticking to my moccasins because I hate the thong thingie.

  • Sue

    Google jazz shoes anyway. Not all of them have raised heel beds. They come in lots of styles and configurations, ranging from high heels to no heels. As for city streets, I’ve been walking comfortably around manhattan in mine for a couple of years, and it is not likely that any of the shoe options recommended here will be greeted with approval by mainstream foot experts.

    As for suede soles, another option for near barefoot shoes are suede moccasins and booties made by native American cobblers. I’m referring to the kind where the sole is made from the same exact material as the upper. Minnetonka used to make these (and they may still make them), but individual crafts people make them too, for native fairs and pow wows. They are made of suede, an animal skin, but you can wash them in the washer (however, don’t put them on the dryer).

  • JL

    I’m glad this came up because I’ve always wanted to try some type of barefoot shoe. However, my feet are flat as pancakes. As it is, I have to wear orthotics or I get shearing lower back pain. So, am I out of luck, or is there some version of these that would work for me?

  • Patrick

    I’m wearing a pair of Asics wrestling shoes right now. Only cost $25 and I’ve gotta say, I love these things.

  • pam

    1. invisible shoes.

    i also didn’t like the nylon thread. + it worn out.
    so i bought some elastic in a fabric store. i rethreded them. mine looked more like “glidiator” shoes than a thong. (pretty cool looking).

    the sole is a little too thin & pliable for me. (not for cushion). they flop around too much if you try to run. so i only wear them while walking.

    2. Luna Sandal

    i got them because Ted was pretty cool.

    the sole is thicker (1 cm) so stiffer so do not flop around as much as invisible shoes.

    i wear them most of the time.

    last time i went on an easy 2 hour hike, i was surprised my skin (corn) got pretty sore. (joints were fine.) i wonder if this is because the shoes do not stay put like normal shoes so they rub too much @ foot bottom.

    3. (inexpensive) Jazz shoes

    they has split soles so you can point your toes better. flat plat form so you can stand on toes briefly).

    but they are designed for studio floor. for some surface they soles are slippery.

    4. vibram 5 toe

    these are the best among. i wear them to Long Fist (where stay put & foot protection are important)

    they are a little hot in summer.

    i don’t know how some can run in barefoot sandals. they don’t stay put & flop too much.

    walking or trail hiking is ok. except my skin @ bottom of my feet get sore. go figure.

    cheers,

  • Dave

    Looking at the photo of Scott Jurek, I am reminded of all the amazing things Chris wrote about him in BORN TO RUN. For some reason, though, I imagined he would have a better running gate than that. Either that moment in the photo was an exception, or he’s just gotten lucky, being young and all, to not have severely injured himself by now.

  • Brendan

    Greatresource here! Anyhow, I found some Merrels for $40 at my local Marshall’s. They use the same materials as vibrant ! Such a steal! I will say they only had 3 sizes. Lucky for me the display size fit me like a glove!

  • Marisa H

    I am consistently able to buy Vibram Five Fingers on sale online for $37. I’m on my second pair. The non-sale price is usually $49. I go for Sprint or Classic. The other styles, yes, are more expensive, but probably unnecessary unless you need a completely enclosed foot.

  • Danny J Albers

    For the picture, it was in “Born to Run” and I remember thinking it odd the author described Arnulfo and Scott as having grown up so far apart and yet having developed identical running form.

    Obviously the picture gave me pause when I read that. Perhaps literary license was taken.

  • Diane

    I’ve tried water shoes but the neoprene is uncomfortably hot and sweaty. Chuck Taylors, Vans and other skate shoes are too narrow for me. The Invisible Shoes are hard to get tied right, so I also invented a different method with a lot more holes. If my feet get wet or super sweaty Invisible Shoes are too slippery. In the end, the best for me has been a type of sandal called a “two tab” sandal, such as the Sedona sandals sold by Native Earth. I made my own just copying their design using leather and flip-flop soles. I just sew the leather sandal together and then sew the whole thing right to the flip-flop soles, cutting a shallow trench in the sole to hide the stitches from contact with the ground.

  • EC:

    Water shoes are perfect for low-impact work.

    Phocion Timon:

    The problem with the rock-bottom cheap skate shoes is that each production run is different…so if you find a pair you like, it's a guarantee that they won't be around next year, or maybe even next month.  It's probably a good idea to pick up a second pair if you like the first!

    The Leming shoes look quite nice…so do the TRUE Linkswear golf shoes, neither of which I've tried.  I'm sure that the competition will cause prices to continue slowly dropping.

    Danny:

    That's why I wear the water shoes: better ground feel than the expensive shoes!  Of course, this comes at the price of quick sole wear, but for $20 I don't mind so much.

    Alex:

    All the shoes you listed are (by all reports) excellent.  However, the only minimal shoe I've found that doesn't look like a weird sneaker to me is the Merrell Tough Glove…and it fits differently than the other Merrells, to the point that I can't wear it!

    Dave:

    The Vibram sizing chart is definitely a bit off.  You have to try them on in person.  And yes, sometimes the $12 shoes don't last very long…you don't get solid quality control for that price.

    Jamie:

    I didn't know there was an outdoor version of tabi shoes!  Unfortunately, my giant gaijin feet are off the end of the sizing charts, so I'll have to leave the testing to you and others.

    Sue:

    I looked, but I didn't see any men's jazz shoes.  Do they exist?

    More soon!

    JS

  • Ruby:

    I used to go backpacking in Chuck Taylors, but that was because I was young and poor (and Chucks were still cheap, not the hipster thing they are now).  They're definitely less padded than regular shoes, with either zero drop or close to it…but there's still enough of a padded insole that I wouldn't quite call them a minimal shoe.  And maybe the smaller sizes are wider, but they're actually relatively narrow for my own giant feet.

    That being said, I agree that they're still far better for your feet than a traditional shoe.

    Kerstin:

    People speak highly of the SoftStars, but as you said, they're not cheap.

    The neoprene dive booties are a workable option for winter…but at some point I just say “the heck with it” and throw on some work boots.  It won't kill my feet to wear regular shoes while shoveling the driveway or driving to the ski lifts.

    Asclepius:

    Good point about deck shoes: most of them are either flat or have a very minimal raised heel.  And it's not like there's any padding or arch in a pair of Docksiders, last I checked.

    Chris B:

    I'll let you know when I get a “how-to” done for them.  They look great, too!

    Sue:

    Suede moccasins would be great in dry weather, but I can't imagine they'd be much help once things get damp or wet.

    JL:

    The point of minimal shoes is to let your foot and arch work as intended.  If you have fallen arches or flat feet already and lack of arch support causes pain, you need to address that before you can wear a minimal shoe.  Some ideas for strengthening the foot can be found here and here, though I can't say if they'll work for you.

    Patrick:

    I've heard good things about wrestling shoes as minimal shoes, but I haven't tried them yet.  Thanks for the reminder!

    pam:

    You probably tie your Invisible Shoes a similar way to mine.  And yes, I think they'd be improved if the sole were slightly more rigid at the toes to minimize the flopping/slapping.  I've never tried Luna sandals, as I'm much more of a shoe person than a sandal person. 

    Dave:

    Here's another picture which seems to suggest that yes, that's Jurek's normal running form.  (And another.)  Remember, he's only 38…those sorts of injuries usually only pile up after age 40, where hGH and testosterone levels usually fall off a cliff.  (Going vegan won't help him with that, either.)

    Brendan:

    $40 is a great deal for the Merrell Barefoot shoes…they retail for $100-110.

    Marisa H:

    Retail seems to still be $75, even for the Sprint and Classic, but they are starting to appear on closeout here and there.

    Danny:

    I haven't read it yet, but I suspect that “Born to Run” takes quite a bit of literary license.  When one of the main subjects dies at 58 of a heart attack — while running — it kind of throws a wrench into the thesis.

    And you're absolutely right: Arnulfo and Scott don't have anywhere near the same stride.  Scott has a traditional heel-striking gait, Arnulfo is a forefoot-striker (as you'd expect from their respective footwear).

    Diane:

    I finally concluded that I'm not a huge fan of sandals for anything but low-impact walking around or beach/water use.  Even with something heavier-duty like Tevas or Chacos, the sole simply doesn't stay attached to my feet like it does with enclosed shoes — especially water shoes, because the soles are so thin and flexible that they're basically glued to the bottom of my foot.  Sandals always seem to catch my toes on things.

     

    Thanks, everyone, for your contributions.  It's good to be back!

    JS

  • Serveandvolley

    For trail running, cross country shoes that are “spikeless” look more like a normal athletic shoe and much less expensive than the other trail shoes. Great for trail running and recommended by the guy that wins all the Spartan races. Happy running!

  • Dave

    JS, you should definitely read BORN TO RUN. Yes, I think Chris took some liberties with facts, but it is an enjoyable read. I think it has done a good service in reviving the desire to run, especially among those of us who suffered injuries despite years of searching for the perfect shoe.

    Ignore anything Chris wrote about diet. “Eat like a poor person”? Sure, the Tarahumara are poor, but they are not even vegetarian, much less Vegan. They eat rodents, keep goats and chickens, and hunt deer. They may not eat a lot of meat because of poverty, but they also don’t eat a ton of refined sugar or other displacing foods of modern civilization, yet. Chris and others who look at the diet of the Tarahumara do so from the typical modern perspective of finding secret superfoods that allow these tribal peoples to run very long distances without the use of sports drinks and gels.

    The simple fact is that Tarahumara runners have well developed aerobic systems. In other words, they are able to access their body fat stores to a much greater degree than typical American carb burners who bonk after ninety minutes without a gel. How is that possible? From the dietary perspective, it likely has more to do with what ISN’T in their diet (refined sugars) than what is.

    On a brighter note, it is good to see that Chris has since endorsed the Maffetone Method (definitely not Vegan).

  • Dave

    Chris mentioned the Western States ultramarathon in BORN TO RUN.

    Low Carber Wins Ultramarathon

  • David I

    Wal-Mart water shoes can be a good deal…or a disaster. They change design and manufacturer all the time. I suspect stores in different parts of the country may even carry different types in the same year.

    So, if you try them and find a pair you like, go back to the store and buy a couple more pairs.

    None of them tend to be very durable. I’ve had some unworn pairs fall apart from apparent “old age”–just degeneration of the rubber/plastic.

    I tend to wear these as around-town shoes. I stick with VFF KSOs for hiking and running. My current pair of KSOs has lasted three years so far and are still going strong, so the cost per year or per mile hasn’t been all that high…

  • Lisa

    I have been buying higher end shoes for us. Will purchase one sandal, one runner for each child and myself. Recently I had a child lose the one pair of sandals and needed a quick fix. Being in the place of wanting to find a minimalist style I found a pair of water shoes while in emergency mode (no shoes, car free in small community.)My thoughts were these feel light and barefoot like. They only lasted him a week before the toes ripped due to running, playing:( I just realized last week my one an only sandals split. Perfect timing for your article because it is shoe time. What about moccasins? I am surprised that there is no mention of moccasins in the minimalist shoe talk. That is my consideration for the coming season. Any suggestions for those who are looking for winter minimalist options on a budget? thx for sharing!
    _

  • Lisa

    the other thing I meant to mention was odor. My sons feet sweat so intensely in the water shoes..nasty sweaty feet smell. Have any of you dealt with this issue?
    .

  • Serveandvolley:

    I looked at spikeless cross-country shoes, and they all seem to have heel lift and substantial padding.  Am I looking at the wrong kind?

    Dave:

    “Chris and others who look at the diet of the Tarahumara do so from the typical modern perspective of finding secret superfoods that allow these tribal peoples to run very long distances without the use of sports drinks and gels.”

    Exactly.  It's not the corn.  It's the fact that they're used to going hungry and therefore have excellent metabolic flexibility.  They have to!  They're not “running all day on a few handfuls of corn”…they're running all day on their own body fat.  The ones that couldn't died out a long time ago.

    David I:

    Exactly.  However, the most recent “OP” brand seem to be a big step up in quality from previous kinds.  If they actually made them in every size (not every other size) they'd probably sell a lot more.

    Lisa:

    Like I said above, moccasins probably work great when it's dry out…but I can't imagine they'd be very functional on damp ground, or even dewy morning grass.  And yes, water shoes vary dramatically in durability…some of them are very cheaply made.

    Cheap winter options are limited.  I like Jamie's suggestion of Japanese jikatabi (outdoor tabi), even though my feet are too big to wear them.  I've heard of people wearing neoprene dive socks (or other waterproof socks) under their water shoes.  But my guess is that cheap skate shoes and a can of Sno-Seal are your best bet.

    Re: sweaty feet, I have to wear all my shoes with socks, for precisely that reason.

    JS

  • I've been barefoot for a lot of my life. Only recently have I reconsidered being barefoot outside. When I jumped on my “you've abused your body for a decade and now it's time to get back to where you were”, I started walking and immediately jumped to minimalist footwear.

    I have a good few shoes which are minimalist, a nice pair of white leather training shoes with zero drop, which I use for fencing and casual. They were cheap. I like 'em.

    I did buy some VFF Treksports and do love 'em, but the walking I do is far too muddy and even dangerous for them. Sink into mud and onto a bottle, sharp rock, rusted metal fence post … it's not fun. I busted some minimal sole running boots on a rusted fence spike. And my foot. I walk with very lightweight Brasher/Rohan boots now and save my beloved VFFs for good days on well maintained trails.

    I've got some Invisible Shoe Contacts, which I love. I also have some home brew huaraches. Several, in fact. Love 'em. I use these more and more for road walking.

    Beyond that, I just kick off my shoes and go barefoot.

    I'm mad keen on car detailing. I've used water shoes a lot for that, but find the cheap ones slip around and the insoles detach. After kicking off more than one set, I just go barefoot now. Winter is different.

    Coming down from traditional trainers/sneakers to minimalist footwear, the ground feel is awakening! Take that one step further and go barefoot. Slow down and savour the land you walk over.

  • Lisa

    One other thing I wanted to share was after my son used minimalist shoes and spent a lot of time barefoot he could not wear runners. He tried on his runners and within minutes had leg/foot cramps.He cried in pain and took them off.That was the end.

  • Paul N

    Lisa,

    That has been my experience when I put on runners after a summer of wearing docksiders!

    Have bought some VFF’s and am loving them. I do particularly like the toe independence – when walking over rocks and logs at the beach (west coast Canadian beaches don’t have much sand!) the feel is just great. Wearing my Chacos feels like planks in comparison.

    After a month of the vff’s i tried on my trusty old Meindl hiking boots and thought I was wearing ski boots!

    There are some situations where I have to wear steel toe capped boots, and these now feel like bricks after the vff’s. But in those work situations, to use Paul H’s line, I am not tryng to savour the ground. But for recreational wearing, absolutely.

    I have also noticed with my vffs, wearing around town, that I actively look to walk not on the sidewalk, but on any real ground – a increasingly scarce commodity!

  • Diane

    I’m totally a sandal person. I now hike and backpack in sandals as much as I possibly can. But I like sandals to have some padding, not be too thin. I don’t like the Tarahumara-style lacing between the toes of huaraches. I don’t wear sandals if the trails are really overgrown, though.

  • neal matheson

    Brilliant, something wierd deleted my reply. Anyhow after about three or so years in barefoot shoes (I wear vivo shoes) I have found that going back to raised heels and especially hiking boots leaves me feeling completely disconected with the ground and like I am tottering about. I tried to get people out of their boots on my primitive skills courses this summer I sue the analogy of trying to carve a stick wearing boxing gloves.
    I would wear VFF if they were stocked in more places but it’s alot of money to lay out on shoes that look so garish. My vivo shoes feel as comfortable as my moccasins. There is a discount outlet in the nearest city so I can just about afford to outfit my whole family in barefoot shoes bit feel very strongly about having my little girl in minimalist shoes but I wish someone would make barefoot “wellies”
    I don’t really buy (long distance) running as an evolutionary activity but I do wear trail gloves when running. Luckily I can avoid running on concrete for much of the year and my sprinting area is kept litter and glass free so I can really run barefoot. Funnily running actually barefoot is a markedly different experience to minimalist shoe running.
    I have noticed that most (in fact all that I have seen)fossil trackways from the mesolithic and paleolithic were made by people with barefeet, even here in cold Europe. Highland Scots famously went barefoot except in the coldest weather.
    When will your AHS talk be online?

  • Paul:

    I'd love to go barefoot more often, but most businesses frown on that…and the main path near my house is gravel, which is unpleasant in bare feet.  As you've found, there are many intermediate steps between “barefoot” and “work boots”, each with its uses depending on the terrain and its propensity to hide the debris of civilization.

    Lisa:

    Once your feet “wake up”, it's difficult to go back.  I think it's a combination of proprioception and developing the necessary muscles.  After that, regular shoes feel like wearing a cast.

    Paul N:

    I had the same experience: my “regular” sandals felt like 2x4s after going minimal for so long.

    Diane:

    I agree on the toe lacing: it gives me blisters no matter what.  I came up with my own lacing: maybe I'll post it at some point.

    neal matheson:

    Shoes are a recent development: the earliest evidence we have of them is appx. 10 KYa.  However, there is indirect evidence that our ancestors may have started using them perhaps 30 KYa, as our toe bones started shrinking around that time.  That's still very recent…and it means that there was a lot of barefoot walking through snow going on in Europe!

    JS

  • Danny J Albers

    Some points made:

    J said “Exactly. It’s not the corn. It’s the fact that they’re used to going hungry and therefore have excellent metabolic flexibility. They have to! They’re not “running all day on a few handfuls of corn”…they’re running all day on their own body fat. The ones that couldn’t died out a long time ago.”

    I remember a scene in Born To Run right before the final huge race that evolved into the Urique Ultra, all the competitors from all over carb loaded like crazy. Arnulfo and company sat down and ordered “A rich beef broth”, I took that to mean rich with marrow and fat. We also now know that a pre-workout drink of FAT with CARB is superior to CARB alone. Ultra has known this for a while now. The Tarahumara have to apparently.

    I took great pride in that moment after 200 pages or so of vegan spin that the stars of the books started the race with beef not corn, especially after all the touting corn and chia got.

    As for the premature death of Caballo Blanco, very sad as his story really affected me, and I run now always wearing a hat like his in his honor.

    I am glad that critism of his vegan diet was sparred as the cause of death, however saddened that running was blamed in its stead. Running, as practiced by the Tarahumara and even ultra runners is VERY different from running practiced by marathoners. Tim Noakes wrote an excellent book called Water Logged that outlines the real reason runners keep dropping. But like red meat, running has a correlation vs causation image issue and all this fear mongering about chronic cardio does not help. I maintain their is no chronic cardio, only chronic attitude. Running can be very relaxing and invigorating, or it can be a relentless painful grind. The Tarahumara and Micah True chose the later approach, and so do I.

  • Dave

    Danny, yes it was sad to hear of Micah’s death. Technically, it was ‘cardiac arrest’ that killed him. There are unfortunately many ways to stop a heart. Remember that Chris wrote about Micah’s fainting spells in the book. To paraphrase Phil Maffetone, one can be fit enough to run a marathon, but that does not mean one is healthy.

    Danny, on your last sentence, I take it that you meant to say that you choose the approach of “relaxing and invigorating,” the latter approach being “a relentless painful grind.” :)

  • Danny J Albers

    Dave you are correct ;)

    Every time I run for distance I think to myself “How fast would I run if I had no idea how far I would be forced to run today” as such is the life for the Tarahumara, the !Kalahari, and many others and certainly my fore fathers the Chippewa Indians who had mocassin and canoe and snow shoe.

    We today have a great luxury, we can decide to do 5 miles. But when we do not know how far we would travel to acquire spore or food… we would run more conservatively, with a greater awareness of our surroundings instead of our pulse.

    I have found this mindset of running, combined with nutritional ketosis, to be incredibly euphoric. I think running on fat and running on sugar results in two very different health outcomes.

    Anyway I am rambling.

    You are correct regarding the fainting spells. I do remember finding that interesting.

    When I read the book I was unaware of Micah’s death, I found out at the end of the book in the revision notes. I had seen several videos of him by then. It really rocked me actually. Sometimes we can feel a real kindred for someone we never met.

    Anyway I found a good summary of his autopsy findings.

    http://tinyurl.com/8durc2t

    Korima my friend.

  • gabriella kadar

    When I was a kid, living in England, I was running daily in ‘plimsoles’ (plimsolls…). These have a very thin sole and consequently I learned to run with, what I have since learned is a forefoot strike. Even when, later, I was wearing somewhat thicker soled running shoes (here in Canada) my running technique did not change. However, when I did purchase a pair of much thicker soled shoes because that’s what was recommended for running, I did not feel as though my running was efficient anymore. It seemed as though I was using much more effort to run due to all the squishy padding.

    Possibly the body is programmed depending on what it has learned during the formative years. (I was basically ‘ordered’ by my father to run a couple of miles every day in order that my heart and lungs would develop appropriately to my growing body. I grew 7 inches in height in one year and then, mercifully stopped.)

    At university I did notice that other people ran differently, i.e. heel strike and I thought I was doing things wrong but couldn’t change without consciously trying to do a heel strike which was uncomfortable and inefficient.

  • Danny:

    When you’re getting ready to run an ultra, I think easily digested energy…and “a rich beef broth” probably contains only fat and protein, mostly predigested due to long simmering.  (I don’t see where carb would come from unless the ‘broth’ was a soup containing potatoes.) 

    There is a theory that you don’t want to carb up at all before the race because you’ll just make yourself go flat when you must (inevitably) transfer from glucose-fueled to endogenous fat-fueled, which beef broth is compatible with.

    “How fast would I run if I had no idea how far I would be forced to run today?” is an excellent guide for pacing oneself on long journeys…and I bet it corresponds closely to the threshold at which we start oxidizing significant glucose in addition to fat.

    Dave:

    I like Maffetone’s original definition of fitness: “the ability to do a task”.  Health may or may not enter into that picture.

    gabriella:

    “Plimsolls” look like what we in the US call “skate shoes” — or what used to be called “sneakers”, before the raised-heel running/basketball shoe styles took over the name.

    I was also a toe-striker when I was little, to the great consternation of my parents and everyone else — who told me I was running the wrong way, and who forced me to heel-strike.  Decades later, it turns out I was right all along!

    JS

  • neal matheson

    “How fast would I run if I had no idea how far I would be forced to run today?” is an excellent guide for pacing oneself on long journeys…and I bet it corresponds closely to the threshold at which we start oxidizing significant glucose in addition to fat.

    Would there be a way of testing this? It would be interesting to find out. I personally find that having no known endpoint makes tasks much, much harder. I heard somewhere that the US army has a fitness test based on an indeterminate distance.

  • Dave

    When it comes down to it, the shoe is less important than technique. I would prefer to go barefoot. I sometimes run barefoot at a local polo field that is well maintained. But most of the time I have to wear some kind of shoe on the streets and sidewalks of the dirty old town I live in.

    I’ve looked at Pose, Chi Running, and Evolution Running, the three running methods mentioned in Born to Run. My preference is for Ken Mierke’s Evolution Running. Do any of you follow one of the methods mentioned?

  • neal matheson:

    Much of that problem is mental: if we're not enjoying ourselves, it's dispiriting to think “this could go on all day”.

    It turns out we can measure aerobic substrate oxidation via the Respiratory Exchange Ratio (RER), which I talk about in this article.  Most people start oxidizing significant amounts of carbohydrate above 50% VO2max, though I'm sure this changes in ketosis or with long training.

    Dave:

    I've never bothered…the times I've seen “how to forefoot-strike” videos, they've all involved tiny, choppy, mincing strides, with glutes so tight you'd think they were keeping their wallet between their cheeks! 

    Maybe I just saw the wrong videos, but I can't believe something that looks so awkward is biomechanically efficient.  Correct technique generally has fluidity and grace…and there's a reason we have such a mobile hip girdle.  If you have any knowledge as to what I was looking at, or what I should be looking at, let me know.

    JS

  • [...] are taking care of business EVERYWHERE else.” Wow. Feet and footwear (for kids, for adults) / The cheap “barefoot shoe” review roundup Depression: A deal with the devil? The passive aggressive [...]

  • Dave

    JS, I’m not sure which videos you are referencing. Could they be Pose or Chi Running methods? Ken Mierke studied African barefoot runners to find out what made them more efficient. I think his Evolution Running method is the most straightforward approach. As for “tiny, choppy, mincing strides,” both Chi and Evolution Running recommend a stride frequency around 180. There’s a reason for that based on human biomechanics. I think Dr. Mark Cucuzzella explains it well in this short video:

    Principles of Natural Running

  • pam

    ps.

    vibram 5 toe are also too cold for winter cause the ground is too cold, as the sole is pretty thin.

    anyway, i dont’ wear “bare foot” shoes/sandals in winter (too cold)

  • pam

    ps.

    vibram 5 toe are also too cold for winter cause the ground is too cold, as the sole is pretty thin.

    anyway, i dont’ wear “bare foot” shoes/sandals in winter (too cold)

  • Dave:

    That's a great video.  Dr. Mark has a very mobile hip girdle, and as a result, his strides are elegant.  His fast cadence is just a consequence of not being slowed down by overstriding and heel-striking.

    I've looked at some more videos, and Pose running seems to be the worst offender: many Pose runners are so concerned about not overstriding that they end up bouncing up and down with nearly immobile hips.  (There are a lot of Chi runners doing the same thing, except they don't bounce up and down as much.)  In contrast, Dr. Mark emphasizes hip mobility and the arm motion required to compensate for it, which results in a much more elegant, “liquid” stride.

    Thanks for the video…that's the one I'll start recommending to people when they ask about barefoot running technique!

    pam:

    There are a couple minimal “boots”…but it's a fact that thin, minimal soles will be cold even if water doesn't soak through the upper!

    JS

  • Danny J Albers

    Neal I think another way to find that magic pace is to see if you can carry a light conversation, or sing softly along to your music.

    You should not feel like you are accumulating exhaustion. It should be a relaxed run.

    Forget the clock, previous bests, etc… and just focus on having a quality enjoyable run where you can pay attention to nature and not your heart rate. Your body will find the right pace if you just relax into it.

  • Laura

    I wear crocs on a daily basis. I have some that they no longer make with a cross strap over the top which don’t bind or rub my very wide feet at all. Although the sole is much more padded than your minimalist shoe, I consider it an advantage, as I am a teacher and stand 7 hours a day on a concrete floor. The soles are very flexible and there is little rise in the heel. I love my crocs, and I don’t care how ugly they are, they make my feet happy.

    I think the picture of contrasting running styles was very interesting. When I was in middle/high school, I would run around in my yard for fun, always barefoot. I developed a classic barefoot running style naturally. When I was forced to choose a team sport I elected X-C as the lesser of evils, and rapidly developed a raging case of shin splints from running in the recommended sneakers. I distinctly remember the coach re-teaching me how to run, because I was doing it “wrong.” I also developed a case of asthma and sat out a great deal. Hmmmmm……

  • [...] Ever wonder about inexpensive alternatives to minimalist shoes like Vibrams? J. Stanton did, and wrote all about it. [...]

  • Tee

    Great post When you wrote about the Speedo Surfwalker Pro Water Shoes, you stated that “The newer version (not pictured) has a better-designed sole that lasts a lot longer.”
    Are these “newer version” available?
    Thank you.

  • Beth

    I’m glad to see someone exploring the cheaper minimal options. I purchased a pair of Vibrams before I saw a discussion of cheaper options, and I wish I had saved my $80+! The Vibrams really only fit if your feet/toes are in perfect proportion and alignemnt, which apparently my big toes are NOT. I have had much better luck with cheap “water shoes”. Also, I live in Wisconsin and winter temps here can easily approach zero for days on end–no way that Vibrams are warm enough for that! However, a pair of wool socks and water shoes work just fine for me, no matter how cold it gets.

    Yes, the water shoes do wear faster, but I have had good luck repairing thin spots with Shoe Goo (you can find it online), which does even more to keep costs down for your footwear. So often I see discussions in running or “Primal” forums about minimalist footwear, and often I will post about these cheaper options, but it seems many times that people don’t even want to consider anything but “real” minimalist gear, leading me to wonder if it’s really about what minimalist shoes do for your feet or what minimalist shoes do for your image…

    Anyway, interesting article!

  • Jo H

    In the summer I just I go barefoot whenever possible – yes in the city, and no I’ve never stepped on glass. There’s nothing cheaper than your own two feet, and they never wear out!

    As for shoes, I’ve tried most of the minimal ones. VFF KSOs (only one color fits me right and my dog keeps wrenching my toes), Vivo Barefoot (poor ground feel & uncomfortable), Leming (cute but make my plantar fasciitis flare), Barefoot Ted’s Luna huaraches (fall off my heel), Merrel Barefoots (the plate in the sole is awful).

    Although not cheap, the hands-down best minimal shoes I’ve tried are my Steger Mukluk moccasins. Just pull the insole out and you’re in a real moccasin – only rubber-dipped moosehide between you and the ground. They have amazing ground feel, even with socks on. The sole lasts really well even on rough city sidewalks (still on my first pair!), and apparently they’re fashionable because everyone keeps telling me they’re cute. Not great in the rain, though – I switch to my Vivo Barefoot boxing boots in the rain since they’re the only shoes I have that keep my feet dry.

    Steger Mukluks make fantastic winter boots too – polar explorers wear them. So for those of you in colder climates they’re definitely worth looking into.

  • Erik

    I ran a half marathon in canvas TOMS with the arch support ripped out, but those aren’t cheap and the fabric falls apart really quickly. I try to run barefoot whenever possible, but when I can’t I’ve been using Onitsuka Tigers (Asics) Tai Chi shoes. I think it’s the same shoe Bruce Lee and later Uma Thurman wore with the famous yellow motorcycle suit. Anyway they’re not as cheap as the options mentioned here, but it’s a real shoe with a thin, flat, and flexible rubber sole and real leather upper. I just wish the insole weren’t glued in so strongly and the tongue were leather.

  • Kevin

    One I’d like to add, but probably not available anymore is the Shawn White slip on casual/surfer/skater show they had a while back. They come in black canvas with lime green accents or gray with orange accents. They look a little bit like sanuks/vans, but the bottoms are UBER thin. And they were only $20 at Target… and went on clearance for about $9. I stocked up on several pairs… but only got black. Wish I had some gray ones too. They are the thinnest shoe I’ve ever worn.

    I tried working with cheap water shoes, but they were so stretchy that my foot kept sliding inside causing blisters. These Shawn White’s on the other hand are awesome and haven’t caused any problems at all. I really hope they bring them back.

  • Alex

    I tried a pair of the Vibram Five Fingers, and they were never comfortable. I then tried on various minimalist shoes at the mall and finally found one that is truly comfortable: Merrell Road Gloves.

  • Julia

    I hope Soft Star Shoes (softstarshoes.com) will be reviewed soon. I have a pair of Run Amocs (2 mm sole) and love them! Besides being a minimalist shoe, I also love that they’re made in the USA by a family-run company.

  • Laura:

    You and me both…I was a forefoot-striker when I was little.  I was punished out of it because my father thought it make me look effeminate.

    Tee:

    The newer version is what you’ll get when you buy the Surfwalker now, unless someone has some very old stock sitting in a warehouse.  (The picture on Amazon is of the old version for some reason, even though the shoes you’ll get when you order are the new version.)

    Beth:

    My toes aren’t quite VFF-shaped either, so I feel your pain.  And both my parents were runners, so I know Shoe Goo very well!  (Yes, it’ll postpone the inevitable for a while.)  The key is to make sure you’ve cleaned the sole very well and dried it completely before applying, or (in my experience) it just rolls right off.

    Jo H:

    Moccasins and mukluks are great if things are either dry or frozen solid…as you point out, it’s the muddy in-between that causes problems.

    Erik:

    Onitsuka Tigers are a classic…and they come in some excellent colors!  They’re a bit narrow, though, if I recall correctly.

    For my other readers, keep in mind that you want the OT Tai Chi shoes (black and red available here…you can find the other colors with a web search).  OT is just the Japanese company that makes Asics, and they use the brand in the US for a few other old-school athletic shoes that aren’t minimal at all.

    Kevin:

    You’ve found the problem with cheap skate shoes: they change season to season, so if you find a pair you like, buy all you can find in your size!

    However, between Target, Wal-Mart, Payless Shoe Source, and the other big-box stores out there, it’s usually possible to find one brand that works at any given time.

    Alex:

    I like the Merrells too, but they’re not cheap! 

    One caveat for would-be purchasers: the Tough Glove fits differently than the others.  I couldn’t get it to fit me no matter which size I tried, whereas all the other Merrells fit perfectly.

    JS

  • Cal

    I think you do Invisible Shoes a great disservice with regards to “slap.”

    Initially “tying” them properly will take a little time to get right (as mentioned in the instructions) – in order to find the “sweet spot” where your huaraches are comfortable (and no slapping occurs).

    Initially I had slap, slip, and every other problem till I read the instructions properly. For further help read Steven's reply in this forum thread: Just Took My First Walk

    I hope that's some help. (BTW I don't know how old this article is but hole punches have been provided with Invisible Shoe kits for quite some time now.)

  • Cal

    Whoops! It looks like the link I gave isn’t going to work – apparently too long.

    If you’re interested, once on the forum (which I think the link will take you to) the thread name is “Just took my first walk.”

    Peace

  • Slapping with huaraches comes about from improper tying. I'm size 11 (US 12, coz you guys always have to be bigger, right :) ) and got mine tied up just perfect. It's trial and error. I do a lot of road work in my Invisible Shoes (Contacts) and some extreme downhill on grass, which always ends up surfing. I went with wide ribbon style laces, which can be pulled up tight without biting.

    Trial and error …

    My minimalist footwear inventory consists of:

    Invisible Shoe Contacts (6mm)

    Home made Vibram Cherries (4mm)

    Reebok Travel Trainers

    Unbranded zero drop faux leather trainers

    VFF Treksports

    Inov-8 286 and 240s for proper (not manicured) trail and cross-country running

  • Julia:

    A lot of people seem to like the Soft Stars…but at $65, they don't qualify as “cheap”, so unless they see fit to send me some, I doubt I'll be reviewing them.

    Cal:

    I've had the Invisible Shoes for many months, because I was given them to review and I really, really wanted to like them for a wider range of uses…but I've been unsuccessful in keeping them quiet no matter how I walk. 

    Perhaps if I could use the standard “string between the toes” tying method they'd be less noisy…but I've never in my life been able to wear flip-flops or anything with a toe separator (instant pain and blisters), and the Invisible Shoes are no exception (I tried).  And as I look at them on my feet, I realize that there's simply too much space between my toes and the sole of the sandal, and they're going to slap no matter how I walk.  (Regular sandals, e.g. Tevas, don't have that problem because the sole is very rigid and has lots of toe spring.)

    The link munching isn't your fault, by the way: it's a bug in my comment software, which I hope to replace sometime soon.

    JS

  • Mountain Evan Chang

    Richard Nikoley once mentioned the Vans Bali. I tried on these slip-ons, and opted for the Vans SPRLS which are laced instead. They’re made on the same wide last. They blend in pretty darn well with traditionally-shod folks.

  • PattyH

    I’m a fan of Fila SkeleToes. The soles are amazingly flexible, yet have enough padding to protect my feet in industrial environments. The price is $25 now, down from about $80. My feet are very narrow and I’ve broken my foot in the past when it slid off regular shoe soles. The SkeleToes fit like gloves and allow me to feel and grip every surface. I don’t wear them in the wet, they smell like a swamp if they get wet.

  • Franklin Chen

    I ran my first race today in Invisible Shoes and have some concerns as I think about how to move forward. I am curious whether going from 4mm to 6mm helps a lot with the problems, and also am interested in advice about lacing systems and the rain problem I have.

  • Charlayna

    Has anyone else had issues with VFFs and holes? My VFFs I bought last summer started to get holes worn into some toes and the balls of the foot within 4 months…

    I still wear them for indoor kayaking/weight lifting, but I’m afraid to purchase another pair since these ones started falling apart so quickly :(

  • Rob

    I’ve worn Vibram Five Fingers since mid March of this year. They definitely are my go to footwear. Probably have had them on 85% of the time versus anything else. Absolutely amazing…
    walking, hiking, sprinting, biking. They are so comfortable. They fit my feet quite nicely and have decent sole and end of toe protection. Lower back issues are now non existent although I also give credit to chiropractic care over the same time period. Feet are strong and posture has totally improved. It’s like getting a foot massage anytime you wear these things. They have held up extremely well. They can get a funky smell to them (just soak them overnight before tossing them in the washer). I have just purchased a pair of VVF cold(er) weather type boots, all leather with zippers. Got some socks too! Looking forward to wearing them, not so much the weather. I highly recommend VFFs.

  • MEC:

    Skate shoes are definitely the closest mainstream alternative to a true minimal shoe.  I can't wait to see the finished Primal Professional shoes.

    How much are you pulling in your avatar?

    PattyH:

    If the Skeletoes are indeed down to $25 I may have to review a pair!

    Franklin:

    The 6mm sole didn't make as much difference as I thought to the ground feel: mainly it made them heavier, and I prefer the 4mm.

    I think the problem with the lacing systems that don't go between the toes (like mine) are that the slap gets worse.  I'm doing some experiments right now to see if I can mitigate it somewhat.

    Re: rain and traction in sandals, I found that wearing socks solved the slipping problem during river hikes with a backpack.  You'd need tabi socks (with a separate first toe) to do it with the huaraches, though!

    Charlayna:

    A minimal shoe will have a minimal sole, which will wear through more quickly since there's so much less of it.

    Rob:

    I'm sure I'd love VFFs if my toes were the right shape!

    JS

  • mark

    Great write up about alternatives to 5 Fingers. Nothing beats a free pair of running shoes that were given to us at conception!

    I have Invisible shoes and they work great on clean trails and the pavement.

  • Mike OD

    Right now I basically have 3 pairs of footwear (live in a warmer climate so snow is not really an issue): Speedo water socks (not sure which model…but they were on clearance for like $9), Chuck Ts and simple sandals.

    I find the Speedos are great for any kind of workout.

    Chuck Ts are my other workout option, although for trail runs they slip too much with the flat tread (and I won’t even tell you about the time I attempted a trail run in them after it rained….comical at best).

    If…when I buy a new shoe, I will probably go back to the Solomon water shoes that are super flexible/mesh and have a decent tread. I had a pair of those that I wore all to hell for 2+ years straight. They were a great shoe!

  • mark:

    If shoes weren't required in most places, I'm sure we'd go around barefoot more often, resulting in tougher feet that wouldn't have so many issues, even in urban areas.

    Mike OD:

    Chucks aren't very good in wet conditions.  Fortunately that's where water shoes shine!

    JS

  • Jen W

    I know I would!  I had an employee at the local Barnes & Noble telling me I had to “keep my shoes on” every Tuesday I was there (I would unconsciously slip out of the sandals I was wearing).

     

    I've been looking into minimal shoes for awhile, but haven't gotten any yet and probably won't be until next spring when the weather warms up.  Thanks for another informative article.

  • Jen W:

    Options for usable winter minimal shoes are, unfortunately, very limited.

    JS

  • lane

    Wrestling shoes can be found for under $20, are very light,with a flexible sole. They have the benifit of no arch support and a zero drop. I have found their sole lasts longer than the water shoes and with laces they provide a stable running surface. The only down side I have found is the “high top” design. Overall they offer a good blend of cost, barefoot “feel”, and durability.

  • lane:

    I've looked at wrestling shoes before — but I can't find a pair that aren't obviously, well, wrestling shoes.  And since I never wrestled in school, I'd rather not make it look like I can!

    That being said, I'd like to try a pair someday.

    JS

  • backpacking essentia

    Wow, this piece of writing is pleasant, my younger sister is analyzing these things, therefore I am going to tell her.

  • Corey

    IMO if you want a good quality minimal shoe you might as well just pony out the extra few bucks to get a shoe that will last for awhile. Why waste an extra 15 – 20$ for a shoe that is “close to” minimal?

  • Corey

    In addition to my previous post, If your looking for a decent minimal shoe in my experience New Balance makes the best quality shoes. I'd recommend getting something like the MR10 for a good minimal running shoe, or getting the MT10 for a good trail running shoe. As I said in my previous post I'd recommend *AGAINST* wasting money on a cheap “almost” minimal shoe.

     

    [JS edit: removed direct links to online store.  I don't mind people linking their own articles from time to time, but I reserve the right to edit anything blatantly commercial.  I will also usually edit video embeds to plain links.]

  • Corey:

    1. The difference between a $10-$20 water shoe or skate shoe and a $120+ NB Minimus isn't “a few bucks”.

    2. Water shoes are actually far more minimal than VFFs…let alone the New Balances, which aren't even zero drop!

    That said, there are reasons to get something like an Inov8, an NB Minimus, a Nike Free, or even a Newton…but it's not because they're minimal (they aren't) or offer good ground feel (they don't).  Running long distances on pavement or very hard ground seems to be their best use…but I'm more interested in trail use and everyday use, for which I prefer something with better ground feel.  (And that comes in non-fluorescent colors, preferably black.)

    JS

  • Nick F

    Good summary… I’m going to try out the wal-mart water shoes.

    FWIW, the only reason the soles have the “carpet fluff” on the bottom of them (flocking is the technical term I believe…) is because it allows Walmart to import them to the US as “slippers” instead of “shoes”, and US Customs charges a lower import duty for slippers.

  • Nick F:

    Thank you!  I keep this article reasonably up to date, so it will continue to be a good source of information.

    Interestingly, the Menhaten water shoes run a bit smaller than the Dominicas…so if you're between sizes in one, you may be able to wear the other.  (I can't wear the Dominica at all, but the Menhaten fits me.)

    That's a great bit of trivia about the import duties, and it makes sense.  I see a lot of big-box skate shoes with the flocking on the sole…interesting that it technically makes them “slippers” instead of shoes, even though they're obviously shoes.

    JS

  • Duane Higley

    I am 74 years old and keeping active with weights, pickleball, and other light exercise. Have studied nutrition approaches many years, strongly influenced by Weston Price and Paleo concepts, and make sure to eat quality meat with lots of veggies.

    So now here comes “Born to Run” and it fits so perfectly in the picture I admire of using ancestral models to create and sustain health. Right away I am researching “minimalist” shoes, while trying to stay out of the clutches of Nike and such.

    In roaming amazon reviews, I found reference to Feiyue martial arts shoes and several comments that they can serve as minimalist shoes at a very reasonable price. Here is the link. http://www.amazon.com/Feiyue-Martial-Arts-Shoes/dp/B0002TW818

    I bought a pair — only $15 plus SH. I want to comment that they seem well made and will probably last a good while.

    Does anyone else have experience with them, how they perform, and if they are suitable as minimalist shoes?

    I also need to decide on appropriate shoes for pickleball. FYI – this is “small tennis”, played with wiffleball and paddles on a small tennis court with standard tennis net. Fastest growing sport in the country!!.

    I play on hardwood, and like to chase the damn ball. So I periodically have to rest a swollen knee. Maybe ancestral footware will reduce my injuries.

    Thanks
    Duane

  • Duane:

    Reviews seem to indicate that the sole, while zero-drop, is very thick for a “minimal” shoe (~1 cm).  But I have no experience with them myself, so I'd appreciate others' input.

    For agility-based sports like pickleball, you'll want something that either laces up or has toe slots (VFF, Skeletoes, etc.) to keep your foot laterally stable in the shoe.  The Feiyues look like they should work so long as they fit you correctly — which is the main concern for any shoe.  The best-made shoe in the world is worthless if it doesn't fit your feet!

    JS

  • Chris D.

    The Luna sandals with the new stretch laces are easier for some of to wear than the traditional laces. I have the Luna’s and the Xero shoes and much prefer the Lunas because they stick to my feet better and don’t slap the ground. They don’t have as much ground feel as the Xeros though (formerly Invisible shoes).

    Also Vibram has a thinner cheaper model out now called the El-X. They’re $75 and have a 2.7mm sole. These have the best ground feel of anything I’ve tried. They are just a slip on with no Velcro strap. This is probably the most minimalist shoe they’ve made. I would actually say they’re closer to barefoot than the 4mm Connect Xero shoes.

    Anyway thanks for the fantastic article. Water shoes are in season again so I can’t wait to try some for jogging.

  • Chris D:

    Thank you for the input!  Yes, the Lunas have a much thicker sole…more like a traditional flip-flop AFAIK.  I'm seeing the prices on VFFs slowly fall as the competition heats up and capacity grows to meet demand.

    I was just at a Kmart the other day (hey, I needed a cooler) and they actually had some solid water shoes for $10, 2 for $15.  I've updated the article to add them.

    JS

  • Eric

    FAIL…

    As a runner who logs 60 mile weeks, this article is trash. Mentioning Scott Jurek, one of the greatest ultra runners of all time is a huge fail. In the photo, he hasnt even completed the gait cycle yet. Recommending shoes from Walmart to run in????
    HUGE FAIL all around.

  • Eric:

    There are hundreds of photos of Scott Jurek on the Internet, and they all show the same heel-striking gait.

    Click to see an example, another example, yet another example, still another example

    Meanwhile, if you're logging 60 mile weeks, feel free to spend more money on your shoes!  I wrote this article for the remaining 99.9% of the population.  However, I can't resist noting that the point of a minimal shoe is that it lets your foot do all the work previously done by all the padding, heel lift, and stability/motion control hardware — so, by definition, there's much less to differentiate minimal shoes from each other.  Anything that gives your foot the desired degree of traction and protection, and fits well enough to not give you blisters, should be fine.

    (Plus, Scott has apparently converted to veganism.  This combination shows clearly that while he has amazing natural talent, he doesn't know how or why he's able to do what he does.  Scott succeeds in spite of his unnatural gait and diet — not because of it.)

    JS

  • The exception that proves the rule …

  • Gryphon Ennis

    Hey nice article. When I was young I ditched the heavy foot wear for wresting sneakers. Then later found that steger mukluks are even lighter and more minimal. I’ve hiked for miles on pavement in NYC in them, hiked on woods trails and etc… They are the most comfortable in my opinion. and are, if you dont put in the liner, the most minimal. People tell me I’m nuts, but they are always the ones complaining of their feet hurting. Mine never do. The only problem with the steger mukluks (I wear the tracker moccs) is that they wear out in 6 months and are pricey- @ $125.
    But that said… I do love them and wear them year round, whether its 80 degrees out or minus 30 F. I’d love to find a cheaper moccasin that is also just rubber and soft leather… If anyone knows of one, let me know.

  • Gryphon Ennis

    Oh !! You all already answered my question. It appears that the soft stars people were talking about are actually a soft soled mocc. AND they are 1/2 the price of the stegers. I’m going to order a pair today and see if I like them. I do like the price!

  • Gryphon:

    A lot of people seem to like the Soft Stars, but the prices have apparently gone up a lot…they’re almost $100 now. That’s less than the Stegers, but it’s still a lot of money — though they are handmade in America.

    When I was younger, I backpacked in Chuck Taylors because I couldn’t afford “hiking boots”…turns out I was just ahead of my time!

    JS

  • Mark

    I am a recent convert to “boat shoes” though the ones I’m currently wearing happen to be from an expensive designer–they were a gift, and I figure I’ll replace them with some cheaper deck shoes. I like the sleek high-tech look of water shoes like the SeaSide, but fear the neoprene would make my feet feel sweaty.

  • Mark:

    Deck shoes can work if they stay on your feet…but they never did for me!

    Note that most water shoes aren't neoprene.  They're a stretchy fabric that looks sort of like it but isn't air- or waterproof…and they usually have big mesh panels anyway.

    JS

  • John

    Regarding Jazz Shoes, I used to wear the leather sole Capezios which aren’t made any more, about a 1/4 inch heel. They were available in men’s sizes, but I have a small foot (6 1/2 +- a size or two) and women’s fit me fine and were more in stock. The only down side was that the soles wore through in a month or two. I wore them until the holes got big all the way through the (very thin cardboard) innersole. Then I put a piece of thin roofing rubber cut like an insole and still wore them, very comfortable. One pair almost the whole sole wore away and the rubber wouldn’t stay in. I found they make great “barefoot shoes” no soles, but no-one throws you out of a store. The other pair still just have big holes… Both very comfortable. I don’t run, but do a lot of walking.

    I also some years ago had a pair of Nike canvas wrestling shoes with very thin soles. They wore through after a while, shoe goo extended the life. Eventually the rubber sole hardened and cracked. That was the end of them. Modern wrestling shoes seem to be (sadly) more substantially built. I could never find another pair like the canvas Nikes.

    Hope this isn’t too long for you.

  • John:

    Not at all.  Thank you for sharing your experiences: I can't possibly try every option on my own.

    JS

  • alex

    just google water shoes…then i buy the ones i like and i go to a shoemaker where i change insoles or re inforce the shoe in evey way….also gel insoles help made by a gel sheet not bought from a brand so they flat

  • Alex:

    Like you, I've found that sometimes it's helpful to glue down the insoles on water shoes: they tend to slide around more or less depending on the brand.

    JS

  • Sherwood Botsford

    I have used Mountain Equipment water booties for water sports, backpacking and running. For backpacking I wear them with a thin poly pro sock plus a work sock. They work well. They are too hot for summer running, and don’t have enough traction for running on snow. But for about 5 months of the year they work well.

    Many people use them barefoot, and I’ve used them that way, but the resulting stink means that have to stay outside when I come home. They can be run through the washing machine.

    (On both canoe trips and backpacking water encounters are frequent enough that overheating feet aren’t an issue.)

    Recently MEC has changed brands. I haven’t tried the new ones yet.

  • Sherwood:

    That's a variant I hadn't heard of…probably because I don't do a lot of hiking through water.  Thanks for sharing!

    JS

  • celicaxx

    A very good option for minimalist shoes is actually indoor track shoes. I got Saucony Kilkennys for example, for only $20 online with a sale. They have a bit thicker and stiffer sole and heel area (and more arch support) than something like a Vivo Barefoot (owned a pair before, got on sale at Marshalls) but overall they’re pretty much the same type of shoe imo. http://www.firsttothefinish.com/ItemMatrix.asp?Cc=fw_foot_CC&GroupCode=20125%2D4C&eq=fw_201254c&MatrixType=1 Something like that. 6.8oz. Mind you I’m not a runner and bought them to wear for plyometrics/vertical jump training in the gym.

    I’m pretty glad I discovered indoor track shoes. I personally feel after getting this pair of indoor track shoes, that minimalist shoes are just a scam. They’ll sell for anywhere from 50-100% more of the price of a comparable indoor track shoe. Take the Nike Zoom track shoes vs Nike Frees for example. The other big plus with indoor track shoes is new models come out every year or so, and then you can find old models on clearance for very little money (those Kilkennys were $60 MSRP, I got them for $20.)

    Anyway, for casual knockabout shoes, generic Converse/Vans/etc aren’t bad at all. I actually got a very nice pair of shoes from K-Mart. Everlast Laynes. Weigh 6.5oz! Only problem is the sole isn’t all rubberized. But it’s a nice comfy minimal shoe just for walking around and whatnot. Cost me only $8 brand new, too.

    Anyway, I’m not a runner, so I might be full of crap about all this, but track waffles are where it’s at for “minimal” shoes for less money. Increases my vertical jump by at least an inch or so compared to Converses, too.

  • celicaxx:

    Indoor track shoes look like a good solution if you can find them on sale, like you did: regular price appears to be more like $50-75.  (Though you're correct that there are usually plenty on sale.) 

    Note for my readers: many retailers classify them as “spikeless cross country spikes”.

    JS

  • Mel

    For work, kigos have served me. They have maryjane style and covered style that worked great for summer versus winter. I only buy when on sale or clearance, as low as $15. Great traction, the Drive has lacing that makes it fit well enough for hiking. Reminds me of rock climbing shoes.
    For eve better ground feel, sockwa are the thinnest rubber sole. Pair w wool socks for most comfortable winter shoe. They do make my feet sweat, but I have yet to try their latest which is more breathable. Got mine for $25 on clearance.

  • Mel:

    Kigos are usually well out of the “cheap” price range, but they seem to have some cheap ones on clearance, and they look nice.  If I were female I'm sure I'd try a pair.

    Note that I originally wrote this article back in 2012, when minimal shoes were in such demand that nothing was ever on sale: VFFs were usually backordered, and there weren't as many options as there are now.  So it's now possible to find actual branded minimal shoes on sale for a reasonable price.

    JS

  • AM

    Thanks so much for this article!! I was starting to go insane looking at “vegan” $100 footwear which consists of a rubber/neoprene sole and fake leather. If they took the fancy name brand off and “vegan”, it’s like a $20 shoe.

    I get why I pay extra for my Paleo food. The rest of the lifestyle seems like it should come in a bit cheaper. ;)

  • AM:

    That's a great point.  Leather is expensive, so most cheap shoes will be “vegan”, though they don't actually say it on the label.

    And yes, it's ironic that it costs much more money to get…less shoe.  For something mass-produced of cheap materials like (synthetic) rubber, the prime determinant of cost is sales volume, not material cost. 

    JS

  • pam

    Hi, JS,

    this is old. but i want to add few data points since last time.

    . Merrel barefoot shoes

    zero toe drop. but have a big hump (arch support?) which kind of defeats the purpose of “barefoot” it’s also uncomfortable.

    do NOT recommend.

    . Sanuk canvas shoes : inexpensive, comfortable. zero toe drop, no arch support.

    . Sanuk sandals : zero toe drop, no arch support.inexpensive. comfortable & airy. toes breath.

    . “Unshoes” sandals (Pah Template)

    http://www.unshoesusa.com/pahtempe.html

    HORRIBLE design despite the size fits OK.

    the problem is the 1st strap is too far away from the “bow”. & there was too much strap in the “stern”
    this creats big gaping (between the bow & toes)

    i ended up tripping over stairs, steps, pebbles, every little kinks & unevenness all the time (i mean, indoor floor, side walk) due to gaping.

    i gave them to GoodWill.

    so far, just for walking, kicking around, i like Sanuk the best.

    for ability sport, i have not found anything that beats 5-toe Vibram.

    cheers.

  • pam:

    I do my best to keep this post up to date: I'll have to make another big-box trip soon, as the water shoes are all in stock for the year.

    The Merrells work very well for some people and not at all for others: I think it depends on whether your arch is shaped like the one in the shoe or not.  Same with VFFs: though many love them, my toes simply aren't shaped like VFF toes.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences!  I encourage all my readers to leave their own reviews, experiences, etc. in the comments.

    JS

  • Zahra K

    I started wearing the Lumina shoes from Call it Spring. They’re like Tom’s Shoes but with thinner soles and rounded toes.

    On sale can usually get them for $15 to $20.

    http://m.callitspring.com/mt/www.callitspring.com/us/clearance/womens-shoes/flats/90911755-lumina/15

  • Zahra:

    Those look like a very usable option for women…who seem to have many more options when it comes to cheap, flat slip-ons than men!

    JS

  • My three year old Vibram Trek Sports are now kippered and the soles have given up. They must have done perhaps 600 miles. I saw a pair of Vivo Barefoot Breatho Trail shoes on huge reduction, so snapped them up (online).

    Upon arrival, I thought they were too small. I picked my regular size. Home, I tried again, tried again without the insoles and tried yet again without socks. Perfect! Larger shoes would have been slopping around, but without insoles (which is advised on the box for barefooters) and without socks (duh! barefoot) they’re just perfect!

    Here’s to several hundred miles in them …

    http://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk/clearance/breatho-trail-mens?colour=Lime … look around for an online retailer in your area who might be carrying them at a dramatically reduced price.

  • Greg Pulier

    I’ve been a barefoot runner for over 10 years. I’ve recently invented the most minimal running footwear in the world called BarePadz.
    I’ve started a Kickstarter Campaign for them here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1729443782/barepadz

    The Kickstarter Campaign is focused on getting people to try them and give feedback so that I can really perfect them.

  • Greg:

    Ordinarily I delete blatant self-promotion, but your Kickstarter is asking for a sane amount of money, the product will actually be inexpensive, and it looks like a cool idea, so it stays. Best of luck to you!

    JS

  • That is a seriously cool idea! Great idea and great marketing.

    Take minimalist footwear and make it yet more minimal … in fact, the true definition of minimal, which is the smallest amount of protection required for folks to get out there and enjoy as unshod as possible on modern surfaces.

    Good call! Best of luck. I’ll jump in with a sensible investment when I’ve read through all the options. Sweet! I really want to try some of these, so let’s hit that investment requirement!

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